Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Missional Authority

“Don’t trust anyone over thirty” was a maxim of the 1960’s, but the phrase didn’t originate with the Boomers. The rejection of tradition and its authority is a movement that began with the Enlightenment in the 18th century. In the words of Leslie Newbigin, it was “a summons to have the courage to think for oneself, to test everything in the light of reason and conscience, to dare to question even the most hallowed traditions” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989, p. 39).

Today, we continue to challenge the legitimacy of authority. The legitimate authority of government leaders is questioned every four years (if they’re lucky). The authority of the medical profession is no longer established by a nicely framed diploma on the wall (We may seek second opinions, consult cyber doctors, alternative medicines and homeopathics – wisely or not). The legitimacy of the clergy is also questioned today with the knowledge that, yes, they too are quite capable of hypocrisy and deceit (ouch)!

Let me say that I don’t believe questioning the legitimacy of authority is a bad thing. We know from experience that authority is often abused, leading us to question rather than to simply accept everything that is told us. In fact, the Bereans of Acts 17: 11 were said to be “more noble” because “they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Nor did our Lord hesitate to question the authority of the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites on more than one occasion. Jesus understood and modeled the importance of legitimate authority. Matthew 7:39 states that “The crowds were astounded at [Jesus’] teaching for he taught as one having authority and not as the scribes.” We get the sense that Jesus stood out from the other religious leaders because he spoke of what he knew; lived what he commanded, and proved by his actions what he claimed.

The power of Jesus’ healing words was matched by his deeds; but what many of his followers don't realize is that he gives that same authority to them. For Matthew tells us that “Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out and to cure every disease and every sickness” (Matthew 10: 1). The gift of Jesus to his disciples, is the gift of legitimate authority; not the authority to misrepresent him…but to share his words and do his works with authenticity. In the words of the Apostle Paul, it means “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4: 1-3.).

Last week I was at the UCLA Medical Center to witness a miracle. It was the day that John – who has a genetically inherited disease affecting his kidneys – was to receive a new kidney from Tiffany, both of whom are members of our church. It was an incredible privilege, as a pastor, to simply be there for this God-orchestrated event. I was awed by this act of love and courage and sacrifice. May I say that both John and Tiffany represented Jesus very well that day! Now, as a pastor – you’ll have to forgive me – but I often observe things that seem to me worthy of illustrating a spiritual point and I want to share just one….

I’m not speaking of Tiffany’s courage and sacrifice or John’s deep faith and gratitude to God for the gift he received. These were truly awesome to behold – I’m speaking of something more mundane – hospital uniforms. Every staff person wears a uniform that has the name of the hospital embroidered above the pocket. From the maintenance crew to the nurses and surgeons, whether in the pre-op ward, the nurses’ desk or behind the cash register in the cafeteria, every staff member was identified by that uniform and -- in particular -- by the words “UCLA Medical Center.” And it's that name which symbolized both their authority and their responsibility to represent the hospital well. Before the surgery I met Tiffany’s anesthesiologist, a very capable and professional doctor who put Tiffany at ease. Hours later, who did I see eating a bowl of tortilla soup down in the cafeteria? It was Tiffany’s anesthesiologist again, on her break -- smiling and very cordial -- and still wearing her uniform. Why? It occured to me that whether she was in the surgery ward or down in the cafeteria she knew that she represented the good name of that hospital.

Here is a question to consider as a church, as lifegroups, or as individuals. When considering our community and its particular needs and challenges -- what is the unique gift, specific authority, or capacity which you believe Jesus has given us in response? Whether we are over 20, 30, 60 or 90, Jesus entrusts his disciples with the authority to represent him. May we represent him well -- engaging in the healing ministry of Jesus at home, in the surgery ward, the factory, in our neighborhood, or the classroom -- and so draw others to him.


Scott B said...

There was strong consensus in our Lifegroup this week that the unique gift or identity at St. John's is found in our unified diversity. We agreed that many congregations are fairly homogeneous - their members often share the same skin color, country of origin, social status, income level, political attitudes, and theological particulars. St. John's is not that kind of church. On any given Sunday multiple nations and cultural backgrounds are represented. We have conservatives and liberals, students and retirees, wealthy and not-so-wealthy, etc.

What could possibly bring such a disparate group of people together? That's the key. Our shared spiritual community bears witness to the unifying bond of God's love. There's just no other explanation.

Many people in our Lifegroup used the word "family," and it's a perfect description. Everyone at St. John's is different but there is a place at the table for each person. Sometimes family members hurt and disappoint one another, but they work through it and try to stay together because there is a special kind of love and commitment at work. Sure, we're not going to get along with everyone equally in our church community (every family has a crazy uncle, right?) but we're still bound together in a unique way as God's children. If those around us can see it, it's a powerful testimony that something greater than ourselves is at work in our church.

I think about the Praise Team as representative of what I like about our church. The age range of the players spans 6 decades. There's more than one skin tone. Men AND women are involved in leadership. We each bring our own instrument, but when we play together it creates harmony and unity. Sometimes we try something new and it doesn't work. Sometimes it comes together surprisingly well. Sometimes we're thanked for a job well done and sometimes we're criticized. Sometimes there's tension amongst the members and we bicker. Sometimes we all go bowling or out to dinner and it's a lot of fun. In short, we're all "in it together" because we know that this patchwork ensemble of seemingly unrelated people would probably never have the opportunity to work and share (spiritual) life together were it not for the power of Christ's love working in, through, and around us.

Steve Craig said...

Well said, Scott! There is a mind-boggling unity at St. John's despite our diversity. I don't know what can explain that except the call of Jesus on each of us...and his intention that we follow him together. The image of "family" is an apt description. Thanks for sharing the fruit of your discussion for all to appreciate an respond to. Anyone else out there???