Authority in The Kingdom is Different


A Theological Excursus on the authority/power in the Kingdom versus the world.

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.  And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matt 23:8-12

Summary Statement

Authority in the Kingdom is different than authority in the world.

The way authority operates in the Kingdom is a whole different dynamic. This is not to say that this authority is not at work in the world (through Christians). It is just operates differently than the way authority operates in the world in independence from God. And so I think it is incumbent upon church people and leaders to understand this authority because it is the way God works to change the world. Unfortunately, many if not most churches operate on an authority of the world.

I’ve been reading Scot McKnight’s manuscript for his upcoming book on the Kingdom. It has caused me to reflect again on how nebulous this word ‘Kingdom’ is in American Christianity. Many times, in our churches, public conversations, preaching, and Christian publishing, it really means nothing in concrete terms. Scot McKnight aims to correct this problem in his upcoming book.

I’ve also been reading Andy Crouch’s Playing God (my review is coming next week). I come away from reading this book convinced that the power dynamic of Christ’s Kingdom – the way the authority of the living Christ works in the church and among the world – is not understood in concrete terms by the average church, the average Christian (what this has to do with Andy Crouch I will discuss in the upcoming review). We do not get how different authority functions in the Kingdom versus how it functions in the world in autonomy from God (I need to clarify the church world distinction to avoid numerous misunderstandings, but I will leave this for another time). I feel Crouch misses on this point.

In my own upcoming book to be released in 2015, I explore the power/authority dynamic inaugurated in the Kingdom by Jesus Christ. Jesus stands at the mount of His ascension and proclaims “All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me … now go.” And so the disciples, indeed the entire church, is sent out under this newly established cosmic (“all power in heaven and on earth”) authority of Christ. The coming of this new dynamic of authority is in fulfillment of God’s promise to return the world to His rule and make all things right. The Kingdom of God has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah as Lord. It is now on its way to being consummated in the future (Rev 21-22). It is into this power dynamic that we are sent making disciples of all nations as we go. But this power dynamic inaugurated in Christ is distinctly different than that of the world in autonomy from God. I feel this is missed by the church. As a result, the church takes on the ways of (and looks a lot like) just another human institution. It frustrates me to no end.

This Authority/Power Dynamic is Characterized By Three Things

The authority/power dynamic of the Kingdom is characterized by three things. This authority/power comes only

1.) By submission to His reign. We enter into Christ’s authority by faith, submitting to His reign. We participate in this authority by submitting our lives to it. If we step out of this radical dependence upon Christ in the Spirit, His power and authority is gone. But when we come together as a people in submission, a social space is formed. His authority ‘breaks in.’ The reality of the Kingdom becomes visible. This social space is the church.

2.) Via No Coercion. There is no coercion in this authority of Christ. Indeed this authority is given as a part of mutual participation in God’s life and work in the world. If one seeks to usurp, again His authority is lost (Matt 23:8-12). This pattern flows through the entire Bible from the garden, to Babel, to Davidic Kingdom to Christ.  If power is exercised in autonomy from God (apart from faith and dependence upon Him), then his power becomes mute. The authority in Christ’s Kingdom is always exercised in mutuality with others (1 Cor 14: 26-36), never in autonomy from others. It is always exercised in relationship. It of course is never possible in autonomy from God.

3.) As a Gift, in total dependence upon God, always exercised in mutual submission. This authority always comes as a gift from God, in dependence upon Him, never to be possessed for our own agendas/purposes, and always exercised in mutual dependence and submission to others in the Kingdom. When we set ourselves up above the community or in autonomy from God, this authority becomes something to be grasped (the opposite of Phil 2:5) and it turns ugly eventually. When we usurp we are in essence reenacting the fall and the sin of usurping God in the garden. The abuse and coercion of hierarchy eventually wields its ugliness. But when we exercise our gifts in the Spirit under His authority in mutuality with others (how this works is explained in say Eph 4), His power and authority becomes manifest. God works. It is this power and authority that is so lacking in the world today (and in our churches as well).

This way of the authority/power of Christ’s rule, via submission to Christ’s reign, no coercion, as a gift in mutual submission, is the way God shall work in the world. It is how His power works. This implies that we Christians cannot exercise authority in the ‘world’ on the world terms and still have it be Kingdom. We can only participate in God’s Kingdom in the world via the authority in Christ’s rule (the Kingdom authority dynamic). This is what I think perhaps Andy Crouch has missed in his latest book Playing God (review forthcoming).

This Authority is a Dynamic First and Only Then Becomes A Structure

I propose this authority should be seen in terms of this dynamic first, and only then as a structure. If we somehow skip the dynamic of God’s authority in Christ and move right to the structure of this authority in the church we shall in essence bypass God’s presence and authority in Christ. We will end up locating the authority in the structure itself becoming just another human organization. We must therefore maintain the difference between the dynamic of Christ’s rule in this in between time and the structure which often results from the exercise of such authority and makes possible a space for this authority.

Often we institutionalize authority in the church apart from the manifestation of it in the gifts of the Spirit. We give authority via the institution separate from the charisma (we rationalize it via Max Weber’s old categories). Office, or structure is good when it follows the authority of the Spirit in the community (and in the world when we cooperate with God). But this structure can never become a structure unto itself. Because once the authority becomes ensconced in structure, separate from the Spirit, once it becomes coercive, autonomous from God, all power and authority of Christ is lost. In other words, when authority is preserved in structures via hierachical offices, we in essence have made a step away from the Kingdom. The rudiments of power may continue.  Out of sociological habit people may still obey, but it loses the power and authority of God the inbreaking Kingdom. We often then enter maintenance mode as an organization. Worse, coercion and antagonism rules our lives. And the organization loses its force for the Kingdom and becomes grounded in other purposes (money, ego aggrandizement etc.)

How many of us have seen churches self-destruct in these ways? How many businesses, if we ran them according to the ‘new dynamic of authority of the Kingdom’ would flourish in ways unimagined? …

Ephesians 4 as an Example of This Authority Dynamic

Ephesians 4 :7-16 is a fine picture of this dynamic of Kingdom authority in Christ fleshing itself out in the church. In this text we notice that this authority granted in the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is given from the seat of Christ’s Lordship as ascended (vs.8-10). This authority is an extension of Christ’s rule into the community. But this authority is not exercised over the community by one office holder over the others, but in mutual relationship. Notice how each gifted person is to stay within his or her gifted place (vs. 7, vs11, according to the measure – within the boundaries of his her said gift.) These are gifts received by ‘grace’ (vs 7) exercised in mutual submission. They can only be exercised out of dependence upon that activity of God for the church and world. In Rom 12:6,7 Paul says these same thing. The gifts are limited by faith, dependence upon God. When we exercise this authority in mutuality, submission one to another, the fullness of Christ becomes manifest among us (vs 13). As opposed to one superman pastor, the fullness of Christ, the ‘mature person’ comes only out of a plurality of gifted leaders submitting to each other.

I see Ephesians 4 as a marvelous exposition of the ‘new’ authority dynamic inaugurated in Jesus Christ for the world. I contend we have lost this sense of God’s rule and authority in and through Jesus Christ. We have institutionalized and hierarchicalized this inbreaking authority out of existence in many of our practices of church leadership. We need to return to this simple practice of authority in the church and also in the world. We need to bring these practices of leadership under His authority as members of His reign in the neighborhood. Out of mutual submission exercising our gifts in relationship to one another with no coercion, the Kingdom, God’s reconciling power can restore and bring new life.

The 5 fold gifting practice is meant for neighborhood fellowships, Bible studies, and the way we discern the Kingdom on the streets.

OK, what do you think?

Posted in Ecclesiology, Missional Ecclesiology, Missional Leadership, Neo-Anabaptist
13 comments on “Authority in The Kingdom is Different
  1. Jennifer says:

    I think the theology may be good, but the functionality doesn’t follow.

    A woman or man with “authority” doesn’t get to define that authority (or in most cases, lay it down – they didn’t pick it up) – those who recognize it, who “give” it to them do that. They *do* get to choose how to use what they’ve been given.

    (I think that in most if not all cases, “power” or “authority” is best understood as *influence.)

    • Matt Tebbe says:

      RE: ‘power’ and ‘authority = influence.

      I was persuaded to think the same until I began interacting with Andrew Root’s “The Relational Pastor”. I think you’d love it, Jennifer, and he has a strong critique of this way of relating. One of the best books on pastoring/relationships I’ve read in the last 5 years. :)

  2. David Fitch says:

    How does any of that undercut the functionality of the view of authority I have put forth as from the Bible… yea even Jesus himself?
    To me, when one says, “the theology may be good, but the functionality doesn’t follow” …they give every leader an excuse to lead as the world does…

  3. Dan Jr. says:

    Good stuff. You should really needle more into this statement in your book — “If we skip the dynamic of God’s authority in Christ and move right to the structure of this authority in the church we will end up locating the authority in the structure itself becoming just another human organization.”

    This is hard one to expose but it’s essential. This is why building bigger organizations seems to be the sign in Christendom that God is “doing something”. We have no memory for Authority grounded in the Incarnation of God in Jesus. Authority has been divorced from our own reenactment of the drama of God’s servant, vulnerable, incarnational movement into the world.

    We are merely extending our institutions, personalities and our brands not the scandalous,self-emptying love of God.

  4. David Fitch says:

    I agree with you Dan White Jr.

  5. Dwight Stinnett says:

    Good thoughts. Too often we reject “power” because of the disastrous distortions we have experienced. But a powerless faith or Church is essentially rejecting God.

  6. Mike Horn says:

    Great thoughts, David! I’ve been struggling to find the language that articulates this needed shift in the church and have been accused of insubordination and rebellion. The naysayers object to these ideas functionally, stating that authority and government in the New Testament church require a functional hierarchy otherwise it becomes “democratic” in nature and dis-functional. The language used in my tribe is a “rectangular vs. a round table”, that you cannot have “co-leaders”. Hope your book gets here sooner rather than later. Thanks!!

  7. Tim says:

    I like it very much. I wish for the sake of Christ it would be practiced. It is so clear from the words of Jesus but they are written off by top-down oriented translations such as “obey those who have the rule over you…” or “Elders who rule…”, and so on. There is your authority proof text to ignore Jesus. The saints seem to like it. The rulers seem to like it.

    Anyone who writes a book on servant leadership but perpetuates a function where he dominates the expression of truth to God’s people 52 weeks a year, I know he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s all posturing, which is in authentic faith. Godly men handed this system to us. Our flesh likes it and we call it the Holy Spirit’s approval. In God’s grace he blesses the bogus function a little bit and we say his blessing is amazing. The tightly woven web of hierarchy preservation runs very deep. Many will bless your book and not change a thing.

  8. Nathan Brown says:

    Thanks, David.
    Our present thinking is what we have trained. You mention eph 4 five fold ministry, but the only calling we really recognize today is what we call “pastor”. Then we expect the “pastor” to be everything. When we think about what young people who feel called into full time ministry expect, they expect they will be pastors, then educated into the current model. Most Christians have no idea what a prophet does, or what prophecy even is, for example. Yet the scripture tells us to desire to prophesy. I appreciate that you are challenging the current model. Many people are feeling that the structure we have is not sufficient, and are watching and listening to understand what God is taking us into. Grace and wisdom to your book.

  9. Sam says:

    I wonder if, according to your proposal, those functioning within churches as paid preachers and teachers are assuming “more” power that those who function within other areas of giftedness (i.e. non-paid volunteers, elders, deacons, etc.)? By having full-time paid pastors, are we as the church feeding into a world authority and promoting our heads-of-staff to head-of-Body, therefore usurping Christ’s authority and placing the pastor heirarchaclly above the rest of the Body who have been gifted with the same Kingdom authority to “go out and make disciples of all nations”?

  10. Tamie says:

    This is fascinating to me. It has always bothered me that our churches operate so much like the rest of the world. Even in the statistics that say 20% of the people do 80% of the work, which is supposedly true both in and out of church structure. Doesn’t this statistic alone tell us that something is wrong with the basic church structure? It’s bothered me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But your idea makes sense to me. It fits so much better with the idea that we are a family with only one father/authority. No other brother or sister is above the others.

  11. Sandor Szabo says:

    I really enjoyed reading this! Thanks for taking the time to share this! Such an important topic today. I really enjoyed how you discussed how authority in the church that begins with submitting to the Reign of Christ, and flows from that…kinda like the Life flowing from Christ the Head unto His body in a way of mutual submission and autonomy. Think you hit the nail on the head…pardon the pun…lol. Though it seems that it could definitely be applied, I was wondering if by submitting to His Reign, you were referring to the Absolute Lordship of Christ? This is something that I have been doing a fair share of studying scripture about lately and how this submission to His Absolute Lordship by the body of Christ brings about the rule of Christ, His Kingdom, being fleshed out, or embodied by the church. Wondering if by your explanation of submitting to the reign of Christ, that it could be said as submitting under the Absolute Lordship of Christ. Thanks again for sharing this much needed insight about authority working in an organic, autonomous functioning in the church, the body of Christ.

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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