We have a loss of civility in our day. Part of that loss, I argue, stems from disrespect of authority figures. We express that disrespect by ignoring titles. In our congregation, we make a concerted effort–under whatever administration– to follow Paul’s exhortation to pray for “kings and rulers” (I Tim. 2:2) such as the “President” of the United States and our “Governor.” Regardless of political dogma, we are to pray for those who rule over us. I suspect were we under Nero, we would still pray for him and address him as “Emperor” Nero. One reason there is a fatigue with titles and overall respect for authority figures is that we choose to honor whomever we see fit to honor. We have become selective in our respect and our disregard for titles removes more grass from the civility field leaving us a bit less civilized.
“…that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up…” -Apostle Paul
The primary purpose of the Trinity is to use authority over us that edifies and builds, not tears down. In Paul’s pastoral letters he wishes to use his God-given authority to draw people to the Gospel. This is always the first and foremost desire of the leader/authority figure: to bring people to the Gospel by an authority that edifies, not beats you down. Notice how the Father uses his authority over the Son on earth. The Father doesn’t add threats to his desires for the Son, he adds encouragement and affirmation: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
He doesn’t say, “My Son, go to the cross, or I will make you go my way.” There is a tender authority in the persons of the Godhead that is beautifully pictured in the pastoral ministry of the Apostle Paul.
When you read Paul’s letters a you are left with this sense that the Apostle wants to see restoration in the Church not through the means of threats, but through prayer, gentleness, and humility. Do you want to see your son and daughter change a particular attitude? Do you want to see a friend abandon their destructive ways? Build her up. Tell her the gospel. “My dear friend, I come to you as your sister in Christ. I want the best for you. It pains me to watch you self-destruct. How can I serve you during this time? Do you want me to check up on you every three hours?” “My son, dad has not always been here for you. I have sought other hobbies to entertain myself when I should have been spending time with you. Please, forgive me. It hurts me to see you making these decisions. Is there a way I can help you find truth through this confusion?” There is an inherent authority given to the saints when they speak life into the lives of their fellow parishioners. This authority needs to be edifying.
Authority that is admired and loved is an authority that is edifying. The fundamentalist exercises authority through threats—“do this or else.” The pietist exercises authority through perfection –“If you fail me you are ruining our family’s reputation and there is no way back!” The Biblical Christian exercises authority by serving and edifying before demanding and expecting. Oh, yes, there are ways of getting what you want, but you may get what you want while losing the heart of the one you love. And that, beloved, is not biblical Christianity.
Paul summarizes Jesus’ life:
Though he was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God
something to be possessed by force.
7 On the contrary, he emptied himself,
in that he took the form of a servant
by becoming like human beings are.
The most authoritative man in history became a servant while being an authority. The God, who is Three and One, and One and Three, is first and foremost a God who expresses his authority to build, not tear down. Our God, our Trinity is a Trinity that exercises gracious, loving, and life-giving authority.
- see particularly II Corinthians 13 (back)
Here is a gem. I spoke with the brilliant David Koyzis on authority, office, and the image of God. Listen to this insightful discussion on Trinity Talk.
This book argues that authority cannot be identified with mere power, is not to be played off against freedom, and is not a mere social construction. Rather it is resident in an office given us by God himself at creation. This central office is in turn dispersed into a variety of offices relevant to our different life activities in a wide array of communal settings. Far from being a conservative bromide, the call to respect authority is foundational to respect for humanity itself.
The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.
The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.
If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.
The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:
“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”
But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.
We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.
We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body. As one author observed:
Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.
Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.
As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.
 Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased
 Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/
We come to the fourth part of our Church Covenant, which states:
We will reject all heretical beliefs and practices, using Scripture as our final authority.
This is a strong statement with profound repercussions. We are asking as a Church that you submit to something greater than yourself. In particular, to submit to the authority of the Bible. We live in a culture that despises authority. But God has formed this world with authority structures in it. It’s not that the Bible is our only authority, God has given us other authorities– pastors, parents, and leaders– but what we are saying is that the Bible is our final authority. And that means that pastors, parents, and leaders need to submit to this one authority.
We also reject heretical beliefs. If it does not align itself to the God of Scriptures who is reveled in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, then it must be abandoned. First things, as long as God graces us with His mercy, will always remain first things in this congregation. And it is your duty as members to ensure that it remains this way.
But bad ideas leads also to bad practices. And this is perhaps what makes us unique in this culture. We do treasure practices at Providence that in some ways are long forgotten in our culture. Our view of the Church, worship, families, and marriage, all shape who we are as a people. These practices challenge our passivity and causes us to hunger for righteousness.
This is why as a Church we want to encourage, exhort, and be a source of strength to our members here who are striving to live the life of faith amidst a faithless world. If God’s revelation guides us as a people, then we can safely walk in the paths of truth and godliness.
Prayer: O God of truth, change us to reflect truth daily and live unto You. May our hearts not be far from you, but ever seek your face. On this holy day, we pray that you would cause our lives to embody the truths of your Holy Word, and may be now and forever a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Andrew Sandlin offers a sober critique of this defeatist and incomplete model of gospelizing:
Jesus is incapable of commiserating with a life of defeat. He can only lead us from defeat to victory. Jesus knows no other way.
Too many Christians live as though Jesus is still buried in the ground. But that Jesus is gone forever. There is no other Jesus to love and serve. The risen Lord is the only Lord there is. The victorious Lord is only Lord there is. The joyous Lord is the only Lord there is. The powerful Lord is only Lord there is.
It is this Lord to whom we are united.
Paul’s point: there is no other Christian life possible except the life of victory and joy and power and hope and worldwide transformation (1 Cor. 15:56–58; 1 Jn. 5:4).
For this reason it may be most prudent not to say that we are “Cross-centered.” It is better to say “Lordship-centered,” because this Lordship is the key to the resurrection, just as the resurrection is the key to the Gospel.
It is the risen Jesus whom we serve, and there is simply no other Jesus.