Sunday, February 21, 2010

Beyond Rebuilding: Conclusion

For the last five Sundays I have been responding to the individual essays in Beyond Rebuilding: Shaping a Life Together. Today I want to say a brief overall assessment of this debate.

The core issue is whether the church should seek to build up the authority of its national leaders to lead the whole denomination, or whether it should break down any power accumulating in its national leaders to tell anyone what to do.

I say you can't have authority without power. When Jesus was praised as one who taught with authority, that was not just a personal compliment. His authority was the reason that he should be listened to and followed. When Jesus gave the keys to Peter, he was confirming that Peter had the authority to use the power that is necessary to run the church. The church serves the powerless, but it does not serve them by being powerless.

Every organization needs power to run. The more that power comes from the authority of its leaders, the better. Authority comes from other people recognizing and following. No recognition of authority, no following of leaders, no church.

The best organizations coordinate the authority of individual leaders into a group that works together, following a coherent vision, for the good of the whole organization. They seek to reproduce that coherent group of leaders for the good of the organization in the future. That is an Establishment.

I think it is clear that the church should seek an Establishment. Whether it will find one even then is still unknown. But I think it is clear that if we do not even seek an Establishment, if instead we undermine any possible Establishment, then we will have a weak church that continues to decline.


Benny said...

There is no real authority in churches that have abandoned the Roman Catholic Church. Imperfect as she is God has not abandoned his body the Church.

You admit the imperfect Peter was handed the keys of authority. Those were passed on through the ages. God did not have a second plan and his first one did not fail.

randy said...

gruntled, i'm curious about something. and maybe you can answer this, since church is obviously a pretty important part of your life...

don't you find church-that is, actually Going To Church on sunday a.m. to be, well, boring? as in tedious, dull, enervating, basically uninteresting?

i was raised episcopalian, and i found church services to be just plain BORING. i felt so as a child, as a youth and as a man. and i still do if i have to ever attend.

so-not boring to you?

Gruntled said...


I have always liked the intellectual parts of church best. I am particularly interested in the content of the sermon, and Sunday school. But I am also a team player,and appreciate that different part of the service appeal to different people.

dennistheeremite said...

You probably know that "authority" (as in "all authority has been given to me") is "exousia" in Greek, and that the word combines power and authority, and it derives from the principle of "substance". Spiritually there is only one "substantial" reality that is both authoritative and powerful in its very nature. At least that is what I learned in my seminary Greek and exegesis classes. We participate in that substance, authority, and power by grace and also (I think) by "abiding" in it. "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ".

Paul Masters said...

Thanks Beau for stating the obvious. In every congregation that I have served there has been a vital disconnect between the ministry of the congregation and the ministries of Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly. While we whine about creeping congregationalism at Presbytery meetings, I can count the times that my congregation’s ministries have been empowered, resourced or inspired by Presbytery on one hand. No one is following because no one is leading. Without denominational leadership experienced at the congregational level, any office from Moderator on down is merely a title, and an irrelevant one at that.

Anonymous said...

I think Benny has a point. At times truth knocks at the door, we answer and say go away I am looking for the truth.

Jose Luis Casal said...

The concept of authority used by Mr. Weston is very easy to confuse with totalitarism and dictatorship.
Following his pattern on authority we may end returning to the Catholic Church that is more in tune with this elitist concept of authority. Maybe for that reason one of the comments posted alerted him that out of the Catholic Church there is no authority, of course the type of authority described by Mr. Weston.
The Reformed Tradition has a different approach to authority. The Jesus of the Gospel is not the supporter of the authority described by Mr. Weston but a challenger of that authority. He challenge the authority of the main political party of his time, the Pharisees; He challenge the authority of the main religious power of his time, the Sanhedrin; He challenge the authority of the main economic power of his time, the businessmen at the Temple; He challenge the power of the strongest imperial power of his time, confronted Pilate.
Kenosis is the doctrine used by the Gospel to describe how God renounces to an exclusive and privileged authority to favored humankind. Jesus never promoted a particular structure of power and authority other than the Kingdom and the description of the Kingdom on Matthew 25 has nothing to do with the image of Establishment promoted by Mr. Weston as the solution for the church in the XXI Century.
To confuse authority with power is not to understand the real meaning of the authority in the Bible. Let’s look at Jesus in front of Pilate. Evidently Jesus has the authority but Pilate had the power and using that power condemned Jesus to death. To think that the church cannot be powerless because will loose the authority is to deny the essence of the church. The word “ekklesia” (assembly) explain the way the church gets its authority. Only the community of believers, the assembly, has the power to grant authority to its members. The rite of ordination in the Reformed Tradition is a reminder that God’s election is connected with the election of the assembly. The same happens when we call a pastor. God’s call individuals to serve in a particular place and grant his authority to those he called but the congregation (the assembly) confirms that call and reaffirm that authority. That’s the way we elect pastors, elders and leaders in the church. And we need to remember that leaders, pastors and elder within the Reformed Tradition are called, elected and ordain to serve. Service is the mark of our leaders, not authority. People follow our leaders because we serve, not because we rule.
“The church serves the powerless” said Mr. Weston, “but it does not serve them by being powerless.” The sentence plays with words but not explain the words. How can the church serve the powerless being everyday more powerful? The history has demonstrated that Establishment survives making alliances and covenants with those forces that contribute to keep the Establishment intact. The powerless cannot be part of those alliances and covenant because they don’t have power to keep the Establishment alive. The natural direction of the Establishment is to eliminate de powerless, this means the racial ethnic persons, youth, women. The Establishment does not need diversity, what its need is power.
To suggest that the declining of the church is because of the undermining of the Establishment is a very superficial way to analyze the actual situation of the church. There are several reasons connected with the declining of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and we don’t have the time and space here to analyze everything but certainly one of the reasons is the lack of understanding about the mission of the church that confuse the church with a corporation and transform servant elders and pastors into Chief Executive Officers of the Establishment.
Jose Luis Casal

Gruntled said...

Rev. Casal, your account of a church without authority may work as a viable kind of sect within the ecology of the universal church. However, I do not see how you can contend that this is the Reformed Tradition of church authority. I don't see how your account of the Reformed Tradition could include Calvin or Knox, Geneva or Scotland, the long history of American Presbyterians and Reformed building up authoritative stewardship institutions for the whole of society.

Jose Luis Casal said...

Calvin, Knox and the Reformers, were accused by the Catholic Church that they destroyed the authority of the Church. The history of Reformation is the most incredible and profound change of values for humankind. Of course the supporters of the supreme and unique authority of the church accused them to destroy the Western Christianity that is no other thing but the Establishment.
Certainly the Reformers destroyed the Establishment. Reformation was a new beginning where a new system was created. Modern Capitalism is the result of the destruction of the feudal Establishment.
Calvin knew that something different was emerging and with an extraordinary vision he defined this new movement with the motto that characterizes the Reformed Tradition: “Reformed Church, always reforming.” This permanent evolution and change comes from the Bible and Calvin just highlighted its meaning for his generation and also for future generations.
I am not saying that the Church doesn’t need authority; I am saying that authority is not synonymous of power but synonymous of service and this is the foundational principle to build the new structure for the Christian community in this new millennium to ministry the new generations of believers