Breakfast Club: The Question of Authority

How we answer the question of authority - whose authority do we submit to? Who do we follow? Who do we listen to? – has the utmost importance, not only for our personal lives but for our society. At the personal, individual level, the people you choose to follow shape the person you become. At the society level, those who wield authority over a people, shape the values and culture of that people. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus calls Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, to leave their work (as fishermen) and their families, and follow him. He promises to shape their lives by making them “fishers of men.” In Mark’s gospel we are told that these men, immediately, leave their nets and livelihoods and families and follow Jesus. In other words, they choose to give Jesus ultimate authority in their lives; their commitment to Jesus replaces all other allegiances and all other commitments.

What does this mean for us today?

In his book, The Open Secret, Leslie Newbigin makes the point that the great challenge that confronts the church today is the question of authority. By what authority does the church preach the gospel and call men and women “out of their traditional allegiances, and invite them to accept – with all the cost involved – the yoke of obedience to Christ” (12).

Newbigin makes the point that it is useless to answer by quoting the Great Commission or other texts of Scripture; for why should a Hindu or a secular person accept the authority of the Christian Scriptures? It is also useless to point to the achievements of Christianity in human history. Isn’t the record of the church simply too ambiguous to do that? Nor, he says, is it enough to speak of being “constrained by love” for, the counter-argument can be made: “Is not the Christian enterprise of evangelism and making disciples an offense against the unity of mankind?”

In light of these questions, what is the church to do? Newbigin argues that what must first be done is to ask the counterquestion that uncovers the hidden assumptions behind these questions. The church must ask: “What grounds have you for thinking you will come nearer to a solution of the world’s problems by combining the insights of all the religions (or, we may add, by secular initiatives)?...What is your program for tackling the problems of poverty and oppression? Are you not the victiom of an illusion that a program for creating economic justice on a world scale will unite mankind?...What is your program for the unity of humankind? Around what center and in what organized form do you propose to unite mankind?” Newbigin concludes, “The point of countering questions is that they force us to recognize that the questions themselves imply certain commitments about the way in which the human situation can be understood and in which we can seek to respond to it.” (13)

At this point, we can come back to the authority of Jesus by which he calls his disciples and ask: what would be the relevance for my personal life and for the health of our world to place myself under the authority of Jesus?

 First, in Mark’s gospel we learn that Jesus call comes in the context of an Ancient, Spiritual War. Immediately before Christ calls his disciples, He is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. There he fasts for forty days, and is tempted by Satan, the great “Adversary” of God. We are told, not only that Christ is tempted by Satan, but that he is alone in the wilderness with “wild animals.” This is meant to remind us of the original temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan. By Adam’s fall, all the world fell into disintegration and chaos, including the relationship of mankind to the animals. So the call of Jesus, we are told, comes in the context of an Ancient War fought between the Lord God, the King and Creator of the world, and Satan, the Great Adversary of God and Prince of this world. Jesus Christ, the King, has come to address the great problem of ever person and every society: sin and sin's disintegrating dominion in the world.

Second, in Mark’s gospel we see Jesus announcing the advance of God’s Kingdom, God’s reign over the world and his people: “The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” God’s kingdom is breaking into the world in a new and powerful way – the promised King has come. Earlier in Mark’s gospel we have been told that Jesus is the Promised Lord and Son of God, the True and Rightful King of Creation. The coming of the King is good news because Jesus has come to destroy the work of Satan: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (I John 3:8). This means that in the coming of Jesus Christ, the True and Rightful King, we have the hope for the healing, renewal and restoration of every person and the whole world at every level: emotional, psychological, physical, cultural and spiritual. The “good news” promised again and again by the prophets is that when the True and Rightful King comes he will have healing in his hand.

Third, and finally, we are are now able to understand the call of Jesus Christ to discipleship. Jesus Christ comes as the True and Rightful King, with direct, unaccountable, sovereign authority over all people. He calls all men and women to submit to his authority and center their life on him. He calls all men and women to follow him – not a doctrine or program or ideology – but a living Person. And when we do follow him, we are led to the foot of the Cross. There we see Christ, our King, our Sovereign God, serving mankind in the most ultimate way: by dying the death that we should have died (as sinners) to give us the relationship with God the Father that he alone has (beloved and treasured sons and daughters of God). It is here, at the foot of the Cross that we learn what discipleship to Christ is: it is to become agents and ambassadors of his healing Kingdom; to live lives of servanthood; to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters and neighbors. To rescue our neighbors from the dominion of sin and bring them into the healing reign of God in Christ ("Fishers of men").

It is in Christ, then, that we find the healing from the disintegration dominion of sin for every human heart and that we find the hope of the unity of the whole world: at the foot of the Cross all pride is smashed and the unity of a community-of-grace is achieved.

Jesus Christ alone, the True and Rightful King, is the Hope and Savior of the World. He calls you to himself and bids you come, die.