Authority Without Authoritarianism

Jesus, the Christ, God’s anointed Son, demonstrated authority without authoritarianism.  Early in his teaching ministry, he demonstrated this clearly in Galilee, a great distance from Jerusalem, the centre of religious authority.

On the Sabbath day, the normal gathering day for instruction in the community synagogue, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. Read through the gospels and you will regularly see Jesus in attendance in teaching centres in various communities, and granted permission to teach those who had gathered.

In Mark 1:21-28, the gospel writer locates his story in Capernaum, the Galilean home-base for Jesus and his disciples. As he began to teach, ‘the people were amazed…because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Can we say the teachers of the law were religiously ‘politicaly correct,’ weighing each statement made with nuanced reference to conflicting opinion?

I would suggest, in many of our evangelical churches, we are heading in this same direction.  It is popular to be noncommittal in one’s preaching, and the series of study books portraying four views and more seems to keep increasing.  The popular, ‘we can’t know this with certainty,’ or ‘there are many views on this subject,’ at times gives the impression that there is an uncertainty in the Word of God. 

I am not arguing for authoritarianism, a dogmatic “you’d better accept my view” style of teaching and preaching. But does not careful study lead the careful exegetically-oriented preacher or teacher to clarity? Yes, you may have to anticipate objections, and please avoid proof-texting, but ‘reason’ with us and help us to think through the argument of the original author.  (This is one of the reasons why I’m not a big fan of study bibles.  People buy and quote their favourite speaker, from the notes which are bound beside the translated text of God’s inspired word and consider them both infallible.)

The authority of the teaching of Jesus was demonstrated in his handling of Scriptures and Satan.  Both demanded a clear position.

With the Scriptures, saturated with them and quoting them throughout his teaching, he added his own “But I say unto you….” as ‘the final word’ as God’s anointed speaker.  Godly, Spirit-filled preachers, need to know God’s word and study it carefully.  They are NOT generating new texts, but have laboured (yes, study is hard work) to determine what the author originally meant, and how such a text has application for 21st century ears.  We must demonstrate that we have submitted to the authority of Scripture ourselves and that our ‘persuasion’ of congregations rests upon what GOD has said not our fallible opinion.

Satan showed up as this service where Jesus spoke. In ‘their synagogue,’ a man, possessed by an evil spirit recognized the God-given authority of Jesus of Nazareth.  Through the lips of this troubled individual, the demon confessed their knowledge of who Jesus was, and how defeated they were by him.  One authority was being forced to acknowledge a higher authority, even before Jesus would publicly declare, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth.”

Jesus took authority over this disruptive presence. His ‘Be quiet!’ and ‘Come out of him!‘ resulted in a deliverance that day.   Amazement filled the watching congregants. “What is this?” A new teaching–with authority.  A new opportunity to encounter God’s power.  Surely, the heavens were being opened by God Himself so that anyone who was willing could encounter both the Living Word (Jesus Christ) and the written word (the Scriptures).  True preaching, with God-given authority, not authoritarianism provides such an encounter in every place where those who speak, “speak  as one speaking the very words of God.” (I Peter 4:11a)

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