Tuesday, 24 March 2009

the nature of spiritual authority

When I have finished writing this current book I have several more I want to write. They are some way off at this time so I thought I would use the blog to vent some steam while I am waiting.

Differences between gatherings of God's people are usually distinguishable by differences in theology and in polity. Theology is obvious but polity is church order. Here in the UK our bloodiest civil war was fought over the issues, not of theology, but of polity. King James the First of England (and VIth of Scotland) was thoroughly committed to Episcopalian polity ie bishops and a clear hierarchy of offices. The son of a Roman Catholic mother he had been raised as a Presbyterian and hated it. The preachers made it plain that there were two kingdoms in Scotland and that although James was king over the one, Jesus Christ was king over the other. They made it plain that King James would never be the head of the Church of Scotland. On the death of Elizabeth he became king of England and set about the task of creating one 'United Kingdom'. To make it work there would have to be one 'United Church'. But what kind? He had no doubt. It would be Episcopalian with himself at its head and with the power to veto its choice of bishops. He was a crafty old bird but his son Charles believed all the same things but had no subtlety in his determination to create one 'United Church'. His failed efforts in Scotland spilled over into England and pretty soon the Civil Wars began.

It is a serious business and saints of different persuasions have been prepared to suffer and die for their convictions. What's more they have been prepared for others to suffer and die who didn't or couldn't share their convictions. Is it just a matter of 'pay your money and take your choice' or is there a Biblical route to sanity in these things. What are the Biblical principles of spiritual authority and how should it be exercised?

There is the beginning of an answer which is expressed so plainly it could hardly be misunderstood. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 NKJV. That is an inverted pyramid in contrast to Gentile power structures which have hierarchies of leadership with the great ones at the apex. At this level it is a principle rather than a clear church polity but it is a principle which must be carried into church polity if church polity is going to be faithful to the spirit of its one Lord.

Of course it is not just a matter for the great ones of the earth who meet in their synods and councils. It begins in the local gathering of the saints and expresses itself in the way a man 'rules' his smaller household. Abigail expressed the desire to simply wash the feet of the servants of her lord. Abigail means Father's Delight and such a disposition surely is!

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