Friday, December 19, 2008

Individual vs. Collective Authority

In the third part of my Authority series I wrote:  "Likewise, when we perform acts as the Christian Church, unless we believe these acts flow from our individual capacities, we need authority from God (because we act as agents of His capacity)."  One challenger noted that Catholics recognize baptisms done even by 'infidels'.   Another, that Jesus approved of a man driving out demons in His name, even though he had not received apostolic approval to do so (Mark 9:38-41).

St. Nicholas casting out demons from idol shrines

With these comments and separate conversations I had with friends, I encountered no dispute with the basic principle that one must have authority before one can act on another's behalf.  The challenges were that my basic principle didn't make sense in practice.  How can we say that Christ can't choose to call an individual today to do acts for the good of His Church?  E.g., how do we know Calvin wasn't given the authority that we believe God gave to the Apostle Paul?

In light of this, I believe my principle requires a distinction between individual and collective Christian authority.  I mentioned this in the third Authority post, but perhaps too much in passing.  I said "when we perform acts as the Christian Church, unless we believe these acts flow from our individual capacities, we need authority from God (because we act as agents of His capacity). It might have been better stated another way: if we presume to act on God's account on behalf of (and over) other Christians, we must identify positive authority to do so.

Certainly when I blog, I do so as an individual Christian.  I do not claim to act on account of a group of other Christians (e.g., my local church, or my denomination).  I do not believe that any of my assertions are binding on other Christians because I have asserted them.  That is why I do not need to identify positive authority to blog about the Faith.  If this were the blog of my XYZ Presbyterian (PCA) Church, then I would need positive authority to speak on that body's behalf.

Likewise, when others show hospitality, or raise a child in the faith, or speak in foreign tongues, or the like, they are fulfilling their individual place in the overall body of Christ.  Most Christian acts, then, are individual acts of the believer, not requiring this immediate assignment of authority from Christ.  When people perform individual acts in the name of Christ, we must let them put their talents to use.

But this is distinct from those who claim to act on behalf of (and over) other believers, or on behalf of the Christian Church.    The talents of driving out demons or speaking in tongues are distinct from the talent of 'apostleship' (cf. 1 Cor 12:28), which inherently involves authority over others. When an overseer claims to exercise Christ's authority over the Christian Church, he must be positively authorized to assume this role.  It is essential that our Church leaders be able to articulate their positive source of authority to exert power over the body of Christ.  This is necessary assurance that the rest of the body is not being led astray -- has not been commandeered by false shepherds.


Rene'e said...

Welcome Back Tom !

I stop by from time to time to see if you returned, and low and behold a new post!

A very Merry and Blessed Christmas to you and your family, and a wonderful new year too.

Thos said...


(Sniff) It's nice to be missed! I hope that you too have a joyous Christmas (aka Feast of the Nativity). I hope that I can get a head of steam going on blogging again. I missed it.

Peace in Christ,