Church Authority, Smurch Schmashmority

I’m not generally keen on acquiescing to authority. I couldn’t even manage to join the Cub Scouts when I was a kid: one time, when I was just considering joining, the Den Daddy, or whatever he was called, cried out, “Okay, boys! Line up! Let’s go! Single file!”

I didn’t much care for his tone. But I understood the concept of lining up. I’d done it before. I got it. And I did like the Boy Scout uniform: I thought those crisp navy-blue shirts were extremely cool.

So, okay. I lined up. No worries.

But apparently the line we boys formed wasn’t tight enough for our DD. “Come on!” he barked. “You can do better than that! Everybody! Stare at the back of the neck of the boy in front of you!”

I walked out of the line. I didn’t want to stare at the hairy mole on the back of the neck of the kid standing in front of me. And I didn’t want to have to suddenly be self-conscious about what the back of my neck looked like, either. I knew I never washed back there. For all I knew, I had mold growing back there.

That night my mom asked me, “What happened? Why did you quit the Cub Scouts?”

“Because I’m too young to join the military,” I said. “Those guys are Nazis.”

“Fair enough,” my mom laughed.

Anyway, with following I’m not so good. And by “not so good,” I mean spectacularly bad. I’m … congenitally predisposed toward independence. I’m actually sort of feral about remaining independent.

For the record, that’s not something I’m proud of. I’m aware that being the sort of guy who doesn’t (as I didn’t) get his picture taken for his senior year high school yearbook has in my life done me at least as much harm as good.

It also doesn’t mean that I don’t like people. I do. A lot! I love people! I stalk seven or eight of them, assiduously. You could set your watch by when I show up at certain bushes throughout my town.

Har! Stalking jokes!

Always not quite funny!

Anyway, about church authority.

I have zero interest in it. None. Zero. Zilich. Nada. I just don’t care what anyone else thinks about what I think about God.

Which is not to say that I’m uninterested in what other think about God. Far from it. I know I can be deeply enriched through other people’s thoughts, experiences and explorations of God, as well as by studying the history of religion generally and Christianity in particular.

Good times, for sure.

But tell me what I should think about God? Tell me what God or Jesus really means by something in the Bible? Tell me (of all things) what church authority has always said about this thing or that?

Then you might as well tell me to line up, and stare at the neck of the guy in front of me.

What is the Holy Spirit for, if not to let us know all that we need to know about God? What was the whole point of the Reformation, if not to definitively assert that everyone can quit listening to church authority, and just start being with God? Why in the world am I supposed to think that someone who has a seminary degree, or graduated from Yale Divinity, or (of all things) wrote a bestselling Christian book, knows more about, or has more direct access to, God, than I do? Who cares about that stuff? Getting a seminary degree is a career choice, not a special ordination from God. Going to Yale Divinity means that you could afford to go to Yale Divinity (and are unlikely to ever have a real job.) Having a bestselling Christian book means that pastors bought your book in bulk to use in their church’s adult education classes—which means the book was really, really safe (read: boring), and encouraged people to give. Is there any way such a book won’t be excruciatingly boring?

Some guy with great hair and a magnetic personality heads a mega-church, and I’m supposed to think he’s got some kind of direct Bat-line to God?

Homey don’ think so.

Okay. Back to work for me. Thanks for letting me rave at you, friends.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Mike

    I do believe you were present this weekend (probably in the form of a stink-bug or a mouse in the corner) listening to the dribble coming out of the mouth of my sister and brother-in-law while I was visiting . . . . . he’s the guy with the magnetic personality, good hair and the COO of a mega-church (and drives a fancy BMW) . . . . . they are still trying to convince me that “someone they know” understands the “correct” interpretation of all that is written in the Bible. If only I could get them to read your blog regularly!

    • JAy.

      “COO of a mega-church”

      I think we may have found the problem. Is it a church or a business? There SHOULD be a difference!

  • http://gooseberrybush.wordpress.com gooseberrybush

    Wow. This is great, and there’s some truth to the safe comment. Pastors don’t usually pick books that challenge people to think.

  • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

    “I was going to say I’m very interested in what, historically, others have thought about God, except the more I learn about that (and I’ve been studying the history of religion for very long time now), the more the history of the Christian church seems to me like a history of stupid. ”

    Oh thank goodness I’m not the only one who has thought that!

    @Mike
    Someone actually believes they have finally figured out for complete certainty what a leviathan is? wow! I mean wow! It’s been linked to everything from dinosaurs to fire breathing dragons to sea monsters, to whales to hippos or hyenas. Some people even think its the name of demon. I’d sure like to know which one it is.

  • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

    “I was going to say I’m very interested in what, historically, others have thought about God, except the more I learn about that (and I’ve been studying the history of religion for very long time now), the more the history of the Christian church seems to me like a history of stupid. ”

    Oh thank goodness I’m not the only one who has thought that!

    @Mike
    Someone actually believes they have finally figured out for complete certainty what a leviathan is? wow! I mean wow! It’s been linked to everything from dinosaurs to fire breathing dragons to sea monsters, to whales to hippos or hyenas. Some people even think its the name of demon. I’d sure like to know which one it is.

  • Stan

    I agree with the anti-authority stance. Lately I have had to take a hard look at my beliefs surrounding homosexuality and other trigger issues in the Church. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches us. I don’t know what happened during various translations of the Bible. I do know that God is Love. I do know what giving up my fight with God and accepting Jesus has done. I know what religiously has done to harm other people. I know God is the judge, not me and all who come to Christ are saved and Gods’ project to complete.

  • Suz

    Amen Brother! You rock! You da man! More accolades I can’t think of! For years I’ve half believed that my ignorance (or flat-out ignoring) of religious and philosophical theories, has somehow left me unqualified to speak about God. Not too long ago, I finally realized that 2000 years of opinions on the subject ARE NOT IMPORTANT!!!! I have NEVER felt more free to explore God than I do now. None of that “baggage” has any bearing on my relationship with God; it just cluttered it up. “The moment I let go of it was the moment I got more than I could handle. The moment I jumped off of it was the moment I touched down” from “Thank You” by Alanis Morissette. I’m so glad I found the courage to let go of man’s words.

    • Ladyofleisuredc

      I’m Abbie, Nice to meet you Suz. Cyber hug (Cos I’m excited I’m INDEED NOT alone!)

      CAPS: Sign of overwhelming joy!

  • Kara K

    That is … quite a picture, Homey.
    I like your ravings. I swallowed the church thing for 25 years and then took 15 years off. God brought me back, but the blind trust in the institution just isn’t there this time around, and I like it.

    • Nicole

      A year later…this comment is encouraging. I’ve been away from church for about three years and I’m still not ready to go back. Glad to know I’m not completely off my rocker. :)

  • Mindakms

    This is why I love to hear other believers tell me how God is moving in their lives…give me your experiences with the living God, not your regurgitations of someone else I don’t know and therefore don’t trust instinctively.

  • Stan

    II meant to type ” my religiousity “

  • Don Rappe

    I have it on good authority that the only authority Jesus gave his church was the authority to forgive the sins of the penitent.

  • laurie

    John, I wholeheartedly agree that most of the drivel coming out of mega churches and Christian bookstores is naseauting. All the high profile Christian teachers want to try and be your personal Pope. I don’t know what is more nauseating in the mega churches the arrogant pastors and their incessant appeals for $ or their fans.

    But how do you discern heresy without the historical witness of the Church? How would you protect the mystery of the Holy Trinity without Church authority? Would the Church have gotten out of the first centuries with your philsophy? Or would gnosticism, manicheism, nestorianism and all those other isms permanently splinter and divide the witness? It seems the question isn’t church authority versus no authority, but to which authority does one listen? For example, there is a movement in the Anglican traditions to embrace worship of primitive deities as alternate manifestations of the incarnation. How do you argue against this novelty without church authority?

    As for me and my family we choose the authority of Apostolic succession as protected in the Eastern Orthodox church. A predenominational church for a post-postmodern world.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Oh, Laurie. If you’re going to be rational and make perfectly good sense, and thoughtfully raise excellent questions that anyone who really cares about Christian theology can no sooner afford to ignore than a farmer can afford to ignore the weather, then I’m afraid I’m going to have to pretend I didn’t hear you. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but these days nobody’s interested in reasonable discourse. Okay? You need to join the modern age, sister. Buy a bullhorn like the rest of us. (And quit writing so extremely well. That’s just making it worse.)

    • Diana A.

      “But how do you discern heresy without the historical witness of the Church? How would you protect the mystery of the Holy Trinity without Church authority? Would the Church have gotten out of the first centuries with your philsophy? Or would gnosticism, manicheism, nestorianism and all those other isms permanently splinter and divide the witness?”

      With all due respect, I’ve never understood this fear of alternative ideas. I believe that the truth has nothing to fear from a lie–that is, if an idea is truly sound, it will stand on it’s own merits and if it’s not truly sound, it will die a natural death. My fear is of the people who are so afraid of “heretical” ideas that they will use any means necessary to supress those ideas–up to and including killing those who express them. In fact, if the only way I can find to deal with an idea that challenges one of my own is to supress the alternate viewpoint (by killing the person expressing it, if necessary), isn’t that evidence all by itself that there is merit to the challenge?

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        Nicely expressed, D.

        • Diana A.

          Thanks, tildeb!

    • Don Rappe

      The Anglican church also protects the myth of the Apostolic succession.

      • Anonymous

        Whoa; slow down, Tiger. There’s no need to call the (long hallowed) Christian tradition someone just avowed as their own a “myth.” That’s too disrespectful, don’t you think?

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          I like myths. I would never consider it an insult if someone called a belief of mine a myth. I’d at best pity the poor soul for not seeing the truth in myths. I also like fairy tales (being a fairy myself, and all, lol.)
          Seriously, wasn’t it C.K. Chesterton who said: “Fairy Tales are more than true – not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten!”

          • Don Rappe

            OK, my apologies. The Anglican church also protects the sacred story of the Apostolic succession. I must have been up too late.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Snark! ^_^

  • laurie

    So if “alternative ideas” die on their own without official statements from the Church why didn’t gnosticism et al die without pan church counsels? And would the concept of the Holy Trinity exist without the witness of church authority as presented at the great ecumenical counsels? And in the meantime how do you respond to an honest inquirer regarding a question like the one posed. Your logic seems to flow that Church authority leads to persecution 100% of the time. I would humbly propose that your knowledge of Church history is some what Dan Brownish (and western) and would encourage more balanced study.

    • Suz

      Alternative ideas, heresies, denominations, and any form of church authority are irrelevant to those who very simply want to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s a simple concept, but not over-simplified. Man made complications dilute the purity of His message. Religious persecution even 1% of the time negates the original purpose of the church, which is to worship God, and God is the purest GOODNESS of all. We humans have a hard time with this, because we tend to define ourselves “tribally” – by inclusion and exclusion. God is big enough to include everybody; our brains just don’t work that way because our perceptions are too limited. The very best we can do is ADMIT that we can’t see the whole picture, so we might be dead wrong in our attempts to do right. It’s OK to study other people’s theories about right and wrong, but QUESTION EVERYTHING; hold it up to the purest standard we know – the words of Jesus.

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        “God is the purest GOODNESS of all.”
        “the purest standard we know – the words of Jesus.”

        “but QUESTION EVERYTHING”

        Really? o.O

        • Suz

          Yes FreeFox, really, based on three very basic assumptions of pure Christian faith: divinity exists, God is divine, and Jesus is a part of God. I HAVE questioned and I chose to believe. To me everything else is up for debate. That’s a pretty basic place to draw the line, don’t you think?

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Hey, Suz, no offence. I do get what you mean. But I think your assumtions are far from as basic and pure as you think they are. God/Divine can mean a lot of things. You are adding the assumption that the divine is always good and pure. If you do that you have to come to terms with the question of suffering, and there is no simple answer to that. When you assume that Jesus is a part of God – and God is inherently good and pure – it still does not lead automatically to the assumption that the “word of Jesus” as we have it, in the form of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, is anywhere as good and pure. There are several apocryphal gospels that have not been included. Do you know why not? Can you say that they are less good and pure? What is the true word of Jesus? Whose testimony do you believe and on what grounds?
            That is the problem – if you are willing to question everything (and I’m all in favour of that) – you have to question your own “basic” assumptions. And it usually turns out that there is a lot unanswered.
            Questions are troublesome… ^_^

          • Suz

            No offense taken. These are basic “Christian” assumptions. I agree that the “word of Jesus as we have it” cannot be completely pure because it is written by man. But when you read the words attributed to Him, (not just the words about him) the message of unconditional love is pretty clear, even if the words themselves are not perfectly accurate quotes. I’ve chosen to believe that God is all that is good, and that divine evil also exists, so I suppose I believe in some form of Satan as well. I rather doubt that God “controls” the world, because I believe in the concept of free will. This is part of why I said I have questioned it. My personal problem with it all, is that when I state that I accept these most basic Christian beliefs, Christians and non-Christians alike assume that I blindly buy into the whole shebang. I don’t. The bible was written by humans using words. Even if the writers (and translators, and the Nicene Council, etc…) were inspired by God (Sure! No bias, cultural influence or politics there!) no words can begin to express divinity. So there ARE a lot of unanswered questions, but that is the nature of divinity. If we could comprehend it, it wouldn’t be divine. I dismiss as irrelevant most of the troublesome questions, by limiting the scope of what I am willing to accept as a matter of blind faith. And I accept that I could be dead wrong about the few beliefs to which I have committed myself, but I feel compelled commit myself anyway. Agnosticism is too ambiguous for me.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            “Jesus is a part of God”—a very basic assumption of pure Christian faith!?

            Hasn’t the faith everywhere and always rejected that understanding?

    • Ace

      Contrary to popular belief, Gnosticism still exists (Mandaeans and a few other minority religious groups, mostly still living in the middle east & asia). These groups have all been heavily persecuted by majority religious groups in their native areas (Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, etc), and while a lot have been wiped out completely, they are not totally gone.

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        “Gnosticism still exists”
        Oh, aye. ^_^

  • Don Rappe

    There are such things a heresies. They are the tools the devil uses to divide the Christian Church into sects and denominations. For instance, the Roman church is the one that sometimes confuses the Way of Jesus with the way of Caesar. Similarly, the Lutheran church is the one that confuses studying the scriptures with worshiping them. The Orthodox churches are pretty good if they don’t get too entangled with the nationalism of their Protector nations. etc.

    It is true that these heresies are slow to die and are sometimes even reborn as with the Arianism of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Maybe the Doctrine of the Trinity is less essential to us then the divine figures to which it points.

    • Don Rappe

      False assumptions of authority do not seem to have been very historically successful at engaging heresies. Perhaps the light of informed and free discussion can be more successful.

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      “There are such things a heresies. They are the tools the devil uses to divide the Christian Church into sects and denominations.”

      How do you tell the heresies from the truth? How do you know, e.g., that the RC Church, the Lutherans, or JW are wong in these instances?

      • Don Rappe

        My points were meant to be that authority does not help to defend against heresy and that there are still plenty around. You ask a deeper question about how I (myself) can tell which are which. I define heresy to be an idolatrous distortion of the spiritual gift of faith. In many ways the sacred scripture as a whole is about how to make this distinction. Clearly, the way I make it involve my opinion on the interpretation.

    • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

      There are such things a heresies. They are the tools the devil uses to divide the Christian Church into sects and denominations.

      Hey, FreeFox: how do you square Don’s assertion here with your heresies-as-myths (or is that heresies-as-anti-myths?) or are you both equally accurate in your interpretations? And how can I know which is closer to what’s true?

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        Well, since all myths and fairy tales – including those about God – are constructs of language meant to illuminate something real, you have to first define what you mean by heresy, and the devil.The devil, for example, has as many masks as God has: The serpent, Satan, Lucifer (Prometheus?), the demon Legion Jesus met, etc, they are all different aspects. The aspect of real life that I understand as the most antagonistic to God is the human desire to shut oneself off from the fullness of the life experience, out of fear of hurt or out of greed (i.e. the fear that life will not give you your due) out of self-loathing (including most forms of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, etc.) for example.This agency, that again is part subjective and part internalized social and biological commonality, this embodiment of a selfish “no” is what I would mostly call “the devil”. And it certainly is rampantly active throughout humanity. And sometimes it is what causes peeps to break with certain traditions, myths, truths, rules of conduct, etc, and causes schisms to form.But personally I found that most so called heresies were actually valid questions or valid alternate interpretations of “myths”/religions, pointing towards parts of the truth that had not been included in the canon. So, mostly I think the devil worked through those who cry “heresy!” and try to block these questions and interpretations. It is them, who say “no” after all, and mostly no not out of reasoned understadning but out of fear, and greed, and self-loathing.How do you know which is true? Simple: You define the terms for the question, and then you measure them to the best of your knowledge. That’s science 101, man! ;)Was Martin Luthers break from Catholicism a heresy? If you find that saying no to dogma and yes to an individual relationship with God (life, wisdom, the cosmos, the transcendent, whatever) is the more life/joy-affirming choice, then no, he wasn’t a tool of the devil. If you find that saying no to the community, to the social ritual of forgiveness, and yes to alienation, to the constant fear of personally failing God (life, wisdom, etc.) without recourse to a ritual affirming your right to be humanly fallible, leading in consequence to a pitiless Capitalism, when you think all that was rather counter productive in increasing human access to the rapture of being alife, well, I’d say then the devil probably did score a victory with good ol’ ML.Personally, in that particulare conflict, I think it was a stalemate between the two chaps. Religion always has an aspect that adresses acceptible conduct within society (the “Moral” aspect, perhaps), and one that adresses the question of how to be a more complete human being (ther “spiritual” aspect, perhaps). On both scores, protestantism did gain some, but lost quite a lot of something else. It did lead both to Democracy on the one hand, but neither Fascism nor Stalinism or Maoism would have been possible without it, either. It is the basis for the scepticism that allows science, but also for the need to prove your elders wrong and make your mark on history that fuels science…But as I said elsewhere in this thread, on the whole I think heresies enrichen our experience. So, no, on the whole I do think the devil is usually on the side of the dogmatists, and rarely on the side of those who ask open-minded questions.

        (But I think that Don has a point about the “worshipping scripture” thing… though that seems to be true for most protestant sects, and the American branches more than the European ones.)

  • Ace

    “I’m actually sort of feral about remaining independent.”

    Hehehehe, I can relate to that sentence. Quite a lot, actually. There’s nothing I hate more than somebody else telling me what to do, think & feel and actually believing I’m just going to hop to it without even slightly questioning their wisdom.

    The Church(TM) and its official teachings are fine guides, I think, but people who throw their brains out with Sunday breakfast’s leftovers are not doing themselves any favors.

  • JAy.

    Wow. The comment train has taken a spur off the main track (at least as I expected). But let me ride that train for a minute (or five).

    The history of the church has a lot to teach modern Christians. The concept of the Trinity is powerful, and a great teaching tool. The Crusades are a great warning regarding God’s intent for “creating disciples”. Martin Luther said we all should think for ourselves and get to know God personally. Hazahh! (Is that how you spell that?) Luther also had some not-so-nice things to say about Jews. Well, we all make mistakes.

    And for those of you who claim a reformed theology and then claim to throw out church tradition, well, you have just picked a tradition to follow.

    No, we cannot escape the traditions of the Church. (Christmas! Easter Sunrise Service!) And I personally do not want to do so.

    But I do agree with the ideas of (1) personally knowing God and (2) critically examining how we each live our lives every day. The conclusions I reach may not be the conclusions you reach (Paul addresses this in the Bible). So, if I follow a tradition, I may not be any more right or wrong than someone who follows a different tradition. But we all need to personally “get right with God” and then show a ton of love and grace to those around us. That, I think, is what Jesus would want me to do.

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      Totally agree… even if I prob picked a diff set of traditions to follow. (I, too, am a worshipper of Ostara.) ^_^

      • Don Rappe

        The ability to accommodate the sacred stories of the people who have turned to the God of Israel is a noticeable characteristic of Christianity. My ancestors were largely Germanic. so I celebrate with eggs and evergreen trees. If I know about the great Goddess associated with the dawn or the sacred Oaks or that for three hundred years Christians depended on their Jewish neighbors to tell them when is the time for Passover so they could celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus may have some effect on how I interpret this sacred story, but think the canons of scripture give me enough to go on.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          Spoken like a true Christian. ^_^ Me, I prefer to worship the sacred oaks as the embodiment of life with in the entirety of the world, ground, sky and all inbetween, and the Goddess of the Dawn as the bringer of new life in the cycle of existence, and the resurrection of Jesus as the promise of hope that in every end there is a new beginning, and view the canons of scripture as merely one book written by God through the hands of humans (as all books are, sacred or not), a collection of some gems of wisdom and truth in a mire of empty words, misunderstandings, and cultural artefacts passed over by history. But then, I’m probably not a real Christian, am I? :)

          • laurie

            I prefer to worship the sacred oaks as the embodiment of life with in the entirety of the world, ground, sky and all inbetween, and the Goddess of the Dawn . . .

            I have been outside of Western Christianity for about a decade and a half. Is this goddess worship of freefox a common thing? just curious?

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            The way this free fox worships both oaks and the goddess(es) appears to be not very common, no. ^_^ Most similar worshippers this fox encountered seem to do so primarily so they can call themselves wiccans and feel all wild and racy about themselves, and rather less because they truly worship life, or new beginnings, or those things at all. But then, no matter where you go, most people are dancing around the golden calf, aren’t they?

    • Soulmentor

      It’s Huzzah, but who cares.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Dugard/1425371568 Steven Dugard

    Now, if you could only figure out how to start your own mega-church, that, of course, wasn’t anything like a mega-church (or any kind of church for that matter), except that it would have a huge following and millions of TV viewers so that your voice would be heard by the masses, who desperately need to hear it ; )

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric

    I’m reading the 1920 edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Mrs. Stowe (times were a little different back in the day). I am (re)struck at just about every chapter, how the church knew how God felt about slavery. It’s rather sad how accepting we are of authority. The Milgram experiment exposed this weakness rather well.

  • Mindy

    If he’s got a direct Bat-line, does he have a big Bat-signal, too? Because that is one thing I’ve wanted my entire life. I’ll follow him if he has one.

    Or not.

    I applaud this post, John, probably with a standing O. I cannot STAND mega-pastors. They are, in my estimation, the smarmiest people alive. Anyone who purports to do Jesus’ work while reveling in the fame of it all is so far off base from what Jesus taught that s/he can’t possibly have anything to teach. They just sicken me – because they claim to know God so well, yes, but more importantly because they live lives that have very little to do with the teachings of Jesus.

    And yes, I am painting with a very broad brush. This has been one of the most off-putting aspects of American Christianity for decades.

    • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

      There is a novel I read several years ago by an author of the name (I think) of Francine Rivers. The book was As the Shofar Blows…or something like that. It was about a small church pastor who took over a tiny church in a bad part of town, and how he ended up turning it into a mega-church, right before he totally screwed it all up leading to a spectacular fall from grace.

      It showed very clearly how personality, fame, and accolades got in the way, and how people went along for the ride and how betrayed they felt when the house of holy cards fell.

      • Cath

        It was “And the Shofar Blew” and you are exactly correct. It was about compromising your beliefs to please the crowd. Excellent story.

    • Ace

      I refuse to watch pastors on TV because they are so, as you put it, “smarmy”. They have not an ounce of humility and most of what they preach is not the Gospel but rather whatever the prevailing conservative-poltical opinion of the moment is.

      Several of the local “megas” are broadcast on Sunday morning here and I really can’t stand any of them. I wish they would broadcast some of the smaller churches instead. I’ve been to several of them around town and the preachers *usually* at least have an ounce of humility.

    • Ace

      I refuse to watch pastors on TV because they are so, as you put it, “smarmy”. They have not an ounce of humility and most of what they preach is not the Gospel but rather whatever the prevailing conservative-poltical opinion of the moment is.

      Several of the local “megas” are broadcast on Sunday morning here and I really can’t stand any of them. I wish they would broadcast some of the smaller churches instead. I’ve been to several of them around town and the preachers *usually* at least have an ounce of humility.

      • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

        I, not being a fan of tv anyway, loath televised worship services.Now I understand that the likely original intent was to make worship services available to either people who may not normally to church, or to those who would like to attend but cannot. A noble cause. However there is a small hitch. Producing television is expensive.Small churches cannot afford such a thing, only larger ones can, and then they must constantly be watching that budget, knowing that more viewers can mean more contributors to the church, more sermon cds, books sold to help fund programming sold. Before you know it, it’s not an outreach, its a business.Now there is nothing at all wrong with running a successful business, but is it what the church should be doing? Yes I know modern technology makes it easier to reach more and more potential viewers, but is it right to attempt to do so? Does the concept that is often used for justify mass marketing God which is “we are reaching the world for Christ” really ring true?

        • Ace

          I’d like to think if enough small churches could pool their resources together, they could rotate through them, a different one each Sunday, which would at least give a broader set of views, instead of just broadcasting one particular preacher’s week after week.

          I dunno, I’m probably being too Pollyanna here.

          • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

            nice idea, Ace, but you are probably right. It’s probably about as a realistic an idea as my youngest cat doing my psychology homework for me AND making an A on it.

          • Ace

            I dunno, psychology is about as fuzzy and logical as a cat. I’d say that’s a good match. ;)

    • jes

      WOULD JESUS WEAR A ROLEX
      (Margaret Archer / Chet Atkins)

      Ray Stevens – 1987

      Woke up this mornin’ turned on my TV set
      There in livin’ color was somethin’ I can’t forget
      This man was preachin’ at me.. yeah.. layin’ on the charm
      Asking me for 20 with 10,000 on his arm

      He wore designer clothing and a big smile on his face
      Selling me salvation while they sang Amazing Grace
      Asking me for money when he had all the signs of weath
      Almost wrote a check out.. yeah.. but then I asked myself…

      Would He wear a pinky ring, would He drive a fancy car
      Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressing room have a star
      If he came back tomorrow there’s something I’d like to know
      Would Jesus wear a rolex on His television show

      Would Jesus be political if he came back to earth
      Have his second home in Palm Springs.. yeah.. but try to hide his worth
      Take money from those poor folks when He comes back again
      And admit He’s talked to all those preachers who said they’d been-a talking to Him

      Would He wear a pinky ring, would He drive a fancy car
      Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressing room have a star
      If he came back tomorrow there’s something I’d like to know
      Could ya tell me – Would Jesus wear a rolex
      Would Jesus wear a rolex
      Would Jesus wear a rolex on His television show
      Would Jesus wear a rolex on His television show

      • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

        Didn’t Ray Stevens sing that?

        • jes

          Yes, in 1987; it’s attributed at the top. :D

          • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

            Ok, my brightness factor is set on dim today. I didn’t even see that!

          • jes

            No worries :)

      • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

        Didn’t Ray Stevens sing that?

      • Donrappe

        One of those questions that answers itself.

      • William
  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    Jesus warned against those who would claim to speak for Him. I don’t hold to “church authority,” but then I’ve always been a black sheep. I think God must have installed the ‘automatic recoil’ setting on me when it comes to being told what to think.

    • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

      I like that automatic recoil idea. I call it my “why” switch.

    • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

      I like that automatic recoil idea. I call it my “why” switch.

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      So, uh, what do you do when someone tells you to think for yourself? ^_^ (j/k)

      • jes

        Just say “no.” :D

    • Don Rappe

      Critical thinking!

  • laurie

    Thanks John for asserting your authority, when discussions started to get a little nasty.

    Mindy, I grew up in a mega church in the 1970′s and the Minister there was actually an extremely rare species- a humble man. But he never set out to found a mega church, people were drawn to his humility and the mega church happened. I think the people who set out to found mega churches might be the ones who fit your stereotype.

    Ric, you referenced the Milgram experiments, I had a Christian college professor who pointed out one of the inside notes of the study. An examinee refused to proceed with the experiment citing his belief in a higher power. The study placed the refuser within the data for submissive people since he was still being submissive just not to the almighty white coats. The professor pointed out that the refusee in the Milgram experiment was a member of the denomination that sponsored our Dutch reformed college. At the time (of the Milgram test) the time the Dutch Reformed Church was known for its authoritarianism. The point being that submission to authority works to protect life as well as destroy it, depending upon whom you choose to obey.

    Ric, you also mentioned America’s Civil War. Frank Schaeffer, Jr. an Orthodox convert (some people will recognize the name of his famous protestant philosopher father.) wrote an article about the Civil War called the Great Protestant Holy War. His thesis was that the Holy War would not have happened if the 19th century Protestants had a historical Church to guide them instead of their own personalized, individualized, customized churches that simply rubber stamped their beliefs. Through the 20/20 vision of hindsight we can see the errors of the 19th century Christians, but what about our own?

    Ace, yes, the heresies of the nascent church have survived the authority of the Church’s ecumenical counsels, however as you mentioned they are localized and cease to control the direction of the Church. At one time as much as 1/2 the Church was seduced by these heresies that were spread via top 40 popular songs and an inability to comprehend either the mystery of Christ’s dual nature or the Holy Trinity. After a millenium give or take a few hundred years the authority of the Church’s ecumenical counsels has stood the test of time on these issues.

    Nobody has answered the question I posed. How do you respond to an honest inquirer regarding the Christian worship of Gaia and other polytheistic deities without referencing the authority of the Church? Diana came the closest to attempting to answer but only by setting up a false dichotomy of Church authority with killing the nonsubmissive versus love, tolerance and respect without authority. Diana, there is always killing no matter what, that’s what humans do. Perhaps we should do an empirical study the death rate via Church authority versus the death rate without.

    Sorry John for taking up so much of your blog space. Keep up the good work in challenging mushy, lazy Christian thinking.

    • Marcelo

      Laurie: I think that’s the problem. The moment any kind of human-made structure, society, or organization is set up as a means for like-minded worshippers to come together, it becomes “institutional” and necessarily must look towards its own structural integrity in order to survive the inevitable disagreements that come up in any gathering of people. The church may do tremendous good in carrying out the mission the Christ gave us, but in order to survive to do so, ends up reverting to using its “authority” in order to get things done. Churches don’t survive long if they try to function solely by consensus. Either the gathering of voices eventually leads to dissenting opinions, thereby bringing gridlock, or the congregation chooses a leader or leaders, who at least theoretically exercise authority over the congregation in some matters.

      And yes, there is the authority as in an institutional or hierarchical authority, and there is the authority of scripture, ideology, precepts, or tradition. Either way, the moment a group of believers choose to associate, the potential necessarily arises to choose an authoritarian response to divergence of opinion.

      Is the answer a sort of Christian Anarchism? Gee, I hope not, but….

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        Hm. Entire nations can be run on democratic principles, and find peaceful (if sometimes heated) ways to deal with dissenting voices without gridlock, can’t they? It may not be perfect, but as Churchill, I believe, said: Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried. Why should churches be exempt from that rule?

        • Marcelo

          They shouldn’t, and many aren’t exempt. I agree completely! They try to practice it. But I fear many are in the minority. There appears to be a certain illusion of democracy in some church organizations. What really exists are congregations of like-minded folks who have either run out or alienated those with divergent views. And even then, divergent opinions eventually bubble up to the surface.

          Also, the big distinction between democracy of the polity and that of church organizations is that the latter deal with absolutes and choices with profound moral and spiritual consequences. This is an area that is inherently devoid of ambiguity or relativism. Authority therefore ends up being the inevitable result and means to maintain doctrinal consistency in the face of a relativistic age.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            “But then…we’re ending up with the most benevolent, competent absolute ruler in the universe.”*Looks around*You think so? Uh… does the heavenly constitution allow for a vote of confidence?^_^But anyway, Churches are not divine but human organizations, run by and for humans, so I don’t see how that really prevents democratic principles. To quote Churchill again: They are without a doubt the worst form of government… except all others that we know of. Easy as that, neh?

          • Marcelo

            Personally, I agree with you. I think that is the ONLY decision-making model that makes sense within a church. But doesn’t that beg the question: what is authority then? Majority rules, minority are heretics, alienated are apostates?

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            How about, nobody is a heretic or an apostate. Each Church defines a basic set of principles upon which members agree or agree to be non-members (call it the constitution.) Whithin that broad framework the majority tries to come to a consensual understanding, while minorities are protected as long as they still fall within the basic assumption. Those who decide that they cannot share the basic belief peacefully leave the community to form their own.

          • Marcelo

            First of all, I agree completely. I think it’s the only ethical way to accomplish forming a church, if one gets past the threshhold issues outlined above. Second, isn’t this what many (if not most) Protestant churches already practice to varying degrees? My point, I guess, is that setting up an organization creates an institution. That institution has to exert some sort of authority. The exercise of that authority, especially if enforcing a particular doctrine, policy, or practice, will likely alienate (or worse persecute) a congregant who believes differently. Thereby splintering the universal body of believers further. Maybe there’s a profound lesson in all this: the act of gathering together plants the seed of what drives us apart.

          • Marcelo

            First of all, I agree completely. I think it’s the only ethical way to accomplish forming a church, if one gets past the threshhold issues outlined above. Second, isn’t this what many (if not most) Protestant churches already practice to varying degrees? My point, I guess, is that setting up an organization creates an institution. That institution has to exert some sort of authority. The exercise of that authority, especially if enforcing a particular doctrine, policy, or practice, will likely alienate (or worse persecute) a congregant who believes differently. Thereby splintering the universal body of believers further. Maybe there’s a profound lesson in all this: the act of gathering together plants the seed of what drives us apart.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Hm. Maybe I do not see the “universal body” the same way you do? Is music played in unison really the more beautiful? Or isn’t a orchestra playing divisi, even with a clash of disharmonies every now and then, a much richer, more enobling experience?
            If we agree that God is too vast to be comprehended by a single human mind at a single instance, having a unified Church would only steal from our ability to partake of the whole of God, wouldn’t it? It is the chorus of multiple voice, of many view-points, arguing, squabling even, searching for God in many places, looking at the many masks of God, that give us the most comprehensive view on the world. Within each church or congregation, let them try to drive deep and explore one facet of the divine if they wish. But as humanity, let us have many such mines and miners. ^_^

          • Anonymous

            I believe there can be both. Diversity in style but unity in brotherhood. My brother and I march to two different beats, but we love each other regardless. Brotherhood unites us, style divides us and adds something to each other’s lives. For that reason, I don’t believe having lots in common with a prospective mate or spouse is essential. As long as the bond of family is not abandoned, diversity augments and enriches both. There may be lots of fights and arguments along the way, but iron sharpens iron. If both are fair and introspective, all things work together for the common good.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            “I don’t necessarily believe all paths lead to the one true God, but I do believe God can meet us on any of those paths if we earnestly seek Him.”

            Aye! Even though, of course, we never find all of Him, but always only facets. Or masks. Or emanations. Or aspects. Or whatever you want to call those little flashes of insight about the world and ourselves that we sometimes recieve when we are are open and curious and receptive enough.

          • Anonymous

            NEVER find all of Him?

            I can’t speak for you my foxy friend, but I have the hope that when I see Him, I will finally be like Him, because I will see HIm as He is (1John 3:2-3). Now I see Him as a dim reflection in darkened glass, but at His appearance, I will see Him face to face. Now (as you say) I see portions of Him, then I will know Him fully (1Cor 13:12). One dog to another. Woof!

    • Don Rappe

      I would respond by talking to the people to see if I could figure out what they were up to. How should I respond to people who celebrate the Resurrection with eggs? I usually eat a couple if they’re fresh. If they’re filled with confetti, I enjoy letting a child break a couple on my bald head. Does the laughter of children remind me of the victory over death given by God? Probably.

    • Candace

      “Perhaps we should do an empirical study the death rate via Church authority versus the death rate without.”

      That’s the ONLY study that could possibly shed any instructive light on the topic. All the rest of it is subjective as all get-out, and largely agenda-driven (statement of fact, not a slam against anyone). Venting, basically.

      Not that I have anything against venting, and John did say right up front that was basically what he was doing, and that he had always had an authority problem. (Who doesn’t? ;-0)

      Topics like this tend to become hopelessly combative, sadly, and it all really does come down to which authority one is willing to submit to. To preserve my chosen attitude of interested observation and redirect my tendency to pull on the gloves and step into the ring, I remind myself that everything that is over our heads is already under His feet.

      I will share that, in my view, “church” authority works best in a group of believers who are: a) in a thinking, discerning, loving and dynamic relationship with Jesus; b) willingly led by a devout, humble, wise, and merciful group who were called by God and voted into authority by the body; c) commited to the model of mutual accountability and correction as described in the Bible, d) the context is one of love, and the goal one of restoration, and e) the issues addressed are well-defined and of primary importance (first, or closed-handed, things).

      Any church authority one attempts to excercise outside those parameters (for example, over non-believers or the unrepentant) cannot but be as the herding of cats.

  • laurie

    Thanks John for asserting your authority, when discussions started to get a little nasty.

    Mindy, I grew up in a mega church in the 1970′s and the Minister there was actually an extremely rare species- a humble man. But he never set out to found a mega church, people were drawn to his humility and the mega church happened. I think the people who set out to found mega churches might be the ones who fit your stereotype.

    Ric, you referenced the Milgram experiments, I had a Christian college professor who pointed out one of the inside notes of the study. An examinee refused to proceed with the experiment citing his belief in a higher power. The study placed the refuser within the data for submissive people since he was still being submissive just not to the almighty white coats. The professor pointed out that the refusee in the Milgram experiment was a member of the denomination that sponsored our Dutch reformed college. At the time (of the Milgram test) the time the Dutch Reformed Church was known for its authoritarianism. The point being that submission to authority works to protect life as well as destroy it, depending upon whom you choose to obey.

    Ric, you also mentioned America’s Civil War. Frank Schaeffer, Jr. an Orthodox convert (some people will recognize the name of his famous protestant philosopher father.) wrote an article about the Civil War called the Great Protestant Holy War. His thesis was that the Holy War would not have happened if the 19th century Protestants had a historical Church to guide them instead of their own personalized, individualized, customized churches that simply rubber stamped their beliefs. Through the 20/20 vision of hindsight we can see the errors of the 19th century Christians, but what about our own?

    Ace, yes, the heresies of the nascent church have survived the authority of the Church’s ecumenical counsels, however as you mentioned they are localized and cease to control the direction of the Church. At one time as much as 1/2 the Church was seduced by these heresies that were spread via top 40 popular songs and an inability to comprehend either the mystery of Christ’s dual nature or the Holy Trinity. After a millenium give or take a few hundred years the authority of the Church’s ecumenical counsels has stood the test of time on these issues.

    Nobody has answered the question I posed. How do you respond to an honest inquirer regarding the Christian worship of Gaia and other polytheistic deities without referencing the authority of the Church? Diana came the closest to attempting to answer but only by setting up a false dichotomy of Church authority with killing the nonsubmissive versus love, tolerance and respect without authority. Diana, there is always killing no matter what, that’s what humans do. Perhaps we should do an empirical study the death rate via Church authority versus the death rate without.

    Sorry John for taking up so much of your blog space. Keep up the good work in challenging mushy, lazy Christian thinking.

  • laurie

    Marcelo, the church is not human made. The Church like the family is created by God. The only two institutions created by God.

    I think we need some kind of working definition of Church. And looking over the comments I think the separate concepts of church authority and pastor authority are also intertwined. When I say Church, I mean the one holy apostolic Church created by God incarnate after his resurrection with St. Peter as the first among equals, with authority transmitted via apostolic success, with important decisions made via ecumenical counsels, which wrote, hand copied and canonized the New Testament at the ecumenical counsels. Like the Incarnation she leaves footprints and artifacts as she marches through time. And as Jesus promised she can not be destroyed.

    A group of believers who are associating together until they get into some area of disagreement and go their separate ways can be called a church, but they are not The Church. Just like it could be argued that people who are living together until they can’t get along aren’t really married, but just living together no matter how fancy the wedding. And yes the Church through its representatives functions via the process of consensus. For example, The book of Revelation made the cut only because of a concession to a group that did not like some other issues.

    Years ago when I was grappling with the concept of Church authority I had an epiphany while in the shower. My children as usual per their daily schedule started arguing and fighting as soon as I turned on the shower. Every day I waited until the arguing got loud enough and then I would turn off the shower, wrap a towel around and simply stand in the doorway until they would notice me and shut up. That is what a mother’s presence does. She brings peace to all the bickering factions. (Sometimes she has to threaten to drop the towel to permanently put the fear of God in her children’s eyes.) Here is my understanding of Church authority. The Church is identified as female, as a mother (Rev 12). She is the mother who temporarily allows bickering and pettiness, but her presence alone is enough to quell the sibling rivalry and to heal the fractured egos.

    John, I understand from previous posts that you have had a poor role model for a mother. I am sorry. Most people know what it means to have a mother gently and firmly take control of a situation. The Church is the mother who gently and firmly through intercession and presence quells her bickering children.

    • Marcelo

      Well, that’s a nice analogy, but it’s still a question of degree: who or what is the real authority at each echelon of scale (the local church, the denomination, the worldwide church organization, The Church of all believers)? Even at the highest level, there is tremendous disagreement as to what constitutes the authority in carrying out the purposes of the church. Is it the minister or priest, the church elders, the presbytery, church conference, the council of bishops, the pope or the metropolitan?

      The fact that there is so much disagreement must give us pause when we talk about what constitutes “authority.” In the Christian context, we can agree that Christ, that God, exercises the ultimate authority over The Church, but who carries it out? Who determines what God’s will is in any situation, and whose pronouncement is not subject to contradiction? Within Christendom there is tremendous disagreement even on the issue of “apostolic succession.” In fact, what authority do you follow to determine which interpretation or formulation is authoritative? You see my problem.

      For instance, who determines who is a Christian? Many Christians would say Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t Christian. I personally have a real problem with the concept of the Trinity. In fact, I keep coming back to a conclusion that I think that Jesus may have been some sort of divine manifestation, but that there is only one God, the Father. Does that make me not a Christian? I agree with Jesus’ teachings. I can agree that Jesus was the annointed of God. I can agree that he was sent by the Father to carry out His will in an unprecedented way. But what if I don’t believe Jesus was God? Am I not a Christian then?

      • Don Rappe

        It may be that the teaching of the Trinity is the towel our mother the Church, the bride of Christ, wraps herself in when she catches her children arguing about whether they can pray to Jesus as God. I think she wanted us to quiet down and find something better to do. There is a sacred story that Peter and the apostles responded to instructions to be silent from their highest religious authorities: “We must obey God rather than men.”

      • Don Rappe

        It may be that the teaching of the Trinity is the towel our mother the Church, the bride of Christ, wraps herself in when she catches her children arguing about whether they can pray to Jesus as God. I think she wanted us to quiet down and find something better to do. There is a sacred story that Peter and the apostles responded to instructions to be silent from their highest religious authorities: “We must obey God rather than men.”

      • Jeanine

        Charles Spurgeon once wrote: “There is only one church! There are some people in every church that really belong to the Holy temple of God. They are scattered in the world – and do not know one another; but the Lord knows them all. You will never see the real church, the bride of Christ until she is complete.”

        Rev 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.

        You will see the ready bride when Jesus returns for her.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        To answer your question at the end there: Jesus does.

  • laurie

    Wow Marcelo, did you seriously put a lot of thought into the concept that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom?

    At the great counsels it was always necessary to prove your lineage from the apostles in order to have a vote. (and would still be necessary should a counsel be reconvened.) You trust these counsels for their authority in finalizing the Bible, don’t you? Trust them still. They haven’t left they are alive. Christ promised that his Spirit would always guide them in the truth. He promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church. What kind of a Bride -groom would he be if he did not protect his bride? The Eastern Church with all her warts has been protected, the gates of hell have not splintered her into a billion voiced cacaphony like the Western Church. Don’t be a modern day Pontius Pilate (what is truth, how can you know it.) Trust your mother, the mother of all churches, a Predenominational church for those tired of Post-Modernism.

    • Diana A.

      “You trust these counsels for their authority in finalizing the Bible, don’t you?” Um, no, not really.

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      “Trust your mother, the mother of all churches, a Predenominational church for those tired of Post-Modernism. ”

      I wouldn’t trust my mother as far as I can throw her. I’m with George Carlin on this one: Trust and respect have to be earned. The only one inherently entitled to respect is a baby, and you can’t even trust them. ^_^

  • Marcelo

    “Wow Marcelo, did you seriously put a lot of thought into the concept that the Kingdom of God is a kingdom?”

    Are you being snide? If so, it’s really not necessary, and kind of cheapens your commentary, doesn’t it?

    “At the great counsels it was always necessary to prove your lineage from the apostles in order to have a vote. (and would still be necessary should a counsel be reconvened.)”

    And by what proof was this derived? Who was the arbiter?

    “You trust these counsels for their authority in finalizing the Bible, don’t you?”

    No, I don’t. I’ve studied too much of how these councils were constituted and achieved “consensus” that sometimes I think I would rather be led by a child than by these “authoritative” men.

    “Trust them still.”

    I can’t completely. My conscience won’t allow it.

    “They haven’t left they are alive. Christ promised that his Spirit would always guide them in the truth.”

    “Them?” Why not me? Or you?

    “He promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church.”

    I do believe in this. I hope that “gates of Hell” also equates to ignorance, blind faith, missplaced zeal…well, you get the idea.

    “What kind of a Bride -groom would he be if he did not protect his bride? The Eastern Church with all her warts has been protected, the gates of hell have not splintered her into a billion voiced cacaphony like the Western Church.”

    Do you mean the monolithic Eastern Church like the Assyrian Church of the East, the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Armenian, Syriac, Jacobite, Indian, Coptic, etc.), Oriental Orthodox Churches, Eastern Catholic Churches? Well, you get the idea.

    “Don’t be a modern day Pontius Pilate (what is truth, how can you know it.)”

    Wonderful. Thank you for placing me in such company. Wait a second while I put on my blinders.

    “Trust your mother, the mother of all churches, a Predenominational church for those tired of Post-Modernism.”

    I trust in God, the spirit He put in me, the conscience He bestowed upon me, the community of seekers He has placed me among, the challenges He has placed in front of me or allowed to happen that might instruct me, the intellect He has endowed me with to seek Him out. I might have missed something in there. But, I have to believe, these things come from Him.

    If you are drafting a recruitment poster, I’d just suggest…

    …try again!

    • jes

      Wonderfully stated, Marcelo. I was trying to come with something similar to this and failing.

    • Suz

      I don’t think you missed a thing! “I trust in God…” That’s the bottom line. How many of these comment are describing theories and concepts given to us by “authorities” in their fields? They are interesting ideas, but they come from humans, and they offer human definitions of God’s nature and intent. If we can’t comprehend divinity, how can we possibly define it? Every rule, every tradition of every church, puts limitations on God. My goal is to be led by His spirit, not by people who think they understand His will. I have NEVER found a church that doesn’t get between God and me. I am no longer intimidated by people who know more than me about things that don’t matter to me – religious doctrine is completely irrelevant in my relationship with God.

  • Anonymous

    OK Let me add my two cents. Church authority has it’s place IF, you care to put yourself under it.

    Our church’s counseling pastors see anywhere between 40-50 couples and individuals a week who are in some sort of crisis…either maritally, personally, or financially. They find themselves in crisis, because they refused their own common sense, yielded to their flesh instead of the Spirit. The pastor is by it’s very definition, a leader…a shepherd. If the people who seek the help of leadership, are voluntarily submitting to the authority of that leadership.

    If everything is peachy-keeno, one is hopefully copacetic with one’s world, neighbor and God. If the fanny-fudge is hitting the fan, maybe one is unwittingly submitting to well, umm, letsee…who could it be??? SATAN??

  • Marc

    Hear, hear!

  • Eddie

    We do want to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Biblical authority is put in place by God as a means to grow in the grace & knowldge of Jesus. I have left a church when what was preached and taught didn’t line up with scripture. I sought another church that did and I submit to their authority. Yet ultimate authority is the Word of God.

  • Eddie

    We do want to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Biblical authority is put in place by God as a means to grow in the grace & knowldge of Jesus. I have left a church when what was preached and taught didn’t line up with scripture. I sought another church that did and I submit to their authority. Yet ultimate authority is the Word of God.

    • Soulmentor

      Sigh. You don’t get it. You have just told us that you submit to the interpretations of other fallible humans like yourself; that you take their interpretations as the Word of God; that you submit to the authority not of God, but of those men who wrote those words and that you consider it to be God’s Word because THEY say it is. You are not thinking for yourself. You are letting others do the thinking for you and you suck it up believing it is God’s Word because someone tells you it is. It is Scripture and must be believed because it is Scripture because someone says a particular Scripture is God’s Word and must not be questioned because it is Scripture. Circular reasoning at it’s epitome! And, by the way, which Scripture is the true Word? The King James? The Living Word? The Scriptures that existed before the King James translation (re-interpretation)? Or the various translations (re-interpretations, versions) that all stem from the King James?

      ****Yet ultimate authority is the Word of God.*****

      Which “Word”? Ah, yes. The one YOU chose.

  • laurie

    Dear Marcelo, I wasn’t trying to be snide just a poor attempt at humor and genuine surprise, that anyone could think so much about a simple concept.

    Honestly, I see you like the bishop character in Lewis’s Great Divorce who only wanted inquiry, discussion and debate and was never willing to commit to any truth. He felt that inquiry and discussion were an end unto themself. And he felt superior to the people who could commit to truth. The trick is to use your intellect and reason, but to also have childlike faith. Perhaps my “psychoanalysis” is wrong, if so I apologize. But if you don’t even think that the counsels got the biblical canon right then I guess we don’t have any common ground on which to discuss. Except for our mutual distate of “mega preachers”. I wish you well on your spiritual journey.

    • Soulmentor

      ****….But if you don’t even think that the counsels got the biblical canon right ….****

      And we should believe they got it right because? They were fallible humans and, keep in mind, also the politicians of their time. Believe they got some things right if you wish. No doubt they did, but many gospels and particularly the counsels of women were rejected and the thinking christian must ask what prompted the choices. Granted, that’s often a rhetorical question because we can’t know the answers to that, but it behooves us to understand that they chose that canon within the social and political contexts of the times of those councils and it is safe to assume that it was motivated as much by personal prejudice and politics as by any Spirit of God.

      Thus, we MUST think for ourselves what is best for OUR times with faith that God is working thru us still and did not go silent after those early councils. Why do we assume the Bible as it is today, is God’s final Word?

  • Ladyofleisuredc

    Blink* Blink* Blink*

    Fuck the swasnee banana! When God told me I’m not alone and that given time, I’d meet other people like me, I said “head, stop going mental on me, again” bashat crazy! It WAS really God talking to us! Shitaki mushrooms! John! Get! The! Fuck! Out! My! Head!

    It is such a pleasure to meet you!

  • Jack

    \What was the whole point of the Reformation, if not to definitively assert that everyone can quit listening to church authority, and just start being with God? \

    You don’t actually think that was the whole point of the Reformation, do you? ALL the Reformers believed in some kind of church structure and authority, even though they all felt called upon to re-invent the wheel.

    \Why in the world am I supposed to think that someone who has a seminary degree, or graduated from Yale Divinity, or (of all things) wrote a bestselling Christian book, knows more about, or has more direct access to, God, than I do? …\

    Again, a theological/seminary degree is NOT the same thing as ordination; in Orthodoxy the former does NOT guarantee the latter.

    Ordination means that the ordinand is charged with the ministry of the Word and Sacraments in the Church. Again, in Orthodoxy, there is the figure of the “elder” or “startets”, usually a monastic of either sex (yes, a woman!) who by great spiritual experience does have the spiritual insight to help others find God’s will for their particular situation.

  • kimberly

    john, there you go again. this one got some play, man!!! it is just so simple, and people make it so maddeningly difficult. i want no man, pastor, deacon, or whatever title some committee gave him, telling me my faith has to fit within whatever box they cram their own into. pffft i say. i am particularly fond of this one. i resemble it…

  • Jeannie

    As somebody who is re-visiting her church authority “issues” this week. I am loving this. Okay, I am actually trying to pummel those issues dead, but they asked for it by attacking me with nightmares this week, but I digress.

    Too many people with great hair and big mouths want to boss people around these days. They use the current authority movement in the church as a platform. The charismatic/pentecostal movements are still scarred up by the “shepherding movement” that scorched the land in the 70s and 80s. Blech.

  • Soulmentor

    *****…..to help others find God’s will for their particular situation.******

    Fine. That’s laudable, but very different from TELLING others how and what to believe…..because they say so, which is all to common not only among “Christian” leaders, but the laity as well.

    I grew up with the conservative Lutheran liturgy that included the presumably humbling phrase “Lord, tho I am unworthy……” blah and blah. It crippled my self esteem and self confidence that resonates to this day (I’m 67). I long ago concluded that either I am indeed worthy, or Jesus was a fool. Well, maybe he was, a fool for Love, and I’ll take that over self-denigration any day.

    I’m gay and I had to think for myself to survive. Shame on those who let others do their thinking for them, others who are, after all, just another human being, not some paragon of omniscience……..and often a charlatan in the bargain.


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