I don’t worry about authority in the church so much.
I know that this is a big deal to a lot of people. I know folks who have converted to Roman Catholicism from various Protestant traditions largely because the unseemly mess of Protestant opinion seems to spring directly from the lack of authority.
How will we know what it is to speak for God if we do not have an authority on earth to make that known? Should we not look to those who have gathered and said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us?” Should we not look to the vice-regent that Jesus has installed on Rome, his holy hill?
Protestantism is, surely, a mess.
And evangelical Protestantism is a magnification of this messiness, manifested in the proliferation of churches and denominations and non-denominations.
Or, if it’s not a mess, it’ll do till the mess gets here.
Without centralized authority, it seems that we are reliving the ignoble era of the judges: there was no king, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
But I don’t think that the answer is the establishment of an authority here on earth. I don’t worry about the lack of an earthly authority for one reason: Jesus was raised from the dead.
If there is one confession that truly unites all Christians in all times and places it is this: “Jesus is Lord.”
Or, as Jesus indicates in Matthew 28, something changed with the resurrection. The authority that Jesus had begun to exercise while on earth has now been fully given to him:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
There it is.
The authority is Christ’s, and we shouldn’t attempt to take it for ourselves. Nor should we seek to give it to another person on earth.
I know, I know. Practically, this doesn’t help. We are, in fact, called to speak “authoritatively,” to speak for Christ, to exercise an ambassadorial function of those sent from the King to the distant kingdom in order to make our sovereign’s wishes known.
But that task is always one fraught with uncertainty. Locating Jesus’ voice in a person or a council only focuses the inevitable mistakes in the work a few rather than diffusing the mistakes more broadly.
And I suppose, that’s the point. By giving control to a group or a person we can eliminate diversity, but we cannot ensure even then that what we are doing is right.
We cannot turn our groping along toward the light into a full-fledged walking in the day simply by taking hold of the shoulders of the person who is groping along ahead of us.
Leadership is still important, but it will have to be much different leadership than the authority of a Tradition or Council if it is to function well in the story of the crucified and risen Christ.
If Jesus is risen from the dead, then “Jesus is Lord” must, in the end, be enough for us.