by Matthew Cramer
“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views
beyond the comprehension of the weak.” — John Adams
Defective use of authority and power causes much of the dysfunction we encounter in our lives, both sacred and secular. These experiences cause us to see authority and power as a threat, something to avoid — certainly not something capable of positive good.
The deception is a direct attack on the right order of things, order that enables us to “lead quiet and peaceful lives, be saved and come to knowledge of the truth”.
This is the first of a four part series about authority and power. It begins with an examination of important biblical fundamentals about authority and power’s mission.
The proper use of authority and power is one of the most important tools God gives us to deal with our damaged human nature, and with evil’s attempts to exploit us by deceptions and accusations. A truthful understanding of power and authority, their mission, and how to use them is vital in all forms of organized relationships — be they family, work, government, school, church, or culture.
Like some of us, I encountered dysfunctional authority and power as I grew up and entered the workplace. I learned to deal with those difficulties and make my way forward, assuming I was just learning lessons of the world. But later on, Ruth Ann and I encountered significant and painful dysfunctions in several Christian groups that were supposedly being “led by The Holy Spirit”.
These dysfunctions were shocking, and strikingly similar to those I encountered in the secular. I was intrigued by a question that kept turning over in my mind: How could so many people, all dedicated as they were to following God, get so screwed up, so quickly? Quickly followed by a second one: Why were those dysfunctions so similar to those in the secular? I decided to investigate, in considerable detail, both secular and biblical approaches to Conflict, Group Behavior, and the use of Authority and Power.
AN EXPRESSION OF CREATIVE LOVE
Authority in the Bible is quite different from the secular understanding. Both agree that authority is a delegated right to issue orders, make decisions, and otherwise act within defined limits — expecting obedience from those within those same limits.
But the secular view immediately shifts to a focus on power. Yes, authority is connected to a position or place in the hierarchy of command. And, it is subject to the higher authority from which delegation was received. But the secular views authority as not just a position; it exists whenever others obey. If you can convince people — through persuasion, threat, promise or other means — to pursue your objectives, you are said to have authority over them. Whether or not you occupy an official position, from which you exert your influence, is relatively unimportant.
Thus, power to influence the actions of others — get them to do what you want — becomes the source of authority in the secular view. There is no external moral compass, no overarching mission or governing value set for its use. The higher one goes in the secular chain of command, the more authority is available for the whims and personal objectives of those on whom it is conferred or being appropriated.
The biblical revelation of authority and power is quite different. Creation itself, revealed in the Genesis narrative, is an expression of the absolute power and authority of God. He creates out of nothing. It also reveals a lot about God Himself. He is not content to exist only in Himself. He creates human beings out of love, that we might be part of His existence (See A God Who Loves Us).
Authority is a vital function at the root of creation. Delegated to us, it has a specific mission and rules of behavior. God’s authority is creative; it’s the tool He uses to bring existence and life into being from nothing — and holds them in being through His permissive will. Consider God, in the midst of nothing, but Himself: “And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light” (Ge 1:3 RSV). Now that’s authority! Big time authority — the fullness of authority in all its attributes — authority that no one, no thing, nor even a void can disobey.
Power in the Bible is not derived from a neutral, impersonal force as the many New Age, pantheistic concepts pretend. The source of power is a person, God. God’s power, and how He uses it for the good of His people, is the dominant theme about power in the Bible. He slays armies, parts the sea, brings plagues and death on oppressors, provides miracles of food and water in the desert, and many other demonstrations. Through The Word, (the Second Person in The Trinity, Jesus), God has been actively involved with creation since time began, using His power to protect, discipline and teach His people — all the while holding creation in existence so that mankind might work out their destiny to live with Him.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:15-17 RSV)
So pledged and involved is God in this role, that he is referred to as a “rock”, a foundation stone upon which lives can be built.
“I love thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” (Ps 18:1-3 RSV)
In the Bible, the primary function of power is to implement authority, make authority real, alive and true. Power and authority are conjoined to work together in complete harmony. Authority carries the right to act within the bounds of its delegation. Power is the enabling aspect that makes authority work. Power is meant for action — creative, life-giving action that glorifies God. There is a suggestion that authority has greater meaning than power because authority reflects the willful decision of a person who governs the application of power.
All authority comes from God. He is the source of authority and provides positional authorities for man’s good. This holds for all authoritative positions, be they sacred or secular.
“…For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. … for he is God’s servant for your good…” (Ro 13:1,4 RSV)
“O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by thy word, and by thy wisdom hast formed man, to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made, and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by thy throne, and do not reject me from among thy servants.” (Wis 9:1-4 RSV)
The Scriptures reveal an overarching mission of authority and power. At God’s level, authority and power, motivated by love, creates, protects and grows existence in its many forms. Authority and power’s mission, as we exercise it in our lives, is to use it in cooperation with, and support of, that same mission. Most important, these efforts must be motivated by love.
Paul enjoins Timothy and the believers to pray for all leaders with no distinction as to pagan, Jew or Christian.
“…I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Ti 2:1-4 RSV)
These scriptures are remarkable because they do not differentiate between God’s people and pagans, or between good authority and bad authority. Abuses of authority and power have occurred in the past by us damaged (see The Train Wreck Of Humanity) human beings; and will, no doubt, reoccur in the future.
Anyone who has suffered under dysfunctional authority will find a difficult pill to swallow in the notion that authority is an overarching necessity. The incredible evils perpetrated by Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others in just the last century, indicate the delegation of authority and power to us humans is very risky indeed, and can do great harm. Yet, Paul enjoins us to be respectful and thankful for those in authority, even intercede for their welfare. He makes no distinction between the good ones and the “turkeys”.
The scriptures tell us that God’s grace is always there in times of abuse “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Ro 5:20 RSV). The Old Testament relates a long list of pagan kings, rulers and potentates — some of them quite evil — who are nonetheless used by God to discipline, teach, protect and bring life to His people. Somehow, authority and power is so vital to the proper workings of creation, that even abuse by a bad apple from time to time is tolerated, at least for a while.
The solution to this conundrum lies in the first letter to Timothy quoted above. Our created destiny is to be with God in Heaven. Even though we inherit a damaged and rebellious nature, God still desires “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” But for that to happen, we need to lead “quiet and peaceable lives”.
The terms “quiet and peaceable” do not mean silence, lives absent of activity and filled with boredom. Instead, they suggest freedom and protection from dominance, ignorance, anarchy, threats, attacks, evil, confusion, disharmony, violence, and such like.
We are dunked in the consequences of our own erroneous decisions, and those of our fellow men. So too, evil is constantly attacking us (see How Satan Gets To Us). It is very difficult to contemplate God’s love for us, our destiny to live with Him, the many aspects of our mission and responsibilities at the moment, and our relationship with Him — in the midst of overwhelming ignorance and aggressive negativity.
There is a time element as well. Because we are made with an intellect and a will (in His image and likeness), we are given free will to choose or reject our destiny to live with God in Heaven. The scripture “all men to be saved” doesn’t apply just to us. The use of authority and power is intended not only for our benefit now, but to prepare the way for those who come after.
Those who exist now in the mind of God, but have not yet appeared on the scene, need support and protection from the past that carries forward into their present. In today’s culture, for example, just surviving the womb is a major issue, governed mostly by authority and power exercised before conception.
The mission of authority and power includes, but goes far beyond, organizing and directing the efforts of others. It transcends the now and the hereafter. The world and all mankind needs legitimate authority and power to prevent chaos through order, provide protection from attacks and dysfunction, and mete out or dispense justice.
Thus, authority is an overarching tool, used by God for the welfare of creation — past, present and future — so the Kingdom of God will be advanced by the addition of those accepting salvation, and all men will have access to the truth. Truth, in this sense, is not just factual correctness. It’s an encounter with Jesus Christ (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life…”Jn 14:6 RSV), and seeing things as God sees them.
DELEGATION WITH RESPONSIBILITY
God shares His authority and power for the right order of creation, in every level of relationships and organization. In the biblical model, higher authority delegates authority and power to others, commensurate with the legitimate assignment of responsibility.
“…and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gn 1:28 RSV)
The original delegation of authority and power (dominion) to mankind was concurrent with the assignment of their responsibilities. Adam and Eve were delegated two basic responsibilities: (1) “Be fruitful … multiply, and fill the earth”; and (2) “subdue the earth [and] have dominion over every living thing”. We were present with Adam and Eve in their original assignment — there, in the potential of their loins, their spiritual and physical DNA, so to speak. Since we have all descended from the first family, those responsibilities and the concurrent authority and power are successively passed on to us through our natural inheritance.
Delegation can also be partitioned into smaller subsets as God did with Adam and Eve. They were not given responsibility and authority for all of creation, only the earth and every living thing. Thus, we can delegate sub-sets of responsibility, authority and power to others, just as God did to Adam and Eve.
So, it doesn’t matter if we are Christian or not — whether parent, teacher, politician, first line supervisor, executive, pastor, bishop, judge, juror, or other. If we have legitimate responsibility, we are required by God to use His authority and power to execute our responsibility, consistent with His overall mission for authority and power: i.e. create, steward nature, provide order and protection for peaceable lives, and enable revelation of the truth.
Obviously, we don’t create from nothing, as did God. But we do create contracts and agreements, define organizations and their subsets, and participate with God in the procreation of mankind. We do have an increasing ability to responsibly harness and manage nature. We can foster peaceful lives through a just system of laws, proper organization, clear communications, and protection from those who disrupt us through aggression. And finally, we can enable the truth by refuting falsehoods and proclaiming the truth in its many different forms and applications.
THE MANTLE OF AUTHORITY
Because of its mixed history, and the desire of our damaged nature to not be ruled by anyone except ourselves, the word authority is seldom used anymore. An all-out attack on authorities and the concept of authority began in earnest in the 1960’s. It has eviscerated the meaning of authority from any sense of God’s mission discussed above, and turned it into a term of derision for most.
The words “I have authority over you” spoken by a parent to a child, a teacher to a student, a boss to an employee, a Bishop to his flock, are today thought to be intrusive, offensive, mean spirited, power mongering, and disrespectful of the individual. We are quick to proclaim our rights, and just as quick to skirt any acknowledgement of our need for authority. At its limit, of course, this is a prescription for anarchy.
Today, we use the term management or leadership. All is not lost, however. Through experience, mankind has, over time, validated some effective uses of authority and power — tactics that bring life and growth to organizations and relationships. Much has been written about it, and continues to be written — at least in the secular. A lot of this secular wisdom is quite good.
But the sacred does not dabble much in secular wisdom because it’s . . . well . . . secular. Thus, what genuine wisdom does exist in the secular is not appropriated by the sacred. So Christian groups, along with many of their secular cousins, continue to slog through the same problems, one after the other, over and over again, like pasta extruded through a press.
Convinced that authority is something to be avoided, many individuals refuse to exercise personal authority over themselves. Instead, they yield to the fickle demands of their emotions, appetites, desires and egos. When those excesses cause problems in their lives, they paint themselves with a “victim brush”, and complain loudly; hoping someone will rescue them, put them back on the road to quick fixes, and easy times.
The term “Mantle of Authority” is foreign to most, and easily conjures the image of a powerful, cloaked figure that threatens one’s freedom. Kings, rulers and potentates of old, often wore special robes or cloaks to signify their authority and position. But the regular folks wore mantles as well — outer coverings to protect from the weather and to use in battle. The scriptures indicate there is a spiritual parallel, as well.
When the prophet Elijah was about to be assumed into heaven, his understudy Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (power). The authority and power was evident in Elijah’s mantle.
“Then Elijah took his mantle, and rolled it up, and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “I pray you, let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” … And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw … him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and rent them in two pieces. And he took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the mantle of Elijah … And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other; and Elisha went over. Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him over against them, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” (2Ki 2:8,9,11-15 RSV)
The Mantle of Authority is something apart from our unique existence. We receive authority and power from God as he assigns responsibilities to us. We exist and are given an opportunity to choose God that we might live with Him in Heaven. With that opportunity, we are given a free will and many opportunities to choose Him. That choice is our first, personal assignment, and with it comes personal authority and power to rule our existence. It’s not easy because of our damaged nature, which is why we need the New Life of Jesus (See What Jesus Did).
It’s difficult to make the right choices about God, unless we put on our personal Mantle of Authority and rule (have dominion over) our emotions, appetites, egos and desires. Sometimes, those who are given a special gift of intelligence or creativity must also use their personal authority to rule their intellect — i.e. control the flood of ideas and possibilities that can distract them from, or even bury, the task at hand.
The assignment of responsibility is one thing. Our acceptance of that assignment and investing in its execution, is quite another. Every parent experiences this difference after assigning their teenager responsibility to, say, take out the trash, clean their room, or wash the dishes.
The young adult may do the chore, off and on for a while, but the responsibility is not firmly accepted, until he decides to make it his own — using his personal authority and power over himself to execute the chore faithfully. As he makes that decision, he puts on the Mantle of Authority for that assignment.
Depending on the level of responsibility, the Mantle of Authority can be powerful and, at the same time, burdensome. Elijah was a prophet assigned to speak God’s word to the Israelites. He was God’s representative to the people. His assignment was very significant; and so was his authority and power. He could part the waters with his mantle.
Jeremiah had to deliver some very strong words to the people; and he complained to The Lord about his burden:
“O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and thou hast prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; every one mocks me. For whenever I speak, … the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering. … “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my familiar friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived, then we can overcome him, and take our revenge on him.” But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, they will not overcome me. …” (Jer 20:7-11 RSV)
Parents and teachers, for example, all experience a decision point where they confront and accept responsibility for those in their charge. In doing so, they are putting on the Mantle of Authority. Everyone who occupies a supervisory, managerial, or executive position in an organization (whether sacred or secular) has confronted the weight of that responsibility — often as they first enter their new office, face the responsibility, decide to accept it, and implement its execution.
The same is true of judges, jurors, doctors, politicians and so on. Hopefully, our assignment is legitimate, and we all accept those responsibilities with the best intentions and motives. The authority we receive comes from God; assists the execution of our position’s specific responsibilities; and is governed by the overall mission prescribed by God.
The Mantle of Authority is a spiritual cloak we accept and wear, similar in some ways to the badge worn by the policeman. It is God’s authority and power, but we are the ones who use it to the extent of our legitimate assignment or responsibility. Three points are crucial:
Because of authority’s mixed reputation, many of us are timid or outright fearful about accepting and using authority. We don’t want to risk offending others, being the bad guy, or losing popularity. Nevertheless, we cannot be double minded about it.
For any given assignment, accepting and using the Mantle is absolutely necessary for the best outcome. Hesitation and equivocation allows all sorts of negativity to gain access — negativity that attacks, deceives, misleads, and disrupts relationships in the endeavor. Negativity can sink your ship.
The words of scripture cited above, “… for he is God’s servant for your good …”, must be a constant reminder of our responsibility before God, and an admonition for our motives. Here is what Jesus had to say:
“… You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28 RSV)
This attitude of the heart is central. A servant’s heart allows the leader to implement an egalitarian, participative, deferent-yielding leadership style with genuine care and concern. The genuine, non-threatening, caring attitude provides the required credibility necessary for others to fully invest their talents and energies in the group’s objectives.
A servant’s disposition also protects the members from being exploited by authority to serve the leader’s agenda. Fear of that exploitation is a drag on productivity and effectiveness. Detachment from the trappings of authority (money, position, social status, privileges, and perks) not only protects leaders against the corrupting influence of authority’s trappings, but it leaves the mind, heart, and will vigorous and lucid with which to see and implement authority’s mission.
A BRIEF TESTIMONY
Several years ago, I consulted with a lumber wholesaler whose business included large lumberyards around the country for distribution of wood products to contractors. One day, I discussed with one of the owners, the principle of using God’s authority to protect our legitimate endeavors. Because he was responsible for one of the yards, we decided to implement the concept there. We got some water, blessed it in the name of Jesus Christ and walked around the property, extending, as best we knew how, God’s protection to the lumberyard.
As we walked the property line sprinkling the water and claiming God’s protection in the Name of Jesus, we came upon a very large building or shed in one corner of the property. I began to walk around the building, so as to include it within the claimed area; but the owner stopped me. That particular building was not, technically, part of the property. It belonged to someone else who allowed the lumberyard to temporarily park vehicles and materials there, from time to time. So, we excluded that large shed from the claimed area, leaving a notch in the corner, so to speak, of the otherwise rectangular property.
The lumberyard was located in the center of a very old, large, run down railroad yard. A year later, long after I had completed my consultations with the company, a major fire occurred in the railroad yard. The fire was so huge and spectacular that it received considerable coverage on the evening news. Concerned, I called my client the next day to sympathize with his almost-certain loss of the lumberyard.
He was ecstatic. The fire had raged to the very property line of the lumberyard. The fire fighters had tried hard to save the yard, but many believed it was hopeless because most of the lumber was out in the open, exposed to burning embers. Somehow, inexplicably, the lumberyard had survived. Amazed, I congratulated him for the lack of any loss. No, he corrected me; they had lost two trucks and several stacks of lumber.
“How”, I asked, “could that have happened if the fire didn’t enter the yard?” His answer astonished me. “The trucks and lost inventory had been temporarily stored in the large shed excluded from the protected zone we had established more than a year earlier. That shed had burned to the ground with all its contents. The fire had destroyed everything up to the protected property lines, taking even the notch in the corner, then stopped.”