It Should Not Be So Among You

There are a few theologians in our synod that I am loathe to publicly contradict.  One of them is the Reverend Dr. Martin Noland.  Another is the Reverend William Weedon.  In a recent post (and comments) over at Steadfastlutherans they take apparently opposing sides of an issue (The renowned Reverend Benjamin Mayes also chimes in).  So, it would seem that I need to side with at least one of them.

While I do sympathize with one position more than the other, I find the entire discussion essentially unhelpful.  The problem is that it is a discussion of power in the church.  And we can not really discuss power in the church, unless we are willing to discuss it in scriptural and confessional terms.

As I have noted many times, there is power and there is authority.  Authority is what I am allowed to do (May I…), power is what I am able to do (Can I…).  So also in the church, there is power and authority.  I am not speaking here of the power and authority of God’s Word.  Rather I am speaking of the power and authority that various individuals have in the church.

The problem is that whenever we get into a discussion of who has the power to do what in the church,  it invariably descends into a discussion of “who’s in charge here.” A less helpful question you can hardly find.

This is a debate that goes back to the garden of Eden.  It started around a certain tree.  Who gets to be in charge.? If the answer is not “Our Lord God”, then you have the wrong answer.  Easy enough to say.  But how are we to settle disputes in the church?  For that we need to understand the authority and power that God has given to his Holy Church on earth.  But we want to understand it in a Gospel way, not a law way.

Authority in the church is solely the authority of the Word of God.

Power in the church is twofold.  There is the power to forgive sins (which flows from the authority of the Word of God.)  And there is the power to serve your neighbor in love (which flows from the forgiveness you have received.)  Seeking after any other power or authority in the church is engaging in the serpent’s game of “Did God really day?”  In short, we shouldn’t go there.

So what of disputes in the church?  What of problems that arise and seem irreconcilable?   That is why the synod has District Presidents, Reconcilers, and the like.  They are to listen carefully, to direct both parties to the word of God, and to recommend that they each bear the other’s burden in love.

Our Lord commands that we love one another.  And that is best shown when dealing with unlovable people.  Loving those who love you is no great feat.  Loving those who “utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” is the mark of Christian victory over the forces of Satan.

That is Christian authority and power properly understood.  It will be messy.  But that’s the way the world is.  God working through the mess shows his wisdom and his strength.


One Response to “It Should Not Be So Among You”

  1. I wonder if the question of how church power should structure–whether this way or that way–isn’t like the question Glinda asked Dorothy: “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”–presupposing that she is one or the other. Or, perhaps, like the question a silicon-based alien once posed to Capt. Kirk: “Which philosophy is stronger, good or evil?” If power is what you’re interested in, you’ve already made a choice.

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