A Question of Authority

This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
That he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on the earth,
for in these I delight,”

declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23, 24)

Christians will agree that their lives should be lived in obedience to God in Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit — a life of unpredictability, of adventures in faith, of the joy that can only come with the abandonment of self- will to the will of the living God. Why then do we so often see less than full expression of this ideal?

Israel insisted on kings to quickly and efficiently make their decisions for them. The church has used human “leadership” in the same way. This tendency comes from people who are not “hearing” the messages from God that He wanted to lead them directly. He requested a theocracy for Israel and Spirit-led lives for the church. Jeremiah’s verses point to God’s desire to work intimately with humans creating a unique form of authority. God’s authority or power to direct action would come from a marriage of spirits resulting in delightful fruit – producing unity. We choose to make ourselves impotent, lacking the regenerative power required to produce this dynamic.

In I Samuel: 8 the elders of Israel said to the aged prophet-judge “. . . now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (I Sam. 8:5) When Samuel complained about this to the Lord, note this very important reply “. . . it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (emphasis mine. I Sam. 8:7). These words describe the essence of the matter. God, in comforting Samuel, takes the sting of rejection upon Himself. He tells Samuel “to warn them solemnly” of the impending changes to expect as they would bend to any king’s many organizational demands including needs for armies, chariots, and instruments of war. They would cry out, but it would be too late.

….. but the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and go out before us and fight our battles.’” ( I Sam. 8:19-20, emphasis mine).

In the chapter’s final verse, the Lord told Samuel to listen to them and “make them a king.”

Paul writes (I Cor. 10:11-12) regarding warnings in Jewish history about those who died by the thousands in one day after they “tested the Lord” with idolatry, etc. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment for the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” Paul later (I Cor. 14:31-33) writes about Christian gatherings, “For you can prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

The Old Testament passage teaches God’s will for His direct leadership of His people with the help of His messengers, the willing listeners and doers. The New Testament passage teaches God’s will for His direct leadership of Christians, all exercising the variety of gifts He gives, with the help of those obeying the Spirit’s prompting in meetings (1 Cor. 12). Anything short of the above is apparently a rejection of the Lord himself!

Then why do we resist God’s wisdom which we claim is best? Deceptive voices of fear send messages which we allow to obscure God’s voice. “Suppose I speak out the wrong message and make a fool of myself?” “What if I misunderstand what I only think is God and go in the wrong direction?” Here we see a problem of confidence contrasting with the verse “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” (II Tim. 1:7) Experiencing God, in the depth that He requests of us, takes time and the self-discipline mentioned above. This decade has produced more distractions than human history has ever known. Do we take the time and attention required to spend with the Lord in order to “know and understand” Him by direct, not second-hand, communion? How sad the Lord must be to have his gifts of joy refused.

Do we fear abandonment by others? Are we abandoning God? What fear of abandonment could be more frightening than this picture?

The message comes through loud and clear that we had better listen! George Fox, the first leader of Quakers, continually warned those subject to an ecclesiastical aristocracy to come to Jesus Christ Himself. How did the convinced do it? They quietly listened.

Imagine the awe of the early Quakers who experienced this in groups, and spoke what they “heard” to the others. They discovered that there was continuity to the messages — and even understood when the message was complete. Some were said to have been so overwhelmed that they left the meetings in silence, not wanting to prematurely disturb the depth of the revelation.

Who was in authority? No human disturbed Divine Authority. No human decided who should give and speak a message. If there were disruptions in unity, patience was exercised until the spirit of Jesus Christ reached each one. What fruit did this yield? The promotion of loving kindness, justice and righteousness in the earth by the early Quakers! Their history of doing so without violence is well documented. For this fruit of the Spirit many were tortured and killed, refusing to physically defend themselves. They had opportunity to identify with the sufferings of Christ “unto death.” Such devotion must surely have come from “joy unspeakable.”

Jesus replied,