Faith and Authority

Wildflowers in Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico
Wildflowers in Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico

We hear a lot about authority as Christians.  It seems every Christian organization has its own definition of what Biblical authority is and what being under authority looks like.  I’ve been in places where the pastor was the supreme authority; places where the pastor didn’t want to be the supreme authority so much that he refused the title of pastor; places where people were hyper about being under authority; places where everyone wanted to be out from under authority (or certain authorities).  So today, I may blow a bit of a cover of some of your ideas of authority.  It’s not intentional, but realize that I may have a different definition than what you’re used to.

Ute Trail West, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Ute Trail West, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The Greek word that often used for “authority” in the Bible is “exousia” which means power, ability, liberty, authority, dominion, jurisdiction, powers, right, privilege, etc.  That gives us an idea of what authority is: Authority is the dominion or jurisdiction over an area (Matthew 28:18); the right and privilege to work on behalf of that area (Matthew 21:23), the liberty to do what must be done on behalf of an area (John 10:18).

Above Spray Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
Above Spray Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

We see authority like this demonstrated in how God created our world.  He had the dominion or jurisdiction to speak our world into being.  He had the right and the privilege to create birds and plants and animals and fish and trees.  It wasn’t an obligation; it was a privilege to make them something that would exist in peace and harmony (which was wrecked by the fall of mankind, but that’s another story).  Because He had the authority, He also had liberty to make things the way He wanted them to be.

Rock formations in the Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico
Rock formations in the Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico

There is a beautiful story in Matthew and Luke about a centurion (a Gentile Roman soldier with 100 soldiers under him) who came to Jesus and asked that his servant be healed of his suffering.  Jesus started toward the man’s house, but before He could get there, the centurion said to Him, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant,’ Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8:9)  Jesus replied to him, ““I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  …And his servant was healed at that moment” (Luke 7:8; Matthew 8:13b).

A sculpture of the Jordan River, Pathway Through the Bible, Montana
A sculpture of the Jordan River, Pathway Through the Bible, Montana

One of the things I find interesting in this story is the relationship between authority and faith.  Because the centurion understood authority, he also understood faith.  It seems the two go hand in hand: Without authority, then faith is useless, and without faith, authority quickly becomes abusive.

Hidden Valley Trail, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California
Hidden Valley Trail, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California

Faith without authority is useless because if your faith is in something with no authority, what’s the use of having faith in it?  It’s like having faith in a pear tree to produce apples.  The pear tree has no jurisdiction, right, or even liberty to produce apples.  Your faith will be disappointed.

Sign for one of the fruit orchards in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Sign for one of the fruit orchards in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Authority without faith is possibly more deadly.  If you have dominion over something and yet have no faith in it, you will move to exercise control over it because you can’t trust it to react or respond the way that it should.  It’s sort of like a dog who won’t respond to commands.  You can’t trust that dog, so you will control it with a leash and perhaps other restraints.  With a dog it’s sad but not the end of the world.  In life, exercising control may be detrimental.  In a worst-case situation, the lack of faith in an area where you have authority will create an area where you can’t let go of control – to God or to anyone else, even if faith is warranted.  Or you will abuse your authority for selfish gain because you don’t have faith that what you need/want will be provided for.

Canyon Ridge, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
Canyon Ridge, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

As Christians, we need to realize that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18).  He has the faith necessary to not abuse that authority (because He is, after all, God).  When we submit ourselves to God’s authority, we gain faith in Him.  That’s why James tells us to, “Submit yourselves therefore to God” before saying that the devil will flee from us (James 4:7).  So if you’re having trouble with having faith in God, you might try submitting to God’s authority and seeing what happens!