For some, authority is a bad word ... a confining word ... and a threatening word. For others, it is a word of affirmation and defines us in ways that we often take for granted.
“If Christian faith is to be seen as valid and that which provides confidence in what cannot presently be seen, touched, or smelled, then it must have some underpinning of support that can hold it in place when the assaults upon it are attempted.
When questioned, Christians should be able to say what they believe and why they believe it. Atheists and agnostics, not to mention those who are neither, but never tend to think of God under any circumstance, often take delight in engaging Christians who are not sure of their ground.
Unlike those who do not believe, but have acquired a regimented argument for their “staked out” position, many Christians are content to coast from day to day and give little thought to the need for a growing maturity in Christian dogma.
Years ago, while listening to a conversation on this subject, one of the group members said, “I believe that Jesus demonstrated, both by the manner in which He lived and the importance of baptism, belief and communion, the essence of how life is to be lived.” When pressed on his statement to reveal the source of such belief, he said, “I believe it on His authority.” The resultant ridicule of those who search for proof was to be expected.
We should not, however, be put off or scared of the word “authority.” When looking at this, even in the midst of those who pride themselves upon historic data and the revelation of rocks we should remind ourselves that in saying this the man was simply stating that he believed as the result of having been told by someone he deemed trustworthy.
And we do this all of the time. Some of us have never been to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, but when we hear the details of this magnificent structure, as related by someone we know and trust, we believe that it exists on that evidence.
Oddly, in matters of Christian faith, some routinely dismiss this point of reference as having no substantive value even though they freely accept medical advice and scientific theories as fact because someone they trust told them it was so. Those who ridicule authority in spiritual things, while using the same argument of trust as the validity for accepting truth in other things allows us to suspect that it is possible to live a lifetime without learning anything.
We often hear the words, “By the authority vested in me, etc.” and we have heard it so much that we no longer think about it. But authority denotes substantive power and it is in this entanglement that Christians need to be careful. Jesus came with the authority of God. He assumed the authority to cleanse the temple, to heal the sick and to even raise those who had died to life. He taught us His lessons.
Christians know that no man can be saved except through Jesus Christ. But God did not tell us what arrangements have been made for those who haven’t heard of Jesus or what expectations lie ahead for those who will probably never be confronted with the invitation to believe. An interesting thought, as once advanced by C.S. Lewis, an English professor, author and speaker, is given some life in considering if all those who know Christ were saved through Christ.
In the developed countries, we, as children, were exposed to Christianity and to Jesus. We take it for granted that everyone has the same experience, but that is folly when one considers the millions who have no idea who Jesus is and less about His Father.
When, in missionary mode, we encounter those who have no background of understanding love, grace, forgiveness, propitiations, crucifixion and resurrection, it is then that we face the need for substantiation of our words.
Missionaries are asked, while standing in a strange country and surrounded by a different culture, why their words are true. The answer given, and one that should be well seated in the core of personal belief, provides for the validity through the authority of God. Authority is understood in every culture. We react to it differently, but the consistent rejection of Christ, as seen in the refusal to accept Him as one of authority, demands that one walks on the edge of a different eternity.
Edward Clark is a Danville businessman and community columnist for The Advocate.