Reflections on Authority

Our culture today faces an authority crisis, and too often Christians get caught up in it; if we are to truly make, multiply, and mature disciples, we need to be clear on where our true authority lies. In the world around us, authority is essentially found in oneself—someone’s perception of what is true and good—and is mediated through the sciences—what can be measured and tested—, reason—what we can rationally conclude from our own thinking—, or oneself—what is felt or experienced in visions and trances. It seems all too easy for us to make these our authorities as well.

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul addresses a church that is being deceived by the traditions of man and departing from the true faith; addressing this wavering, Paul makes it clear where his authority lies and so clears the question for us. The teaching Paul has delivered to the Galatians is consistent with the rest of the apostolic preaching (2:7-9), but Paul goes out of his way to show that though his teaching is identical to theirs, it does not originate with them. Why does he do this? Paul knows that God is his true authority, not man, and Paul can trace his gospel directly to Jesus Christ (1:11-12). Paul, as an apostle of the risen lord, has authority to teach and rebuke all the churches, but he is under no illusion as to where his authority comes from.

Paul’s ultimate authority was God and all that He had spoken. Unlike Paul we will not hear Jesus’ voice come from heaven in a cascade of light (Acts 9:3-6), nor will we receive private revelation from the Lord (Gal. 1:11-12), but we do have God’s Word. Jesus prays, in John 17, for God to sanctify his people in truth; He immediately identifies the source of that truth as the Scriptures (17). Paul identifies later all Scripture as God’s authoritative, breathed out, Word (2 Tim. 3:16, cf. 2 Pet. 3:2, 16). Unlike the culture around us, we do not need to languish in a vacuum of truthlessness, rather we have truth—God’s perspective on all reality—available at our fingertips. Where do we go when we are in crisis, when we are in doubt, when we need reassurance of the truth of our faith, or to be grounded in the Gospel? For Paul, it was to God’s Word; may it be so for us.

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