A reflection on John F. Burg's Speak With Authority which was originally published as the foreword to volume 105 (2008) of the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly
We all have at one point in our lives struggled with the nature power.
In fact Aristotle’s line from The Politics which says that man is by nature a political animal is but an understatement of what we are, when it comes to our exercise of interaction among people as individuals that are a part of a community.
It is in these relationships that we ask and struggle about who it is that has to exercise the freedom to tell us what to do. Or who has a say on how we are to go about with certain decisions that will more or less have impact on another person life. It is in these carrying out of choices that one begins to ask about: mandate, qualifications, character and all those many other things that we ask in order to make sure that the one who is in power or the one who wishes to assert his or her authority over us has the right to do so.
The Church is among such communities where such exchanges take place, and where power play is also prevalent as to who has the right to decide in behalf of those or for those in the faith community, in matters of how they are to go about with living out their faith as it relates to their relationship with God as well as with one another and with the world out there.
I believe that John F. Brug’s article entitled –Speak with Authority offers sensible insight church about leadership and its relationship with the Word of God as it is being carried out from the context in his Lutheran denomination as related to the practice of proclaiming of absolution (or forgiveness), to repentant sinners.
Make no mistake about it. God’s servants, the public ministers of the Word, are authorities, and they are to speak with authority.Here Brug, reminds us that figures of authority in the church such as pastors are to have authority only as far as these sanctions are declared by God’s Word. He cautions pastors that in exercising authority they are not to control the congregation of saints nor should they impose their personal whims upon them.
According to Brug, that as far as authority for pastors is concerned pastors are to be experts on what the Bible says that their years of studying the Scriptures are to function as their license to stipulate or provide reasoned insights on what the Word means for the people –that is to put on the garb of a prophet and utter: "this is what the Lord says". I myself have grappled with understanding the concepts of authority in as far as I limit it only in exercises of power that I can exert to people, things and situations. I tend to look at mandate as a license rather than a higher calling to uphold something important for all of us.
With regards to the clergy’s role in pronouncing absolution he writes:
Authority comes from the Word. Therefore the pastor’s confidence in what he says and does comes from the Word. The people’s confidence is to come from the same place. When a person wonders, "Are my sins forgiven?" he is not to look to the person or office of the pastor for his assurance, but to the words of Christ which have been spoken. They and they alone are the power of God unto salvation.I absolutely agree with this because I believe that this is indeed congruent with Scriptures, in as far as this is what is indeed taking place whenever we practice the call given to us in James 5:16, to confess our sins to each other which is followed up with a call to pray for each other so that you may be healed. Because here we are called to confess our sins to one another not so that we can pronounce forgiveness on the basis of our power of absolution but so that healing, and restoration of relationships can take place and that forgiveness that comes from God can be recognized concretely thus paving the way for transformation in the life of the individuals.
The only thing that I find lacking in the article is that the article is silent in dealing with authority and power within church polity which is nowadays defined in terms of our tendency to equate it with leadership that oftentimes resemble the corporate ladder rather than the model of exhibiting self-giving and unconditional love that was exhibited by Christ our King who came to earth not to be served but to serve and give Himself to us, so that we ourselves would be living testimonies of this form of power that is grounded on unconditional self-giving love.
For to speak of authority indeed lies in the paradoxical life that was lived and exemplified by the Living Word –Jesus Christ --that life is gained by loosing it; that strength is gained in powerlessness; the last shall become the first; and that hostilities are reconciled not in warfare but in love. Authority is gained when one speaks of it from the language of God in Christ the Living and powerful Word!