Friday, September 26, 2008

The Use of Authority part V: Authority & Our Witness

John Chrysostom, Constantinople, early or midd...Image via WikipediaLet me conclude by suggestion that the right use of authority, our willingness to be ruled by law and our commitment both to fulfill and transcend the demands of justice are all essential to the effective outcome of our evangelical witness. When we fail to exercise authority rightly (that is according to the standards of this world or not at all) we abandon the Gospel. Again, as Paul writes:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor 1.19-25)
So for example, when we minimize or ignore misconduct within the Church we not only fail to win the favor of the world, we simply compound their disdainful view of us. It is a mystery to me, but it seems that the world can "bless" any vice except hypocrisy, and especially when it is motivated by piety. So strong is the association of hypocrisy and piety that Ambrose Bierce calls hypocrisy "prejudice with a halo."

Even those who do not love us, expect better of us than they do of themselves, and even more at times than we do of ourselves. The right understanding and exercise of authority within the Church and by the Church is not optional. Once upon a time, the Church's use of authority in the service the good of the human family, converted an empire. Granted this conversion was imperfect, but then what conversion isn't? If this were true during the patristic era, how can it be any less true in our own?

Speaking on the exercise of divine authority in Christ, St John Chrysostom says that "God wants for nothing and has need for nothing. Yet, when He humbled Himself, He produced such great good, increased His household, and extended His Kingdom." The saint then turns his attention from Christ to the Church, to us and himself: "Why, then, are you afraid that will become less if you humbled yourself?"

The exercise of authority, the upholding of the rule of law, the fulfilling and transcending of the demands of justice requires from us--from me--a humility that we--I--often lack. But this lack reflects fear and a lack of the love that drives out fear. Looking into my own heart I know that I often fail to exercise the authority I have been given because of my own fear and lack of gratitude for what I have been given in baptism and ordination--I wonder is it any different for any of us?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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