Working through the various proposals and conversations regarding the development of the Republic, I find myself mulling over the issue of authority within the context of leadership. More specifically, the matters of scope and application of authority as exercised by the various branches of our expanding provisional government is of particular interest.
At times like this I wish I had a far greater grasp and knowledge of the early history of our country, particularly as it relates to the manners in which governing authority was exercised by the first Congress and President Washington. However, it is abundantly clear that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution named freedom and equality as values of paramount importance. Our forefathers were done with the heavy handed authority that was lorded over them by the King of England. So it makes sense that the system they devised had careful checks and balances built into it to prevent the abuse of authority by those who were appointed and elected into positions of leadership.
Somewhere I heard a powerful remark by Thomas Jefferson that goes something like this: “This system of government can succeed only if the individual citizen exercises personal responsibility and restraint . . . “I wish I could remember the rest of the quote, but what I do remember is enough to indicate that the freedom of each person could only be enjoyed as that person took responsibility for their own life.
However, the value of equality and emphasis on individual responsibility by free men and women did not carry the day for long. The base temperament of fallen Man soon took over, and as it always does in the hands of flesh-driven humanity, servant authority turned into control and manipulation through deception. Generally speaking, that is the essence of why our government “of/by the People” became a top-down corporate structure that seeks only to control the people for the advancement and benefit of a few warped leaders at the top of the heap.
“Authority” is defined as “the power to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience”; “the right to act in a specified way, delegated from one person or organization to another”, and; “the power to influence others”. The first definition is why it is so easy for an unscrupulous person to shift from authority to control, which is defined as “the power to direct people’s behavior or the course of events”, or “a means of limiting or regulating something”.
Business, financial, and political leaders are not the only ones who abuse their authority. I remember a Hungarian pastor who attended a leadership conference I taught in Central Europe a few years ago. After a lively discussion on the difference between Law and Grace as represented in the Old and New Covenants, he commented: “I agree with everything you are saying about Godʼs gifts of freedom and grace to his people, made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection, but I could never teach that to my people.” When I asked why, he responded: “Because I would lose all control of them!”
Seemingly, there are many people of faith in the Republic, but let’s not assume that belief in God automatically guarantees wise, servant-focused leadership. That confused Hungarian pastor is not alone. A large percentage of pastors in this country have somehow missed the fact that the New Testament nowhere presents a pulpit-focused, top-down leadership structure manned by one person called a “Senior Pastor”. To the contrary, the leadership structure Paul presented to the early Church was a pluralistic structure composed of a group of elders. Sometimes a lead elder was appointed by Paul due to the newness of a given church, but never do we read or hear about a leadership structure that included the role of “senior pastor”. Local expressions of the Body of Christ are also designed to be all about God’s presence in, to, through, and for his people - not about a strong leader with a golden tongue.
Abuse of leadership in the Church is one reason why George Barna, in his book“Revolution”, claims that more than twenty million American Christians have withdrawn from local churches because they consider the environment to be “detrimental to their Christian experience and spiritual growth”. And we can all site examples of heavy handed Christian leaders who used their position to browbeat their constituents into submission.
To my chagrin I have to admit my own failures over the years to lead from a place of servant hood and humility. There have been times not only in past ministry stations, but also in my own family, when I felt “out of control” and reacted by issuing orders and manipulating people into subjection rather than influencing them through grace, love, and patience. I’ve also been on the receiving end of exceptionally poor leadership, some of it carried out behind the cloak of “Biblical Law”.
The 613 laws of Moses were fulfilled by Christ on the cross. With the advent of the New Covenant he taught that the entire Mosaic Code could be summed up in one law – the Law of Love. The writer to the Hebrews referred to the covenant of law as “obsolete”, and in his letter to the Galatians the Apostle Paul described Old Covenant law as “the ministry of death and condemnation”. So if we’re going to wave the Bible as our guidelet’s wave it intelligently and accurately: The rule by which we now live is the “law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus”, not a set of harsh do’s and don’ts.
Free people just don’t respond well to “enforced obedience”, or being “limited or regulated”, which is exactly why there are so many freedom movements in our country right now, and why God’s people are rejecting institutionalized “churchianity”. It is why the American Revolution happened in the first place, and it is why we will do well to lead from our knees. That is the posture of a true servant-leader who lives and thinks in the reality that God is the One True Authority in the Universe, and that the authority he extends to us is only for the purpose of lovingly serving the people to whom he has called us.
Let’s constantly remind ourselves and each other that the people we are called to serve are free. They don’t want or need our oversight, but truly desire our trust, affirmation, encouragement, and facilitation. Letʼs look to God for the wise humility to serve them according to his plan and purpose, because in his sight we are all equal.
Senator Elect for Georgia Republic