November 13 – Power vs. Authority

When re-reading Jesus’ Great Commission for yesterday’s blog post I was struck by a phrase from , “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.”

I regularly listen to the podcast for Relevant Magazine, and their August 20 podcast featured Tony Campolo discussing authority vs. power. In 1983 he wrote a book called, “The Power Delusion” and in 2009 he published a book reflection how some of his thinking has changed related to power. His new book is called, “Choose Love Not Power: How to Right the World’s Wrongs from a Place of Weakness.”

In his interview about this new book Campolo makes a clear distinction between power and authority:

Power is the ability to coerce – if you do what I tell you to do because you have to then you have power. … (e.g. cops have power in their guns. They don’t need to use them but the threat of force is there and that can coerce. …

Authority is very different. When a person speaks with authority no power is exercise, instead compliance – obedience – comes because you want to give it.

My mother had great authority. When she spoke I obeyed – she had authority because she earned it through loving sacrifices over the years.

The Lordship of Jesus is dependent on authority.

He goes on to discuss the model of authority shown by Jesus and noted in . This passage tells us,

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,[a]
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
he took the humble position of a slave[c]
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Campolo continues his line of thinking that authority must be earned through sacrifice and believes that Christians should earn authority in the public sphere because of their servant hearts.

I think Tony Campolo makes a good distinction between authority and power and that this idea is supported when we go back to Christ’s statement from : “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.”

Might Christ have been given all authority in heaven and on earth because he divested himself of all power (i.e. coercion) and through loving sacrifice gained all authority? If that is true then that is a hugely significant statement to make as a preface to the statement, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” ().

Because because has all authority through loving sacrifice we are to go and make disciples. In generations past this has often meant coercing people into a new way of thinking and living (feeding the homeless only after attendance at a mandatory worship service, using power to convince Native Peoples to abandon indigenous believes for Christianity, etc.). How might the world be different if generations of Christians took the Great Commission as an understanding that we are to live with sacrificial love so that we can share this authority with Christ? How might the world be different if this generation today started living with the same sacrificial love of Christ and the authority that comes from heaven and earth as a result of this way of living and loving?

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