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"Authority" in God's Kingdom Is Radically Different. Here's Why

Theological Excursus on the authority/power in the Kingdom versus the world.

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.  And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matt. 23:8-12

Summary Statement

Authority in the Kingdom is different than authority in the world.

The way authority operates in the Kingdom is a whole different dynamic. This is not to say that this authority is not at work in the world (through Christians). It just operates differently than the way authority operates in the world in independence from God. And so I think it is incumbent upon church people and leaders to understand this authority because it is the way God works to change the world. Unfortunately, many if not most churches operate on an authority of the world.

I’ve been reading Scot McKnight’s manuscript for his upcoming book on the Kingdom. It has caused me to reflect again on how nebulous this word ‘Kingdom’ is in American Christianity. Many times, in our churches, public conversations, preaching and Christian publishing, it really means nothing in concrete terms. Scot McKnight aims to correct this problem in his upcoming book.

I’ve also been reading Andy Crouch’s Playing God (my review is coming next week). I come away from reading this book convinced that the power dynamic of Christ’s Kingdom—the way the authority of the living Christ works in the church and among the world—is not understood in concrete terms by the average church, the average Christian (what this has to do with Andy Crouch I will discuss in the upcoming review). We do not get how different authority functions in the Kingdom versus how it functions in the world in autonomy from God (I need to clarify the church world distinction to avoid numerous misunderstandings, but I will leave this for another time). I feel Crouch misses on this point.

In my own upcoming book to be released in 2015, I explore the power/authority dynamic inaugurated in the Kingdom by Jesus Christ. Jesus stands at the mount of His ascension and proclaims, “All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me … now go.” And so the disciples, indeed the entire church, is sent out under this newly established cosmic (“all power in heaven and on earth”) authority of Christ. The coming of this new dynamic of authority is in fulfillment of God’s promise to return the world to His rule and make all things right. The Kingdom of God has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah as Lord. It is now on its way to being consummated in the future (Rev. 21-22). It is into this power dynamic that we are sent, making disciples of all nations as we go. But this power dynamic inaugurated in Christ is distinctly different than that of the world in autonomy from God. I feel this is missed by the church. As a result, the church takes on the ways of (and looks a lot like) just another human institution. It frustrates me to no end.

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David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.