This Authority/Power Dynamic Is Characterized by Three Things
The authority/power dynamic of the Kingdom is characterized by three things. This authority/power comes only:
1.) By submission to His reign. We enter into Christ’s authority by faith, submitting to His reign. We participate in this authority by submitting our lives to it. If we step out of this radical dependence upon Christ in the Spirit, His power and authority is gone. But when we come together as a people in submission, a social space is formed. His authority ‘breaks in.’ The reality of the Kingdom becomes visible. This social space is the church.
2.) Via No Coercion. There is no coercion in this authority of Christ. Indeed this authority is given as a part of mutual participation in God’s life and work in the world. If one seeks to usurp, again His authority is lost (Matt. 23:8-12). This pattern flows through the entire Bible from the garden, to Babel, to Davidic Kingdom to Christ. If power is exercised in autonomy from God (apart from faith and dependence upon Him), then his power becomes mute. The authority in Christ’s Kingdom is always exercised in mutuality with others (1 Cor. 14:26-36), never in autonomy from others. It is always exercised in relationship. It of course is never possible in autonomy from God.
3.) As a Gift, in total dependence upon God, always exercised in mutual submission. This authority always comes as a gift from God, in dependence upon Him, never to be possessed for our own agendas/purposes, and always exercised in mutual dependence and submission to others in the Kingdom. When we set ourselves up above the community or in autonomy from God, this authority becomes something to be grasped (the opposite of Phil. 2:5) and it turns ugly eventually. When we usurp, we are in essence reenacting the fall and the sin of usurping God in the garden. The abuse and coercion of hierarchy eventually wields its ugliness. But when we exercise our gifts in the Spirit under His authority in mutuality with others (how this works is explained in, say, Eph. 4), His power and authority becomes manifest. God works. It is this power and authority that is so lacking in the world today (and in our churches as well).
This way of the authority/power of Christ’s rule, via submission to Christ’s reign, no coercion, as a gift in mutual submission, is the way God shall work in the world. It is how His power works. This implies that we Christians cannot exercise authority in the ‘world’ on the world’s terms and still have it be Kingdom. We can only participate in God’s Kingdom in the world via the authority in Christ’s rule (the Kingdom authority dynamic). This is what I think perhaps Andy Crouch has missed in his latest book, Playing God (review forthcoming).
This Authority Is a Dynamic First and Only Then Becomes a Structure
I propose this authority should be seen in terms of this dynamic first, and only then as a structure. If we somehow skip the dynamic of God’s authority in Christ and move right to the structure of this authority in the church, we shall in essence bypass God’s presence and authority in Christ. We will end up locating the authority in the structure itself, becoming just another human organization. We must therefore maintain the difference between the dynamic of Christ’s rule in this in-between time and the structure which often results from the exercise of such authority and makes possible a space for this authority.