Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28
February 1, 2015
who teaches at Perkins School of Theology, remembers her days as a soccer mom. Some parents would try to out coach the coach, yelling at their children to score when the coach was telling them to pass. Embarrassed players would shake their heads at their parents to say, “You’re not the authority here. Be quiet so I can hear my coach.” The interim between pastors is an opportunity to consider spiritual authority for both clergy and lay leaders. The Church’s leaders are given authority by the Holy Spirit when they nourish intimacy with Jesus by soaking in Scripture and prayer.
The starting place is getting to know Jesus by regular Gospel encounter. This leads to building a comprehensive grasp of the totality of Scripture, avoiding invoking proof-texts as evidence for preconceived and isolated ideas.
This intimacy with Jesus goes beyond information. It grows from a deep prayer life in tune with the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual authority is exercised with humility that comes from an awareness of the best current scholarship and the thinking of those who have come before us, without getting locked into a particular school of thought.
In the way Jesus began his public ministry we can see why and how the Church’s leaders are given authority by the Holy Spirit when they nourish intimacy with Jesus by soaking in Scripture and prayer. Mark 1:21-28 comes after Jesus had called Peter and Andrew, James and John to follow him. At this point, Jesus seems to have just these four disciples.
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
God told Moses he would send a prophet to speak his word to his people. The priests and kings held hereditary offices, from which God sometimes displaced unfaithful leaders. However, God called prophets from anyone in Israel at any time a special word was needed. This line of prophets pointed ahead to a single great prophet, whom the New Testament identifies as Jesus. (Acts 3:22; 7:37)
Mark contrasted Jesus’ teaching with the scribes. They made their points by quoting other scholars who quoted scholars who came before them. As dogmatic as they could be at times, none of them ever spoke with confident authority. Their discussions and debates tended to degenerate into hurling quotes at each other.
By contrast, Jesus would refer to the Hebrew prophets, but he taught with his own words and stories. We see this most clearly in the section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you,” six times. (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44)
Jesus not only taught with astounding authority, he acted with amazing authority when he cast the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue. Today’s Church needs leaders who will not only speak but act with authority. So they must receive authority from the Holy Spirit when they nourish intimacy with Jesus by soaking in Scripture and prayer.
Jesus was not just demonstrating his spiritual authority. He was liberating a suffering man from spiritual oppression, and in turn liberating that congregation from evil control. Authentic spiritual authority is redemptive, addressing human suffering with hope and love.
If in our post-Enlightenment world, we haggle over the reality of “unclean spirits” as though we are sophisticated enough to explain them one way or another, we miss the point of this challenge to Jesus’ authority. It is as though the unclean spirit was taunting Jesus, “Na-na-na-na-na-na! I know who you really are!” It is not about doctrine but control, just as are most church fights.
By silencing the unclean spirit, Jesus refused to get into a shouting match. Jesus’ authority flowed from his connection with his Heavenly Father, not by arguments or heavy-handed power plays.
Both lay leaders and clergy are given authority by the Holy Spirit when they nourish intimacy with Jesus by soaking in Scripture and prayer. During a search for a new pastor we become acutely aware of how critical spiritual authority is for new pastors and the congregations they serve.
The Search and Call process is not like hiring executive staff but is about prayerfully discerning God’s choice of a pastor who knows Jesus intimately through the Gospels and the totality of Scripture, whose prayer life is alert to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, who does responsible scholarship on the congregation’s behalf.
As an interim pastor, I can tell you what is harder for called pastors to say. Hebrews 13:7, 17 urges you to imitate the faith and obey the teaching of those who “are keeping watch over your souls …, so they can do it with joy and not with sighing, for that would be harmful to you.” When your new pastor comes, don’t hold back waiting to see how it goes, jump in immediately to help start strong.
Eugene Peterson, who did The Message Bible paraphrase, wrote that pastors “are abandoning their posts, their calling.” … They “have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. … Religious shopkeeping, to be sure but shopkeeping all the same. … The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners. …The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. … Three pastoral acts are so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else. The acts are praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction.” Working the Angles, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids,1987, pp. 1-3