Authority: Who Really Has It?

Authority is cool. Some years ago we were part of a personal tour of Pearl Harbor where my dad served during the war. Our guide was a retired Marine colonel. I was driving the car and he was in the passenger seat. We approached a guard house of a restricted area and the sentry very sternly asked our purpose. At this point, the colonel leaned over where the guard could see him. “These people are with me.” “YES, SIR, COLONEL!” he straightened up, saluted and waved us in. Authority is cool.

Authority can have its privileges. When I was working security at Andrews University, I was given master keys to all the buildings on campus. I could open the president’s office, had I wanted to — I didn’t. I could write tickets and drive on sidewalks; I even arrested someone with the help of another officer.

Over the years, we have all had opportunities to taste a little bit of it, both on the receiving end — “Let’s see your license and registration.” — and on the using end — “Daniel, stop fighting with your sister!” We agree to granting our governing authorities various powers for the sake of a secure and healthy society. They can lock us up or take our property if we run counter to the law.  

As pastors, the subject of authority is sometimes visited. We are given keys to the church, a symbol of authority. But keys are given to the janitor, too. We lead out in board meetings, but don’t always get the vote for something we feel needed — not much authority there.

In my 38 years of pastoring, we had two occasions where a devastating affair blew up families, both caused by unrepentant fathers. I was able to successfully get one of them disfellowshipped, but not the other. Who are we to judge? So I was batting 0.500 at these occasions. My pastoral authority didn’t swing the vote.

Failed building project proposals also come to mind. How about a new electronic sign since our church is on a main drag? Sorry, pastor. The pastor that came to that same church after me soon saw the same need, but got the same answer. “Kingly rule” does sound appealing at times.

Once in a board meeting when we were needing to make a decision, a member said, “Well, what does the pastor think we should do?” And in one of my memorable bad timing jokes, I quipped, “Everyone wants to do what the pastors want as long as he agrees with us!” It didn’t go well.

I’m not sure these are examples of where we should seek more authority. It’s probably safer to have congregations with voices and opinions and votes against one with an overly submissive attitude — though that doesn’t sound too bad. Maybe we should seek authority where it would do the most good.

Jesus famously gave the disciples surprising authority, even over Satan’s kingdom. He put it into perspective. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Authority over another government? Have we been given keys to all the doors? So, we can “boss” even demons?

Through our names being written in heaven, we have apparently been made officers in His army, not to rule our fellow men, but to direct heaven’s resources to where they can be most effective. Are we artillery spotters to direct heaven’s big guns?

We should probably exercise that kind of authority more often. “Wherever two or three agree” on something, “it will be done for them.” I kind of hearken back to that first illustration. If there’s ever a question of whether we have that kind of access to heaven, we can imagine Jesus saying, “He’s with Me!”


Stan Hudson

North Pacific Union Conference creation ministries director