Today I sat at lunch with Pastor Chris and his wife, and as we discussed ministry and Jesus and we poured out our desire, our passion even, to see people come into and grow in relationship with Jesus Christ it hit me. We are calling people into a love relationship we are wooing the world not to us, not to a church, not to a system of beliefs, but to a love relationship with the Creator of the world.
Five or six years ago I was part of a young adults ministry and we had this friend, we’ll call him Craig (I honestly don’t remember his real name). Craig was a well educated and very intelligent man in his early twenties and Craig was a staunch atheist. However, Craig was in desperate need of friends, and he knew it so through a mutual acquaintance he started coming to our young adults group. At first he would just come to events if we were going out to eat or to hang out at someones house but after some time of loving Craig and caring for him as a person, and not judging him Craig would even come to church services and even about half participate. Now I wish I could tell you that Craig fell madly in love with Jesus and is a pastor today-I can’t-I lost track of him several years ago and to my knowledge he is still an atheist. However, what I can tell you is this because we were willing to love Craig and not judge him he experienced a little bit of the love of Christ and I know that despite his objections to Christianity that when he walked away from that group Craig had something to consider. I know that a seed was planted and I think it was something like this “I still don’t know about this whole Christianity thing but these Christians are different, they actually care. I know that Craig walked away with something to think about and I hope that one day I will stand before Jesus side by side with Craig.
This love relationship with Jesus is not so different really than the relationship you may have with another person, except it is with the only true God. I always knew God was relational and I have always considered that relational aspect of life with God to be extremely important, but there was something new in this though that I think God brought to my mind, and it was this; If we are calling people into a love relationship the ONLY way to do that is in love. We must not attempt to guilt or shame people into relationship with Christ, we must not attempt to reason people into relationship with Christ we must love them the way that Christ loves so that they will fall deeply in Love with Him.
One of the biggest issues we face in the church today is that of authority. This has always been an issue, it was an issue fundamental to the great reformation, it was an issue fundamental to the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. Jesus was asked by the Pharisees “by what authority do you do these things?”(Mark 21). The catholic church said their authority was handed down from Jesus to Peter and then though Papal succession. The reformers answered, No! our authority comes from Scripture. With that answer from Martin Luther and others began what we know today as evangelical theology.
Today the church once again is being asked “by what authority do you do these things?” and as always that question comes from inside the walls of the church. The charismatic branches would answer Holy Scripture and Holy Spirit. The more conservative branches of the church would still answer Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. The postmodernist would add experiential knowledge of God to those answers. Personally I believe the answer comes from all three, with this caveat when there is a conflict Scripture is trump. Can we answer from experience? Yes. Can we answer as prompted by the Holy Spirit? Yes, absolutely. Can we answer from Scripture? Yes.
The problem is not that we rely on the Holy Spirit or that we rely on our experiences and intuition. We must do that. The problems come when we do not compare those things which we believe the Holy Spirit is telling us or those things which we have believed and experienced with the Scriptures.
I have seen us too often and especially in charismatic circles have heard that the Pastor is “the Lord’s anointed”. Somehow the pastor has become the mouthpiece of God and as such is seen to be above question. I know that pastors are human, and need accountability. As someone who has worked in ministry I always welcomed the questions about how and why we did what we did. We must be thoughtful and concerned with representing Christ in the best possible ways as we minister to people, and this means that we must not fall back on the “authority” of our position to justify the things we do. We must fall back on the authority of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and yes even our experiences and beliefs, as long as we do so with love, humility, compassion and concern for those that God has entrusted to us.
Ultimately the authority of the church is not to decide what is right and wrong, or what kind of music we will play in church, or which person is more likely to make it to heaven, or which understanding of a particular passage is more correct. The ultimate authority of the church and the pastor is to represent Christ to those around us, and represent Him well.