Thursday, November 22, 2007

28. Paul as Interpreter of the Gospel

If we apply this definition of authority to Paul, the POWER would of course be the gospel, and the EMPOWERMENT would happen in the community which the apostle establishes through the preaching/teaching on the saving significance the GOSPEL. Paul, then, would initially be the link between the community and the gospel. This seen in Romans 10:17ff where Paul says that the link between the lost and the word of Christ is the preacher.

But Paul is no mere consultant. His concern and anxiety for his communities forbids him from exiting backstage for a quick get away. It is true that his role as link between the gospel and the lost only lasts until someone obeys the gospel. But at that critical point, the relationship between Paul and those who trust in the gospel is immediately transformed. His initial role of link mutates into that of a father

This synchronized shift from link to father happens as a result of the peoples new found relationship to the gospel. Once a person or group of people accepted the message of the gospel, their relationship to the gospel, and therefore to Paul, changed. This point is critical in framing the discussion about apostolic authority. While Paul retains his unique apostolic experiences as noted above, he is still simultaneously subordinated to the same gospel which he preached and which the new community has obeyed. Listen to Shutz on this:

The gospel is not an exclusive apostolic possession. On the contrary, the apostle is owned and authorized by the gospel. He does not stand as a unique and exclusive bridge between the gospel and the Christian, between the power he interprets and the goal of that interpretation, the Church. He mediates between the gospel and the Church to be sure; he links cause and effect. But all Christians participate directly in the gospel itself. They do not stand in Paul or some other apostle, but in the gospel. They were not baptized in him, but in Christ. This has specific implications for understanding Paul’s concept of apostolic authority. Just as the apostle must be understood in reference to his own autobiography and the relationship between his ‘self’ and that power which shapes it, so he must be understood in the context of a community in which every member has an autobiography which embodies his membership in Christ.Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority p. 249


In this diagram, it is important to notice that the apostle and the community both participate and are subordinate to the gospel. Both parties receive power from the gospel while simultaneously being vulnerable to its demands. Paul is first a disciple, and then an apostle. To get this out of order is to overlook the rich context out of which Paul functions as an apostle. His vulnerability to the death and resurrection of Jesus as a disciple is the foundational paradigm out of which he functions as an apostle. There is no bureaucratic separation between discipleship and apostleship. Both are intimate expressions of dying and rising with Christ. In other words, it is Paul’s cruciformity that shapes the character of his apostolicity. As such, when it comes to his relationship with other disciples, and even the communities he establishes, he is equally accountable to the claims of the gospel. This egalitarian relationship to the gospel and its implications for discipleship sets a healthy framework by which the nature of apostolic authority can be discerned.

When apostolic authority is defined by the gospel, it has the ability to exert its own constraints on the fleshly tendencies of authoritarianism, egotism, imperialism, manipulation etc. The gospel is not only the paradigm for discipleship; it is the paradigm for leadership. Understood in this way, leadership is an extension of discipleship, both of which are to be cruciform in nature.

Monday, November 12, 2007

27. Authority as Interpretation of Power

27. Let’s begin with a definition of authority by Wayne Meeks from the introduction to Shutzs’ book Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority

The central point, which is the motif of this book, is that authority is best understood as the interpretation of power. That is, the authoritative person, in this case the apostle, calls upon the willing acceptance of his power by the followers by providing for them an interpretive framework, in the form of a master narrative or a pregnant constellation of metaphors, that makes sense of power that they themselves may experience or have experienced. In a sense, then, the interpretive process makes that power available to them. The interpretation of power is thus also an application of power. p. xxi.

An illustration of this definition of authority can be seen in the field of business consulting. When a company faces certain challenges and obstacles on their way to success, they tend to hire a business consultant to come in and help them through key phases of their development. The consultant will survey the business, conduct marketing analysis, study the business as an organizational entity, etc. When the consultant meets with the top dogs of the company, she will offer a successful model, plan or set of business principles for the company to implement.

In essence, what the consultant is doing is an act of interpretation. She is taking the wisdom and expertise she has gained from books, life experiences, collected data etc., and is interpreting this data in light of the companies unique circumstances. If the top dogs understand and ascribe to her proposals, she becomes an authority to their company. It should be noted however that, from the company’s perspective, this authority does not yet exist until they understand and decide to accept her proposals. This means that authority is a relational dynamic which is dependent upon the willingness of others to confer it.

This relational dynamic of authority gives it a sort of fragile quality. This is primarily due to it being dependent upon people’s willingness to accept another’s interpretation. Because authority is conferred upon an individual by another, it is within the ‘others’ ability to disrobe the individual of their authority. This divesting of authority would take place as a refusal to ascribe to the persons interpretations. A rejection of an interpretation, then, is invariably a rejection of authority. This rejection of authority brings with it a severing of connection to the source of power which the interpreter is trying to mediate.

Using Shultz’s definition of authority, power, in this consulting illustration would be represented as success for the company. What success would look like and how to get there is an act of interpretation by the consultant. Once the company subscribes to her interpretation, she becomes an authority to them. What this would look like initially can be seen in this diagram.

In this initial phase of the relationship, the consultant stands as a link between the company and success. From where the company sits, she is an exclusive channel to the access of power. This qualifies the relationship between the company and the consultant as that of giver and receiver. The company is in the position of receiving from the consultant by virtue of the consultants’ relationship to power. This places the consultant in a critical role. She must be able to both accurately interpret and fully communicate this power if the company is to 1. Ascribe to her interpretation and 2. Be empowered for success.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

26. Pauline and Contemporary Apostles. What's the Difference?

26. What's the difference? As the apostolic role becomes increasingly utilized and referenced in the EMC, House Church, Simple Church, Organic Church etc., there are a number of questions that are emerging in my own mind about this indispensable gift in the body of Christ.

One of these questions has to do with apostolic authority. All would agree that the Apostle Paul is in his own league when it comes to being an apostle. This is true for several reasons.

1. His EXPERIENCE of the Risen Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road and personally commissioned him and sent (apostled) him to the Gentiles.

2. His PROXIMITY to the founding events of the gospel makes his situation especially unique. His social and historical location in reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus, along with is relationships to the other 12 apostles point to a unique access to the Jesus tradition and the original historical witnesses.

3. His SIGNS of an apostle are spoken of as one of the identifying characteristics of his apostleship. No matter where you land on the spectrum when it comes to the miraculous giftings of the Spirit, Paul certainly occupies a unique position in this spectrum as it relates to the relationship between signs and apostleship.

4. His PNEUMATIC participation in forming the texts which later became canonized by the Christian community. This is a wholly different discussion, but for us it will do to say that Paul’s role in producing texts which later became a part of the canon make his apostolic role all the more complexly distant from our own.

These distinctions, while not exhaustive, should be kept in the background when referencing Paul as a paradigm for the apostolic today. While the tasks and roles of the contemporary apostolic do overlap with Paul's apostolic role, Paul nonetheless occupies a unique place, a penthouse suite per se, when it comes to being apostolic. Some more discussion needs to be had on this topic. I will see what I can come up with on this. Any suggestions out there?