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.

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