Where Does a Church Get its Authority?

This might be presented as the argument of authority.

There are two recognized types of authority: One IMMEDIATE and the other MEDIATE. They could be characterized in the following way:

 Immediate Authority is unquestioned and undisputed authority that rests upon their inherent right which is a product of who the person is. They do not require any authority from another. Their authority is not different from their person: it is who they are in and of themselves. Immediate authority cannot be gained and is natural to who they are. This type of authority is absolute and apparent.

Mediate Authority: Authority that is given to someone by another with immediate authority. It is entirely dependent upon a person who possesses immediate authority and cannot be self-imposed upon themselves. This type of authority, which allows them to act with authority in a particular capacity, is practiced in the name of the immediate authority who bestowed this right upon them. Mediate authority can be specific and bounded to certain areas of concern or it can be all-encompassing and unbounded requisite to the wishes of the Immediate Authority. Mediate Authority can be passed on to others when a vacancy arises due to death or sickness. For instance a King sends his ambassador and his entourage to another country to negotiate with that country on a matter of state. If the appointed ambassador becomes incapacitated or dies on the trip, he can appoint another from his entourage to carry out the mission in his absence.

In Christianity, it would seem prudent to examine by what form of authority the church or pastor teaches. If one goes outside of the immediate or mediate authority then how can they posses a valid authority. Would they not merely possess that which men might choose in allowing them this authority or revoking it on a whim? But how can those without authority bestow that which they don’t possess: it is an invalid use of authority.

Did Martin Luther or John Calvin have Immediate Authority: in other words, are they Divine? The answer is obviously no. Did they receive Mediate Authority from Christ as did Peter and the Apostles? Again, the answer is obviously no and they made no such claim. Had they made this claim, as many individuals have over the centuries, would we be required to believe them without proof? The self-evident answer would seem to be no.

Luther, Calvin and Zwingli had no authority to defy the rightful authorities of the Church who received their authority directly from Christ. They abandoned the Church over disagreements and scandals in the Church without making use of the remedies that have been used by others the last 2000 years to correct and reform those who might scandalize the Church: for these disagreements and scandals started almost immediately. It is important to see how the Church reacted to the apostle James and the Judaizers and James’s response[1]. This was a big disagreement in the Church and threatened a rift in our Christian faith. James did not leave the Church on account of his disagreement. Instead, he left it to the Council of Jerusalem where Peter with much urging from Paul decided that the Judaizers could not burden new converts with circumcision or dietary laws. James accepted their authority. Contrast that with Luther and the others who left the Church and did not even attempt to settle their disagreements within the Church. They simply walked and started their own church without recognizing any authority but their own: authority they never possessed: for self-imposed authority is no authority at all.

Christ foresaw such problems when he warned the apostles that scandals would necessarily come[2]. But He also prayed for unity[3] among His followers. In fact they deny that the Bible, which they all claim for their authority, specifically relates the power that Christ (the Immediate Authority) gave to Peter[4] to lead His Church and to the Apostles[5] (acting together in union with Peter) to rule in His absence.

Without a known valid authority, who can decide what to believe? If it is simply the Bible that is the authority, then whose interpretation should be believed? Should each individual decide by their own understanding what difficult Scripture passages might mean? If so, how does this compare to anarchy where anyone can claim his own authority? The confusion is never ending with as many sets-of-beliefs as there are people on the planet. Each of us would, if we had a desire to do it, found our own personal church that conforms to our unique interpretations, personal likes, dislikes or preferences.

Licit authority seems to be at the very heart of the present disunity of Christianity. It can readily be seen in the fruit of the first separated churches (Lutheran, Calvinist and Baptist) who have divided over the years into nearly 30,000 churches, each with their own particular nuances in their theology. Though they mostly hold to the same major convictions of the Christian faith, the details have divided the One Church established by Christ into many disparate factions, scandalous to the desire of our Lord to remain as one.


[1] Read Acts 15

[2] For it must needs be that scandals come: __ Mt. 18:7.  The following verses state that the offenders should be rooted out: not that the body of the Church be abandoned.

[3] Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. __ Jn. 17:11

[4] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.__ Mt. 16:18

[5] When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. __ Jn. 20:22-23

The Gift of Prayer

Prayer presupposes faith and knowledge of God and the soul’s desire to seek change. It therefore contains within itself some degree also of self-knowledge, which makes us long for the perfection possessed only by God. Prayer acknowledges the fact that we are far from perfect and a realization that without supernatural help we are unprofitable servants in regards to the attainment of our intended end – that for which we were created. Since all our actions and strivings toward the Good are worthless without God’s help, humility must likewise be the foundation upon which prayer rests – a readiness, even an eagerness, to be radically changed.

Prayer is also an expression of our hope, which leads us to believe that change is possible; not merely by our own effort but by our cooperation with the Grace that only God can provide. Prayer is a natural conversation with our supernatural end, which is God Himself – it is that which places God at the center of our lives.

Like a moth that circles a candle we are attracted by the Light of Truth and transfixed by the Warmth of Love. The bright, warm air that we live and breathe is prayer – our connection to the Holy Immortal Flame, to which we are not yet capable of being fully united. Without this air we could not fly near the Flame nor examine its beauty from many different angles. We would merely have to content ourselves by gazing at the tiny flicker from afar. We could not move closer to our goal and would thereby exist without feeling the warmth or witnessing the brilliance of the light. The warmth of God’s Love and the Light of God’s Truth fills us with energy for living a Spiritual Life – this we gain through prayer.

Prayer is the lifting of the soul to God. It is the exercise of our mind and heart in Divine Converse. God Himself initiates this conversation with the consent of our freewill. In humility we bring ourselves before the Almighty King, our Loving Father. We praise Him Who is our All in all and beg Him for His Mercy. We thank Him for His generosity towards us, and plead with Him for all that we need – everything according to His Holy Will.

Just as a green log thrown into a fire begins to warm and exude unclean smoke and blackness so too is the soul that moves closer to God in prayer. It is purged of its foulness and tried in the crucible of Divine Love. Eventually, just as the log, the soul catches flame and takes on the qualities of fire itself – emitting its own light and warmth. Without prayer the soul, like a log on a stack of wood, could never exercise its potential to become likened to God, the Living Flame of Love. We must will that the Hand of God place us in His Holy Fire and we do this through prayer.

Faith believes, hope and love pray, but these could not exist without faith; hence it is, that faith also prays.” (St. Augustine, Enchirid. VII) Prayer, then, exercises the three theological virtues and relies on acts of humility, obedience, fortitude, and constancy such that our soul becomes united with God in a most perfect manner. It is prayer that detaches us from creatures and places us in the presence of God that we might become transformed to His Image and Likeness. (See The Spiritual Life, A. Tanquerey, 517 – 519 B.)

It is through the continual practice of prayer that we grow in holiness; take the mundane occurrences in life and transform them into worthy acts of praise. Our very actions in life become part of our prayer. All holy and good actions proceed from the practice of prayer and progress in the spiritual life is impossible without it.

What a gift is prayer that acts as an oxygen tank for those who wish to venture into the rarified airs of Heaven.

Behold, I Come to Do Thy Will, O God

Crucifix

What is God’s Will and how can we know it? Once we have assented to the Truths of our Faith then we might well desire to live a life in complete obedience to God’s Holy Will. This would be a very intelligent action; especially since, in so doing, we would be cooperating in the salvation of our own souls. Such a decision would then be paramount to our eternal happiness. But the desire to actively pursue a holy and saintly life is often wrought with some confusion, primarily because at times we find ourselves unsure of what God’s Will truly is.

Holy Mother Church, which guards and contains the treasury of God’s revelation to man is not primarily dogmatic such as the case of Communist or Totalitarian regimes but based principally on the Loving relationship to a person – the Person of Christ. It is this Love that binds us together and garners our obedience to the Church (His Mystical Body on earth) and makes us as eager to obey Her Counsel, as to comply with the wishes of a loving father or mother. Our relationship with Christ comes first while our loving obedience follows naturally. We did not pick the teachings of the Church because She agrees with our own ideas. Instead, we formed a relationship with a Divine Person and became adopted children of His loving household. Therefore the dogmas of His Church (Her definitive teachings and counsels) are His definitive teachings and counsels and our greatest help in determining God’s Will; for who could refuse guidance from our Lord and God? The Church as a Mystical Bride faithfully teaches all that God has revealed and thus acts as Loving Mother to us all; guiding and helping us throughout our spiritual journey toward our heavenly home.

To know God’s Will is to know Him as He truly is: All-knowing, All-powerful, Ever-present, and Ever-existent. To this we add the Divine Attributes that have been revealed through Christ: His Love and Compassion, His Mercy, as well as His Divine Justice. It is Christ’s revelation that fills us with hope and makes God known as our Loving Father. It is to this fact that we now speak.

If we are eager to know everything concerning our earthly father (who he is, what he thinks, what he desires), then how much more effort should we set forth in order to discover these same things about our Heavenly Father? What expense in time and effort should be spared in order to gather this information? If we do no honor to our earthly fathers by neglecting such knowledge, then we certainly do no honor to our Father in Heaven by our complacency toward Him. We have a whole life to explore and deepen our knowledge of God and yet we often satisfy ourselves with the most meager knowledge and understanding available to us. We would never base a human marriage, one that may last 50 or 75 years on earth, on such skimpy knowledge – yet this is how we treat the Spouse of our souls, though our spiritual marriage is eternal.

It is not a matter of how smart and capable we are, for there is an inexhaustible supply for every mind and heart: Sacred Theology and the Catechism for some, Holy Scripture and Spiritual Reading for most, Devotions and Prayer for everyone. To increase our knowledge of God, according to our own talents and gifts, is the best method we have for knowing God’s Will; the better we know Him, the more we grow in Love of Him and thus come to know His Will.

What is God’s Holy Will? We have only a short lifetime to probe this immense treasure and the degree of our eternal happiness depends upon the depth of our Love for Him.

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