Monday, August 28, 2006


The Time Management Seminar had been going for fifteen minutes when an older gentleman entered the conference room from the back. He was obviously embarrassed and doing his best to be as unobtrusive as possilbe.

Unfortunately, the Seminar speaker saw this as an opportunity to make a point.

"Sir, you do realize you are fifteen minutes late for this seminar on Time Management?"

The gentleman's face turned a deep shade of red as he said, "Yes sir, I'm sorry."

“Sir, what would they say to you if you came in this late to your office?”

The man relaxed and smiled. He replied: “They would salute me and say, ‘Good morning, sir! What are your orders today?’”

He was a three star general.

Don't you love it when the poser gets put in his place?
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"

"Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. -Mark 1:21-39-
Jesus teaches in the synagogue and the people instantly recognize who has genuine authority and who are the posers. The posers in this text are represented by the religous leaders and by the unclean spirit.

The religious leaders, rabbis, elders and scribes base their authority on the Torah, oral traditions/rabbinic commentary, and the councils. These leaders were very concerned about avoiding breaking the law—an honorable concern. To avoid breaking the command, they added more commands—they fenced off the commands as it were, just in case. The Torah says, “Do not take the name of YHWH in vain.” So the religious leaders banned speaking the name at all just in case. The Torah prohibits working on the Sabbath—and even gave some fairly specific prohibitions. But in order to be safe the religious leaders further defined “work” to include things like carrying a needle and thread on the Sabbath. Rabbi Shammai even suggested eggs laid on the Sabbath shouldn't be eaten, but destroyed. (To be fair, Rabbi Hillel suggested that one wait until Sunday evening to gather the eggs so you wouldn't know which eggs had been laid on the Sabbath and which were laid the day after!)

You wouldn’t be surprised to discover this type of authority tends toward harsh and dogmatic attitudes. If you broke even the traditions your commitment to God was questioned. You might still be God’s child—but you just weren’t a very good Jew. Your values were suspect—sometimes you were harshly criticized, sometimes it was mild criticism—but the condemnation was there all the same.

Jesus doesn’t appeal to tradition, councils, or the commentary of the rabbis. His authority is inherent. While the rabbis would constantly quote other rabbis when teaching—Jesus took a different tack. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus often repeats the phrase: "You heard it was said…but I say…" Later on in Mark, rather than appeal to commentary or tradition regarding the Sabbath, Jesus says in essence: "I am LORD of the Sabbath!"

Jesus doesn't just talk a good game. He demonstrates his authority! Isn’t it just like Satan to try to deter Jesus? Right as Jesus is speaking in a powerful way, Satan tries to cause confusion. But Jesus demonstrates his power and authority by throwing the unclean spirit out of the man. He does not go through some complicated exorcism ritual—he doesn’t rely on traditional commentary: he speaks and defeats the satanic presence. He has genuine authority. And while his authority is direct—and harsh toward real evil—in later texts we notice how gentle it is toward the outcast, the wounded, and those on the fringes of religion.

A few years ago I had a friendly discussion with a minister from a large religious group. We were talking about religious authority and he described for me the ecclesiastical authority in his tradition. Authority was based on three equal things: the Word of God, The Church (rule of the councils), and Tradition. That description fits a lot of groups with a complex hierarchical system.

Suddenly (I can imagine) someone from a "free church tradition" like ours stands up and says: "Just what I thought! Those folks have it all wrong! I'm glad I'm not a part of that kind of group!"

Before you bend down and pick up that stone—pause and reflect. Do we ever judge people’s commitment by non-biblical criteria, like our traditions—the way we’ve always done it? Don’t we appeal to our smaller councils and non-biblical oral sayings of church leaders in the past? Have you ever heard the phrase “command, necessary inference, and approved apostolic example”? (A phrase coined by one of our early Restoration leaders, Thomas Campbell in his "Declaration and Address"--but not a phrase found in the Bible). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked: “What do we believe about this?” or “What does the Church teach?” Sounds vaguely familiar: authority based on the church and oral traditions.

Am I suggesting we ignore the witness of the church or the witness of tradition or leaders of past generations? Not at all. Is there a place for these things? Of course there is. Traditions are not wrong in and of themselves—but we must carefully and painfully be aware that tradition is not authoritative. To bind it as such is no different today than it was 2,000 years ago. Remember Jesus’ blistering words to the religious authorities of his day in Mark 7:6-8:
He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
So how do we distinguish between tradition and the authority of Jesus? How can we tell who is the poser? For one, if it is not bound through the written word—we must be very careful to avoid making demands. Secondly, does it violate the core of Jesus’ teaching: love God, love others? If it violates the command, it must be condemned. Does it free people from the power of Satan? Does it grant them freedom from sin or does it increase sin’s power over them? Next, is this something that is primarily based on tradition or culture? If it is, it cannot be bound as a “so says God”. Finally, and we must be careful with this last one: the authority of Jesus tends to be gentle toward the outsider and tends to be perceived as harsh and offensive toward religious people.

Dr. William Willimon tells of the time when his associate preached one Sunday. An angry member complained that she was offended. Willimon’s response was: I have known my associate for several years now. He is a genuinely gracious person who does not seek conflict or provoke anger. If the sermon has upset you, your anger cannot be blamed on him. No, I detect, the work of someone else behind this sermon, someone more at home with confrontation and conflict than I or my associate. Perhaps he is the one to whom you should make your complaint.

We have been given authority. As disciples of Jesus, we are expected to become like him. He exercises authority—and he expects us to do the same. By his authority we are freed from satanic control—we are not to fear that poser. And by his authority we are called to proclaim his good news. We are not called to bind tradtion and opinion on others. We can certainly offer our traditions and opinions, but they must be clearly distinguished and recognized as non-binding.

And understand this: if you truly speak the message of Jesus with the authority of Jesus you will be opposed. Satan will oppose you. He will hit you with temptation, frontal assaults, and diversionary tactics. Or he may sneak into the synagogue and use the very people of God. Our task is to merely speak truth and demonstrate truth.

Now tell me, which person best describes the kind of authority you’d rather exercise: the time management consultant, or the General? The commander has granted his authority to us. We are to speak his good news to others—and to rescue those oppressed by the power of Satan.

So may you be bold. May you speak God’s Word and only God’s Word. May you speak with the authority and spirit of Jesus. And may you live in such a way that Satan is silenced and the Word of God is spread.

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