The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Decaying authority

The church's authority wanes when it ceases to be our central place of belonging

Authority comes from the Latin word augere, meaning "to create, enlarge or make able to grow," Kennedy says. He parts company with those who would take back authority by "laying down the law" or "carrying a big stick." That isn't authority but authoritarianism, he says.

For example, Jim Jones, leader of the doomed People's Temple, had the ability to make hundreds of people believe and obey him. More than 900 drank poison on his say-so. But Kennedy insists that what Jones had was not authority but authoritarianism.

"What he brought on wasn't enlarged life but grim death," he says. Healthy authority, Kennedy says, is "generative." It's life-enhancing and promotes growth. It doesn't "pull rank" by requiring obedience simply because of an authoritative title. And it doesn't require the use of power.

That's the kind of authority Christ exercised during his earthly ministry. "Jesus didn't raise his voice a lot, but he spoke in a way that lifted souls," he says.

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February issue


Embracing diversity