Last week, at the Phyllis Tickle event, the ‘authority question’ came up, as it will/should whenever someone starts talking about ‘the Spirit’.
I was sitting out in the audience for the Fuller Seminary part of the evening. A little debate/concern arose about the issue of authority – especially as it relates to the rapidly growing pentecostalism of the Southern Hemisphere.
I leaned over to the pastor sitting beside me and jokingly said “I pastored a charismatic church for a decade, and now I am at a Methodist church … this seems like the easiest thing in the world to navigate.” The pastor requested that I blog about it.
Let’s get all the parts on the table and see how they come together:
Element 1: in the past we talked about seats or locations. Where does authority reside? Answers have included leaders, scripture, the collective, bylaws, reason, etc. Traditionally we have talked about authority in a static sense.
Element 2: in the Methodist tradition we have the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason. (for an interesting side-read, John Cobb questions the sequence of those four elements)
Elements 3: I read a fascinating article a while ago about developments in neuroscience. Researches have long looked for which part of the brain memories reside in. It turns out that memories are not located in any one place but in the connection made between different parts of the brain.
Proposal: Authority, like memory, is not located in any one place. It is uniquely comprised of the connection between component parts. Depending on the collected aspects, the authority that emerges will be unique to that organization, congregation and movement.
Authority, therefor, doesn’t exist (per se) in that same sense that we used to conceptualize it … OR perhaps I should say it doesn’t reside somewhere – but in the connection and configuration of collected elements.
The reason that ‘the authority question’ is so elusive is because it is different in every place and is changing all the time.
Authority will look different if you are Catholic charismatic in S. America than if you are a non-denominational megachurch in N. America. This is due to its emergent nature as an evolving concept.