Jesus was anti-authoritarian.
His policy on leadership is well known.
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45
Jesus points are these:
1. Forced authority isn’t acceptable among Jesus’ people.
2. Jesus’ people will choose people who work to meet the needs of others.
3. Jesus’ people will chose people who are downwardly mobile.
4. This is shown by Jesus’ example, who works hard for the needs of others and who surrendered his life, thus giving up all earthly authority.
It is the natural desire of most people to seek out an authority to tell them what to do. This is not because they don’t want to have their own choices, but that to live according to our own choices is hard work and most people are happy to pass those choices off to other who actually want to do that hard work. Yes, this means that there will be bad choices made, even evil choices, but it is easier to complain about the choices of an ultimate authority than to have the burden of leadership ourselves.
Jesus knew this tendency. After all, there was more than once when groups of people attempted to give him authority over them, and he not only refused, but ran away. Even after he was resurrected, he reiterated some of his teachings, affirmed his actions and teachings…
And then he disappeared. Gone. So the practical, day-to-day decision making of the church couldn’t be done by a single dictator, no matter how benevolent. Authority had to be shared. Authority was to be given to the merciful. Authority was to be given to people who didn’t pursue authority. People like Jesus.
But the desire for authority still rules the everyday people. First, the entire church rested, not on the example and teaching of Jesus, but on the authority of the person. All of theology is developed not to help us understand what Jesus told us to understand, but to support the place of Jesus being the ultimate authority.
Second, practical authority was granted to bishops, church leaders who would decide for others the correct application of Jesus’ teaching. After Constantine, bishops were happy to give certain ethics to the state, who, after all, were Christian now.
Eventually, the church saw itself as its own authority, and the presence of Jesus on earth. Authority was important for the church to have, and keep, and wield, for it’s own purpose, because Jesus was the ultimate authority and the Church is his representative. And, of course, everything fell apart after that.
Today, the church has what some call a moral crisis. Active pedophiles in the leadership of the church, adulterers, leaders being abusive, congregations supporting immoral politicians, and police being called on the homeless. However, I wouldn’t call this a moral crisis, but a dependence on authoritarianism.
Christian authority isn’t the same as Jesus’ authority. When people suffer because we want to protect the church, we aren’t protecting Jesus. When we surrender our authority to a person with charisma and confidence, then we aren’t following Jesus. When we allow leaders to be immoral for the sake of the unity of the church, we aren’t helping the kingdom of God. When we rely on the world’s authority of violence and corruption to keep our peace, then we are dependent on the wrong kind of peace.
The early Anabaptists promoted community authority because they saw what distant, harsh, authoritarian leadership creates– oppression for common people and destruction for the outcast. They rightly called this kind of authoritarian leadership of the spirit of the Antichrist. We need to return back to Jesus’ standards: give leadership to people who give of themselves to those in need.