Where is authority?by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, Lima, Ohio
Regarding "Where is Authority in the Church?" (April): Leonard Gross argues that there is no authority in the church above and beyond the local congregation because there is no church except the local congregation. If that is true, it then follows that any attempt by one congregation to impose its understanding of the faith—what is essential, what is not essential—on any other congregation would be strictly unauthorized.
Yet that is precisely what the Jerusalem church did in Acts 15. To quote from the official statement: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials."
While the Jerusalem council extended its authority "no further … than these essentials," the language here assumes that the Jerusalem church, gathered in council with the apostles and elders, did have authority both to decide the "essentials" and to "impose … these essentials" on the congregations in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. This assumed authority, moreover, was corroborated by the selection of representatives, Judas and Silas, from the Jerusalem church to accompany Paul and Barnabas with the letter, for the purpose of verbally communicating the decision of the Jerusalem council to the churches of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. Both the letter and its carriers represented the ecclesial authority of the Jerusalem church, an authority that was exercised over other congregations by means of its council, consensus and communication.
If that is so, we must draw one or another conclusion: Either the Jerusalem church exceeded its authority, in which case the Jerusalem council is for us a negative precedent, or Gross is incorrect because ecclesial authority—and thus the church—exists above and beyond the local congregation. Which, then, is it?
Associated Issue: A holy hybridity - April 2012
Associated Article: NEWS ANALYSIS: Where is authority in the church?
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