There is not much doubt that the church has little to no authority in today’s modern world. In Luther’s time the church was very powerful. The Pope was a person with great authority not only in the church but also in the world. Luther actually challenged the worldly power of the church when he taught his doctrine on the 2 kingdoms. According to Luther the world consists of 2 Kingdom; the Kingdom of the Right and the Kingdom of the Left. This has nothing to do with the realms of politics with the Left and the Right leanings. Luther believed that the entire world belonged to God but God ruled it by different means when it came to Church and State. He believed that God has established worldly governments to rule the Kingdom of the Left. And so we have Law and Order – police, judges, politicians and similar authorities to keep the world in order. But it still belongs under God’s overall authority as Jesus reminds Pilate when he says, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. (John 19:11) The authorities of God’s Left Hand kingdom are doing his job. And that includes teachers, parents, anyone with authority, and we are called to obey and respect them just as we are respecting God according to the 4th Commandment of honouring our mother and father.
But it’s the Kingdom of the Right Hand of God that causes confusion because it is an authority that is not seen or understood outside of the church. This is a heavenly authority that has been given to the church as Jesus explained to Peter when he said: I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18,19) So the authority that the church has is in regards to forgiving sins to assure people of their home in heaven so when judgment day comes they will have no fear but know that the sins they have had forgiven here on earth have been forgiven in heaven. Confusion arises for the church when we don’t properly understand what our authority is. And when we mingle earthly authority and heavenly authority we end up losing both. When the church protests against worldly situations we are told that’s not our business and that we have no right to interfere. We are seeing this at present in the marriage survey. Those in favour of Same Sex Marriage are criticising the church for holding back society and that we have no right or authority to say who should be allowed to marry. It’s interesting that the church is blamed considering only 52% identified as Christian in the latest census – a good percentage of which would not go to church – and of those who went to church not all disagree with Same Sex Marriage.
Things do get confusing when there is a crossover area. In matters of ethics it’s difficult because there’s a lot of crossover such as in the marriage debate, the laws being introduced on euthanasia and abortion and it makes it very difficult when laws are introduced in the world, the Left Kingdom which we do not agree with in the Church, the Right Kingdom, but we are impacted by them. And that’s where we need to use discernment.
St Paul gives instructions to the church when it comes to the world and the Kingdom of the Left: He says: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4) And perhaps maybe that’s where we are failing as a church – in our prayer life for the world. It’s so easy to move away from our position as God’s Holy People and join the fight. Remember when Peter couldn’t agree with Jesus when he said that he would go to Jerusalem and be arrested and put to death. Peter said NO – this will never happen to you. He moved away from his post and Jesus put him back – get behind me Satan for you have in mind the things of the world not the things of God. Notice Jesus’ distinction between the things of God and the things of the world. Peter had taken up arms in the world and neglected his place in the church. Likewise, when Jesus was arrested Peter pulls out his sword and cuts of Jesus’ attacker’s ear. Jesus says to put it away. Those who live by the sword (the world) die by the sword (Matthew 26:52,53) If that were the way God wanted to fight against the world he could call 12 legions of angels. God has equipped the church with spiritual weapons.
Our struggle, as St Paul says, is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12) God has given us the keys to heaven to pronounce forgiveness of sins. That’s our authority. We may win a battle here and there in the world but something else will rear its head and we’ll fight that one too and we’ll be taken away from what we have been asked to do – to administer the Gospel. Like most people I get disheartened at the way the world is going. I have at times become outspoken, and I have gotten angry and then I realise, that’s not what God wants me to do. In fact we can neglect our duty as the priesthood of God praying for the world as we end up fighting against the world. Our desire, like God’s is that all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. If it were God’s desire to fight against the world then he would be doing that. Sometimes we may have to take a stand however. We may need to stand up for what we believe. And that may mean loss of some type. And when we become disheartened about what is happening in the world we need to remember that the world and its leaders will need to give an account to God for how they have lived their lives and exercised their God given authority.
As Paul said in our 2nd reading: at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. What we are to do is to pray for those who do not yet call Jesus Christ their Lord and be there to forgive. There are times when we want to take action now –when we want God to take action now – but it’s not about creating the perfect life now – it’s about ensuring people are part of God’s perfect life in heaven. And that’s why Peter says; The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The leaders questioned Jesus’ authority in the same way that the world questions our authority. We may not have the authority we once had in the world, but we have a much greater authority. The authority to forgive sins and assure salvation. The authority of the keys to heaven which the world cannot question or take away from us. Not even the gates of hell will overcome it unless we step away from the authority given to us.
It can be disheartening at times when we look at the church’s decreasing authority in the world but we need to remember that our authority is a hidden authority that will be revealed when Jesus returns and all people will bow the knee and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. And then, when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4) So stay strong in the Lord and keep near to where Jesus has promised to be – in his Word, in your Baptism and in his Body and Blood as neither the world nor all the powers of hell can remove them and their authority.