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Across the Pastor’s Desk: Claims to authority must be examined

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Don Rose

There would seem to be a great deal of discussion in these days around the topic of authority. Such conversations are certainly important but nothing new whether in the culture at large or in the faith community. For the faith community, the question becomes even more focused as the question is asked, “Who speaks for God?” and “How can God’s people know?”

Don Rose

Such questions were part of the reason for the institution of the office of prophet as shared by the editors of the book of Deuteronomy. Recall that these prophets were not fortune tellers but rather persons who were called by God to tell forth, to proclaim God’s word to God’s people. Prophets would be raised up by God as needed to serve as intermediaries between God and God’s people just as the people had requested. The authority of the office rested in the obedience of those who heard the word and the faithfulness of the one who shared the word. Assurance was given that one could know which prophet spoke God’s word was true because the words would become reality. On the other hand, the words of the false prophet would never materialize. Just as God has throughout the ages,God continues to call persons to proclaim God’s word to the world. The issues of authority and genuineness are as much a part of modern experience as ancient. The ages of history have shown that not all who claim to speak for God do in fact do so. Many make claims about the word of God that has been spoken to them and their need to share that word of revelation with the world. The same criteria can be used today as in the past, i.e. do the words become reality. The message is that not everyone who claims to speak for God does in fact do so.

Sometimes waiting to see if the prophet’s words become true can be too time consuming and seemingly unending. Since the time of Jesus, himself a member of that long prophetic line, there are additional criteria that in fact may be more timely and apparent for use in judging the authenticity of one who claims to speak for God. As God’s people have long been encouraged to test the message and its content for faithfulness to the will of God, they must examine what they hear and its message for them and the day. Two criteria by which that assessing may be done are to discern the presence of God’s love and justice in the midst of those words or deeds. Without the expression of God’s love and God’s justice, in all likelihood the accompanying words and/or deeds are not of God.

Claims to authority must always be examined as opposed to being blindly followed. This is true in every arena of life — content is still more important than show.

Don Rose is a pastor at Mansfield and United Lutheran churches.