Authority pt. 3: the body of Christ

This is the last installment in a three-part series of posts on authority. See part 1 here and part 2 here.

Disciples of Christ who accept my assertions about A1 vs. A2 and their implications face the question of how to exist as a community if we are not to seek the formal order of hierarchy.

The community of Christians depicted in Acts is analogous to Israel during the period of judges. The community of Christians today is analogous to Israel during its period of monarchy. I won’t get into the controversy of the who, how, and why of this transformation other than to say that many in the community felt it necessary and appropriate to rein in the proliferation of shortcomings that were on display in the network. Priorities had to be set and choices made. A central issue was (and remains) the tension between the desire for maximizing the number of conversions versus maximizing the depth of spiritual maturity in each believer. And there was (and remains) tension between the impulse to live at peace with the state and the society it encompasses versus the inevitable trouble entailed in witnessing for truth among the deceived.

Benjamin Tucker asserts, “Society finds its highest perfection in the union of order with anarchy.”

I believe that God dislikes human relations that are based on A1 — authority in the pejorative sense. I also think that most people dislike A1, at least when they don’t wield it. Further, I believe that God wants the catholic church (not the Roman Catholic Church but everyone that Jesus recognizes as a follower of his) to embody his mysterious non-hierarchical order, which confounds the human intellect. I regard this as part of our mandate as his witnesses in the world. However, I do not believe that he wants us just to destroy hierarchy wholesale.

This leads me to two questions. First, why did the Israelites want to exchange an A2 society for an A1 state? Second, how can we become a network that fulfills God’s will and demonstrates his order?

Israel’s apostasy

There were probably several factors in the Israelites’ desire to have a human king, but I believe that chief among them was that they found it too burdensome and terrifying to relate to God directly. Remember that their conception of God differed from the conception of God that most Christians have today. We could do with a lot more of the fear of the lord that they had. On the other hand, they wanted something that we have, and take largely for granted, and probably can’t really imagine lacking — a mediator.

Moses was reluctant to lead and insisted on having a mediator, Aaron, between him and the rest of the Israelites. Similarly, when God called his people to the summit of Mt. Sinai, they refused to go and insisted on having a mediator, Moses, between them and God.

Moses had a fear of people, and the people had a fear of God. But isn’t a fear of God a good thing (e.g., the beginning of wisdom)? Yes, but we might differentiate between reverent and irreverent varieties of fear of God. The Israelites’ refusal to heed God’s call to meet him at the summit of the mountain is an example of an irreverent fear of God — a refusal to trust him, in this case.

Christ mediator

Christian doctrine holds that Jesus Christ took a form both fully human and fully divine. The significance of this for our purposes here is that we can orient toward God in the form of a human who was subject to all the frailties and temptations that we face as humans. This makes the mediation of Jesus Christ a key that unlocks our ability to include A2 in and exclude A1 from our interactions.

Jesus acts as the human, and therefore less-scary-than-God, mediator that we want between God and us, and he does not ask for a mediator — such as Aaron — between him and us. However, Jesus is not merely a human but is God the Son. So Jesus is our mediator in a sense, yet there is actually no mediator since him who would be mediator is in fact God. Being both divine and human, Jesus is the exclusive source and bearer of A1 authority among humans. This paradox of the God–man who is king leaves us with no excuse for mis-assigning A1 authority to humans.

But his authority is not limited to the A1 type as God. He also displayed unmatched A2 during his ministry in human form on the earth. He brings an astounding, incomprehensible order. It is not the formal order that we are familiar with from the innovations conceived by humans. Our factitious order is a counterfeit of God’s artless, spontaneous order. Jesus is the king of kings, but he doesn’t create a hierarchy that we recognize in the delegation of portions of A1 to subordinates.

Jesus doesn’t just mediate between God and humans as God and human; he also mediates between monarchy and anarchy as the monarchal head of an anarchic community. It is as if a network of kings existed as a community in anarchy — yet with one king at the center of, over, and within all. Many people find this too paradoxical to take seriously. My only reply is that I no longer see truth untouched by paradox. (Here I mean eternal truth rather than merely accurate assessments of temporal reality.)

Today

So how can anyone proceed from current circumstances toward the ideal I have sketched? Devising a plan would require employing means that are contrary to the end. I only propose that we stop subscribing to the false religion of formal order. I see no reason to fight with the hierarchy of Christendom. I merely withdraw my support for it. I tolerate it as well as I can, viewing it as a temporary arrangement that must disintegrate eventually. I recognize its flaws and place no faith or hope in it. But I also trust that God is working through it and is preparing us to exit at the right time as Noah and all exited the ark.

Incidentally, my view of the state is equivalent. I see no good case for promoting large-scale, direct conflict with the state. I simply give it no moral support. I pay taxes and make the other token gestures toward obedience without paying it any respect in my heart. This seems enough for now.

Advertisements

Authority pt. 2: two conceptions of order

This entry continues on the theme of authority from the entry of 5 November.

Authoritative vs. authoritarian

In the period of judges, Israel was a community with no fixed ruler other than God. The nation was an amorphous network in which all people were equal in status but not in influence. Authoritative people received esteem granted voluntarily by others. These people carried A2 authority, but not A1.

In contrast, the institution of the monarchy conferred A1 authority to a human. In essence, the Israelites placed a man on God’s throne and created a rigid hierarchy that denied the inherent equality of individuals. A human ruler has to be authoritarian. The better kings may have exhibited authoritativeness periodically, but the point is that authoritarianism was always present.

Network vs. hierarchy

To generalize, a group devoid of A1 is a network, and a group that incorporates A1 is a hierarchy. A2 can exist in both arrangements, so the distinction between networks and hierarchies rests on whether A1 is present.

From a utilitarian perspective, the shortcomings of a network — anarchy — exceed those of a hierarchy. Or, more precisely, people exhibit greater shortcomings in the absence of hierarchical strictures. Yet a hierarchy also has shortcomings that I believe outweigh those of a network.

Order vs. disorder

People sometimes have difficulty turning a critical eye toward deeply held beliefs, especially those that have not been examined previously. The belief in hierarchy and A1 falls into this category. To circumvent natural mental defenses, I want to step away from human interactions and instead make an analogy out of scientific forestry, which James C. Scott depicted in a great essay at Cato Unbound titled “The Trouble with the View from Above,” which relates to our topic here. I recommend reading the whole thing, but I’ll just refer to the section on the invention of scientific forestry. The context is that princely states of Prussia and Saxony in the 1700s derived revenue from logging. To manage efficiently, the states devised methods for measuring the distribution of trees by size in a given area and thus calculating the greatest sustainable timber yield of that area. As Scott wrote:

“It is, however, the next logical step in German scientific forestry that commands our attention. That step was to attempt to create through careful seeding, planting and cutting, a redesigned forest that was easier to count, manipulate, measure, and assess. Thus was born the modern, ‘production’ forest: a mono-cropped (Norway spruce or Scotch pine), same-age, timber-farm planted in straight rows. The very uniformity of the forest vastly simplified its management and exploitation. Forestry crews could follow a few simple rules for clearing the underbrush, trimming and fertilizing; the mature trees of comparable girth and length could be felled into the alleys and marketed as homogeneous units to logging contractors and timber merchants. For nearly a century, during which German scientific forestry as a codified discipline became the world standard, the ‘production forest’ was a resounding success in terms of steady yields at low cost.

“Redesigning the forest as a ‘one-commodity machine,’ however, had, in the long run, catastrophic consequences for forest health and production. The mono-cropped, same-age forest was far more vulnerable to disease, blight, and storm damage. Its simplicity and formal order, together with the elimination of underbrush, deadfalls and litter dramatically reduced the diversity of the flora, insect, mammal, and bird populations so essential to soil building processes. Once the soil capital deposited by the old-growth forest had been depleted, the new forest entered a period of steep decline in growth and production. The term ‘Waldsterben’ entered the vocabulary of modern forestry science and led, in turn, to huge outlays for fertilizers, rodenticides, fungicides and insecticides as well as efforts to artificially reintroduce birds, insects and mammals that had disappeared.”

For the purposes of our discussion here, the key term in the passage above is “formal order.” The natural forest is characterized by anarchy, among other things. The modern conception of the word anarchy often treats it as a synonym for chaos or disorder. This is an egregious abuse of the word, but it reflects the fact that the natural human impulse is to replace anarchy with formal order.

A1 and its attendant hierarchy produce a measure of formal order, which appeals to and comforts many people. And there are benefits to formal order. But formal order is inferior to the natural, spontaneous order that God creates. God’s order is so different from the human conception of order that we view it usually as disorder. (Obviously, though, this does not mean that everything that looks to us like disorder is actually God’s order.)

In the next entry, I will look at some implications of A1 and A2 for those of us who are trying to tread the way to becoming Christians.