Uses of Power and the Role of the Church
people are unconcerned with the biblical justification for the use of
power, but for Christians this is an important consideration. This
chapter will look at two problems: a biblical justification for the
use of power, and the role of the church in the status quo.
people fear the word “power” has an evil connotation that power
is demonic and somehow corrupts men, and especially that a
power-based organization is not consistent with biblical teaching.
This writer is convinced that power in and of itself doe not
corrupt. The wrong use of power corrupts, but the right use o power
is consistent with the Bible. God uses power in a variety o ways to
bring about his program, and he has given man dominion over the
earth—power, if you will—personal as well as social.
in his creative power demonstrated that he is the source o all
power. The Bible tells that at a point of his own choosing Go
created the heavens and the earth. The power brought to bear
transcends human thought and imagination, for God spoke an creation
took place. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,”
and it was so. Again God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be
gathered into one place and let the dry land appear,” and it was
so. In the greatest creative act of all God said “Let us make man
in our own image ... and let them hay dominion over all the earth.”
creation we see God’s direct power. In redemption we se God acting
powerfully through an agent. In the book of Exodu
agent is Moses. God confronted Moses in a Midianite field and gave
him what seemed to be an impossible charge. He told Moses, no longer
a young man eager for conflict, a refugee from Pharaoh’s court
keeping sheep for his father-in-law, to go back to Egypt, to
confront mighty Pharaoh, and to bring the people of Israel out from
a series of confrontations with Pharaoh, Moses made eight demands,
each the same as the last: This is a message from the Lord God of
Israel—let my people go. Pharaoh reacted to this demand as all
people have reacted who want to maintain the status
quo. He resisted. Pharaoh, in his arrogance, said he knew nothing of
the Lord, and he would not let Israel go.
that direct confrontation the battle was joined, and it took ten
judgments before Pharaoh yielded and let the people of Israel go.
The tenth and final judgment was the worst of all—the death of all
the firstborn of the Egyptians. With this final show of power,
Pharaoh’s resistance was broken and he consented to release the
children of Israel from their bitter bondage. It is clear in the
book of Exodus that God through Moses exercised power in a most
dynamic and positive way in redeeming the people of Israel from
their bondage in the land of Egypt.
happens in a vacuum. There has to be a historical vehicle through
which all circumstances operate. In the New Testament, for instance,
we read of God’s using the power of Caesar to fulfill the
prophetic announcement that Christ would be born in Bethlehem.
Caesar Augustus decreed that a census should be taken and that every
man had to go to his home town and register there. Since Bethlehem
was the city of Joseph’s ancestors, Joseph and Mary traveled from
their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, and Jesus was born while they
were there. God used the power of Caesar in a political
event—another example of the role of power in history—to make a
decree that forced people to do his will.
let us look at another kind of power: the power of John the Baptist.
This was not a weak and timid individual, but a dynamic and powerful
personality. John, through his dynamism and power— not the power
of violence, but the power of prophetic speech— attracted huge
throngs. The people represented potential social power. John was so
effective that many of the religious leaders
forced to come out of the city of Jerusalem to the Jordan River in
the wilderness to hear what he had to say, to see if he was a threat
to the status quo.
is a power mechanism being brought into play to set the stage for
the beginning ministry of Jesus. At the height of John’s power as
a preacher, Jesus appeared on the scene. John announced to the crowd
of people standing about him, “Look! There comes the Lamb of God
who is taking away the sin of the world.” John’s followers soon
became Jesus’ followers. Jesus had a ready-made following, a
“power base,” when he began his ministry.
civil power and religious power were used in relation to Jesus, the
civil power in terms of the census being taken, and the religious
power in John the Baptist’s preaching and baptizing. God, in
bringing about his purposes, used both civil and religious power.
idea is hard for some people to accept because they believe God
does not act outside the religious structure. God did act outside
the religious structure in the census decree. In the Old Testament
also, Jeremiah called Nebuchadnezzar, the tyrannical king of
Babylon, God’s servant, whom he would bring to punish Israel for
her idolatry and her unjust oppression of the poor.
see God’s power in the Gospels in the life of Jesus Christ, who
was both God and man. Christ was not a demigod, half God and half
man. He was all truly God and truly man. People today accept rather
easily the fact of Jesus as a man. He was also God, however, and as
God he exercised prerogatives of deity. He even forgave sins. The
scribes and the Pharisees accused him of blasphemy when he forgave
the sins of a paralyzed man, because they knew that only God can
demonstrated that he was God by exercising power over nature. A
great storm arose when, he was in a ship with his disciples. The
ship was filling with water, and they were in danger of sinking.
Jesus, who was asleep in the ship, was aroused by the frantic cries
of his disciples. He awoke and commanded the wind and the sea to be
still, and they were still.
exercised power over disease. Wherever Jesus went he healed the
lepers, the crippled, the blind among those crowds that gathered and
exercised power over demons. Mark tells us of a man
by demons who gave every appearance of being a maniac. He lived
among the tombs, and although he had been chained he broke the
chains and menaced passers-by. Jesus sent the demons out of him.
When the people heard of the incident and came out to see for
themselves, they found the man who had been a raving maniac, sitting
fully clothed and in his right mind.
exercised power over death. The story of the raising of Lazarus
vividly illustrates this point. Martha and Mary, the sisters of
Lazarus, told Jesus that Lazarus was dead and buried and his body
was decaying. Jesus went to the grave of Lazarus and commanded some
of the followers to remove the stone that lay upon the grave. He
called to Lazarus to come forth. John tells us that the man who had
been dead came forth, still bound with grave clothes, and with a
cloth around his face. Jesus told them to unbind him and let him go
order for Jesus to demonstrate complete power over death, however,
he must be able to raise from the dead one who would never die
again. This Jesus stated he had power to do in the sixth chapter of
the Gospel of John. “And this is the will of my father, that
everyone who sees the Son and believes on him should have eternal
life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
examples of the uses of power show that the possession of power is
not, in itself, an evil thing. It is how that power is used that
must concern us. Power has been and can continue to be used for
early in his ministry, Jesus began to advance the claim that he was
the Messiah. He could not possibly have been accepted as Messiah,
however, merely by advancing the claim. It is common practice, even
today, for persons to present proof of their identity. A man must
present papers of identification to cash a check at a bank where he
is unknown. A credit card or driver’s license indicates that he is
the person he claims to be. In the same way Jesus had to present
credentials that would establish the claim that he was the Messiah.
His credentials were his power-demonstrating acts. He used his power
not in wild, magical demonstrations designed to cause his followers
to gaze and wonder, but in constructive ways to aid the poor, the
oppressed, the sick. He used his power to heal the sick, to open the
eyes of the blind, to make the
walk, to cleanse the lepers, and to raise the dead. These were his
credentials—his demonstration that he was the Messiah.
see Jesus exercising his power in another way, a way much more
aggressive and disturbing to the religious power structure. Mark
tells us that Jesus went into the temple and sent out people who
sold and bought things to sacrifice in the temple. He also upset the
tables of the moneychangers and the dove sellers. It appears that in
some fashion Jesus exercised control over the temple precincts, for
Mark goes on to say that he would not permit any man to carry
anything through the temple. This act turned the scribes and chief
priests completely against Jesus, and they began to plot his death.
Jesus’ power and influence among the people was growing, and this
the religious leaders could not tolerate.
let us note Jesus’ tactics. When he came he did not make an appeal
to the monied interest. He did not go to the people in power and
plead with them to do the right thing on the basis of morality. He
went to the poor. He did not talk to them about personal salvation
only. He dealt first with what the poor considered to be real in
their lives. He dealt with their sickness, their leprosy, blindness,
religious leaders who were in authority wanted to kill Jesus. The
Scriptures make it very clear, however, that they were not able to
do anything to him because of their fear of the people. Jesus built
a mass base of people-power with which the religious leaders had to
ministry was a demonstration of power, and this power threatened to
change the status quo. It was this threat to the status quo of the
power structure that was the catalyst, from the human point of view,
that brought about his death.
Wrong Uses of Power
arrest and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus was a wrong use of power,
by both the religious authorities and the secular authorities. He
was arrested at night, moved from place to place in rapid succession
because the authorities feared the people. In a short period of
time, he underwent five trials—two before the Sanhedrin, the
religious ruling body; two before Pontius Pilate, the Roman
one before King Herod. False witnesses were secured and paid to
religious leaders condemned him and turned him over to Pontius
Pilate to be put to death. The Jews would have put him to death
themselves had the power resided in their hands. This death penalty
rested in the hands of the civil rulers. Pontius Pilate used his
power wrongfully, for he ordered the crucifixion of Jesus even when
he himself had said he found no fault in him.
of those in authority in the very earliest period of the gathered
believers were putting their power to wrong use by discriminating
against one group of widows. The book of Acts records that there was
a disagreement between those of them who spoke Greek and those who
spoke Hebrew. The former group complained that their widows were
being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The apostles did
not try to refute this complaint. They realized the wrong use of
power and they acted to change the manner of distribution. They
asked the disciples to choose from among themselves seven men of
good character to take on this work of services while the apostles
themselves went on with the work of preaching and teaching.
excerpts are taken from Black Self-Determination: the Story of
the Woodlawn Organization by Arthur M. Brazier, Eerdmans, 1969,
p. 126-131. Brazier was a pastor of the Apostolic Church of
God and President of the Woodlawn Organization, one of the first
church-based community organizations. For an excerpt from the book
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