mA = Authority
Erecting a building requires authority. You need permits, the community building inspector must sign off on the project, there are specifications that must be adhered to, a state inspector must survey the final results. If a stranger shows up and begins to erect an edifice on your property, you will no doubt have him removed.
What constitutes authority in preaching? The people marveled at Jesus’ teaching because unlike the professional clergy of the day, He spoke with authority (Lk. 4:32). How do we come to the place where we are not simply professional, but where God speaks an authoritative word to His people through us?
The apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthians concerning “our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up” (2 Cor. 10:8; cf. also 13:10). The Apostles were vested with authority by Christ from God through the Holy Spirit to build the Church. Apostleship (in its narrow sense of the twelve) does not continue today, though a gift of apostleship may be found operative. The authoritative office does not remain today. What then? Are we to flail away at preaching in accountability without authority? No! The authority of the apostles continues today, not in some papal delegation, but in the written documents of the New Testament. The Holy Spirit penned through the apostles and their designates the authoritative words of God (2 Peter 1:20:21). These words are given for the up-building of the church (2 Tim. 3:16-4:2).
The issue at root in preaching is that of authority. R. Albert Mohler has stated the issue well, “The authority of the preacher is intrinsically rooted in the authority of the Bible as the church’s Book and the unblemished Word of God . . . We speak because God has spoken, and because He has given us His Word.”
The only authority a preacher may legitimately claim is a delegated authority, that authority which belongs to God alone. The true preacher does not seek personal authority. He seeks, rather, a message full of authority. God delegates His authority to we preachers when He hands us His Scriptures and calls us to proclaim them. To the degree we speak what God has spoken in holy Scripture, to that same degree we speak with divine authority. Where cleverness and cuteness govern our message there is no authority. Again, Mohler well says, “The issue of authority is inescapable. Either the preacher or the text will be the operant authority.” And he warns us “of confusing our own authority with that of the biblical text. We are called, not only to preach, but to preach the Word.”
Lets be clear, our authority in preaching arises from the text of Scripture and our fidelity to it, not from any subjective experience we may claim to have had with God. We must carefully distinguish between a perceived authority that grows from an experience we have had and the authority of God inherent in the text of Scripture. Paul warned the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:8). Paul did not discount the spiritual nature of the experience, only the authority of it. Paul, similarly, warned the Corinthians of those who would come preaching another Jesus or another gospel and he warned them against receiving another spirit (2 Cor. 11:4). Paul did not deny that these folk had gone through a spiritual experience, only that it carried the authority of God.
Experience alone does not constitute authority. “Feeling” like God wants you to say something is not the same as having authority when you preach. Our only authority is that which is inherently God’s and embodied in the text of Scripture.
Our authority comes from the text of Scripture, but it must be delivered under the empowering of the Holy Spirit in order to be biblical preaching. So, in one sense, there is experience necessary for authority in preaching—the experience of God the Holy Spirit pulling the preacher through the knot-hole of divine truth in Scripture and then pouring that truth of holy Scripture through the clean vessel of the preacher (if I may mix my metaphors!). Our every experience must be governed by the text of Scripture, and our every proclamation of the text of Scripture must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. When these two elements come together as we step into the pulpit the Apostle Peter’s words come true, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Pet. 4:10-11a).
How, then, can we actually preach with God’s authority? The answer to that question will be taken up in our next post … and in the next letter of our acrostic.