The fourth heading in this series is ‘under authority’, quoting the centurion who spoke to Jesus (Matthew 8:9; Luke 7:8). Christians, of course, believe that all authority belongs to God (Matthew 28:18; Mark 2:10; Luke 12:5; John 17:1,2) but the bible also says that God gives authority to others (Daniel 2:37,38; John 19:10,11; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-20). In particular, Jesus gave authority to certain disciples — the twelve, especially Peter, and the seventy — before his ascension (Matthew 10:1; 16:19; 18:18; Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1,19; John 20:23). The apostles used this authority to authorise others (Acts 1:21,22; 6:2-6) and the authority of Jesus, thus passed down to the present day, is the source of the church’s authority (this is ‘apostolic succession’).
Bishops are the successors of the apostles and delegate some of their authority to priests, deacons and other ministers (Acts 6:2-6; Titus 1:5). But, although God’s authority is absolute (Psalm 115:3), the authority of bishops and other ministers is conditional upon their obedience to authority. Ministers must be led by the Holy Spirit (on which more next week) and faithful to the gospel (Galatians 1:8,9; 2:2,11-14; Titus 1:9). In the Church of England, ordained ministers and readers, before we are authorised, declare our belief in the faith ‘uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds’. Ministers’ authority is also limited by the rules of the Church of England, and we also promise to use only ‘the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon’ for public worship.
I have talked about the Holy Scriptures two weeks ago. A Christian minister must accept the bible: it is a uniquely authoritative source about the example and teaching of Jesus; it is the word of God (Matthew 15:3-6; John 8:51).
The catholic creeds are those which were composed early in the church’s history (before the eighth century) and have historically had the agreement of the whole church. It is important for a Christian minister to accept them not least because they were composed to avoid misunderstandings which have caused serious problems for Christian teaching.
Using only authorised forms of service is also important: our worship, like our knowledge of Jesus, is not something we have made up but something passed down to us. The Church of England as a whole decides certain parameters of our public prayer, like saying the creed together on a Sunday morning, to avoid individual congregations being led astray. It is important for us to share what we have received from and about Jesus, not put ourselves in the way.