Authority

I recently was led back to an brief but memorable Christianity Today article in which pro-lifer Frederica Mathewes-Green tells her own moving story. I think you’ll enjoy the conversion part:

“I would have been proud of having an abortion. I didn’t happen to get pregnant, but if I had, I would have had an abortion in a minute. I would have seen it as a revolutionary act in which I declared my independence.”

With those words, Frederica Mathewes-Green sums up her views on abortion during her days as a campus flower child in the early 1970s.

Crowned by a cascading tide of long, curly hair that was usually decked with flowers, she wore muslin, Indian-print dresses. She stopped shaving her legs. After sampling a salad bar of Eastern religions, she settled on Hinduism. She affirmed gay rights, women’s rights, abortion rights.

During a semester in Washington, D.C., Frederica wrote for off our backs, the underground women’s newspaper filled with angry, rambling poetry and dubiously helpful articles about how to make recyclable sanitary products from natural fibers. When Roe v. Wade came down in 1973, she and the rest of the staff cheered wildly.

Then something odd happened. Frederica’s boyfriend, Gary, had to read one of the Gospels for a philosophy of religion class. He chose Mark – it was the shortest. An atheist, Gary was nonetheless intrigued by Mark’s portrait of Christ.

“There’s something about Jesus,” Gary would tell Frederica, looking up from the Gospel he was now reading over and over. “He speaks with authority.”

Frederica, furious, hoped this fascination was just a phase. In May 1974, Frederica and Gary married, offering a Hindu prayer to bless their union, and then donned backpacks for a trip through Europe. In Dublin, as they toured yet another looming cathedral, Frederica stood before a statue of Jesus. “Behold the heart that so loved mankind,” read the emblem beneath it.

Suddenly she was on her knees on the cold, stone floor, weeping before the Christ. “I am your life,” she sensed Jesus saying to her. “You think your life is in your personality, your intellect, in your very breath itself. But these are not your life. I am your life.

“I stood up,” says Frederica, “and I was a Christian. I read the Bible. There were parts of it I didn’t like. But I was now submitted to an authority greater than myself.” -Christianity Today, March 7, 1994; (I’ve uploaded the full article here.)

This story always gets me, for two reasons. First, it very dramatically points to the sovereign hand of God. Like the apostle, Paul, Frederica knew about Christ, had people close to her who had come to Christ, but herself despised all Christianity stood for. Finding Jesus as her Savior and Lord was the last thing Frederica was looking for, and she would have done anything to avoid it. But as with Paul, Jesus had other plans, and at exactly the right time decided to implement them. What an awesome God we serve, who can strike down the mighty merely by the touch of His limitless love.

But secondly, this testimony also has enduring value for its testimony to God’s authority. Frederica’s husband Gary had sensed it in his very first reading of the Gospel: “there’s something about Jesus; He speaks with authority”, and Frederica confirms it with her parting thought: “I was now submitted to an authority greater than myself.” This cuts to the very heart of the matter. For, as long as we are on Battlefield Earth, the central underlying contention will be over who has authority. The devil’s rule of darkness and chaos is in direct rebellion against God’s peaceable and rightful reign.

According to the Great Commission, our task is to take God’s sovereign authority into all creation, reclaiming it for Him. God has delegated all authority to Christ, who in turn has delegated it to us. Thus, when we are praying and working within God’s will, that infinite authority fully backs us up. That is why the gates of hell cannot prevail against the obedient church.

The key to the victory is that the church must in fact be obedient to the word. Recall Paul’s frequently-quoted mighty words of spiritual warfare:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; – 2Cor 10:3-5

Seeing the amazing power with which we have been imbued, and the truly miserable estate of the world, this battle cry sometimes makes me want to take my Bible down to main street and the malls and literally beat people over the head with it if necessary. “Get saved! Escape this evil generation! Join us and get cleaned up! Use your gifts and calling to help us!”

But Paul’s very next verse is not nearly so frequently quoted. Paul was writing to a church that was wonderfully endowed with all manner of spiritual manifestation gifts – tongues, prophecies, words of wisdom, healings and the like – things that should have been used to cleanse, heal and build up the Body. And yet, the Corinthian church was instead plagued by strife, divisions, drunkenness, immorality, licentiousness, selfishness and immaturity. Essentially, behind all these problems was a lack of the “perfect bond of unity”, love. And so Paul was forced to immediately add:

And we will be ready to punish all disobedience, when your obedience is made complete. – 2Cor 10:6

Think about what he’s saying there. Our gifts are infinitely mighty in God to perform God’s glorious will, even against an enemy stronger than we. God has not called us to do something – in this case, the command to Adam, glorified: to “subdue the earth” for Christ – and then not equipped us with the necessary armaments. They are both fully effective and fully available. And yet even though we have the best “high-tech” weapons at our disposal, when we are not walking in obedience we have no power. The weapons are either ineffective (or, in fact, dangerous) because of misuse, or they lie rusting in the hangar due to disuse.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come”. The beauty of seeing God’s will as essentially the call to extend His authority into all creation is that it makes things very simple. If we pursue God’s authority in all things, not only are we going to make our own steps secure, we are going to be God’s change agent amidst the fallen world.

Jesus told the Pharisees to first clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside would be clean as well. It all starts with each of us turning to our First Love and sanctifying Christ’s reign in our hearts. As we submit to God’s good and loving authority, He will empower us to bring that authority to a world lost in darkness.

We know that the church is going to be made obedient to its calling, because it is written that Jesus is coming for a bride that will be “without spot or wrinkle”. The church is being progressively sanctified, and will get where it needs to be. The only question is how quickly it will get there, and how completely each of us, as individuals, devote ourselves to that eventuality.

I have been feeling a very strong call to submit myself fully to God’s authority over every area of my life. And as I take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, I have been gaining peace in areas that had been very troublesome. I think that the authority issue may be key for a lot of people to break through to greater freedom and power, and so I’ve written this brief exhortation. I hope you have found it helpful.

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