We start out with a child like faith, believing what others tell us at face value. However, as life experience grows, most tend to become more and more distrustful of blindly following. What is the source of the authority, where is the evidence, what is the background / motive of the person exercising said authority. It becomes harder and harder to accept things at their face value. And yet, there is William of Ockham and his razor just to make things interesting….
Its not just the church, its society in general. We see it in politics, whether it be folks in power trying to work around the 19th amendment’s prohibition of poll taxes, or stacking or cracking maps for political gain. We see it in education where in decks are stacked in text books to reflect a sanitized/revised sense of history. We even see in in the press where news media goes off half cocked before the facts of the matter are known, much less the backstory. And then as individuals possessing social capital, we contribute to this as well by supporting all of the above. It can be really disheartening.
Alas, its not a new problem… consider the CBS Marketing Campaign, “The Most Trusted Man in America”… and in the 1972 survey, Walter Cronkite was the only non-politician.
Its really easy to go super cynical, so there are a number of countermeasures folks have tried.
1. Pick someone and latch onto their authority, pretty much the blind faith thing on steroids. In the short term, this probably works out ok, but everyone is fallible and subject to corruption if the right situation arises… so its really not an answer, even though politicians tend to love this sort of thing.
2. Reagan’s Trust but Verify is better than blind following… but often times verification is a tricky thing indeed. It may require substantial investments of time and energy, and in some cases, is impractical if one doesn’ t have the ability to capture the requisite background knowledge.
3. Another option, is to be open to the Holy Spirits leading, followed by studying the scriptures to see if a given authorities message is true or not. This was the technique of the Bereans, and it seemed to work out pretty well for them in Acts 17.
One thing to remember, is just like in the financial sector, past performance is not indicative of future results. Bottom line, authority requires continuous vigilance as left unchecked the probability for veering from the path is pretty high.
I think of the chief priests and elders in today’s Gospel text. I doubt they really intended to take people away from God. They probably started out zealous for God, or maybe their ancestors did, but over time, things got further and further from Him. I remember being at Heritage USA, where the rise and fall of Pentecostal Preacher Jim Baker occurred, and thinking, wow, he did start out on the right path, but then, whoa, things went wrong in a huge way.
And yet, despite all the garbage in the church, and in the world, lives are changed by the word of God. A most encouraging poem from Kenn Stark takes this on in a huge way.