Back in the 90’ there was an irritating trend in some Christian circles where leaders were referring to themselves as “God’s generals.” I imagine that these pastors and televangelists saw themselves as having the ability to command armies of angels and demons. And their stature as “generals” probably influenced the way they treated their followers, and how they expected their followers to treat them.
Many of us will associate “spiritual authority” with weirdness or abuse. But it’s actually an important idea, and one which few Christians understand.
In the previous post, we looked at Psalm 8:5 which describes the human person as being created just a little bit lower than God himself. The verses that follow say: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.” (Ps 8:4-6)
Echoing the creation story of Genesis 2, this passage describes the role of leadership that women and men have been given here on the earth. Using poetic imagery, these verses divide the world into two realms: what Adam could see and control (sheep, oxen, beasts of the field); and what Adam couldn't see or control (birds, fish, marine life). So what this passage is saying that humans, created in the image of God, are called to exercise leadership over what is seen and what is unseen. Our influence over the “unseen world” is what we should understand as spiritual authority.
There's much more to the spiritual world than demons and angels. Cultural, religious, social, and economic power structures are among the many unseen forces that shape the way people view themselves and the world arround them. Jesus was in touch with this unseen world. He always seemed to know what the real issue was behind people’s circumstances and outlook on life. And he knew what to do. He confronted the arrogant, encouraged the lowly, loved sinners, proclaimed the truth, cast out demons, healed the sick, and declared the forgiveness of sin.
Our ability to be people of spiritual authority expresses itself as we exercise life-giving influence over the invisible forces that shape people’s lives. We exercise spiritual authority when we speak a word of encouragement to someone who is down. We exercise spiritual authority when we hold someone accountable for destructive behavior. We exercise spiritual authority when we oppose injustice, cruelty, exploitation and oppression. And we exercise spiritual authority when tell someone about the hope and forgiveness that is found through relationship with Jesus Christ.
In the next post, we’ll look at how spiritual authority is exercised in prayer.