Friday, April 12, 2013

POWER CORRUPTS! Naw... Not Really.....

Okay, I am going to freak you all out. Well, when I learned this, it freaked me out anyway....  

(drum roll please).... 
The infamous quote of Barron John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton:

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Now the BIG LIE isn’t this quote taken as is. Because in some cases power does corrupt. Some great men are bad men. 
The problem with this quote is 1) It was taken out of context and 2) the idea of power and authority were conflated deep in our psyche and it comes out in our perception and thought process that authority is, by nature, evil and corrupt.

The adage that power corrupts isn’t a natural law, it isn’t a quote from scripture. Yet this idea of power corrupting has been received into our worldview as if it is an absolute. My best guess is because we have a predominately Calvinistic “totally depravity” worldview. We all think because man is so bad, give him power and he will be able to become worse.

This deep cynicism, this deep distrust of authority coerces us into reverencing self-reliance and autonomy. It foments resentment and a harsh criticism of anyone in public office or in any leadership position. In fact, in order to prove we are fair and balanced in our assessment of our favored political candidate, we equally run our candidate down. We can’t praise the other candidate because that would make both authorities good! And so we criticize all, rather than praise all because we see the position of authority itself as problematic. All conspiracy theories are based on the idea that power corrupts. And I realize that it is sometimes true, just not always.

God isn’t anti-authority. It is in God’s plan to have authorities with power. God’s kingdom in heaven as well as on earth isn’t a democracy, there are people with power.

Let me pause here and explain a little bit about the original Lord Acton quote and how it is misused. Lord Acton was a brilliant leading historian of the 19th century and faithful Catholic who was even asked to be part of first Vatican Council. He characterized his life’s work as a defense of God’s goodness and providential care of the world. He wrote that the Catholic Church faithfully fulfills its mission by encouraging the pursuit of scientific, historical, and philosophical truth, and by promoting individual liberty in the political realm.

Acton was not anti-cleric nor anti-authority. (Me pointing to Action) uh... Catholic.

That quote about power corrupting was from a letter to his bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. He and the bishop were arguing over Acton’s harsh critique of the pope during the Inquisition. The context was that without a leader being subject to God’s morals, men will tend to be corrupted by power. He is not advocating a lack of leadership. But those who wish to thrust off all authority have used his words to seem as if they are advocating anarchy.

As Christians we know that authority is good.

Now let’s get down to proof that God is pro-authority (and by nature authority has power).
God set up authority in scripture. 
He appointed twelve--designating them apostles... that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” Mark 3: 14, 15
“I will send them prophets and apostles...” Luke 11:49 
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,” Eph. 4:11
“And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers...” I Corinthians 12:28
“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?” I Cor. 12:29
“until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” Acts 1:2 

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching ...many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.” Acts 2:42, 43
...those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money... and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.... sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.” Acts 4:34, 35, 37 
“The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders...” Acts 5:12
“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money.”Acts 8: 18

“The apostles and elders met to consider this question.” Acts. 15:6
“...they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.” Acts 16:4

“...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” Eph. 2:20
“ has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.” Eph. 3:5
“I want you to recall... the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” 2 Pet. 3:2

“...remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold.” Jude 1: 17

The Bible never records that Christians should struggle for independence from God-appointed authorities. In fact, it explicitly says many, many times we are to obey them. We are sheep with shepherds, we are not all shepherds. 
"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” Matthew 10:42

“It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” Matt.10:25

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?” Matt. 24: 45
Though sin has made us likely to fall to the temptation of abusing power, not all in authority fall to it. That is why Jesus warned his Apostles that: 

“...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,” Matt. 20:26

“...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve..." Matt. 20:28

The power of fathers, mothers, civic leaders, church leaders are from God. The Bible tells us he places people in leadership positions. And western civilization has fallen and entered a dark ages precisely because we have assumed our leaders all fall into corruption. 

Hierarchy of God’s leadership: Parents
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Eph. 6:1 (Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Col. 3:20)

Hierarchy of God’s leadership: Husbands
“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Eph. 5:22, 24 see also Co. 3:18

Hierarchy of God’s leadership: Civic Authorities
“Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,” I Peter 2:13

We are to obey God’s chosen leaders:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. ... Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” Rom. 13:1, 5

“to submit to such as these [church leaders] and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it.” I Cor. 16:16

“If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” John 15:20

“If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.” 2 Thess. 3:14

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Heb. 13:17

Jesus admonished us to obey even hypocritical leaders: “ must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” Matt. 23:3

Being made in the image of God means we can handle power and authority. In fact God’s plan is for us to reign with Christ. Being in a situation of original sin means that we won’t be perfect and some will be rotten leaders. Some people may become corrupted with power but that is not an absolute. Most leaders have done a good job. Authority isn’t our enemy. Anarchy is....

This distrust of authorities subtly creates a mindset vulnerable to distrusting God. We may tell ourselves that God isn’t human therefore he is the only thing that can be trusted with absolute power, but in the end, this skepticism has to affect even our most precious thoughts about God.

Within the realm of sin, God gives power to people knowing that we can abuse it. And yet He gives it to us through authority structures of parent and husbands and masters and church leadership. If Lord Action’s words were some type of natural law, then God set up an evil system of power. 


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