One of the reasons I stuck to the little Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa was the holy presence of Bishop Robert Mercer. It was not only what he said, but how he said it that made me know I had found my church home. As he and his successor Bishop Peter Wilkinson, with the help of suffragan Bishops Carl Reid and Craig Botterill lead us to communion with the Holy See, I feel settled, deeply peaceful and somehow protected from much of the spiritual warfare that seems to be carpet bombing many of us.
One Sunday several years ago, during the "break-fast" after Mass, Bishop Mercer and I had a chat about authority and obedience that I have never forgotten.
"If I told you to wear blue shoes, I hope you would disobey me," he said in that indisputably Bishop Mercer way. "I have no authority to tell you to wear blue shoes."
"But if I tell you this is what you must believe because this is what the Church teaches, then I hope you would obey me."
(I may not have the second quote exactly right, but that was the point he was making.)
I bring all this up because proper authority is so little understood these days. Authority has become a dirty word. Everyone seems to be out there wanting to do their own thing, be their own pope or bishop and determine for themselves what the Church teaches. And, sadly, they are reaping the consequences for doing so.
The consequences I have witnessed include: lost peace; people's spiritual state allowing their becoming a conduit for the fiery darts of the enemy; confusion and a lack of spiritual growth — a sense of being stuck.
Interestingly, I had been taught to honor the spiritual authority of my pastors and the headship of my husband through the teachings of a charismatic pastor from New York, who taught a winter Bible school in my part of Ottawa. I later invited Penn Clark to come teach for two consecutive years at ladies' retreats put on by Kanata Baptist Church, my previous church home and still a place very dear to me.
One year, we invited the ladies from a local Anglican Church to join us and Penn taught on headship. Now this is an extremely controversial topic, especially in our seeker-friendly evangelical circles where equality is all the rage and wives are not expected to submit to their husbands. But he courageously presented this teaching, and set me up for eventually accepting such doctrines as Apostolic Succession. Penn has this teaching up on his website. Here is an extremely important point that I have proven in my life through practical experience:
When God’s order is honored it acts like a spiritual umbrella, which protects us from the assaults from the enemy. Christ protects the husband, the husband protects the wife, and together they protect the children. Pastors protect the flock as they submit to Christ. If we reject this prescribed order we are no longer honoring what God has established and can lose our protection, break the flow of nurture, guidance and provision that God wants to give us. I have seen where it often stops people from growing spiritually.
People need to be aware that to reject our husband’s place of authority, or our pastor’s place of authority, is to reject Jesus role as our Head.
Think about this. Of course, authority can and has been abused. We are not, as Bishop Mercer says, to don blue shoes or jump to meet any unreasonable request.
But is what Bishop Mercer and the other bishops leading us into unreasonable? What I am finding so beautiful is that the guidance of our bishops here in Canada is identical to that which I see from the Catholic bishops I have come to know and love through my work. It's an authority that comes from servant leadership, an invitation to follow rather than a heavy power play. And of course, for years, even long before Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, our bishops were Ratzingerians, rooting for him in the conclave because he himself is such a servant leader under the authority of the precious Deposit of Faith handed faithfully from generation to generation from those first eye-witness accounts of the Apostles.
I often pray for a teachable spirit and the grace of a contrite heart and the courage to obey when God reveals His will to me. I also pray to have a submissive, obedient nature and eyes to see and hear God speaking to me through those in authority over me. It is way too easy to see the human flaws, the cracks in the jars of clay, in our spiritual leaders. It's my prayer today that all of us will instead discern the treasure within and how God is speaking to us through our shepherds. And let us continually hold them up in prayer also since they have a huge responsibility. They will answer for our souls.
Some of us may have husbands who are not submitted to Christ, or pastors or bishops who we may judge to be not particularly great examples of holy obedience. But Penn stressed that God still will speak to us through this flawed "chain of command." He gave the example of a boss he once had, a woman at an advertising agency who wore thick red lipstick and constantly smoked cigarettes.
He did not like being under this woman's authority at all. But as he began grappling with a growing understanding of God's use of hierarchy, he said he began to hear God speaking to him from time to time through those lipsticked lips and the haze of smoke.
We must also pray for our bishops and encourage them in the awesome and daunting responsibility they have.
Be sure to follow our Moderator at Eccentric Bliss, his personal blog!