The challenge to all forms of authority has become particularly acute since the middle of the twentieth century and has had a profound impact on all aspects of society. It has affected relationships in the home, in local communities and in the world at large. It has tested parents as they seek to nurture their children. It has undermined the ability of teachers to manage their classes. It has forced the police to change their tactics. It has required hospitals to engage with patients. It has caused local and national politicians to amend legislation. Many of these changes have had positive outcomes but many others are negatively charged and some remain unresolved. Some issues of authority are not recognised or are simply ignored. Others are carelessly or insensitively handled. Some groups are in turmoil amongst competing voices of authority. Other groups suffer from arbitrary and imposed authoritarian solutions. This whirlwind of change has been rightly called a 'crisis of authority'.
Religious communities have not been immune from all this and in some ways the 'crisis of authority' has been more acute for those with a religious disposition. Although the crisis applies to all religious groups, the purpose of this book is to consider the problems facing the Christian community in particular and to offer some thoughts on possible solutions.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
This is a very interesting book about the crisis of authority in the Christian Church. It begins with a discussion of the relationship between authority, tradition, power and legitimacy as they relate to scripture and the church as an institution. There is always a balance to be struck between revelation and reason and the relative emphasis between tradition and the Bible varies, with reformers tipping the balance towards the latter and a literal interpretation that itself has partly created the crisis of authority. The author discusses exercise of authority in the early years of the Church and the exercise of power in the Middle Ages. He then examines how we respond to religious authority and why we do so in psychological terms. Living as we do in an age of extremes, it is instructive to look at authoritarianism, dogmatism and kind of blind obedience characteristic of fundamentalism. This leads him to a new understanding of authority as service and love, as indicated in the title. A well informed and timely discussion. ~ David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer Issue 125
This is the second book by Roger Payne, a Reader in the Church of England. His first, A Different Way: A human approach to the Divine, explored the use of language and the meaning of words. From that book, he believed the word 'authority' needed reassessment, particularly when applied to 'religious authority'. The Authority of Service and Love seeks to show that our understanding of authority must change if we are to be true to the message of Jesus.
The early chapters summarize the roots of the word 'authority' and move to a thumbnail sketch of Augustine and Aquinas and early Christian understandings, through to the Reformation and Richard Hooker. Payne uses reflections from contemporary commentators including Paul Avis, N.T. Wright, Martyn Percy and Alister McGrath to punctuate the historical narrative. Payne concludes:
as the Christian Church grew in size and
influence, it also claimed increasing
authority and wielded greater power.
It is the abuse of power, and the crisis of authority in the Church, including the publication in 1968 of
Humanae Vitae and the 'Monkey Trial' debates of creationism verses evolutionism in the USA, that leads
Payne into exploring responses to religious authority.
Our responses, Payne concludes, are drawn from our psychological foundations, including fear and anxiety,
need and dependence, habit and herd instinct; and lead into growth, creativity and being. The rationale and conclusions are again drawn from a plethora of authors from Jung, Freud, Maslow and Tillich.
I found the concluding section on extremism in religious authority connecting with our concerns
around the contemporary debate on radicalization, and fundamentalism in religious teaching and
authority. This, together with recent media interest in spiritual abuse by clergy, focused my attention on
Payne's coverage of authoritarianism, dogmatism and fundamentalism. Payne draws from Jack Dominian,
who I confess I'd not read since studying marriage preparation at theological college thirty years ago!
Dominian has some interesting thoughts around authority and personality.
Payne concludes his book by underlining and unpacking the book's title. He suggests authority is a
hierarchical top-down approach, whereas service is bottom-up. He quotes Dominian and Jesus Christ to
remind us that service is the hallmark of the use of authority in the New Testament:
For the Son of Man came not to be served,
but to serve.
The polarization of both extreme religious teaching, and the rise of militant atheism, calls for a solution to
this new but not so new, crisis.
The solution, Payne cleverly sets out from his first book, A Different Way: A human approach to the Divine, is
to explore further what it means to be human. Payne states [p.165],
Progress will not be made in tackling the
'crisis of authority' until our image of God is
worthy of the authority we ascribe to him.
The book is an easy read, and offers a number of questions for the reader, Christian or not. The text
challenges us to reflect, as we seek to understand the authority entrusted to us, and how that authority is
given and received. It would make a useful tool for a book group, especially for clergy and lay ministers, as
they explore this unavoidable topic.
~ Alan Jeans, Archdeacon of Sarum in the Diocese of Salisbury, Signs of the Times, Modern Church's quarterly members' newsletter April 2018 Issue 69.
The Authority of Service and Love: A Recovery of Meaning
by Roger Payne
All eight definitions of 'authority' in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary contain the word ‘power’. This ineluctable association of ‘power’ with ‘authority’, frequently unhelpful and potentially harmful in a religious context, is at the core of this book.The author’s preface states:
‘The aim of this book is to show that our perceptions of the word “authority” must change if we are to be true to the message of Jesus. In particular we need to go back to the message of Jesus that “authority” should be about “service,” not “power.”’
The opening chapter - What is religious authority? - examines origins of the word ‘authority’, seeking to determine its originally intended meaning in the term ‘religious authority’. Payne concludes, from his review of numerous sources that ‘the etymology of the word “authority” is not straightforward.’ The etymological complexity associated with ‘authority’ and resultant confusion emphasise the importance of achieving a ‘recovery of meaning.’ This chapter concludes:
‘This brief review … reveals the potential for tension between those who promote the different sources of that authority. It also exposes the danger of its misuse as authority becomes power.’
The next two chapters - Who exercised authority in the early years of the Christian Church? and Who or what exercised power from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century? - provide a historical narrative. It is in the following chapter – The ‘crisis of authority’ in the Christian Church – where, starting in the febrile year of 1968, challenges to authority within the Church are set alongside those within society and politics. Almost half a century later, the socio-political landscape remains volatile and unpredictable, as recent events attest. . Authority as a whole – let alone religious authority – has never had it tougher. Time, perhaps to pursue ‘a different way’ - the title of Payne’s earlier book, to which this book is a sequel.
The book concludes with the proposition that ‘Service is the key to authority,’ supported by this quotation from the works of Jack Dominian:
‘The more each person realizes his potential, the more he achieves autonomy, self-acceptance, inner-directed purpose and a love of self which is not a reflection of selfishness … but … is available to others in and through love. Such a concept of growth, personal or spiritual, owes nothing to the need to hold on to a “significant other” for survival, as Freud postulated, but an identification with a significant other called God, who invites us to realize our potential and become like him, not in absolute power and authority, but in absolute love, which is his nature’.
This is a well-written and stimulating book, citing 123 references, addressing a complex and important subject with exemplary clarity, and is highly recommended.
Dr Malcolm Purbrick is a research scientist who has been working with the European Commission at the University of Naples since his retirement. He was a member of St James' Church, Bushey.
~ Dr Malcolm Purbrick
Praise for Roger Payne's previous title from Christian Alternative:
A Different Way: A Human Approach to the Divine is extremely readable and offers much to those who are engaging with and exploring personal and corporate faith more critically... it will have a place on my book shelf and it will be recommended often! ~ Rev. John Churcher, Progressive Christianity Network