What is ecclesiastical authority?
The Urantia Book defines ecclesiastical authority in terms of religious sovereignty.
(1487.3) 134:4.6 The kingdom of heaven in the hearts of men will create religious unity (not necessarily uniformity) because any and all religious groups composed of such religious believers will be free from all notions of ecclesiastical authority — religious sovereignty.
Religious sovereignty is related to the authority structure of a religious group. When a nation is sovereign it has its own structure of authority and control, and can determine its own destiny – the same goes for religious groups.
(1487.1) 134:4.4 Religious peace — brotherhood — can never exist unless all religions are willing to completely divest themselves of all ecclesiastical authority and fully surrender all concept of spiritual sovereignty. God alone is spirit sovereign.
When someone tells you that God or some extra-mortal intermediary of God is speaking through them to tell you what to do, they are asserting low-level ecclesiastical authority – attempting to hijack the direct spiritual connection that each individual has with God.
On the group level, this applies to groups who teach that God specially favors them, or that they are the only ones God cares about – the “chosen people” mentality. People who belong to such groups often feel that they have the right to impose themselves on other individuals as ecclesiastical authorities, and the group as a whole will tend to desire authority over other groups.
(1487.6) 134:4.9 Freewill beings who regard themselves as equals, unless they mutually acknowledge themselves as subject to some supersovereignty, some authority over and above themselves, sooner or later are tempted to try out their ability to gain power and authority over other persons and groups. The concept of equality never brings peace except in the mutual recognition of some overcontrolling influence of supersovereignty.
Why do we have ecclesiastical authorities?
Since the usual plan for planetary evolution includes superhuman leaders, the desire for celestial help is a part of our genetic programming.
(1008.7) 92:5.5 Most great religious epochs have been inaugurated by the life and teachings of some outstanding personality; leadership has originated a majority of the worth-while moral movements of history. And men have always tended to venerate the leader, even at the expense of his teachings; to revere his personality, even though losing sight of the truths which he proclaimed. And this is not without reason; there is an instinctive longing in the heart of evolutionary man for help from above and beyond. This craving is designed to anticipate the appearance on earth of the Planetary Prince and the later Material Sons. On Urantia man has been deprived of these superhuman leaders and rulers, and therefore does he constantly seek to make good this loss by enshrouding his human leaders with legends pertaining to supernatural origins and miraculous careers.
This built-in desire explains why so many are attracted to charismatic religious leaders who claim to be in touch with superhuman or supernatural powers. Such leaders are creating their own religious authority structure and anointing themselves with ecclesiastical authority over their followers. Even if the leader acknowledges God’s authority, the leader’s claim of authority still alters the only legitimate structure: God over the individual.
Characteristics and behaviors of ecclesiastical authorities
There are degrees of ecclesiastical authority, from the humble priest who serves his congregation to the cult-of-personality egomaniac who uses his followers to accrue wealth and power – the latter having the potential to be extremely dangerous. Why so dangerous? Because the belief that you have been granted authority by divine forces maximizes egoism and virtually removes the behavior controls and basic respect for others that a normal human has. The “divine” authoritarian’s desire for control over others has been kicked into overdrive. He becomes a devotee of the greatest of all errors.
(614.3) 54:1.8 There is no error greater than that species of self-deception which leads intelligent beings to crave the exercise of power over other beings for the purpose of depriving these persons of their natural liberties. The golden rule of human fairness cries out against all such fraud, unfairness, selfishness, and unrighteousness. Only true and genuine liberty is compatible with the reign of love and the ministry of mercy.
Pride and self-exaltation are the greatest of human weaknesses, hence the infectious danger of prideful “you’re super special and better than everyone else” teachings. Said Jesus:
“Fear is man’s chief enslaver and pride his great weakness”
Power-craving and self-admiring individuals are capable of great deception. They know that they have to present themselves positively if they are to lure people to be under their influence. All will be smiles and sunshine until they are challenged – then you will see their arrogance emerge. The self-deceived egoist cannot stand to be contradicted or questioned. Their reaction will be to demean the questioner by suggesting guilt or cow them by asserting their illegitimate authority. For example, they will suggest that you are out of touch with God’s will because of your questioning. Such implications are an egregious insertion of the egoist as a “middle man” or ecclesiastical authority between God and the individual. They dare to try and “put words in God’s mouth” in an effort to manipulate and control.
Ecclesiastical authorities who claim a celestial mantle are able to attract followers because they pass on the contagion of self-exultation by telling people that they have some special standing before God or some other celestial authority. With such a self-deceived mentor, followers will typically imitate him and fall into the same self-deception, trying to control others by telling them “you aren’t listening to God” if disagreement is expressed. In a display of circular logic, ecclesiastical authoritarians also like to characterize any objection to their impositions as evidence of a rebellious mind in need of rehabilitation – their brand of rehabilitation, of course.
Any interference with an individual’s parent-child relationship with God constitutes an intrusion. Such intrusions can take many forms, from the obvious “God is speaking through me so do what I say”, to the subtle “you need to ask God for help”. While the latter may seem benign at first glance, when implied as the cause of a disagreement the insinuation is that the person hasn’t asked for help already, or has failed to ask sincerely. In the end it’s just another expression of the “you aren’t listening to God” accusation. Making such a judgment on the quality of another person’s relationship with God is the behavior of ecclesiastical authority.
Urantia Book readers can be susceptible to the trap of arrogance because the consciousness of the importance of the revelation can easily lead to self-importance. Over-fixation on the importance of the revelation can lead to delusions of grandeur. But while the revelation is extremely important, we should always remember that we can only do important work if we do not become self-important. Personal ambitions should have no place in the furthering of the revelation. Our role in this is an immense privilege, not a divine anointment of power. Let humility always be our watchword.
(555.5) 48:6.37 You will learn that you increase your burdens and decrease the likelihood of success by taking yourself too seriously. Nothing can take precedence over the work of your status sphere — this world or the next. Very important is the work of preparation for the next higher sphere, but nothing equals the importance of the work of the world in which you are actually living. But though the work is important, the self is not. When you feel important, you lose energy to the wear and tear of ego dignity so that there is little energy left to do the work. Self-importance, not work-importance, exhausts immature creatures; it is the self element that exhausts, not the effort to achieve. You can do important work if you do not become self-important; you can do several things as easily as one if you leave yourself out. Variety is restful; monotony is what wears and exhausts. Day after day is alike — just life or the alternative of death.
(549.2) 48:4.15 When we are tempted to magnify our self-importance, if we stop to contemplate the infinity of the greatness and grandeur of our Makers, our own self-glorification becomes sublimely ridiculous, even verging on the humorous. One of the functions of humor is to help all of us take ourselves less seriously. Humor is the divine antidote for exaltation of ego.