The Question of Authority

I live in a town stuck in the 60’s and 70’s.  If anyone has ever called Eugene, Oregon a hippie town it would be an understatement. The town’s identity formed during that time-period influenced by the University of Oregon and the likes of Ken Kesey and Steve Prefontaine. Afterwards the people never left town or the 20th century. In many ways, the rest of the country has remained in the days of drugs and disco too. Viva La Revolución

Under the shadows of the Vietnam War, the JFK assassination, the Cold War and Watergate arose a social revolution. Those in authority were deemed responsible for the rampant materialism and corruption of the Western world. Standards and inhibitions were cast aside like a broken bongo drum and up rose a new morality—free love, free living, and free experimentation that was free from “the Man,” and free from God.

While the tassels, leather vests, bell-bottoms, big hair and VW buses have now left most of the US except Eugene, our country’s mindset remains unchanged.

The popular bumper sticker of the 70’s ordering its readers to “Question Authority” is still riding on many cars. A quick scan of television channels will yield pictures of clueless parents, students rallying against teachers and principals, athletes arguing with coaches, employees sticking it to their bosses, and revolutionaries upending governments.

You can be independent, you can do what you want and no one can tell you otherwise.

The Question of Authority

What does the Bible have to say about authority?

The Bible pictures the Christian life as one under authority and that ultimate authority belongs to the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:6; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 46:10).

Lucifer’s attempt to begin his own “social revolution” and his failure to respect God’s authority sent him crashing out of heaven faster than the USS Enterprise at warp speed (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-17). Herod’s willingness to be called a god made him worm food (Acts 12:20-23). Christians would do well to not try and assert themselves over God’s authority.

A popular idea in the church, especially among young men, is that they need no authority in their life other than God. It is a holy version of Batman and Robin (Adam West version)—them and Jesus against the world. I have watched many of these believers beat their chests against the church and the government, giving loud criticisms with no real solutions.

The reality is that believers who are unwilling to submit to the authorities God has placed over their lives are therefore unwilling to submit to God (Romans 13:2).

While God is the ultimate authority, the Bible also reveals that Christian’s are to submit to other authorities too. Those who refuse to submit to authority are not humble but are considered prideful (1 Peter 5:5-6). Those who want authority must first learn to be under it (Matthew 20:25-28).

Government, Church, Family

The New Testament authors believed that all human authority has been given by God (John 19:11; Romans 13:1). The authorities the Bible calls Christians to submit to are traditionally described as three main institutions: government, church, and family.

The notion that God established the government may be the hardest for most to swallow. Scandal has ravaged the United States government in ridiculous and novel fashion as of late. Power plays, self-aggrandizing speeches, and congressional dysfunction seem to be the norm. How could God expect any self-respecting human to place themselves under such a flawed organization? Does anyone actually follow the speed limit and pay their taxes?

The government that the believers of the first century were under makes ours look as innocent as the von Trapp family. Nero, the emperor of Rome, lived a debauched lifestyle. It is even rumored that to make room for a new palace, he set fire to Rome. He blamed the Christians for the fire and attempted to systematically exterminate every believer. It is this emperor Paul calls his Roman readers to be subject to (13:1). It might not kill us to pay our taxes.

In spite of the potential for its own slew of scandals, the Church—specifically the church leadership—also retains authority over believers from God. Paul informs the elders of Ephesus that it was the Holy Spirit who placed them in leadership over the church of God (Acts 20:28).

It is popular today to criticize church leaders, to tell them that they have lost sight of Christ and that we are here to put them back on track.

Instead, the Bible states that because a church leader’s authority comes from God, believers are to respect and obey them (1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17). Pastors, in turn, are not to use this authority to dominate other believers but shepherd them (1 Peter 5:2-3).

The authority of a parent is so important to the Lord that He orders respect for mother and father in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). Now, I have heard many a disgruntled teenager proclaim that they respect their parents but that does not mean they need to obey them, as if some divine loophole was discovered. Paul obliterates such an excuse when he equates obedience with respect (Ephesians 6:1-2). Like it or not, you need to do the dishes.

Civil Disobedience

Of course, the inevitable question comes, “Is there a time when it is ok to disobey authority?”

Yes.

It is right and good to disobey authority that commands you to disobey God’s authority. The book of Daniel is a shining example of civil disobedience. Unwilling to worship idols, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to bend a knee to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue (3:1-30). Unwilling to stop communing with his Lord, Daniel violated King Darius’ prohibition of prayer (6:1-28). See also the book of Acts.

God’s authority must be preeminent in our lives.  Part of placing ourselves under that authority is respecting and obeying the men and women He has placed in authority over us.

Ultimately, the Bible states, submitting to authority is to our benefit in so far as it does not question God’s authority (Hebrews 13:17). Who would question helping themselves?