Sunday, December 27, 2015


   Some things I get angry about because I go looking for them, like debates about KJV onlyism or comments about why Calvinists don't believe in missions. Sometimes, it's my own fault, me being a "sucker for punishment" as my sister once called me. But other times, ammunition for my frustration is lobbed into my lap, and this blog turns into the place I wind up responding to the issues I see.

    About a week back, a friend of mine and I got into a discussion about authority. Some things she said (not beliefs she held to, but occurrences that had happened) seriously ticked me off, and I decided then to write a blog post about it. Too much has happened for me to be able to do that, but I'm finally getting to it now! This friend's story is not mine to tell, so I am not going to share any details of it here. Suffice to say, it was enough to make me sit in a chair and stare sulkily at a Christmas tree for quite some time, frustrated that I could do nothing to remedy the situation or address the problems.

    But today, I hope to spend some time discussing the issue of handling authority. I've already written before (here) about authority, but I'm going to restate many of my statements there, possibly just for the sake of therapy to calm my temper :), but also because in order to think through your response to authority, both godly authority and abusive authorities, we need to know what the Bible says about it.

    There's a common idea in conservative Christianity that authority is boundless, that the voice of your authority is the voice of God, and that these authorities reveal God's will for you. These views vary in how far their authors take them; I've heard some say that if you were to directly contradict the Bible in favor of obeying your authorities, God will hold your authorities accountable instead of you. I've heard some say that what's revealed to you through your authorities becomes God's will for you and that you are required to obey it or sin against God. Those tend to be some of the more radical views I've seen, but there are a plethora of these viewpoints.

    I'll admit, I am not neutral about how I view these positions. To me, these are some of the more dangerous lies the church has ever bought into. There's an element of attractiveness to the idea that someone older and wiser than me can explain to me the harder things and the uncertainties of my Christian life, simplifying the uncertainty of things like finding God's will and staying attuned to His leading into simply taking the word of my tangible, physical authorities. In a way, it's an easier, more secure feeling way. It's always easier to listen to the voice of men rather than the voice of God.

    There's another draw to this argumentation beyond just attractiveness to the certainty of it. There's also a definite attitude of holiness (sometimes even superior holiness) that is not always but often taught unknowingly along with this attitude of stringent submission to authorities. You're only holy, or sometimes it's taught as you're more holy, if you remain in obedience to your authorities, and those who don't are not holy, or at best, are simply not as holy as those who do.

    The sum of the argument I will be attempting to refute this evening can be shown in this statement from ATI/IBLP website that says, "If you resist God-given authorities, you will experience God’s judgment." Or this statement, "Those under authority are accountable to God for their responses to authority. Since God placed authorities over us, to obey them is to submit to God’s design and authority in our lives." (Emphasis not mine) While the obvious lines drawn in the two statements above are softened by comments following them about our ability to "appeal" if our authorities ask us to do something contrary to God's Word, the message is clear (even in the language of the appeal. An appeal is a request, not a statement of conviction).

    So, is this a Biblical concept? I do not believe so, but for the sake of consistent argumentation, let's address one of the most powerful verses in defense of an authoritarian (I use this term for lack of a better one. As far as I know, there is no name for this particular belief system). Rom. 13:1-3 says (KJV, the more often quoted translation for those that prefer this sytem),“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

    At first glance, this seems like an open and shut case for the authority position, does it not? But I would contest that no believer in Christ would ever argue this verse in the authoritarian position taken to its logical conclusion. In short, no one believes this verse literally and by itself, only interpreted through other passages. No Christian would ever espouse rejecting Christ if your authority told you to. Why? I'll answer that question momentarily, but answer it in your mind. Why, if the passage commands we be subject to the higher powers (in this case specifically government), do we not feel under the need to submit in all things to the rule of government?

    The answer is all too simple. In matters of conscience, nay, in all matters, by submitting to Christ, we are in submission "unto the higher powers." This is based on the one principle that I believe correctly balances this authoritarian worldview: My one supreme authority is Christ and Christ alone. All other authorities and my obedience to them are of lesser importance than my submission to my Lord Jesus Christ.

    That position (which I will explain Biblically in a moment) balances the dangers of over emphasis on human authority by transforming my unquestioning obedience to humans into a thoughtful and conscientious life of submission to Christ first and my human authorities only after my initial authority is pleased. My first and foremost authority (and the one that ranks above and trumps all others) is Jesus Christ Himself.

    Now, why do I make this argument? Frankly, because Jesus leaves us no other. The Jesus of the gospels never, ever leaves even the vaguest possibility that there is another option in following Him that involves following a human being rather than Him or that He will direct your steps through someone else. Rather, He demands full, unfledged, unflinching allegiance and submission not to His followers or to your authorities but to Himself. Whatever authority relationships are given in the NT are secondary to the demands Jesus makes personally.

    Lk. 14:25-33 is one text that I preached from in Africa and one that is near to my heart. My Bible labels this passage "The Test of Discipleship", and I personally believe that is a very apt name for what Jesus says. I won't quote the entire passage (though please read it yourself), but He starts off with these amazing words that don't really fit into the authoritarian mold. "...if anyone comes to me, and hates not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, and yes, even His own life, He cannot be my disciple. Whosoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

    If you want clearer words denying that any authority (not even your own parents) or any relationship (not even your own wife) can overpower the leading of Christ in your own life, you'll be hard pressed to find them. These are clear, hard English words that clearly enunciate the fact that if we claim the name of Jesus, it means we must be constant and wholehearted followers after Jesus, not followers of His followers. Our first allegiance and authority is never to our earthly father who then reveals what God wants for us or our pastor who shows us God's will and doctrine for us to believe. If we don't cling to Christ with a love and radical affection (and obedience) that far surpasses our allegiance to our own families and friends (yes, and pastors), then we are in grave danger.

    Gal. 3 also provides an eye-opening insight into our status with God in the New Covenant. In the OT, our access to the Father was regimented and harsh. The Jews and only Jews had access to God through the law. Only the high priest could approach the holiness of God, and only a priest could approach God and intercede for the people. Only the prophets could receive His revelation and His will. And the hierarchy didn't stop there, because once this first tier of people received the news from God, then it was passed along under the authority of the men of the tribes as leaders of families to the enact and guide their families that way.

    The OT was rigorously regimented in how God related to mankind in revealing His will and in man communicating back with God. But we see striking change occur in the NT. Suddenly, there is no upper tier of people to whom God reveals His plans who must then reveal it to us. There is no detached "Holy of Holies" that cuts God off from His people, that only an elect, special, holier few can come inside. Rather He offers the same offer to all of His elect, that His Holy Spirit will come upon each of them and will guide each of us into all truth.

    Gal. 3:28 says,"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." I want you to notice the clear picture drawn, a direct contrast between Old and New Covenants. Before there was a line between Jew and Gentile. If a Gentile wanted to be close to God, he had to be circumcised and become a Jew. Before, slaves were the bottom of the ladder, the last ones in the social hierarchy. But now, they have equal standing with God, equal ability to discern His words and follow His leading. Before, women were lower class citizens who God spoke to and directed through men. Now, they have equal standing with God, and thus equal ability to hear from Him.

    All that to say, God is no respecter of persons. God no longer works by class, showing one hierarchy of people His will who are then to reveal it to the masses. God doesn't withhold His leading from certain people as if they are unable to understand it and instead show it to their authorities to impress it upon them. He works directly with His people, not in a hierarchy or ladder of cultural, social, or religious standing.

    As I close this post, I want to take a moment to address concerns I have with the authority position. Today, there are many who believe that maybe there are some people who just take these teachings too far and that while that's wrong, it's not terribly harmful. I believe such an attitude misses an understanding of how detrimental these teachings can be.

    To teach that an authority figure knows God's will better than you or is required to reveal God's will for you is to enslave entire congregations of believer's to the conscience and discernment of one individual. For that one individual to reveal God's will for others is not only unprecedented in Scripture (something that cause warning flags to jump out all over the place in our minds), but frankly is much more mindful of a Catholic doctrine than a Protestant one! 

    There is a second concern, a more subtle one, the idea of spiritual manipulation. This occurs when an authority figure holds his authority over your head to try to convince you that he knows God's will for you better than you can know God's will for you. Sometimes, this can even go so far as to label you as a rebel if you decide that you are not required to follow the teachings of mere men but are required to follow the teachings of your Lord.

    I have one response to this manipulation. Acts 5:29 records beautifully the apostles response to their authorities in the form of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin (who were not only their government authorities but were also considered their spiritual authorities). Their response to quick and to the point, pulling no punches, "We must obey God rather than men." 

    That, my friends, is the whole crux of the issue before us tonight. Our authority is God and God alone. Yes, He delegates that authority to other men (to a point) that we are to obey as long as they do not come between us and our first love, our Lord Jesus Christ. Any authority figure that attempts to manipulate by using their authority to draw in a direction away from how God leads you and toward their own preference or doctrine is an authority figure to be on guard against. A good authority presses us closer toward Christ and toward following Him, not drawing us away from following Him.

    The apostle's response is the most eloquent I could say tonight to sum up the entirety of this issue. At the end of the day, we must obey God rather than men, even men in authority positions. Even family members. Even pastors. Even presidents. Even friends. To call ourselves followers of Christ is to declare that all other relationships are subservient to my allegiance to Christ.


  1. I like the part where you say, "…it means we must be constant and wholehearted followers after Jesus, not followers of His followers." That was really well put and really needed as today in most churches that is what Christians are doing, following Christ's followers (what makes it worst is that most of the people who claim to follow Christ, are not really following him; thus leading many to an eternal hell.

    I do not however, agree with the following statement:
    "Before, women were lower class citizens who God spoke to and directed through men. Now that have equal standing with God, and thus equal ability to hear from Him."
    What about the prophetess Deborah? No man told her what God wanted her to know. In fact, it was Deborah who told Barak what God wanted him to do (Judges 4).
    And where do we ever read or find implied that women were lower class citizens (among Jews at least)?

    1. Hmm, my mistake for not articulating clearly. That is not my view. I was saying that is how it appears in the majority of cases in the NT. In reading the Levitical Law, women are treated as property. Daughters are traded for money, rape victim's parents are reimbursed money, etc. Priests had to be men, tribal leaders (in the vast majority of cases) were men. Get my point?

      So, my statement that women were lower class citizen's based on a cultural understanding of the times. Women were, for the most part, treated as property for whom money was paid if damage was done to them. Right?

      Again, I spoke very generically. I believe women are always of equal value in God's eyes as men. But they were not always treated that way, and that was my point. In the OT, women were the majority of the time not treated as well as men. So, thus my statment that this is a change between the OT and the NT since we are specifically commanded to treat women with respect and that they are not, for example, eligible for forced marriage as long as we have captured their city, cut their hair, and cut their fingernails as the law says.

    2. What makes them have equal standing before God now, and why didn't they before? What has changed over time to allow women to be at a higher standing before God, and why not before then? Is it our culture, on August 26, 1920, when the voting laws were passed, that ceased excluding women from voting? Or was it something else? Why in the Old Testament are women looked on as property, and not in the New Testament?

    3. Again, my own fault for not articulating my position clearly. I wholeheartedly believe women have always had equal standing before God than men (meaning equal worth). Yet they did not always have the same rights by the law. They did not necessarily have the same access that men seemed to say the majority of the time, a general principle in the fact that all the Biblical prophet authors were male, the vast majority (with only one exception I can think of) of Biblical judges were male, only one ruler of Israel or Judah was female, etc. How much of that was cultural and how much of that was Levitical (which in a way is still cultural) is a question better asked to a Hebrew cultural scholar.

      I don't know why God wrote the law the way He did. The Bible doesn't tell me. All I know is that the law was given for a Jewish society, separate from the world, in such a way as to maintain His chosen people's separation from the world.

      What changed? The death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives each of us equal ability to come before the throne of grace and to receive wisdom and leading from the Father. Again, Gal. 3 is simply reflecting what appears to be a cultural change between the predominate view of the day and the Christian view.

      In that day's Galatians society (just as in most in those days), Jews and Gentiles were seen in a hierarchy, slaves and freemen were seen in a hierarchy, and in many cases, men and women were seen in a hierarchy.

      Did that answer your questions?

  2. So, before Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, women could not come before the throne of grace to receive wisdom and leading from the Father? I understand that men are meant to be the spiritual leader of the household, but that doesn't explain how women are either 1. incapable of coming before the throne of grace, 2. not wanting to come before the throne of grace, or 3. unknowing of the throne of grace. Which is it? And why are/were men only capable of going before the throne of grace?

    1. Are is a present verb. I never said in my post that women ARE (presently) unable to come before the throne. That was actually the whole point of my reference in Gal. 3.

      Maybe if I give the exact tale I'm trying to refute, maybe you'll understand my point better. I have heard stories in the past (and now know one personally) of young ladies who are told that their authorities are the ones who reveal God's will for them based on the OT model of an authority hierarchy (which most of the time in the OT, the bottom was women, right?).

      My point was that that is not a correct model anymore and that women are completely able to hear from God in exactly the same way and frequency as men. So I think you're reading the opposite viewpoint of my intended argument in my post. That may be my poor clarification, but I think I can guarantee that you will not find me saying in my post that women presently ARE not able to come before the Father.

      So, my use of the phrase "throne of grace" was incorrect. Women were certainly able to pray. I was saying something very close to point 1. Basically, who did God reveal truth to in the OT? Can you answer that question? Who was able to come before Him in the Holy of Holies? Who were (there were women, but the vast majority we see are men) those who God used to speak to face to face and in dreams to pronounce blessing and judgment on Israel and Judah?

      "Why are/were men only capable of going before the throne of grace?" Again, my mistake with the use of the phrase "throne of grace". But to answer your question, because that appears to be the way God instituted the system for the most part in the OT.

      God had a hierarchy of those to whom He revealed His will. For example, a prophet got much more revelation than an average shepherd, right? The High Priest received much more access to God, even coming into His direct, personal presence once a year than anyone else in the congregation.

      So... if you disagree with my interpretation of Gal. 3:28. "There is no longer..." implies what? That there used to be dividing lines between these six groups, right? So what do you believe was the divide?

  3. We are in agreement, Taylor B., but I just wanted to get your message clearer. It was instituted when, in Genesis 3, Eve caused Adam to sin. Look what God says in the latter half of verse 16: "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.'" God instituted that man would be in charge then and there, which is why we see man almost always in charge in the Old Testament.
    In answer to your question, I think it really depends on your definition of truth. You see, if you define it as law to the Israelites, that would be totally different than a command, or a revelation of some future happenings. So if you could clarify the intent of your question, I will try to answer it.
    Prophets were recorded more in the Old Testament, however - God did call a shepherd boy to be the most powerful king Judah ever saw. I just wanted to clarify your meanings a bit; I am sorry if I went too far.

    1. You didn't go too far, Anonymous. I was just trying to ask some questions to get to see your viewpoint. :) The questions you were asking were very good and offered me a chance to clear up my point (so thanks!), but I wasn't sure I was really answering what you were asking since I didn't know your viewpoint. So no need to apologize! Thanks for visiting!

      If you feel we are in agreement, than my question is largely irrelevant. I was trying to understand your position so I could answer questions more clearly and effectively to your view. If we agree, then there is no need. Thanks for commenting though. It was a good discussion with lots of great questions that made me think.

  4. I'm glad; they were some good questions, and tough ones for me to solve, being that we come from the same beliefs. I didn't tell you my viewpoint, simply because I didn't want to display our agreement quite yet. Thank you for the discussion.