Authority and its related truth: obedience, is a subject which has provoked much discussion through the ages, and continues to do so today. There is in our own day a growing resentment against authority. The underlying opinion is that none ought to be over others. There ought not be authority. Each, rather, has his “rights”. We hear of the “rights” of women, the “rights” of children, the “rights” of citizens. Even members of the church tend to follow the leadership of the world in this. One sees, not only in the world but also in the church, growing disregard to authority. One might well examine himself with respect to his own position towards all in authority.
Authority is of God.
The Christian proceeds from that basic and Scriptural assumption that God is the Sovereign Authority. (Daniel 4:35, “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto Him: what doest Thou?”) All authority finds its Source in God alone.
God has, further, been pleased to reveal this authority to moral, rational creatures. Also, it is His pleasure to show His authority by establishing in His creation relationships of authority. God is pleased to do this centrally in the sending of His only-begotten Son. Christ, in the way of suffering and death under God’s wrath for His people, is exalted to the right hand of God. There, He exercises all authority over all things. (Phil. 2:9-11).
Authority now is shown through Christ Who gives it. He exercises dominion over all powers. He controls the very forces of creation. He directs all things that He may soon come again on the clouds of glory.
We commonly distinguish at least three distinct areas of authority among men. God created man with Adam as representative head (Romans 5:18). Adam was also created before his wife Eve, and as hear head. The wife is called to submit (Ephesians 5:22). Children are likewise called to live in obedience to father not only, but also to mother (Ephesians 6:1)
There is a second realm of authority seen within the church. Under the direction of Christ, the church was established with elders to rule over her. This rule was not such that elders can physically punish or restrain, but it is of a spiritual sort. The possess the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19). With these keys, these open and close the kingdom. The members of the church are called to walk in obedience to those whom God has placed in authority (Hebrews 13:17).
Finally, there is that rule of government. God has appointed rulers and powers. These must by properly obeyed. Romans 13 makes this very plain.
Wrong attitudes towards authority.
We can properly recall that rebellion to authority began with the devil. Though the details are not given, Satan fell from his high estate when in pride he would elevate himself above God. This same sin he proposed to Eve and then to Adam through Eve. Our first parents need not listen to God. They could determine for themselves the good and evil. These needed not to rely on the rule or authority of God in this regard. Satan speaks boldly the lie, “Ye shall not surely die.” Not only does he renounce all authority, but denies that there is any possibility of punishment from that Authority. From that first act of disobedience, all rebellion has originated.
But especially in our lifetimes, authority has been undermined. Perhaps part of this is the fruit of “democracy”. We’ve heard repeatedly that government is “of the people, for the people, by the people.” We have instilled into us that idea that the rulers govern because of the appointment of the governed. The majority appoints its own government. With this, there is the idea that there is the right even to displace the authority if it does not remain subject to the will of the majority. Revolution, under certain circumstances, is condoned. Whatever one might say about the form of government known as democracy, he must understand that the authority is ultimately of God-not of the majority.
Another cry often heard in our day is that of one’s “rights”. Without entering into details, I would point out that all too often these “rights” apparently are exercised in a manner that proper authority is denied. Children are said to have “rights” so that parents might not be allowed to train them religiously nor punish them. So it goes.
Commonly, too, there is the idea that authority can be ignored if we are convinced that we will not be caught. Children can disobey parents or teachers-provided they make sure they are not caught. Adults can break speeding laws, can violate the other laws of the land-provided they are not caught. How much have you observed such attitudes?
Spiritual attitudes towards authority.
First, children of God must recognize and confess that authority exists in harmony with the teachings of Scripture. We believe that authority is of God and that He requires submission to that authority. Where there is firm agreement on this point, there can be no doubt that we would also desire to obey properly instituted authority. If it is of God, if His Word says so, we must obey.
Then we obey God Himself. God is the Sovereign Authority. In obeying those in authority we are obeying God. Scripture allows only one exception. Where one violates the law of God in obeying men in authority, he sins. We must obey God rather than men. Where does Scripture teach that?
But if we obey God rather than men, we are also likely to have to submit to the consequences. Often there is imprisonment and perhaps death. But the Christian rather suffers at the hands of wicked men, than to disobey the Authority of his God.
We are, then, to obey parents and teachers. We do so not because they are infallible. They are not. (What does the Heidelberg Catechism say about this in its treatment of the fifth commandment?) We obey them not because they are bigger than we are and therefore able to inflict punishment. We do not obey because otherwise we will be “grounded”. But obedience follows from God’s commandment.
In the way of obedience we also experience continued blessing and favor of God. Rebellion against authority has its sure consequences. Nations are destroyed. Homes are disrupted. Schooling becomes virtually impossible. Churches crumble. But where there is proper authority and obedience, there is seen the favor of God. Children-parent relationships flourish. Schooling almost becomes fun. A nation would prosper and be strong. We, children of God’s covenant, are to remember the demands of God’s Word. And we will, by grace, obey though all others walk in disobedience.
1. Children and young people often can find ways of mocking those in authority. How does this kind of action undermine proper authority?
2. We often speak of “peer pressure”, i.e., young people want to gain the approval of fellow young people. Is it easier to rebel against proper authority when one is in a group of friends rather than when alone? If so, why?
3. How can Christian youth promote the spirit of proper respect to authority?
4. Some schools insist on proper respect shown in ways to which we are not accustomed. Students rise at the entrance of the teacher into the room and politely express greetings. Should this idea be promoted in our schools?
5. Do parents always insist on the exercise of their authority? Should they?
6. Cartoons often portray especially the President as a humorous, bumbling sort of person. Does this contribute toward lack of respect toward governmental authority?
7. You’ve heard perhaps, of the expression, “My country, right or wrong.” What must we say of such an attitude?
8. You’ve heard, too, of the expression, “Crime does not pay.” Is it strictly true? Does not this statement present a wrong reason for being submissive to authority?
9. Can a true Christian deliberately walk in disobedience?