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Respecting authority

By Scott Tibbs, February 1, 2010

"Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character." -- Robert E. Lee

One day when I was in high school, we were playing football in gym class. As the captain of our team was assigning roles for the next play, I said that we did not need so many people blocking given what the other team was preparing to do on defense. The captain became upset with me. Now, was I right about the strategy, or was he right?

It does not matter who was right about the strategy. I was wrong. I was not appointed as captain of the team, my classmate was. What I should have done is respect his authority as team captain and follow orders as I was told. My role was not to decide strategy. My role was to man the offensive line and protect the quarterback for as long as I could. (Given my athletic talent, that was never very long.) My classmate was justifiably upset with me for undermining his authority as team captain. Challenging his authority in front of the team was wrong.

We Americans have a problem with authority. We do not like the law's authority over us, we do not like our teacher's authority over us, we do not like our employer's authority over us and we most certainly do not like our church's authority over us. If we think we know better, we say so. But God has established authority over us, and He expects us to obey it. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 13:1-2, "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."

No, this does not mean we are obligated to obey the authority over us in each and every case. When the Jewish leaders brought Peter and the other apostles before the council and demanded they stop preaching the Gospel, Peter answered "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) Corrie ten Boom pleased God when she disobeyed the Nazis and rescued Jews who were being hunted and slaughtered. We are clearly not obligated to obey the law when the law orders us to sin, because God's law is the highest authority in the universe.

But when we despise the authority placed over us, is it because we are standing up for some higher principle, or is it because we selfishly place our interests above the proper respect we should have for authority? When we drive 75 miles per hour on the interstate instead of 70, is getting to our destination a few minutes faster standing up for a higher principle or is it a selfish desire to shorten our trip? Is this not idolatry, where we are worshipping ourselves?

But where we really hate authority is in the church, and that hatred of authority goes on both directions. Too many Christians reject the spiritual authority of pastors and elders set apart by the laying on of hands to be a shepherd for the congregation. We have too many pastors and elders who take great pains to avoid exercising authority over the flock entrusted to them by God. Is it any wonder we are increasingly living in a post-Christian society?

There are few things more hip in our culture than rebellion against authority. Take a look at any number of action movies, where a "renegade cop" despises the authority of the police chief (or other supervisor) because he knows that he needs to bend the rules to get the bad guy. We love renegades, rebels and rouges, and there is even a country song about it. But this is a sin, and we as followers of Jesus Christ need to repent of that sin.