We live in an age where authority is under assault. During the social upheaval of the sixties it was not uncommon to hear “don’t trust anyone over 30” and no doubt you have seen the “Question Authority! ” bumper stickers or heard about uprisings against the police. While these are some contemporary assaults, the principle of authority has been severely thwarted by philosophy and theology for some time.
It would be difficult to construct a more significant presupposition to ethics than authority. Christian ethics are founded by a doctrine of authority. Something is write or wrong simply because God, the ultimate authority, declares it so. Jesus said in Matthew 28:18 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” This is the basis for His Lordship. The three offices that Christ is said to hold are all based on His authority. As a prophet he speaks truth because he is the authority of what is true. As priest he is authorized to make intercession to the Father and as the King he has authority to rule and judge.
The commands of God can likewise be expressed in terms of authority. The first table of the law limits the authorized objects of worship and manner to honor and serve that authority. Honor your parents is the recognition of authority given to them by God to raise their children. The laws against murder are a claim over who has authority over human life; likewise theft is the violation of the authority over a possession. The commands against adultery are commands that require the respecting of who has authority over another’s sexuality. The commands against coveting are recognition that a desire to disrespect authority is in itself a violation of that very authority and the mental supplanting of self in its place.
The modern age of anti-authority is concomitant with the rise of antinomianism. That is to say that as men have disregarded the law they have at the same time disregarded the authority that underpins the law. Men have entertained their own hubris towards a usurpation of the authority of God, taking for themselves the authority to create or ignore laws as they see fit. The authority of God rests on His claim as creator and provider for all of creation. Without the intervention of God’s creative work nothing would exist except God and without His work of providence nothing would continue to exist. The authority God possess over the universe is based on its dependence for existence from God. Much like a painter has authority to put paint on the canvas where he chooses the creator has the authority to create as He pleases.
Authority flows from a source like a flowing river. It is not as a well that appears in the midst of the land seemingly disconnected from a source. The Christian view of authority has no islands and no spontaneous appearances of authority, all authority is Christs; all expressions of that authority are assigned by Him.
Rom 13:1b …”For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”
Authority is derivative of the interactions with in the Trinity. The Son has been given all authority, but who had the authority to give it to him but the Father. Fathers have authority over their children and the heavenly father also has authority over the eternally begotten son. But unlike earthly fathers and sons who are tainted by sin and often are conflicted, the persons of the Trinity have no conflict in their purpose or plans and they are untainted by sin. The Son came to do the will of His Father which is in perfect harmony with the purpose of the son. In this way the Father and Son are one; one mind one purpose.
Children are under the authority of their parents because their parents have the creative claim and God’s command. God gives to the parents the children he selects for them in the quantity he selects to raise them with assigned parental authority. A neighbor does not have the authority of a parent over another’s children, because God has not granted to them that authority. When a civil magistrate claims to have authority over children they are making a claim of authority that has likewise not been granted to them by God. The secular claim of authority reduces to might makes right. While Christ has all power and all authority it is not His might that gives Him authority but His claim as creator and preserver. The secular claim fails on its own terms because God is more powerful than any magistrate and thus according to their own reasoning He still has all authority. So even if the police have guns and the IRS has the tax code the state does not have authority to raise children or remove them from parents, for the children to belong to their earthy creators and their heavenly creator. Christ has appointed the magistrate to authority, but that authority has boundaries and limits. The magistrate is not to be God’s social architect to design a world according to the imagination of the rulers, but to execute wrath on him who executes evil.[i] That begs the question of what is evil, and what evils is the magistrate authorized to adjudicate. That question can only be answered by seeking the definitions of the appointing authority, that what is evil is what God calls evil and only those evils that God has authorized the magistrate to adjudicate are authorized activity of the civil magistrates.
In the realm of the church, the modern floating unaffiliated “Christian” who is under no ecclesial authority, who claims the sacraments for himself and scorns apostolic succession, is a symptom of the anti-authority zeitgeist. Beyond the independent member is the equally anti authority manifestation of the independent church and independent pastor. The polity of independance is foreign to the teachings of the Bible. It is not to say that these are not true churches or true Christians, but it points out to a spirit of autonomy and false liberty from authority. The Reformation made an appeal to the authority of the Bible over the pope, counsels and traditions of the church. Sola Scritptura trumped ex cathedra. Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms stated the principle clearly in the historic statement:
Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.
On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.[ii]
This doctrine of Sola Scriptura was never intended to be a “me and my bible” as the authority. Luther did not start a new church, but restored the church of the apostles under the authority of the God breathed scriptures. Some have taken the Sola Scriptura doctrine as an invitation to create an autonomous ecclesiology, but a thorough reading of the scriptures would prohibit such a result. Luther would be aghast at the modernist approach to the sacraments apart from the authority of the apostolic church. The family does not have jurisdiction over baptism or communion and elders are not self-appointed.
Perhaps the most the destructive manifestation of the anti-authority spirit is in the modern configuration of marriage. God has created marriage with an authority structure.[iii] Husbands have authority over their wives, wives are to be subject to their husbands in all things.[iv] But the modern marriage, often characterized by the label marriage 2.0, defies the authority of God to exult the authority of the wife. The Church has contributed to the anti-authority trend. Wives are rarely exhorted that they are helpers to their husbands rather than partners . They are more often told that they are equal not subordinate and that submission is to be avoided so that she can be all that she can be. Some Churches will give lip service to the Bible’s commands that women submit to their own husbands, but will immediately define submission to be anything, but true submission. In doing so, they stir up women to insubordination and discontent, telling them to avoid being doormats and creating images of abusive angry patriarchs with imagined or exaggerated abuses of the past, before the golden age of the anti-authority wife. Wives are taught that sex is a reward for their husband’s dutifully earning his way to her bed.[v] But the Bible teaches she has no authority over her body and her sex.[vi] Women follow the example set by ministers who engage in male shaming language and the condemnation of men for being masculine. They are in essence being taught by example to speak evil of those to whom they owe honor, their husbands who posses the authority of Christ over her. They are styled as dignitaries in…
Jude 1:8 Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.
2 Peter 2:9-10 …preserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries…
Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
I believe it is good to question authority to inquire whether one’s claim of authority is legitimately given by God. But in our zeal to resist tyranny, unlawful claims of authority, we must have equal zeal to honor the authorities that God has ordained. If western Christendom is to be preserved it is my contention that the authority of husbands must be taught and all opposition to his legitimate authority rebuked. That means that ministers must have the courage to condemn wives of their sins of desiring to be partners, insubordination, withholding, and spiritual contention in the home. It also means that preachers must demonstrate and support honor to the household authority. Husband is to wife as Christ is to the church and defamation of the husband in the presence of the wife is akin to leading a rebellion against Christ.
[i] Romans 13:3-4 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
[iii] 1 Timothy 2:12-13 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
[iv] Ephesians 5:24 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
The jurisdictional limits of a husband’s authority are expansive indeed. Many like to point out that a husband does not have authority to command his wife to disobey God, but this is a cavil as the apostle is clear that his authority over her is comprehensive.
[v] An Example of such a teaching comes from AL Mohler who writes that a wife should withhold sex until her husband earns her favors “Consider the fact that a woman has every right to expect that her husband will earn access to the marriage bed. ….Therefore, when I say that a husband must regularly “earn” privileged access to the marital bed, I mean that a husband owes his wife the confidence, affection, and emotional support that would lead her to freely give herself to her husband in the act of sex.” http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/06/09/the-seduction-of-pornography-and-the-integrity-of-christian-marriage-part-two/
[vi] 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.