Whatever Happened To Authority?

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INTRODUCTION 

The practice of questioning authority may not have been “made in America” but we’ve done what we can to make it “new and improved.” From the declaration of self-evident truths that challenged a dominant world power and launched a revolution, to the civil rights movement that made possible a new birth of freedom for repressed minorities, Americans have prided themselves in questioning long-held customs, traditions and beliefs in the name of liberty, freedom and human rights.

In many instances, the world became a better place as a result. Recently, however, the questioning has led to the erosion of many truths that a plurality of “we the people” once believed were “endowed by the Creator.” This erosion in authority has accelerated at such an alarming rate that some of these sacred truths may now be held by only a minority of the population. What was once viewed as a self-evident truth is on the verge of being viewed as a self-deluding truth, or worse.

The questioning of these once nearly universally held truths covers a wide range of topics, that now lead many to ask the question: whatever do we believe?

WHAT IS AUTHORITY?

Authority – The power to give orders or make decisions; the power or right to direct or control someone or something; the confident quality of someone who knows a lot about something or who is respected or obeyed by other people; a quality that makes something seem true or real.

Questioning – Asking for information; expressing doubt or uncertainty; debating or disputing.

SUBMITTING TO WHICH AUTHORITY?

The Greek word for authority (exousia), sometimes translated “power,” refers primarily to the legitimate exercise of power rather than physical strength. In this sense, the person has authority primarily due to the position they hold, not because of any physical coercion or might they could bring to bear.

Authority is either intrinsic (within oneself) or delegated (received from one with authority).

God – God, Creator of the universe, has sovereignty and dominion over all things, because He made all things. As such, He is the only one with purely intrinsic authority. All other authority is derived from (delegated by) Him.

Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other (Deuteronomy 4:39). See also Psalm 47:2, Daniel 4:35.

Jesus – Jesus possesses the same intrinsic authority as God the Father because He is one in essence with the Father. Because of the unique pattern of relationships within the Trinity, however, especially during Jesus’ incarnation, there is also a sense in which His authority is delegated to Him by His Father.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). See also John. 5:27, 1 Peter 3:22.

Holy Spirit – Just like Jesus (one in essence), the Holy Spirit possesses the same intrinsic authority as God the Father. There are specific warnings against blaspheming (slander, defame, revile) the Holy Spirit, the ultimate in questioning authority.

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the LORD Almighty (Zechariah 4:6). See also Matthew 12:31, John. 6:63, Acts 1:8.

Scripture – Because the Bible is the inspired Word of God, Scripture speaks with all the authority of God.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). See also 2 Peter 1:20-21, Hebrews 4:12.

Apostles – The authority exercised by the Apostles, was authority that was delegated to them by Christ. Because their authority depended on Christ’s direct personal commission, they had no successors.

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness (Matthew 10:1). See also John 20:21, 1 Corinthians 12:28.

Church Leaders – Successive generations of Christians show their continuity with the Apostles, by subjecting their own faith to the instructions on Church governance given in the New Testament. Today, Church leaders (pastors, presbyters, bishops elders, deacons) are servants of Christ, tending his flock under His authority.

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account (Hebrews 13:17). See also1 Timothy 5:17, Titus 1:7,

Civil Government – God ordains government officials to have authority over its citizens.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1). See Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13.

Family – God established the authority that exists within family relationships. Men have authority over women and parents over children.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 5:22, 6:1). See also Colossians. 3:20-21, 1 Peter 3:1-7)

Workplace – Scripture also sanctions a pattern of authority in the workplace.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart (Ephesians. 6:5). See Colossians 3:22, 1 Peter 2:18.

Nature – God gave man dominion over nature at creation, to subdue it and rule over it, although this was compromised at the fall.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). See also Genesis. 9:2, James. 3:7.

Angels and Demons – Because they were created by God, angels and demons (including Satan) derive their authority from God. Though Satan’s power has been usurped from God, and he is hostile to him, Satan holds it only by God’s permission.

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20). See also Luke 4:6, Ephesians. 3:10, Revelation 18:1)

Primary Sources:
New Bible Dictionary. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

WHY DO WE QUESTION AUTHORITY?

Socrates – “I know you won’t believe me, but the highest form of Human Excellence is to question oneself and others.” Socrates challenged the conventional wisdom of his time and conclusions based purely on authority. He did not simply accept “the expert says” [or I found it on the internet] as a basis for truth. “Socratic” questioning challenges authority and assumptions. It demands a demonstration of professed knowledge.

Benjamin Franklin – “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”

Mark Twain – “In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who themselves have not examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a farthing.”

Eleanor Roosevelt – “It is not enough to say I don’t agree at all. You must be able to say why.”

Timothy Leary – “Think for yourself, question authority.”

WHATEVER DO WE DO?

At What Point Have We Crossed the Line?

Accept Dutifully?

Ask for Data?

Express Doubt?

Dispute/Debate?

Is There A Middle Ground? Where Is it?

Passive (Indifferent Whatever)?

Compromise (Tension)?

Aggressive (Reckless Questioning)?

Those Under Authority – Christians have an obligation to submit to the authority of those whom God has ordained to serve as leaders, so far as is compatible with obedience to God’s direct commands. To otherwise rebel against God’s appointed authorities is to rebel against God.

Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)!

Those Having Authority – Humans who wield authority should do so with humility, as it is given by God and can be withdrawn by God. Christian leaders should not flaunt their authority over others but should practice the servant leadership exemplified by Jesus Christ.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

Whatever (Secular Worldview) – Indifference to (even scoffing at) what a person is saying. Who cares? (Urban Dictionary)

In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires (Jude 17).”

Whatever (Christian Worldview) – As a guiding principle:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard … or seen in [the authorities established by and faithfully following GOD]—put it into practice [obey]. (Philippians 4:8)

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