(Disclaimer: You might disagree with me because of this post. If you do, that’s fine. I just ask one thing, would you talk to me about your disagreements? Please leave a comment.)
Did you know that if you tell yourself that you need to do something, your own brain will rebel against yourself? Seriously. We are rebels. All of us. Yes, me too. I am a rebel. When I tell myself I need to get healthy and lose weight, it’s the last thing I want to do.
If someone says we should do something, we instinctively rebel against it. Even when (or I think especially when) those things are good for us. I call it the rebel reflex. You should eat healthy. No. You should read your Bible. No. You should work less and spend more time with your family. No.
But, I’ve been noticing it more and more. What’s concerning is how many Christ-followers resist authority.
Yes, I’ve heard the justifications. I’ve had many of those justifications used against me as a pastor. But it’s definitely not limited to pastors. We feel even more emboldened for some reason when it comes to governmental leaders.
It doesn’t really matter who the leader is. We might agree with a leader on everything except for one issue, but we allow that one issue to become the most important thing to us and it becomes divisive. Once we find one issue, we start looking for justifications. And the leader dies the death of a thousand justifications.
Or the moment a leader says or does something we don’t like or disagree with, we feel justified in our rebellion against that leader. So we go in search of a replacement and throw our support behind them until the same thing happens again. And we feel perfectly justified in doing so.
I think it’s because we have conflated our “rights” as Americans with the call of Christianity. And we bring those American “rights” into our Christianity. The problem is, they don’t work so well together. If America is about “unalienable rights”, Christianity is about alienable rights. Christianity is denying yourself, laying down your life for others.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:34-35
Love means sacrifice. The way we love one another is the same way Jesus love us, by dying in our place. Does the way, the truth and the life have the God given right to be alive? I would think so. But he denied that right for our benefit.
For Jesus, the Son of God and third member of the Trinity of the “I Am”, it would have been well within his “rights” to demand that Pilate bow and worship him and submit to His ultimate authority over all created things. But what does Jesus do? He submits to Pilate’s authority the same way He submitted to Herod’s authority and the authority of Caiaphas. Jesus denied himself, took up His cross and made a way to the Father for our benefit. His denial required him to submit to immoral, unbiblical authorities. He didn’t put up a fight, He didn’t protest, He didn’t have a list of justifications for why He didn’t need to submit.
Both Peter and Paul say it:
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.1 Peter 2:13-15
The very sad and unfortunate truth is that our problem with authority has had massive consequences for the Gospel.
“But, they’re so immoral. How can I submit to someone who ________.” Let’s take a look at Romans 13:1-2
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Paul, told the Romans to be subject to governing authorities. Rome! You know Rome right? It’s where they beheaded people who admitted they were Christians. It’s where the used Christians as street lights. It’s where they watched Christians wrestle with Lions and leopards for entertainment.
And yet, Paul was telling the Romans to be subject to the authority of Rome. Why? Because whoever rebels against their authority is rebelling against what God has instituted. God puts leaders in place. Even the evil ones. That’s a hard truth to understand, but God has been using evil leaders to accomplish his purposes all throughout history.
Unfortunately, Christians in America have been so vocally and demonstrably opposed to any authority figure they don’t agree with lately that we have lost our ability to shine as lights in the darkness. Instead, we have embraced the ways of darkness by vilifying those leaders. We speak ill of them, call them names and make it our mission to let people know that we don’t follow their leadership.
I get it. I do. We all think we’re right. We all think we know what’s best. We all think if people would just do what we wanted them to do, everyone would be much better off. Maybe you don’t, but I have definitely thought that. But that’s not love. There has only been one person who knew what was right and lived what was right. And if Jesus is our example, then we need to learn how to do what He did: Submit.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,Acts 8:32-33
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
Jesus was deprived of Justice and yet, even though He was being wrongfully executed he was silent. Many of the early martyrs did the same. Others shared the gospel while they were taking their last breaths. In all cases, there were certainly people watching who were appalled at the injustice taking place.
I haven’t been good at this and I want to be better. I haven’t been great at submitting to authorities. I haven’t been great at being silent when I’m wrongfully accused. But, as Paul said in Romans 12, quoting from Deuteronomy 32 ““Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” If a leader is doing something wrong, God will deal with that. If someone is doing something wrong to me, God will make that right too.
We have a problem with authority. And to play on John’s words about love, if we can’t submit to the authorities that we can see, how can we submit to God’s authority whom we can’t see? I don’t understand (and to be honest, I don’t agree with ) everything God does and has done. There are parts of the Bible that always leave me scratching my head. I don’t understand. It’s beyond me. But I’m not God. God is eternal in every way, and I’ve only been around for a few measly decades. To quote the priest from Rudy: “There is a God and I am not Him.”
At the same time, I don’t understand everything our Governor does. I don’t understand everything our city council members do. I don’t understand everything our presidents do. But again, I am not the governor or president. God hasn’t put me in that position. He has made me a pastor, and here’s something I do know. There are times you make a decision or go in a certain direction and people don’t like it. Then you get judged and condemned for making that decision without any consideration to your motives behind it and at the same time you get a mountain of assumptions heaped on you that aren’t true. We do this and much worse with our governmental leaders. We judge not only their actions but assume the worst of intentions and condemn them for intentions they likely do not have.
“But what if they are asking me to do something immoral?” We don’t have to cross God’s moral boundaries if a leader is asking us to. (Although, there are several times where people are commended in the Old Testament for lying to immoral leaders to help God’s people, so I’m not sure what to do with that.) But, we also have to be careful that the perceived moral boundary we are being asked to cross is actually one of God’s moral boundaries and not an American boundary that we have conflated with Christianity. If your leaders asks you to kill your neighbor, don’t do it. If your leaders ask you to mistreat your neighbor or do anything to them that you wouldn’t want them to do back to you, don’t do it. But remember it’s “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s not “Make others do to you what you want them to do to you.”
Does this mean we do not advocate for the rights of those who are being mistreated? No, that is something we are supposed to do. But we have to ask ourselves is this a Biblical right that is being denied to someone made in the image of God? Or is this something I want for myself that I justify by calling it a right I’m fighting for on the behalf of others?
I’m sure there will be some who read this and get angry at me. I get it. There are leaders I don’t want to follow. There are leaders I don’t agree with. But, what’s more important: Me fighting and screaming to get my way or denying what I think I’m entitled to so that the light of Christ might shine through me and reach someone whom I’ll never reach by vilifying them, their beliefs and the leaders they support that espouse those beliefs?
The truth is, my fellow conservative American Christian brothers and sisters, we aren’t as right as we think we are. We’ve missed the mark on a huge issue and there’s a massive black eye on the Christian witness right now because of it. We won’t fix it by shouting harder and louder for our rights. We’ll only fix it by following the example of Jesus who loved us enough to die the death we deserved to die even though He deserved the opposite.
But we have an authority problem and it’s costing us more than our own personal way of life. We want what we want the way we want it. And we’re going to support whoever gives it to us and vilify the ones who don’t. It’s not just about our way of life. It’s costing us our ability to reach people outside the kingdom.
And that is too high a price to pay.