Saturday, 15 September 2018

On authority and submission

This is really in response to Are authority and submission inherently flawed?
Just a few thoughts:
Jesus explicitly tells his disciples not to let people call them "father", "teacher", etc., because we are to have only one Teacher, Leader and head, Jesus Himself. In other words, in our leadership we are not to search for high positions, we are not to lord it over fellow believers (1 Pet. 5:1-6) "Therefore, I urge the congregation leaders (elders) among you, as a fellow-leader and witness to the Messiah’s sufferings, as well as a sharer in the glory to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is in your care, exercising oversight not out of constraint, but willingly, as God wants; and not out of a desire for dishonest gain, but with enthusiasm; also not domineering over those in your care, but as people who become examples to the flock. Then, when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive glory as your unfading crown. Likewise, you who are less experienced, submit to leaders. Further, all of you should clothe yourselves in humility toward one another, because God opposes the arrogant, but to the humble he gives grace. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the right time he may lift you up."
For me the teaching of Jesus is clear that people are in leadership to the extent that they resemble Jesus in humility. The elders are those who have been following Him for longer, knows Him better and can thus better teach the inexperienced ones how to know Him and hear his voice for themselves and follow Him. He is finally the one we are to follow. The authority that leaders have is the authority of Jesus, as Paul said (paraphrased): "Follow me as I follow Messiah (or to the extent that I follow Him)."

This brings me to the issue of submission. Almost every time it is mentioned, it is mentioned in the context of everyone submitting to one another. A Christian leader who is unwilling to receive correction from the least of the brothers, are transgressing the command of the Lord. Secondly, and more importantly, we are also commanded repeatedly to submit to the secular authorities under which we have been placed by God. But this submission only follows as long as they do not require us to transgress against our Lord, Jesus Himself. The same, even more so, is true for the leadership of spiritual leaders. Jesus is the only King, the only Lord, the only Messiah who we are all to follow. If our spiritual leaders in any way leads us to be unfaithful to Him, there is no reason to obey them. The command of the general always have higher authority than the corporal, and we obey the corporal only to the extent that his commands reflect that of the general. If course, the leadership of our Lord looks different than that of an earthly military general, but the principle of Jesus having the highest and final authority holds for all Christians. And discipleship implies that all the sheep (not only the "leaders") learn to hear and know his voice (John 10).

Why am I bothering to respond to this issue? For two reasons:

  1. I have seen spiritual abuse too often hiding under the mask of "submission". We first submit to Jesus and as a result submit to our fellow believers (all of us). But this submission to people is not and should never be, a substitution for getting to know the Lord ourselves and hearing his voice ourselves. Too often we have people following a specific pastor or teacher blindly ("I am from Paul" or "I am from Peter") and not learning to know and hear the Lord.
  2. The "church" has too often built up a hierarchy of authorities that resembles the principles and structures of the world, rather than that of Jesus. And once it is established, it becomes almost impossible, even for the leaders in it, to change. Leadership organisations have made decisions for the church, that were in direct opposition to the commands of the Lord, and because of the leadership or organisational structure, there is no way to confront them (as Paul did for Peter - Gal.2:11-20). There is little to no accountability in such structures. We are repeatedly told that we are accountable, firstly to the Lord Himself, but also to our fellow believers. And rigid hierarchical structures remove this accountability.
Answering the question posed: No, authority and submission is not inherently flawed. But it should happen in line with the principles of the Kingdom of God (the least should be considered the greatest) and not according to the principles of the world where authority is based on position.Authority should be based on the fruit of the Spirit, the resemblance to Jesus Christ, the example as a follower of Jesus and evidence of an intimate relationship with Him, and not on an official position. Submission is required of and to everyone, not only to certain special leaders, and only insofar as their leadership brings us closer to the Lord Jesus Himself.