The Concept of Authority in the Bible

Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt

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God alone is the ultimate authority.

1. Matt. 6:13

2. Rom 13:1

3. Dan. 2:20,21

Rebellion against God's authority is a serious sin.

1. Num. 15:30

2. 1 Sam. 15:22,23

Delegated authority is biblical, but contingent

1. Human Government

Dan. 2:37,38 (see also Jer. 27:6)

Matt. 22:21

Rom. 13:1-7

Titus 3:1

1 Pet. 2:13-17

2. Secular Jobs

Eph. 6:5-8

Col. 3:22-25

1 Tim. 6:1,2

Titus 2:9,10

1 Pet. 2:18

3. Marriage

Eph. 5:22-24,33

Col. 3:18

Titus 2:5

1 Pet. 3:1-6

4. Parents

Eph. 6:1-4

Col. 3:20

5. The church

1 Cor. 16:15-18

1 Thes. 5:12,13

Titus 2:15

Heb. 13:17

1 Pet. 5:5

Unjustified disobedience to delegated authorities is disobedience to God.

Num. 12,16

Rom. 13:2

Three limiting features for delegated authorities:

- The scope of the authority is limited to the area of authority assigned to them by God. This is why wives are urged to "be submissive to your own husbands" - not to all men (1Pet. 3:1; Eph. 5:22). For the same reason, parents should not tell their adult children who they must marry, nor can civil authorities tell their citizens what religious beliefs they must hold. Likewise, church leaders should not tell Christians what jobs they may take, how to spend their money, who to date, or other issues unrelated to running the church.

- Human authority should never be autonomous. All leaders should be under God's authority. This is why when scripture addresses those under delegated authority, it usually also addresses those in authority in the same passage and reminds them of their responsibilities before God. This is also why we should disobey delegated authorities whenever they tell us to do something contrary to God's will (Acts 4:19,20; 5:29).

- God's design for leadership is to serve (Mk. 10:41- 45; Rom. 13:4). Even though God often permits wicked people to hold positions of authority, the scripture condemns the abuse of that authority for the purpose of exploitation or oppression, and God will personally call them to account for their actions.

Actions & attitudes for those under authority

    1. Believers should have an attitude of respect and the inclination to follow their leaders (Heb. 13:17).
    2. Following should be active--not passive. We should seek out leadership, and find ways to help them succeed in accomplishing legitimate goals.
    3. Whenever possible, we should be sure that we understand why leaders are asking us to do something. This is important because such understanding enables us to follow their instructions more enthusiastically, and to do so out of genuine obedience to God (see Eph. 6:5,7; Col. 3:22,23 - "as to the Lord" has this meaning).
    4. The burden of proof is on those under authority to justify why they should not follow, not vice-versa.
    5. When we cannot obey a leader's directive for reasons of conscience, we should seek a constructive alternative that will fulfill leaders' desires as much as possible, and also enable us to obey God (see Dan. 1:8-16 for an example of this). In this spirit, we can and should ask questions, make suggestions, and even raise objections, but with a respectful demeanor.
    6. When we find it necessary to disobey a leader, we should do so respectfully, not rebelliously or maliciously. We should explain our reasons (see Acts 4:19,20; 5:29). In most ongoing relationships, especially in the church, we should have the courage to declare our intention to disobey.
    7. Within the church, dissent is different than rebellion or disobedience. We may disagree with delegated authorities over issues, and we are free to express that disagreement as long as we handle the disagreement properly. Most areas of disagreement are so minor that we can simply go along with those who lead. Some issues, however, are important enough that our conscience requires that we take further measures. In these cases, the first thing to do would be to talk about the issue with those in leadership.

      Perhaps we will persuade our leaders that our viewpoint is correct, or perhaps they will persuade us. Either of these results would end the dissent. If the disagreement is not resolved, we should decide how important the issue is.

      If we think the issue is important and we may be disobeying God or our conscience to follow the leadership, we should either:

      • Inform the leadership that we will be unable to obey and ask what they want to do, or
      • Inform higher leadership (i.e. sphere leaders) of your dilemma and appeal for intervention (note, your leaders should have no objection to your going to higher authority, like sphere leaders, with an appeal), or
      • Leave the group and find leadership we can follow, making clear to the old leadership what our reasons are for withdrawing.

      If we decide the issue is not important enough to violate our conscience, we should be able to serve with a good attitude toward the leadership, though in disagreement in a specific issue.

    8. We could possibly find ourselves unable to agree with the leadership on a fairly important point, but not so important that we feel we should leave the church. In this case, we may declare ourselves to be loyal dissenters. A loyal dissenter is unwilling to remain quiet about his dissent, but also unwilling to leave. Such a posture is permissible, but often questionable. Such dissenters need to exercise special care to avoid division in the church. Their dissent must be shared only in helpful ways, and qualified carefully. They must take care to avoid portraying other's positions unfairly or leaving out important material. Leaders may call on dissenters to restrict their dissent in various ways for the sake of unity and reducing confusion. (For instance, why share your area of disagreement with new people who are still trying to understand the basics?)

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