Authority and the test of submission

Recently, I was having lunch with a friend whose ministry can best be described as a “pastor advocate”. He was sharing how the church he is a part of and has been a part of for years had lost its way as so many monument churches do. Over the years it had become cold, unloving, unwelcoming and completely disengaged from the community around it. When its tenured pastor of 30 years left a new pastor was called. Of course, with a new pastor comes new passion, vision and …challenges.

The new pastor began to set forth a vision that challenged the cold, dead religiosity of this stagnant body but in doing so he had to endure some ugly battles. After several years in this transitional ministry, which nearly burned he and his family out, he resigned. Once again a new pastor was called. There were all kinds expectations for this new pastor. Some hoped for a return to tradition, but some who had tasted hope, life and transformation desired to become a vibrant church that would become a light in its community, used to redeem people with the gospel, heal the scars of the past, and help people live with a new found purpose and meaning that is inherent in a relationship to the Father.

Not surprisingly, the new pastor experienced as much or more adversity as the previous one. In many ways it was “their” last stand against loosing “their” church.

As I listened to this pastor advocate recall what his pastors had endured he shared one event that highlighted the topic of this post. He stated how after one Sunday morning one of the disgruntled members hastily approached the pastor in the parking lot began arguing with him, spewing ugly profanities and nasty accusations then raised his fists readying himself to pummel the pastor.

(Unbelievably, this happens more often than you would think. Someone very close to me had a man approach him and began shoving him in front of the church over a point in his sermon and I have experienced fingers in my face, in my chest accompanied by what I could only label as venomous speech. I don’t know of a single pastor that hasn’t experienced being publicly called out and falsely accused at some point in his ministry.)

Thankfully, in this case someone intervened. Sadly, however from that moment on as a precaution the pastor had to have a security person escort he and his family to and from their vehicles at every church gathering.

As this pastor advocate finished up his story he partly asked and partly stated,

“I don’t get it. Why are people so unwilling to submit to and respect
the authority of the pastor? Why do people say things to their pastor that
they would never say to any other person in authority over them?”

With that I chimed in, having experienced similar things in churches before I have come to my own  conclusions. Now, I do not believe or pretend that I understand this entirely however, I do believe I can speak with authority and clarity on the matter.

It has everything to do with an individuals understanding of authority. Especially, biblical authority or the principle of submitting to authority. Undeniably, this principle is pervasive throughout Scripture, specifically the principle of “submitting unto _________ as unto the Lord”.

Think about it. Jesus praised those who understood the principle of authority and submission. Remember, the story of the faith of the centurion? How about Jesus himself, who never acted on his own but acted according to what he saw the Father doing? The principle of authority is found in the first chapter of Genesis and in the last chapter of Revelation. However, it was and is man’s prerogative to declare his independence from the Creator and any authority over him, which by the way seems to always result in catastrophe.

The Apostle Paul challenged the Roman Christians living in the epicenter of the Roman Empire to submit to those in authority. Paul insisted that they give the Roman authorities the honor and respect they deserve or don’t deserve “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.” Can you see the principle emerging? Submit unto __________ as unto the Lord. He even goes on to command that even though the Romans are godless, heathenish, pagans; Christians did not have permission to needlessly dishonor or disrepute them.

Now here’s a shocker. Paul’s conclusion. Those who needlessly refuse to submit to earthly authorities whether its the government, work, church or the home are rejecting God’s authority. A person who consistently, persistently, intentionally, and needlessly rejects the authority that God has instituted rejects God. A person may claim submission to God, but what does his voluntary submission to those God has put in authority over him tell us about his true nature?

Keep this next thought in your heart and mind because I will explore this further in a follow up post.

If God expects you to submit to godless authorities whom he has placed
over you how much more so does He expect you to submit
to loving, godly, albeit imperfect authorities he has placed in his church
over your soul care? (Hebrews 13:17)

What’s at stake? Well in regards to the government it is the ability to “lead a tranquil and quite life in all godliness and dignity”.  Theologically, the degree one submits to authority determines the degree one experiences the protection, benefits and blessings from God and that authority. Most genuine blessings are a result of the degree one submits to authority, but it is not only spiritual blessings that are at stake. There are real world, material, life implications for us all.

I will introduce you to that principle in part two of this series.