The Lack of Respect for Authority in Society and in the Church
Man constantly challenges authority in society and in the church. In doing so, he has created great confusion. Civil law is threatened as never before in our lifetime. Riots resulting in destruction of personal property, human life, and national monuments seem to be the in thing. Good teachers leave our educational system because their hands are strapped in dealing with students who have no respect for authority regardless of the gender of the teacher. Society’s rejection of divine authority, helped by the United States Supreme Court, has changed marriage from a man and a woman to same-sex marriage, that is, two men or two women. The Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage as “same-sex marriage,” rather than upholding God’s definition of marriage—a man and a woman—destroys God’s foundational definition of marriage.
Respect for Authority is Fundamental in Society and in the Church
Whether we understand it, or accept it, the Bible—66 canonical books—is the foundation of divine authority. Romans 13:1-7 shows the importance of God’s word being foundational in governing society. Civil authorities obtain their authority from God (Romans 13:1). Civil authorities are obligated to be a “terror . . . to the evil” works (Romans 13:3) and to serve as “the minister of God to us for good” (Romans 13:4). All men are to be subject to civil law (Romans 13:5), unless civil law contradicts God’s law (Acts 5:29). Jesus taught this very principle when He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17).
God’s word is foundational in the spiritual realm. If man is to live pleasing to God and to have hope “as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19), then he must respect God’s authority expressed in His word (cf. John 6:68; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:22-25). For the Christian, the Bible teaches us that all things are “from Him, and through Him, and to Him” (Romans 11:36). We must listen to God because He is unchanging. “For I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). His word is the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68) and “is forever settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).
Many listen to the wrong standard about spiritual life and their soul. They fail to heed the words of Jesus: “Take heed HOW you hear” (Luke 8:18, emp. added) and “take heed WHAT you hear” (Mark 4:24, emp. added). Jesus taught man to “render . . . to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17); i.e. we are to obey Him!
WHY does the Loss of Respect for Divine Authority in Society and in the Church Exist?
All mankind lives in society. The church is composed of individuals who are commanded to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16). However, often Christians, instead of influencing the world for Christ, have been unduly influenced to the detriment of Christ by the world, society, and wayward philosophical thinking.
Over the last 75 years, society has been infected with what is called Modernism. Defined simply, Modernism is a philosophical system emphasizing that man’s faith resides in rationality and empiricism as guided through science and technology (McCallum 13); therefore, God’s word is not important or necessary. In 1997, controversy raged in Pittsburgh, PA, over placing the building of a new football stadium on the ballot. A caller quoted the decision of Pennsylvania law which allowed it to appear on the coming ballot. The announcer (who was obviously opposed to the stadium) replied: “Don’t quote the law [PA law] to me that is like quoting the Bible.” The Pennsylvania law meant nothing to the announcer, but more importantly and by implication, his words “that is like quoting the Bible” show the Bible meant nothing to him. The Bible meant nothing even though God gave the state of Pennsylvania the authority to write laws and govern her citizens (cf. Romans 13:1-7). Such an attitude and reasoning is common toward God’s authoritative word. There is no justification to which man may appeal that gives him the right to disrespect authority—civil, religious, family, etc., unless that authority stands in direct conflict with the revelation of God. For example, the apostles were commanded to preach the risen Christ to save man (cf. Luke 24:46-49; Matthew 28:18-20). When they obeyed God, they were opposed by the Jews. “The priest, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). Once arrested and appearing before the Jewish authorities, they “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). The apostle Peter’s response was “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Sin plays havoc with the mind and lives of people by allowing their personal wants and desires to challenge the highest authority known—God. No wonder it is sinful.
Some Philosophical Sources at Work in Our Society Resulting in the Rejection of Divine Authority.
When systems of thought eliminate and minimize God and His word, the result will be the rejection of the authority of God. Men’s thoughts become the standard of authority. We can trace briefly various evidences of rejecting authority in observing various philosophical systems within society. Consider the following:
¨ Rationalism makes human reason the sole determiner of truth; thereby, rationalism rejects objective truth. Rationalism rejects the Bible as “the word of truth” (John 8:32; 17:17). Rationalism argues that God does not exist; however, evidence abounds for the existence of God in both general revelation (nature) and special revelation (Bible). Rationalism argues that human reason is the sole determiner of truth. When human reasoning becomes the standard for right and wrong, good and evil, and truth or falsehood (cf. Isaiah 5:20), divine authority is rejected . The Jews set aside the truth for the “traditions of men” and Jesus condemned them for it (cf. Matthew 15:3, 6, 9).
¨ Empiricism argues that the only things we may know for certain are things we know only through our five senses (smell, taste, sight, hear, touch). In one state university where I attended, a professor asked, “Who believes they have a soul?” Several students answered in the affirmative. He then asked, “Have you seen it, felt it, or heard it?” When they replied “no,” he argued that man does not have a soul because it is not empirically known—we have never seen, touched, tasted, heard, or smelled the soul.
¨ Post-Modernism argues that nothing is absolute; i.e. there is no truth. Post-Modernism “undermines all possibility of knowing objective truth (that is, truth that is true whether one believes it or not). . . . Postmodernism . . . is the death of truth” (McCallum 14). When objective truth is denied, the result makes order and consistency meaninglessness. Post-Modernism advances the philosophical concept that contradictory and opposing views are of equal truths though they be diametrically opposite of one another; i.e. one man may oppose abortion and another man be pro abortion and both are equal truths. Or, one man may believe in God and live the Christian life and another man reject God and live a corrupt life and both are equal truths. Or, one man may have faith and another man may lack faith and both are equal truths.
There are many other problems with the above three philosophical systems and we could list additional false philosophical systems. These systems are contradictory within themselves let alone with each other and Christianity. While each system of thought claims to be true, Christianity is not tolerated and is the first system of thought to be rejected (cf. Colossians 2:8).
We must never forget that God, the Bible, and Christianity have sustained centuries of vicious attacks from modernists. In fact, the last decades of the last century and the early decades of this century have seen extra vicious attacks on God, the Bible, and Christianity.
What is the Bible’s answer to counter these false philosophical teachings? First, an assault on absolute truth is an assault on God, as the Bible is the word of God. The Bible sets forth the contrast between truth and error. Paul writes: “The Spirit speaks . . . the truth” that is “the word of God” (1 Timothy 4:1, 3, 5). The word of God shows man “the words of [the] faith . . . good doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6). These texts are by the inspiration of God; i.e. breathed out by God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21) by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:13). The fact of objective truth is implied in the words that man is able to “believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3). This implies the Law of Rationality which states that we are to justify our conclusions from or by adequate evidence. Adequate evidence produces certain conclusions rather than assumptions, guesses, speculations, probabilities, or possibilities; i.e. something that can be known, that exists, and that is certain. For example, the knowledge that we can know that God exists, that the Bible is the word of God, and that Jesus is the Son of God is based on certain evidence that produces these conclusions. None of these affirmations based on assumptions, guesses, speculations, probabilities, or possibilities.
Truth is harmonious as God cannot lie (cf. Titus 1:2), His word is truth (cf. John 17:17), and we can know His truth and know we know it (cf. John 8:32). We are to speak “the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). Thompson said: “The only sound reason to advocate that a religious doctrine be accepted is to be found in its truth. If there is truth in religion then in addition to sincerity there must be the desire for truth, a desire strong enough to compel belief to change whatever is found to be false” (90).
Second, Christians must be militant for God and the Christian faith by rejecting, attacking, and responding to Post-Modernism and all other false philosophies. Consider the affirmation by Smith, “It is morally not possible to actually go out into the world and say to devout intelligent fellow human beings: We believe that we know God and we are right” (13). This affirmation totally and completely contradicts God and His divine Book—the Bible.
In response to the above quotation, the Bible teaches there is an objective body of truth that can be known and we know we know it. We are commanded to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Jesus contended with the Pharisees and Sadducees showing their teaching was sinful and erroneous over tribute money (Matthew 22:15-22), His resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33), and that He is the Christ, the Son of David (Matthew 22:41-46). The apostles contended with both the Jews and Gentiles (Acts 2:22-36; 5:29; Acts 17:22-31) concerning truth. When we refuse to contend for the faith we lose ground in (1) winning souls, (2) keeping the saved, saved, and (3) maintaining the distinctiveness and uniqueness of Christianity.
-W. Terry Varner
McCallum, Dennis. The Death of Truth. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1996.
Smith, W. C. Religious Diversity. New York: Harper, 1976.
Thompson, Samuel M. A Modern Philosophy of Religion. Chicago: Regnery, 1955.