Holy Rebellion: Correcting a Wrong View of Submission to Authority

Have you ever heard of the word authoritarianism? Maybe you have. The accepted definition is that of “favoring complete submission to authority as opposed to personal freedom…exercising complete control over the will of others…domineering; dictatorial; despotic.” The word is usually associated with bad government leaders who were known as tyrants or dictators, such as Adolph Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, and other communists. In discussions of political philosophy, sometimes you will see this word thrown around by intellectuals. Its definitely a pejorative word. Its like an insult; no respectable person would ever want to be labeled an authoritarian. Especially not me.

In the world of parenting, authoritarianism hits home. In fact, I think it is the natural state of things; and only by living according to the teachings of Jesus does the authoritarian delusion begin to break down. It is not God’s will for parents to abuse their authority over their children, having a hateful spirit, giving excessively strict rules and extreme punishments, not teaching their children the ways of the Lord, not playing with them, not listening to their critiques and opinions, not being kind to them, not nurturing them, but only provoking their children to wrath by their unkind attitude; and overbearing abuse of their authority (Eph. 6:4). It’s a recipe for a miserable life; and I think it happens more often in families than not.

In the world of church, authoritarianism hits the soul. The pastor becomes spiritually, theologically, and emotionally abusive; he intimidates, brow-beats, and brainwashes the people of God; he authoritatively twists the Scriptures to his own advantage, to manipulate and control, like a cult leader; to guilt-trip and maneuver people to do his bidding. Namely, giving him money, doing chores for him, etc. He lords it over the flock, exactly what Jesus said not to do (Matt. 20:25; 1 Peter. 5:3).

In the world of business, authoritarianism hits the wallet and the confidence of the employee. Let’s consider a rather long passage used to support submission to authoritarian managers. 1 Peter 2:18-23:

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.

This passage has been abused by bad church leaders for hundreds of years, so lets take a few things into consideration. 1. It is referring to the relationship between slaves and slave owners, a despicable institution that existed not only in the first century Roman environment of the Biblical church, but existed in Egypt, which Moses was led by God to deliver from, and unfortunately, was repeated throughout European history, and even in Christian England and colonial America, through the twisting of such Scriptures as these. And how right it was for the Methodists and Quakers to call the Calvinists and Anglicans of their day to abandon this ungodly practice! 2. In such a society where the despicable practice of slavery exists, and where there is governmental support of the practice, with legal provisions, and sanctions, and penalties under that law for the breach of slave contracts: in such a situation, the apostle Peter gives wise and cautious directions to Christians who are in the state of slavery. He tells them to be just like Jesus was when the Pharisees had caught Him and were leading Him to be tried and executed. In this case, you don’t find Jesus so much rebuking the Pharisees, as you see Him being quiet, not retaliating, and making no threats. 3. This passage does not so much apply to people who are not in the state of slavery. In the United States, the United Kingdom, and all free countries where free market capitalism exists, Christians are at full liberty to pick and choose where they want to work, by the leading of the Spirit (see James 4:13-15). Thank God for that! Thank God that slavery does not exist in modern countries! But wherever authoritarianism exists, in a spiritual way, slavery still exists very much. Because authoritarianism is the spirit of slavery disembodied; seeking some selfish, strong-willed person to possess.

Suppose you have a difficult manager at work. I am not saying you should not work with him or just be uncooperative. Don’t allow yourself to be so nitpicky about managers that you lose your sense of financial stability. But there comes a time when it’s okay to rebel against the powers that be. For example, if your manager requires you to break God’s law through unethical business practices, like lying, stealing, cheating, swindling, deceiving, and adultery.

God told Abraham to abandon his father’s family because they were idol worshipers (Gen. 12); God told Moses to rebel against Pharaoh and lead all of his slaves away from him (Exod. 3); God told Elijah to rebel against king Ahab and kill all 400 of his false prophets according to the law of Moses (1 Kings 18); Elisha expressed a disrespect for king Joram (Ahab’s son) because of his paganism (2 Kings 3:14); Jeremiah rebelled against king Zedekiah and his false prophets (Jer. 37);

the friends of Daniel: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have become almost legendary in the their boldfaced rebellion against king Nebuchadnezzar: when ordered to bow down to an idol of himself, they absolutely refused to break the second commandment: they were thrown into fire as a result, but God supernaturally protected them with an angel, and completely supported their holy rebellion (Dan. 3); John the Baptist rebelled against king Herod when he publicly rebuked him for his adultery with Herodias and his other sins (Luke 3:19); Jesus rebelled against Herod, albeit secretly, calling him a fox (Luke 13:32); but in no uncertain terms, Jesus was very outspoken with all His angry rebukes and controversies with the Pharisees (the church leaders), which runs all throughout the Gospels, and is especially borne out in the Gospel of John; the church’s first martyr, Stephen, rebelled against the leaders of the Pharisees, shouting at them, calling them stubborn, and saying, “You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51); the apostle Paul rebelled against the apostle Peter, because he had backslidden into a Judaistic avoidance of Gentiles; many regarded Peter to have more authority and influence in the early church; and to this day the Catholics say that Peter was the first pope (Gal. 2:11).

On through church history, the Catholic saints rebelled against the false priests of their days; Martin Luther did the same, and all of the Protestant Reformers (the word Protestant means “protest-ant” as in protesting the errors of the Catholic Church); the story of John Knox and the Covenanters is just one long story of holy rebellion against Bloody Mary and her kind; same thing with the English Reformers and all the saints mentioned in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs; George Fox and the Quakers and John Wesley and the Methodists rebelled against the Anglican priests in search for direct experience with the Holy Spirit; the same thing with all who carry the name of “revivalism” and “revivalist”; William J. Seymour rebelled against the leaders of the holiness movement and ended up giving birth to the Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, healings, and miraculous gifts like the world hasn’t seen in centuries; Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom rebelled against the Nazis by protecting the Jews, even lying at times to protect them; John Wimber rebelled against Calvary Chapel when he founded the Vineyard churches, because like Fox and Wesley and Seymour, he wanted a more direct experience with the Holy Spirit; David Wilkerson rebelled against the Assemblies of God so he could break away from them and ordain preachers at Times Square Church from different denominations; and on the story goes.

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