Tag Archive for: authority

Does how the church is run have anything to do with the gospel? David Henkel of the Tennessee Synod thought so. Check out this episode for discussion of his “Carolinian Herald of Liberty,” his manifesto for his synod’s polity and practice to ensure liberty in church and state.

The history of the Tennessee Synod, written by Socrates Henkel, can be found here.

The collected works of David Henkel, including the Carolinian Herald of Liberty, may be purchased here.

A free scan of an old copy of the Carolinian Herald may be found on the Internet Archive here.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz
Episode: 46

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It is a rare thing in the epistles of the New Testament that the apostles speak of Christ outside of the context of an admonition, and the reading for the Third Sunday in Easter is no exception.  Having reminded his hearers that they are a “chosen race” and a “royal priesthood” in Christ (1 Peter 2:9), he exhorts them to seek after the will of God also in their worldly circumstances.

One such admonition is to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”  Obedience to government, therefore, is not an optional thing for a Christian.  However, it is worth noting Peter’s reasoning here.  Being a Christian only means being subject to one authority, that is, God.  Christians, after all, are a holy nation belonging to the Lord.  When a Christian is called to obey worldly authority, he does so because His Sovereign commands it.  As Peter says, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:15-16).  A Christian who is a good citizen, because God commands him to be a good citizen, thereby becomes a witness to the world.

Yet it is not enough to obey those authorities who do not sin against their position, the sort of authority that is easy to follow.  Peter exhorts servants to also obey “unjust” masters, because to endure sorrow for the sake of God is a “gracious thing” in His sight (1 Peter 2:18-19).  Christ here forms an example of what Peter means.  It is no blessing to be beaten for sin, but it is when one is beaten for doing good, as Christ Himself was.

Even under unjust authority, to which Christ submitted out of obedience to His Father and not out of any worldly claims, He did not return abuse for abuse.  He entrusted Himself to the just Judge of all men, willingly going to the cross and bearing our sins.  Through His wounds, we have been healed.  Through His death, we have been forgiven.  Christ never wavered in His trust of and obedience towards His Father even in a far worse situation than our own, and therefore He is our supreme example of living in the world as servants of the living God.

While this abbreviated reading seems to be assigned to the Third Sunday in Easter only because of 1 Peter 2:25 and its references to sheep and the Shepherd, it still informs us about what it means to be His sheep.  “Straying like sheep” here seems to mean those servants who were not patient under unjust masters.  Patience is, after all, a Christian virtue, no less than obedience.  Yet sheep imitating the Shepherd follow after Him in complete patience, knowing that even death now will give way to a joy which knows no end.

Peter also said in Acts 5:29 that “we must obey God rather than men,” and this only strengthens his point.  Even obeying earthly authority means obeying God rather than men.  There will be occasions when earthly authority must be repudiated, but Acts 5:29 is not a recipe for flippant insubordination.  The crosses which the Father lays upon us, even unjust masters, conform us to the image of His suffering Son.

In the beginning of this letter, Peter recognizes that his death is fast approaching, “as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me” (2 Peter 1:14).  His purpose in writing this letter, therefore, is to remind his hearers of those things which he taught them, especially in the face of false teachers.  God has called us to “his own glory and excellence” in Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3).  Therefore, the godly strive after virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love–all fruits of the Spirit–because such things increase our knowledge of the Lord.  Such fruits “confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10), because the fruits of the tree are evidence of its nature.  To strive after good works is by no means to seek self-justification, but to earnestly desire the higher gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31).

But to increase in the knowledge of the Lord is to listen to His voice (Luke 6:46; John 10:27).  And if to hear those whom God has sent is to hear Him (Luke 10:16), how do we know whom God has sent?  Peter therefore establishes his unique authority to speak on behalf of God, especially against those who claimed to have a superior knowledge.  Peter was not “following cleverly devised myths,” but was himself an eyewitness of the Lord’s majesty on the mountain of His transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18).  These false teachers could only claim some kind of secret knowledge which was no knowledge at all.  Peter saw the truth of these things with his own eyes.

However, what about those of us who are separated from Peter?  He is an eyewitness of these things, but we live many generations later in the course of time.  Peter has a unique authority, having seen these things for himself, but his authority is not based on his own person.  The events which he saw are not true because he saw them.  The events which he saw are true because it is the Lord who does them, and Peter testifies by his own experience that the Lord acted in a specific point in history.  It would be true even if Peter never saw it, but Peter is in the unique position to say that it did happen before his very eyes.  This the false teachers could not say, and therefore they twist the Scriptures to their own destruction, including the letters of Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16), by making them say something which God never said.

Peter points to the Word as proof.  God acting confirms the prophetic Word, because it shows that God cannot lie.  “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man,” because it is not men speaking which makes the Word what it is.  Rather, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), what is typically called inspiration.  The false teachers based their authority upon themselves, claiming in arrogance to know more than what the Word revealed.  Peter, on the other hand, stood on the Word which had not been broken and was fulfilled before his very eyes.  It is not Peter’s word, but God’s.

I think it is worth noting that Peter does not define the means of inspiration, as if God was limited to a certain method in His dealings with men.  Abraham saw a vision, so that his inspiration was primarily visual in some way (Genesis 15:1).  Moses spoke with God face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:11).  The hand of the Lord came upon Elisha when the musician played at his command (2 Kings 3:15).  Many of the prophets, such as Ezekiel, felt the hand of the Lord strongly, so that they saw spectacular visions (Ezekiel 1).  Daniel received inspiration from reading the book of the prophet Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2).  It seems that some of the prophets received physical marks upon their bodies while inspired of God (Zechariah 13:4-6).  Joseph heard the Word in a dream (Matthew 1:18-25).  The Apostles spoke of what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20).  Luke followed all the things of Christ and wrote an account based on what he had heard from others (Luke 1:1-4).  Even Caiaphas, hardened and unbelieving, as high priest prophesied concerning Christ, so that he did not know what he said (John 11:51).  But however God spoke to men, it was the Lord speaking, so that “at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Factionalism was one of the primary problems within the Corinthian congregation, and Paul addresses this issue first within his letter.  This division, however, stemmed at least in part from the influence of those who questioned the authority of Paul (1 Corinthians 9:1-7).  Such false teachers attempted to undermine Paul to make their own authority appear all the greater.  Therefore, Paul addresses the problem of division by carefully clarifying the nature of his authority as an apostle, from which we may also learn the nature of authority within the Church in general.

Paul’s authority does not center in his rhetorical ability.  “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  If anything, like Moses (Exodus 4:10), Paul was not particularly impressive in terms of speaking (1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 10:10).  However, this is for their benefit, “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).  Such wisdom was not worldly, but from the Spirit, and as such belongs to those who are of Christ, apart from all worldly considerations.

Nor does Paul’s authority center in his own person.  The Corinthians had forgotten this, and their factionalism arose from considering the man too highly.  “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).  Paul’s work in laying the foundation is of much value, to be sure, but it is ultimately God working through Paul that makes this work what it is.  Paul is a skilled master builder, laying the foundation which is Jesus Christ, and the Judgment will reveal the nature of that work (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

Therefore, one must regard Paul and those who bear authority in the Church as “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  A high calling, but one that bears high responsibility, since the value of stewards depends on how faithfully their exercise their office.  Joseph rose to prominence in his master’s house because the Lord was with him (Genesis 39).  The dishonest steward lost his position from squandering his master’s possessions (Luke 16:1-13).  Stewards of Christ demonstrate their faithfulness by rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), bringing out of their treasure what is new and what is old (Matthew 13:52).  They continue in what they have been taught, being equipped for every good work through the power of the living Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

But the judgment of faithfulness is not a matter of the world, either.  “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).  And if the faithful are incompetent to judge such cases, as it were, why would the world be any better (1 Corinthians 6)?  Not that Paul must answer to the Church regarding his faithfulness, but to his own master, the Lord.  But when the Lord comes to judge the world, then the nature of what he has build will be revealed.  Paul has labored for a time in darkness, but the light of Christ will make all things plain.

As with Paul, so also with those entrusted with smaller responsibilities.  The guardian of the remote post is not thereby relieved of his duty or relaxed in its rigor.  The value of his labor in the Lord too will be judged by fire.  Will it be flammable, built upon the wisdom of men?  The appearance of such wisdom is always impressive, but ultimately devoid of power.  It is self-serving and desires only to be noticed.  Or will it endure the test, built upon the mind of Christ?  While such wisdom may come with rhetorical ability, it will prove itself by its fruits.  It builds up those who hear it, even at the cost of making those who bear it a “spectacle to the world,” fools for Christ (1 Corinthians 4:8-13).  But it is ultimately worthy of imitation.  The arrogant fool who delights in worldly wisdom has only talk, but “the kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20).

Paul speaks clearly about the subject of government in Romans 13. All should be subject to authorities, because “there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1). Pilate received the same answer from Christ: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

But what of the authorities themselves? What does Scripture have to say about them? And what implications does this have for a Christian understanding of government?

First, all authority stems from God, and no authority exists apart from God. The Lord may use various means to establish that authority, whether war or elections. The Church chooses Stephen, for example, and this choice is ratified by the disciples (Acts 6:1-6). However, the voice of the people can certainly be contrary to the will of God. Elections may in fact be sinful (Numbers 14:1-4; 1 Samuel 8:4-9). Therefore, it is not the will of the people which constitutes authority, but the will of God for His own purposes (Isaiah 45:1-7). This is especially important in our own day, since we have a tendency to regard authority illegitimate if consent is lacking. While the Lord willed it, Israel served the king of Babylon, and that authority was legitimate, even if limited (see, for example, Jeremiah 27).

A ruler is “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4). This may be to reward what is good, but it is frequently also to punish what is evil. The Law of God is written on the heart of all men, even if indistinctly (Romans 2:14). It is indistinct among those who do not have the written Law, because its fulness has not been revealed to them. The giving of the Law at Sinai means that some “have the Law” while others only do what the Law requires while “not having the Law.” In either case, the ruler serves to bring the wrath of God upon malefactors. He is an instrument in the hand of God. He carries out the Law, but does not give the Law. Even in monarchies, where the king is regarded as a law-giver rather than merely an executor, such laws may not abrogate the Law of God. The ruler, too, is a man under authority.

Paul uses a rather interesting word to describe this relationship between God and the ruler. In Romans 13:6, Paul says that authorities are “ministers” of God. Minister, in the English language, is somewhat vague. Paul uses the term leitourgos, from leitourgia, from which we get our word “liturgy.” A leitourgia in Greek refers to a public service of some kind. It may be the work of a citizen done at his own expense or a description of any kind of public duty. It came to be used in a religious sense, because the Greeks regarded their gods as recipients of public transactions. So long as the gods were happy, they would return the favor on behalf of the state. Christians borrowed the word in a generic sense to describe their worship, but casting off the pagan baggage that came with it. They were so effective in doing so, liturgy is used almost exclusively in a religious sense today.

That being said, Paul argues that an authority is a leitourgos, one who performs a liturgy. His public duty consists in being the servant of God, the avenger of His wrath upon evil, the rewarder of what is good. What this means, then, is that the ruler sits in a subordinate position to God. He has a public burden to carry out, and therefore sits under authority. A Christian who obeys the earthly king is not dividing his loyalties, but rather serving God through such obedience. Peter stating that “we must obey God rather than men” in Acts 5:29 is a recognition that earthly rulers frequently sin. They must not be obeyed in themselves, for that would mean participating in their sin, but rather God commands us to obey earthly rulers. Christians obey God when they obey men. They do not obey men in spite of God’s command (1 Peter 2:13-17).

This means, though, that it is not an idle question whether a ruler believes in God. The king who sins is sinning against God. The Scriptures are full of warnings for rulers, calling them to fear the Lord. One notable example is Psalm 2:10-11: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Nebuchadnezzar served as the instrument of God’s wrath upon His people (Jeremiah 25:8-9, for example), but Nebuchadnezzar also suffered the wrath of God for his sin and his boasting against the Lord (Jeremiah 25:12-14; Jeremiah 51:24; Isaiah 14:12-20; Daniel 4:28-33; etc). Thus, while the Lord will do as He pleases, the unbelieving king will suffer for his sin, and the nation may well suffer with him, just as Egypt suffered for Pharoah’s hardened heart (Exodus 7 ff.).