Authority, Honor, Submission, and Obedience
If you watch or listen or read much of what is coming out of Moscow, Idaho, you might be forgiven for getting the impression that we are all political activists. I suppose that’s true or not true depending on what you mean by it. By its traditional meaning though, we aren’t anything of the sort. Perhaps we have a slightly better average turnout for elections, but I don’t think many of us really relish political involvement at all. Most of us would rather not worry about it. Most of us would rather be home with our family or singing psalms or starting some new business. Most of us wouldn’t go out of our way to go to a Trump rally, and a bunch of us didn’t vote for him one or both times he ran, even if we are thankful for what God has done through him.
However, we are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all, and this includes the political sphere, and therefore, we are committed to saying so, and repeatedly, if necessary, since that seems to be one of the central places where that is being denied, at least publicly. We love Christ because He died for our sins, and we hate it when He is ignored or mocked publicly. We refuse to deny Him before men because we long to be acknowledged before the Father.
Submission & Authority
But I think it’s worth reviewing some of our longstanding principles, things we have preached and taught for decades that drives what we are doing around here. We are Christian conservatives, not libertarians, even though there are a number of folks that prefer that name in our midst. But our central, core convictions are firmly conservative, not libertarian, the difference being a more robust affirmation of the goodness of civil government, more emphasis on the doctrine of original sin and the tendency of men to selfishly screw everything up (especially power), and deep gratitude for the common law tradition, where God’s law has been percolating through cultures over time. We are not traditionalists because we are Protestant, and therefore, Sola Scriptura applies to the public square just as much as it applies to worship. Scripture is our final, perfect authority in every sphere.
We believe that Jesus is Lord, and that means that He is Lord of all and over all. There is no absolute human authority on earth because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Only Jesus is the perfect man because He is also fully God, and therefore He is Lord of the public square, Lord of the Church, Lord of every family, and Lord of every soul. This means that all other claims to absolute authority are blasphemous and idolatrous. Only Christ deserves that absolute allegiance and worship, and therefore, all our honor and reverence and obedience to human authorities is in Christ, under Christ, as to Christ. But what that means is that the different governments established by God are equals before God, even with their different assignments. Just as Idaho and South Carolina interact as equals as states, just as the president of France and the president of Germany could meet on equal footing, so too the heads of families, churches, and states meet as equals, since their authority comes from the same place. And even though the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of our government have different tasks, different assignments, the nature of their authority is fundamentally the same, and within their respective assignments they interact as equals, and therefore, our reverence, honor, and obedience should match that equality.
You can always tell a culture’s idols by where authority is automatically accepted and obedience most strictly required versus those places where discussions immediately run to the exceptions and abuses. In our land, the bloated nature of civil government is obvious because it is largely assumed that you must always obey, no questions asked, since they have guns, police, prisons, and well, all the power. Oh yeah, and Romans 13. But in the same church where that assumption is embraced thoughtlessly, you might have a nice Christian lady at a women’s Bible study (let’s call her Mrs. Smith) announce that she needs to leave a little early since her husband asked her to have dinner ready at a certain time. And if there aren’t snide comments and disrespectful jokes made about it, there may still be some raised eyebrows, and maybe some text messages afterwards about praying for the Smith’s marriage, and maybe even direct questions to Mrs. Smith about whether everything is going OK, and if she needs to talk, she knows she would have a “safe” place.
The point being, in many modern conservative churches, the authority of the family and the husband/father is utterly undermined, dismissed, and mocked regularly, even while the authority of the state looms large over everything, with pastors bowing and scraping before their every whim and demand. At the same time, I know that there are some who see that and hate that, but they also see some who appear to be in our ranks who are not actually interested in submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There are some who are rebels at heart and who don’t mind using the current abuse of civil authority as an excuse for the sin of belligerence, there (in the civil sphere) and almost always elsewhere. They mock civil magistrates, not with prophetic love, but with Satanic disdain. And you can tell that they have no idea what spirit they are of because their marriages and families are often in shambles, they can hardly hold down a job, and they refuse to become or stay members of a local church and submit to elders and pastors. You can also tell them by their angry outbursts online, their inability to be corrected or admonished, and the beleaguered looks on everyone close to them.
These people are not helping, not part of our work, and need to be told plainly that they are part of the problem. They are tyrants and terrorists, and no one should want to let them anywhere near the steering wheel of anything important. As one friend has pointed out, if these political firebrands were suddenly put in charge of America, we’d be in the same place we currently are or probably even worse. Contempt for authority is tyranny. You might be a raging tinpot dictator online right now, railing against Biden and AOC and the Fed and the Great Reset, but as soon as you’re in charge of anything, you’d be doing the same things they are, even if you’d find other factions to squash and destroy.
Using the Same Measure
The kind of Christian community we are building here in Moscow affirms and honors the goodness of civil authority, ecclesial authority, and familial authority, with the Lord Jesus over them all. What I have told couples for many years, when we walk through Ephesians 5 together in pre-marital counseling, is that this means Jesus is standing behind the head. So long as the head is leading toward Jesus, in obedience to Scripture, submit and obey gladly. So long as the head is leading in things indifferent (styles, preferences, and true wisdom calls), we submit and obey gladly and leave room for differences of opinion. But when the head begins to disobey the Lord Jesus openly, flagrantly, leading away from Christ, true Christian submission to the authority of Christ cheerfully ignores instructions, disobeys, and seeks to wisely subvert that disobedience. And we insist that this is love. Love seeks the other’s good and so it cannot go along with those things that harm and undermine Christ’s authority.
We have been over this many times, but I don’t think we can say it enough: a man who begins leading his family astray theologically must not be followed. A man who wants to explore Roman Catholicism or Woke Evangelicalism must not be followed. This doesn’t mean the marriage must necessarily end, but a Christian woman need not bow down to or “pray through” statues of Mary any more than Daniel’s three friends needed to bow down to the Babylonian shrine. Neither may a Christian woman go along with sexual immorality or financial folly. A man is duty bound to provide for his wife “as his own body,” and running a family into the ground with a porn or gambling addiction needs no permission to confront and resist.
Abigail was righteous in subverting the folly of her husband Nabal. The midwives were righteous to lie to Pharaoh and save the Hebrew baby boys. Paul was righteous to evade arrest and be let down out of a window. Peter and John were righteous to disobey the instructions of their “pastors” to stop preaching Jesus. And yet, David was righteous in refusing to harm the Lord’s anointed, Saul, even when he was hunting his life. Paul was righteous to apologize for calling the High Priest a white-washed wall. And Jesus was righteous to have his disciples pay an unjust poll tax to avoid giving offense. Christians must get their head and heart around both sets of Scriptures.
One additional note on this is the fact that the Lord Jesus has given specific assignments to those He delegates authority to. The civil magistrate has been assigned the ministry of justice, punishing evildoers, and praising the righteous. The family has been given the assignment of caring for health, welfare, and education. The church has been given the assignment of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments. When a magistrate begins taking care of health, welfare, and education, the magistrate is actively disobeying the Lord Jesus. Christians must honor and obey the magistrate, while not approving of the magistrate’s disobedience, looking for every opportunity to confront and subvert that disobedience in love. This confrontation and subversion is the same kind of confrontation that we would counsel a wife or child or parishioner with a disobedient husband, father, or pastor. We counsel honor wherever honor is possible, obedience in all things that are not enabling sin or furthering disobedience, strategic obedience or disobedience in certain areas, and resolute, cheerful disobedience where commands require disobedience to God.
We teach the goodness of authority and submission in all three spheres, and we are seeking to do so with biblical equity. The same Lord is over all, and therefore, we want our honor and obedience to reflect that. The same measure we use to measure obedience and honor in the family is the one we want to use in the church and in the public square. And we are endeavoring to use the same measure we use to distinguish obedience to indifferent things from disobedience to primary things in all three spheres. And just because an authority is being disobedient in one respect, does not mean that their authority is completely abolished, or that our duty to honor has suddenly ceased. We counsel wives to submit to their disobedient husbands in every possible way. We counsel parishioners to submit to their disobedient pastors in every possible way, seeking the peace of the people of God. And likewise, we counsel citizens to be in submission to magistrates in every possible way, honoring them and their position as they would honor Christ the King.
If a husband began serving his family the Lord’s Supper, we would correct him because he is not a pastor. If a pastor began insisting that the church ought to adjudicate crimes, we would correct him. And if the magistrate begins insisting on health measures that do not amount to pulling people from a burning building, we correct him. And if upon correction, these authorities do not back down, we would give permission to those under their authority to ignore those claims. While the stakes are much higher when it comes to the duties and assignments that God gives to the different governments, we teach that it is love to hold authorities to their assignments. It is love for the Supreme Court to strike down unconstitutional laws passed by congress, just as it is love for the President to veto unconstitutional laws. It is love when different branches of government check and balance one another, and it is love when different branches of God’s governments (families, churches, or states) do the same.
Psalm 2 says that when the nations rage and plot vain things against God and His Christ, saying let us break these bonds asunder, the Lord sits in Heaven and laughs. He holds them in derision. And we believe that when authorities resolutely defy God and refuse to be bound by His sovereign law, that we should join the Father in laughing at their tinpot tyrannies. This includes men who are pigs, pastors who are snakes, and magistrates that are foxes.
If by political, you mean that we are committed to the Lordship of Jesus over all, that we love and honor these various governments that God has established in the world, then I suppose we are a fairly politically active Christian community and guilty as charged. But what this means is that on any given night, you’ll find most of us at home with our families eating dinner, singing psalms, reading stories, playing games, and puttering in our gardens. We are busy paying our taxes, obeying husbands, parents, pastors, and a few of us might have an American flag hanging off the front porch. We do believe that what we are doing is politically active and potent, but we don’t think the civil government is nearly as important as it currently thinks it is.
Jesus said that sometimes obedience and loyalty to Him will look like hatred of father and mother, spouse or children, and so it does. But by the same token, depending on the culture and the moment in history, obedience to Jesus might also look like hatred of your pastor or president. And if that is what is called for, and you are not willing to do so, you cannot be His disciple.