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On Whose Authority?

Well, it's no secret that most people don't care very much for authority these days.  Even those who are actually in positions of authority don't really like to exercise the privilege - nay, the responsibility - of using that authority toward its intended ends.  Just this past Saturday, my family made a trip to Toys 'R Us where we witnessed a mother pleading at length with her four or five year old son for him to come down off of a display that he shouldn't have been on in the first place and then follow her out of the store - as if the parent/child hierarchy was one based on persuasion instead of command and obedience. Needless to say, I find such situations absurd and pathetic, but this seems to be the way our world is going.  Parents don't even feel like they have right to sternly rebuke and correct their children, and this most likely as a result of the parents' own distaste for authority.  There's a tremendous problem here, with its roots all the way back in the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden when they broke the very first command that was given to them by their Father.

And as a pastor, I struggle with the various notions of authority that are in the minds of my hearers.  Some believe that their own opinions are the most important source of truth in their lives.  When I present my case from the very words of God in the Bible, they judge God's declarations and instructions against their own "infallible" assumptions, and if the two don't match, God's Word gets rejected.  These know what they want to believe and are predisposed to reject anything that differs.  "Foolish" and "unteachable" are two words that come immediately to mind.  Others judge what they believe to be true by which preacher said it best.  If I say something that contradicts the teaching of a former beloved pastor, some are liable to cling to the previous teaching out of a sense of loyalty to the man even when the Bible passage in question is abundantly clear and my case for its truth is open-and-shut.  Few seem to have the mindset of "If that's what the Scripture says, then that's what I'm going to believe."

And almost nowhere can we see these various notions of authority in such disagreement as we can when we examine the so-called "church rules" that have been prevalent for the last hundred or so years in American fundamentalist churches: "don't drink", "don't smoke", "don't dance", and "don't gamble".  Thankfully, some of the emphasis on these Pharisaical legalisms is passing away.  You don't find too many folks anymore that vehemently decry the evils of playing cards or dice, but some of the broader categories still find a deep-seated conviction in many of our churches - especially among the elderly.

Now, believe it or not, I'm actually all for holding on to the old ways.  I, like some of the older people in our churches, am by nature very distrustful of anything new making its way into our church, and I always try to be on the lookout against sliding into the places that the Enemy would like us to be.  The fact of the matter is, however, that these "church rules" are the very "new things" that have come into the church.  We don't find these rules in the Bible (and it is very old).  In fact, in the Bible we find people gambling (Judges 14:12-13), but never any commands against it; we find God's people dancing (2 Samuel 6:16), but those who dislike it are cursed; we just don't find any teaching about smoking whatsoever; and when it comes to drinking, we find God at one point even commanding His people to drink wine or strong drink in celebration to Him (Deuteronomy 14:24-26), even though there are also commands to not get drunk (Ephesians 5:18).

This is where the issue of authority comes into play.  How are you going to decide what is right or wrong for you to do?  Are you going to decide based on your own opinions, laying new rules that the Bible doesn't give (like the Pharisees did) or ignoring the commands that the Bible does contain?  Are you going to decide based on what some favorite preacher said?  Or will you diligently search the Scriptures for yourself with a submissive and obedient heart, allowing God Himself to instruct you?  When we are judged, it will not be on the basis of our own opinions or any other man's; it will be on the basis of God's Law, so let's aim to please Him instead of ourselves.