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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
Sep2TueSeptember 2, 2014
August 9, 1974 was the day respect for authority died in America. It had been dying by degrees over the previous decade. First it was literally shot down, when a bullet pierced the brain of America’s youngest president, John F. Kennedy, on November 22, 1963. Then it was undermined, demeaned, and degraded as the lies, arrogance, and incompetence of the Johnson Administration about the war in Vietnam became apparent. Finally, it boarded Marine One with Richard Nixon as he departed the White House in disgrace on that warm summer day in 1974.
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I was fourteen years old and like most of my peers I took one great lesson away from 9-9-1974: Never trust anyone in authority. I don’t think I could’ve explained it to you in so many words, but that attitude stayed with me for many years, extending into adulthood. I did not trust anyone in authority, and I especially did not want to wield it.
Many of you, I’m sure, felt or feel the same way. But in the forty years since I have learned two very clear things. First, all authority is delegated; it flows from God and is accountable to God. Second, life without properly functioning authority is chaotic at best, and ultimately destructive to human flourishing.
With those thoughts in mind let’s consider some definitions of authority and how we, as followers of Christ, should respond to it.
An authority is the person who makes the final decision on what is good, right and just in a given situation. He doesn’t decide in a vacuum. He takes input from many sources. But he has to give the final word. The buck has to stop somewhere. Deborah, remember, was a judge. She had no official authority. But she had so much personal authority, so much gravitas, that people deferred to her wisdom. An authority is the person whose judgment is deferred to.
An authority is the person with the power to execute, or enforce, the laws, principles and practices, or rules of a home a church or other institution. As such, God holds him to very high standards of behavior. Think of the referee on the soccer field. He stays out of the way as much as possible, only stepping in when necessary to make sure that no one takes unfair advantage. But without a referee, the game is chaotic and unfair.
When Paul speaks to fathers, the authority in the home, he says, “do not exasperate your children…” Eph. 6:4. Don’t be like one of those referees that look for every possible infraction to stop the game and assert his power.
An authority is the person or persons with the ultimate responsibility to provide for the wellbeing of the community. Lots of people contribute to the effort. Lots of people provide input to the one who has to judge between good and evil, or even good, better and best. Lots of people provide input to the one who has to carry out, or execute the rules. But he is the one who will answer for it.
Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden…(NIV)
So when we think about authority, control, dominance, and oppression – those things we often associate with male leadership in the church and home – ought to be the farthest things from our minds. Accountability for making good judgments, for keeping things in order, and the overall responsibility to look out for everyone’s wellbeing is what we ought to have in view.
When I think of it that way, I don’t resent authority I appreciate it. I don’t want to make the authority’s job any more difficult. I want to find ways to support him, to make his job easier. I don’t want to be a “yes man.” If he’s wrong about something I owe it to him to tell him. If he’s abusing his authority I’m accountable before God to challenge him on it. But I don’t resent him, I appreciate him.
So here is God’s deal as it relates to men and women: Men, in the home and in the church, you carry that ultimate responsibility. Collaborate with the women in your world. Draw from their wisdom and skill and gifts for everyone’s wellbeing. Women, collaborate with the men. Do everything you can to make his job easier. If he’s wrong about something you owe it to him to tell him. If he’s abusing his authority you are accountable before God, as the next in line, to challenge him on it for the wellbeing of the family or the church. But other than that, honor his authority by doing everything you can to make his job easier.