OUR PROBLEM WITH AUTHORITY

OUR PROBLEM WITH AUTHORITY

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

A researcher at the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK published a paper called “The Spoilt Generation.” He ties the alarming rates of child depression, teenage pregnancy, obesity, violent crimes by adolescents, and more to a basic lack of respect for authority (Daily Mail).  The Cato Institute published a study simply entitled, “Respect For Authority.” One of its most basic findings is that the public believes social instability follows  disrespect for authority (Cato). 

What do you think?  Have you noticed a decline of respect in society for parents, teachers, the police, employers, and  others in a position of authority? Most of us would agree it’s happening, and that it is not good.  Peter warns about it in the most sobering of terms, speaking of the unrighteous who face eternal punishment as those who, in part, “despise authority (2 Pt 2:10). Jude offers a very similar warning, describing those who turn God’s  grace into permission to do whatever they please (4), and this includes their “rejecting authority” (8).  So why do we often have a problem with authority?

We have a problem with rebelliousness. Saul, the earthly king, had a problem with rebellion (1 Sam. 15:23). Paul writes Timothy, discussing why the Law of Moses existed. It was for unrighteous people, and at the top of that list were the lawless and rebellious (1 Tim. 1:9). Rebellion is insubordination. It characterized the period of the Judges, when everyone did what they thought was right to them (17:6; 21:25). As we look at crime in our current society, we see the fruit of rebellion. CNN reports a 33% increase in homicides in major U.S. cities from 2019 to 2020, and now it is up another 24% since the beginning of 2021 (CNN). Yet, cities like Baltimore no longer prosecute drug possession, prostitution, and other low-level offenses. In California, shoplifting has in some places ceased to have any legal ramifications. How many looters in major U.S. cities have never served a day in jail or paid a penny in fines? Romans 13 clearly condemns this. Paul says “whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (2). Most of us would condemn this nationally, but do we struggle with rebellion against authority closer to home? Do we struggle with it against employers, elders, and parents? Rebelliousness can be milder than murder and more limited than against government. Do we only submit if we accept what they lead us to do? Do we maintain meekness and gentleness only if we agree with them? Rebellion is not the mark of a disciple of Christ; such have a different master. 

We have a problem with respect. Paul says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Th. 5:12-13). Esteem, as a verb, is found 28 times and means to think, consider, or regard. Paul is telling the church how to regard their leaders (“very highly in love”) and why (“because of their work”). Interestingly, the noun form of this verbs is often tied to various types of leadership–“Ruler” (Mt. 2:6), “leader” (Lk. 22:26), “governor” (Acts 7:10), “chief” (Acts 14:12) and “leading men” (Acts 15:22). But in 1 Thessalonians 5:13, it is a verb and means to engage in the intellectual process of thinking of them with the highest respect. The word “esteem” deals with our character generally and not just how we treat elders and any other leaders. Philippians 2:3 says, “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” But Peter speaks of some who “count it a pleasure to revel in doing wrong” (2 Pet. 2:13). Respect is a matter of how you set your mind. If we don’t have it in our hearts to respect those in authority, it can’t help but show in the way we speak to them or about them. Our children learn how to treat authority figures by watching and listening to us. What are we teaching them?

We have a problem with our religion. “Religion” is only found  four times in the New Testament. It means appropriate beliefs and the devout practice of our obligations (Louw-Nida, 530). How do we properly express our religion? It is not just about worshipping the way God commands. That’s a vital part, but only one way. Paul tells us what his pre-Christian religion looked like (Acts 26:5). He tells us about the false religion of some, ruled by their fleshly minds (Col. 2:18). James uses the word “religion” twice, in James 1:26-27. He teaches that pure, untainted religion is proven or disproven by your thoughts, words, and deeds. When I show disdain toward those in authority in or out of the church context, I’m telling everyone who witnesses it about my religion. I am making an impression on them that will either lead them closer to God or farther away from Him. Whatever I tell them about the one(s) in authority, I am telling them far more about me. If they follow my lead, will they stumble (cf. Lk. 17:1-2)? 

 

Our problem with authority is ultimately a problem with God. When Paul tells Rome that those who resist authority oppose God’s will, he was talking about a government ruled by wicked Caesars who murdered Christians. When I disapprove of or disagree with those in positions of authority, in the nation, church, workplace or home, I must respond how God says respond. I must leave the rest to Him. 

The Christian And Government 

The Christian And Government 

Neal Pollard

There is a passage that can be so disturbing because it is so adamantly clear. That passage is Romans 13:1-7. The early church fathers had a lot to say about this passage. They lived at a time when the government sponsored and led persecution and even execution of Christians simply for being Christians and sharing Christ with others. Nobody living in our country today has any experience with what this is like. Despite the pain and price inflicted by the Roman Empire on them, over and over the early Christians defended Paul’s words in Romans 13.

  • Basil—It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God is not violated thereby
  • Ambrosiaster—Those who believe cannot play fast and loose with the law
  • Apollinaris—To disobey rulers is condemned as a mistaken way of thinking
  • Chrysostom—There should be rulers and ruled and…that things should not just lapse into anarchy is the work of God’s wisdom (Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. VI, Oden, ed.).

Whether you long for the Obama administration or love the Trump administration, whether you love or loathe your governor, senators, and congressmen, Romans 13 applies to us today.  Whatever your feelings about law enforcement or our judicial system, Romans 13 applies to us today. No one should be more conscientious about their relationship to the Civil Government than a Christian. What does this text reveal to us about “the earthly powers that be?”

  • The government has a Divine source (1). They are “from God” and “established by God.”
  • The government is a divine statute (2). Paul calls their ruling “the ordinance of God” and he warns against opposing such.
  • The government is comprised of Divine servants (3-6). The term Paul repeatedly uses of those within such earthly institutions is “ministers of God” (“servants of God,” 6) bearing the sword, bringing wrath, and devoting themselves to maintaining divinely-ordained order on earth.
  • The government carries Divine stipulations (7). God calls for Christians to render them what is due to them, namely taxes, customs, fear, and honor.

The limit to this is if they command us (forbidding or making us) to do what would cause us to disobey God (cf. Acts 5:29). That is not the same as commanding us to do something that restricts our “rights,” “freedoms,” or “liberties.” There may be privileges we enjoy in a free nation which contribute to our comfort, happiness, and enjoyment. They may even be dubbed “unalienable rights” in our national constitution. May we never confuse earthly privilege with divine precept. The inspired Paul makes it clear that God is behind government for the reasons seen above. Peter, in a context about civil government, reminds us that we are “aliens and strangers” on this earth (1 Pet. 2:11; cf. 13ff). As we loudly, lustily sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through…”  “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15). May God give us the strength and wisdom to this end!

Maison Carrée, Temple of Rome and Augustus

Remarkable Statements, In Historical Context

Remarkable Statements, In Historical Context

Neal Pollard

AD 30—Tiberius, who became cruel and mad, was the Roman Emperor when the church was established. Under his reign, right around the time of Pentecost, Rome was filled with terror after the murder of his once trusted advisor turned traitor, Sejanus (tribunesandtriumphs.org). Sanderson Beck comments that he was “preoccupied with sexual and sadistic perversions” the last several years of his life (he is believed to have been murdered)(san.beck.org). Jerusalem was directly governed by Rome. Acts, though probably written in the 60s, begins its historical chronicle around AD 30.

  • Acts 2:41—“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”
  • Acts 4:4—“But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
  • Acts 5:14—“And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.”
  • Acts 6:7—“The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
  • See also Acts 12:24 and Acts 19:20,

AD 62-63—Nero, described as licentious, cruel, tyrannical, murderous, criminal, arson, vain,  perverse (tribunesandtriumphs.org) and, by historian Donald Wesson as a “cross-dressing exhibitionist” (ancient.eu), spearheaded the first organized persecution of Christians (N.S. Gill, ancienthistory.about.com). Tacitus says he blamed the Christians for his own burning of Rome. Many are the accounts of the cruel ways Nero put them to death (eyewitnesstohistory.com). Eusebius reports that Nero put both Paul and Peter to death (Church History, Book 2, Ch. 25). Before his death, Paul would report of such rapid growth throughout Nero’s reign. Peter’s outlook could not have been brighter.

  • Colossians 1:23—“if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.”
  • 1 Peter 1:3—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

AD 90s—Domitian, best remembered as “the evil emperor who murdered thousands of Christians” (tribunesandtriumphs.org), reigned when John wrote his epistles and the book of Revelation. He was notorious for his cruelty and detachment from reality. John writes Revelation in large part to steady the Christians to withstand the onslaught of persecution caused by Domitian. His message to the Christians during the reign of Domitian was consistent:

  • 1 John 4:4—“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
  • 1 John 5:4—“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”
  • Revelation 1:6-7—“He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

How bad did things look, from an earthly perspective, during the reigns of evil rulers like Tiberius, Nero, and Domitian? The thing is, the early Christians did not look at things from an earthly perspective. As those trying to walk in the footsteps of New Testament Christians, will we imitate their faith and that perspective?

vespasianus03_pushkin

A LINK TO HISTORY

A LINK TO HISTORY

Neal Pollard

He was named after a World War I general, born in Los Angeles in 1918 just after the American doughboys went “over there.”  There are four men who played Major League Baseball older than Robert Pershing (“Bobby”) Doerr (Mike Sandlock in 99, Eddie Carnett and Alex Monchak are 98, and Carl Miles in 16 days older than Bobby), but his Major League debut was the earliest.  Unlike anybody else among the top 15 oldest living baseball players, Doerr was an everyday player who achieved some notoriety. He’s the oldest living player who is in the Hall of Fame.  But, making his debut in 1937, Doerr is a part of these interesting facts.  He played against Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Mel Ott, Hank Greenburg, Schoolboy Rowe, Lloyd and Paul Waner, and Pie Traynor, as well as many other all-time greats.  Jimmy Foxx and Lefty Grove were teammates. Lefty pitched to Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker. In 1925, his rookie season, Grove sat across the dugout from Jimmy Austin (age 46), Oscar Stanage (age 42) and Chief Bender (age 41). Sitting in his dugout, though, was Jack Quinn (age 42), who was a teammate of Austin’s on the 1909 New York Highlanders, a team that also included Willie Keeler and Jack Chesbro. We could keep going, but we’ll stop there. Doerr, a man still in his right mind, could tell you all about Lefty Grove and heard who knows how many stories Grove told about players who played in the 1800s, connections to the earliest days of baseball.  Doerr is a link to history (info via baseball-reference.com).

How many have pointed out the interesting facts from the Genesis genealogies, where it is possible that Noah’s grandfather, Methusaleh, may have known Adam?  They were most certainly contemporaries, and that covers a span of 1656 years (https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/timeline-for-the-flood/).  Noah and Seth, Adam’s third son, would have been alive together for 34 years before Seth’s death. To appreciate how incredible that is, consider that 1656 years ago was the year 359 A.D., 4 years before Constantine’s grandson, Julian the Apostate, becomes Roman emperor (http://www.fsmitha.com/time/ce04.htm).

It would not take a lot of digging around in our congregations to find individuals who provide us a link to church history.  Consider Bear Valley for a moment. Johnson Kell had Hugo McCord stay in his home one summer several decades ago, the two even going on a long run together.  Converted as a soldier during World War II, Johnson would have been in the church when great preachers like Marshall Keeble, N.B. Hardeman, and others were helping the church grow so much.  Harry Denewiler grew up in the church, and at nearly 90, could have been in the assemblies when great preachers of the 1920s were filling the pulpits of the midwest.  Two of our members, Jean Wilmington and Maurya Fulkerson, were baptized by Rue Porter when they were school-age girls. No doubt others have recollections of the church that reach back to the 1920s and 1930s, like Neva Morgan, Carolyn Barber, the Brennans, and others. Many conversations I had some years ago with Rooksby and Bea Stigers centered around their recollections of those who spoke of the establishment of the church in the Denver area.

As a lover of history, I am thrilled in my soul to think that we are linked to great men and women of God who helped start and build up the Lord’s church.  When I was seven years old, my family and I visited in the home of Zana Michael, a then 100-year-old sister in Christ who was a member where dad was preaching in Barrackville, West Virginia.  She was four years old when the church there was established. Some of the great preachers of the 19th Century traversed the bergs and valleys around Barrackville and sister Michael heard several of them. We got to hear her, regaled by her clear recollections, and linked through her to such wonderful history.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 9.53.39 AM
Zana Michael is the lady in the middle

Isn’t it thrilling to think of ourselves as being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1), sometimes getting to hear from those who heard from those who take us further back in time toward the beginning of the church?  This afternoon, as Carl and I sit and watch the Rockies and Cardinals lock horns on the baseball diamond, we’ll get another chance to join the historical continuum of a grand old game. Every Lord’s Day, as we engage together in worship to God, we join in the grandest historical continuum of all, linked ultimately to Peter, Paul, John, and the rest. Until we exult in heaven some day, what could exceed that thrill?