Authorities

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Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due. — Romans 13:1-7 (NRSV)

There are some words that just seem to be loaded for bear, so to speak. “Authority” is one of those. Just saying the word conjures up images of power, strength, the ability to compel, the quality of decision, the demand of compliance. Authority also implies structure, boundaries, security, certainty, ability to act, arbiter of what is right and proper. It fact, it’s really hard to define “authority” without using the word itself. It sums up so many things in five simple syllables. From birth to death, a person is always under the authority of someone, directly or indirectly. Parents, teachers, police, judges, superior officers, royalty, elected officials, legislative bodies, bishops, priests, religious leaders – there is never a time when someone is not subject to external authority, unless, maybe, they decamp to a deserted island and live as a hermit.

In Paul’s world, authority was to be obeyed and dissent was quickly squashed. A smoothly running society was the expected norm, and the honor of a family, like that of the society as a whole, depended on each individual doing his or her duty, paying taxes, religious tithes, and expected gifts and charities. Any deviation was subject to swift punishment, from loss of status to prison or even death. Our culture today would be totally foreign to Paul, based as it is on individual merit, whether through hard work, skirting the edge of legality or both. Paul reflected the belief that all authority was from God and to revolt against the legitimate authority was, in essence, revolting against God and God’s will. Today, it only seems to be God’s will if the right person is elected or the right government with the right agenda is in power.

It’s funny, I hear a lot of God-talk going on these days. As a matter of fact, I hear God invoked more today by all sorts of people, quite often politicians, than at any other time in my life that I can remember. Oddly enough, God is being invoked on both sides of issues such as rights for women, GLBT folk, immigrants, the poor, children, and the unborn. It is like a tennis match where people are the ball and God is the racquet in the hands of opponents on either side of a net. It can be pretty disheartening sometimes. I wonder — do those who feel that God’s will is expressed when a candidate they endorse is chosen believe that God abdicates periodically when someone they oppose is elected? I wonder how they reconcile that with “…for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” Looking at many comments from ordinary people to stories on the internet and in other media regarding leaders like the current (or even the past) President, there are a lot who believe that God couldn’t possibly have chosen him, despite majority vote of the electorate who chose him. It makes me wonder, what do I believe about authority and when it should be endorsed or rejected? And what am I going to do about it when I feel rejection is the only answer?

Sometimes contemplating Paul’s writings makes my hair hurt, but when I dig far enough, I usually find a lot that I need to think about. In this case, it is the role of authority and where God is in the process. One thing I have come to believe is that authority is a power that should be wielded benevolently and a crown (or mitre) that should be worn lightly. Most of all, God should be the ultimate authority to whom allegiance is owed and honor is due, not a racquet or a club with which to beat people or drive them in a desired direction.

I think that might be what Paul had in mind.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter

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LGMarshall
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LGMarshall

The Bible does not need to be 'interpreted'.... just read the Words at face value, with Faith. There is no hidden meaning. God did not hide his meaning from us. In fact, it's crystal clear. It's man's rebellious nature that is always at the root of any so called mis interpretation. Re some of your questions... [The Bible teaches ]

--6-day Creation,

--Life begins at Conception (God values Life, always.)

--Circumcision for Believers is a circumcision of the heart (that was true for the ancient Jews as well.)

--Care for poor, orphans & widows in the Church family.

--Fornication is sinful

--Marriage is 1 Man , 1 Woman

Lastly, yes, of course the Apostles, and other Disciples 'got it wrong'. Meaning, that they still were human , and sinned. But they (most of them, not all) had Faith that gave them Salvation for Eternity. These statements are not an 'opinion', they are simply made in agreement with God's Word. {which is the same as God.)

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mumcat
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mumcat

It sounds like a good idea, but I have to wonder -- whose interpretation of Bible truth are you talking about? That's where I think the problem lies. Is it a truth to say that creationism is the only proper way to teach the science of our beginnings or is evolution a viable option? Does life begin at conception or at some other point in time? Even the Hebrews waited until a child was at least a week old before naming it or circumcising it. So whose interpretation of Bible truth do we go by? Do we take seriously the words of Jesus about caring for widows, orphans, the poor, the sick, and the like or do we focus on issues about which Jesus did not speak -- abortion, GLBT rights, gender equality?

I am not willing to force those who follow other faiths to live by Christian rules if it goes against their own beliefs. I am reminded of the Puritans who left England because they were persecuted for their practice of faith but when they got here they did exactly the same thing to Quakers and others who came into their territory.

I think it is enough for Christians to follow Christian rules, but I think that we have to be careful and also humble enough to recognize that even the disciples did not always get it right every time. I don't know that we can take that chance either.

Thanks for your comment.

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LGMarshall
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LGMarshall

Loved the scripture you chose, and yes, it's a jagged pill. (because our real selves are so selfish).

God (the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob...) always intended his people to have him as their exclusive Ruler, but as you know, the Hebrews wanted to be like the pagan communities, and have their own 'King'. And that is the way things have been ever since.... (although, hugely disappointing to God). Now we live in a country were 'Separation of Church & State', has morphed into something completely different than it was intended. Personally, I would much rather live in a Christian country, that had God & his Word as our only rule of Law. Considering, the present state of violence & immorality, would it be so bad to teach Bible Truth in the public arena? What harm would come of it?

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