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*Frequently asked questions*
The Bible, the written word of God, is our sole authority in answering all questions pertaining to our spiritual life. However, in reading the Bible, we must keep in mind that the Bible is not written like a book of science where each statement is exact and complete in itself, nor like a book of law where the goal is to elaborate matters in sections and sub-sections so as to avoid loopholes. The Bible is written for the heart, and can be understood in its proper sense only by those who are spiritually minded (1Co.2:14), and who desire to do the will of God once it is revealed (Jn.7:17). Those who want to argue against the word of God can always find arguments, and those who do not want to obey what God says can appear to find words of God themselves to support their stand. Please read the following with an open heart and a willingness to know God's ways and obey them. - Jacob Ninan
Authority and submission
1. Can you give us some examples of what you mean by authority?
There are plenty of examples of human authority we encounter in daily life, such as that of parents over children, husbands over wives, teachers over students, bosses over subordinates, policemen and judges over ordinary citizens, etc. There is also spiritual authority God gives to some over people under their care.
2. What does the Bible teach us about authority?
Ro.13:1-5 teaches us that authority has been established by God, and that therefore those under authority should submit to authority. It says that if we are interested in doing what is right and good, we don't have to fear authority, because authorities are set up to ensure that those under authority do what is good and right. The Bible warns us that those who resist authority will bear the consequence from God who has set up the authority.
3. What examples does the Bible give about submitting to authority?
The best example is given by Jesus Himself. The Bible says that Jesus subjected Himself to His earthly parents while He was a child under their care (Lk.2:51). We need to take special note of this because He did this just because He was under their authority as a Child, and not because they were superior to Him. He was always subject to God His Father. In this case His submission was seen in that He always did what the Father told Him, and also that He never did anything on His own (Jn.8:28,29;5:30).
There are several examples of those who did not submit to authority. There are two outstanding ones. Moses was a most humble man whom God had appointed as the leader of Israel (Nu.12:3). Miriam and Aaron, his older sister and brother, found fault with him and openly questioned why they should listen to him, because they felt that they were also equally spiritual! (v.1,2). In another case, Korah and some of his friends started a rebellion against Moses because they thought that Moses was going too far and exalting himself, which was actuallly far from the truth (Nu.16). In both these cases, God came down severely on those who rebelled against authority.
4. Why did God set up authority? Aren't we all supposed to be equal?
In one sense we are all the same. As far as God is concerned, He loves us all, and He has no partiality (De.10:17;Ro.2:11). By setting up someone as an authority over us, God is not saying that someone is more important to Him than another. But authority is required in order to maintain order and discipline. Authority is also required to guide people in the right path for their own good. For example, parents who watch over their children both plan and care for the children and also discipline the children so that it might go well with them in every way. The policemen who guide the traffic help to keep everything in order so that people may not get hurt.
5. I agree that certain types of authority is good, for example that of parents over their children. But don't you think that not all authority is necessary? For example, why should wives submit to their husbands, especially in these modern days?
It may look like that at first, when you think that modern wives may be more or less on an equal footing in many ways. When wives are also educated and earn as much as their husbands, or perhaps are more educated or earn more, it may looks as though it is unrealistic to expect wives to submit. But remember that God is not unrealistic and that He never makes unfair rules. This arrangement in a family is what He has made in order to keep order and discipline in the family. Someone has to make the final decision, doesn't he? The way God has designed man and woman and the family, it is the husband who is the head of the family (Ep.5:23).
When God says that in the home the husband is the head of the wife, it does not mean that the wife is inferior or less important than the husband. (The historical practice of men treating their wives as if they were slaves or second class citizens was totally wrong.) In God's sight, they are both joint heirs of the grace of life (1Pe.3:7), and there is no difference between men and women spiritually (Ga.3:28). Women are to submit to their own husband (Tit.2:4,5), meaning women do not have to submit to men in general! The best example of equality with authority is the Trinity, where the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all equal, but the Son submits to the Father.
While we recognise this order or hierarchy for decision making, we must not forget that none of us is complete without the others. There are many things husbands need to discuss with their wives or parents with their (older) children. There should be place for expressing differences of opinion and discussing them. There must be willingness to listen and make changes when we see that somebody has a better suggestion. In the name of authority and submission many homes tend to become dictatorial, and there any expression of dissent is considered as rebellion! Imagine when we have teenage children and we do not listen to them or give them space to find their own life! That is a sure recipe for disaster.
We must also remember that there may be things on which we may not be able to agree. If these are not crucial issues, we may find it better for the sake of love and peace to agree to disagree till we have better understanding.
Families which keep it that way have it good.
6. Aren't the people who have authority going to have a cushy time, with the others submitting to them?
No authority is without responsibility. Those who have authority have a serious responsibility over the others. The Bible says that those who have spiritual responsibility over others have to give an account for these others also to God (He.13:7). Those who take that seriously have a lot of extra burden to carry.
7. What does it mean to submit to authority?
Submission does not always mean obedience. It is essentially an attitude of respect to authority whom God has placed over us. We need to obey those who are in authority over us as long as they are telling us to do things within their sphere of authority and as long as they are not against the commandments of God. For example, a subordinate has to do what his boss tells him concerning his job. But he does not need to obey if the boss tells him how to run his home or to do anything unrighteous.
8. What is spiritual authority?
Human authority is by way of position in life. Spiritual authority is by way of spiritual maturity. A spiritual man has authority with God and over men. By virtue of his knowledge of God, and intimacy with God based on long years of experience, he can talk freely with God in a way that ordinary people cannot. There is much power in such a man's prayers (Jas.5:16). There are several examples of such men in the Bible. Such a man is also entrusted with authority over men so that he can watch over their spiritual life and help them along (He.13:17). His knowledge of God and spiritual discernment can help other people in their own spiritual growth and also in dealing with their problems.
9. What does it mean to submit to spiritual authority?
It is in essence an attitude of heart that gives respect to such an authority. How much you do what the man in authority tells you regarding your personal spiritual life depends on how much you and he know God and His ways. If you are spiritually young and he is mature, it is good to recognise that the chances are that he is right. If you have doubts about what he says it is still good to take it before God and ask Him what to do.
It is to God that you must be true and it is to Him that you have to give an account (Ge.17:1;Ro.14:12). You can never obey any man blindly, without questioning, because no man is perfect. It is only God whom you can obey without question. If you don't recognise that the man with spiritual authority over you is also human you can go wrong, and you may also make him feel as if he was infallible. You must never allow yourself to become a slave of man. At the same time don't be such an independent character that you don't listen to anyone. It is God who has placed people in the church to help you (Ep.4:11,12). Recognise that you need them.
10. By spiritual authority do you mean all the people who are responsible for churches and Christian organisations?
The ideal situation is that people holding such responsibilities will be spiritually mature people. But in reality there are all kinds of sad variations. Some are placed in responsible positions based merely on their knowledge of the Bible or their natural skills at preaching or organising things. Some reach such position even by manipulation or unrighteous methods.
11. If the person with authority over me in the church is not really spiritual should I still submit to him?
Let us start by pointing out that 'all authority' is from God (Ro.13:1). There is also no question of staying there with a spirit of rebellion. If you can find a better church where you can live and grow spiritually, you could consider that. On the other hand, if you are thinking of certain imperfections which you have noticed in him, please remember that no one is perfect (neither are you), and no church is perfect either.
If you find that his heart is really taken up with the Lord and that he is sincerely trying to encourage others to love God and one another, you should be thankful for him and bear with any weakness or fault you might find in him.
If you are staying on, have a 'spirit' of submission in recognising that he is in charge and not you. You have to do what he says when it concerns the practical running of the church. At the same time, this does not mean that you 'have to' do everything that he tells you, especially when it concerns your personal life. The Bible gives a guideline that even when we listen to people preaching prophetically, we must judge before the Lord what they say in order to see if they are right (1Co.14:29). We must see if what they say agrees with what the Bible says (Ac.17:11). Ultimately it is to God that you have to give an account.
12. Are there not people who misuse their authority?
Of course. There are those who will want you, your money or your skills for their own gain. You must be careful not to allow yourself to be manipulated like that. There are also many men who claim to have spiritual authority and who keep people under their thumb using threats of consequences if they left. Some also cultivate a sense of guilt and inadequacy among the people because of which they have to cling on to the leaders. If you find that your 'spiritual' leader is seeking things for himself it is time to ask the Lord for guidance on what you must do.
13. How are we supposed to 'submit to one another' (Eph.5:21)?
Irrespective of the roles we have, there are times when we should recognise that what another person says is better than what we ourselves think. Then it is wise to 'submit' to him or her and accept what they say. What we need to remember is that we are right some of the time and also wrong some other times, and it is the same case with the others. If we can stop considering the question, "Who is right?" or "Who is wrong?" but ask the question, "What is right or good?" we will find it a lot easier to submit to one another.
Write if you have questions or comments about this subject.