Accept Authority as a God-given Grace

If you are new to the series, I’d really appreciate if you would take a few minutes to read my preface and purpose here first and while you are at it, read the first article here and the second one here. Welcome, friend.

I don’t want to write this one. I’m not even sure how to feel about this one. I get squirrely when I hear words like “theocracy.” I live in a world that quickly wriggles away from authority figures, particularly any authority that’s too dogmatic. I don’t understand enough about history to know when this trend began.

What caused the hippies to believe bucking authority would bring world peace a mere sixty years ago? What caused my grandparents to conform to a sedate, conservative, self-sacrificing way of life under the authority of an ordinary man they called “bishop”? They grew up in the same generation as the flower children, after all.

I’ve heard it said that strong belief in anything follows generational cycles. Generation one claims the belief and lives and dies for it. Generation two lives the belief quietly. Generation three throws away the belief or at least struggles with it, wrestling it to make it their own.

Maybe this is my generation.

Even as I see some of my generation letting go of the cultural system that raised them, I see many more staying. What keeps us here? Why do I submit myself to the authority of a church and conform to its “Statement of Faith and Practice”? How has my culture trained me to accept authority as the God-given grace I believe it is?

I remember attending ordinations even as a young girl. While the mid-afternoon preaching seemed tedious and boring, I knew to sit up straighter when two dark-suited men at the front took a few hymn books (as many as there were candidates) and a slip of paper inscribed with Proverbs 16:33 into a front room.

There the first man placed the slip of paper at the hymn number the officiating bishop had indicated. Then he shuffled the books. The second man did not watch him. Instead, he waited until the first man finished, then he too shuffled the books. Both men return with one of them carrying all the books and laying them out in the order he chose. By now, no one knew where the life-changing slip of paper was.

Then, the candidates were instructed to take a book as they felt led by the spirit. After each candidate had taken a book, the officiating bishop would take the first book out of the first candidate’s hand. Carrying the hymn book to the pulpit, he would open it to the pre-assigned song. He would do this for each candidate until he found the slip of paper. Then he read it for all to hear.

The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.

Proverbs 16:33

Years later, after I became a church member, I became part of the rest of the process.

  • Months before an ordination, the present leadership share the need for another leader with the church and set a date.
  • The Sunday before the ordination, the morning message is about the role of leadership in the church.
  • Wednesday evening, another service is held in which the qualifications of a church leader are taught based on I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
  • Thursday evening, after a short meditation, members sing in the sanctuary, while they wait their turn to go downstairs and share the name of the man they feel God has impressed upon them. If they do not have a name, they simply wish the Lord’s blessing on the ordination.
  • Friday evening, after a short devotional, the names of the candidates are announced. (Those whose names were given at least three times.)
  • Saturday, everyone tries to go about their normal lives, while praying for the Lord’s will to be done.
  • Sunday morning, a visiting minister shares a message encouraging the congregation to support God’s choice.
  • Finally, Sunday afternoon, the ordination is held.

Our churches follow this process, because we believe it’s biblical, like the early church used in Acts 1. It reminds us that authority is given, like Jesus said to Pilate, “You could have no power at all against me, unless it were given you from above” (John 19:11).

Granted, there have been and will be men who’ve let the power go to their heads and have abused their God-given authority.

So how can this God-given authority be a grace. It is a grace for both the follower and the leader.

The Follower Submits.

A couple years ago, I attended a Unitarian Church. Once. It was a Worldviews assignment.

After the service, the congregation served a potluck lunch. I sat beside a middle-aged blonde and as we chatted, I discovered she was a Quaker but her husband was not (a Catholic or Protestant maybe?).

She eventually asked me about my head covering and I explained to her first how it hides the sacred beauty of a woman’s hair. I also tried to explain to her how it is symbolizes submission. I added that in I Corinthians 11, God establishes an order based on the abilities and roles God gave each gender. Simply, women are under man’s authority, and men are under God’s authority, which means that women are also indirectly under God’s authority.

This says nothing about who is better and everything about what we are made to be.

I was nervous as I explained it, knowing how the feminist movement has stolen much of femininity. Yet, as I watched her face, I saw understanding and appreciation.

What words can I use for you, friend, if you cannot see the sincerity of my face.

I wish I could look each woman in the world in the eye and remind her, “You don’t actually want to be in charge. You don’t want it to be your fault if the wrong decision is made. You want your voice to be heard, and any good authority will listen to those he’s responsible for; but you don’t actually want to have it all on your shoulders.” There’s a reason why women police officers are often not as kind (though I’ve met kind ones). There’s a reason why Aslan said, “Wars get ugly when women fight,” even though he had just affirmed that Lucy was brave enough to fight (C. S. Lewis in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe).

Recently, the leading committee of the group I sing with passed out sheets asking for feedback on song selections. I used the “notes” space to share what one of the songs meant to me. At the following meeting, one of the leaders asked if he could share some of what I wrote. I was delighted, because I was hoping for an opportunity, but I didn’t know how I’d say it without rambling. He simply took what I’d written and summarized it in a beautiful way. He took the stress out of the situation, while validating my perspective. Could I have spoken for myself? Yes, but it actually was better this way.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I’ve been in plenty of scenarios where I’ve been less than patient or submissive, but in every situation where I’ve been under good leaders, I’ve felt secure in the headship order of God.

Recently, my imagination caught on the second verse of Isaac Watts’ “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Isaac Watts

Under the shadow of His wings, yes, but why throne? How can His throne protect us? I had an inkling of an idea, but out of curiosity, I researched the symbolism of the throne. W. R. Huntington writes that the throne symbolizes stability, “the settled place whence authority springs.” He adds that the throne implies continuity: it is not swayed by changes around it (read more). Submitting ourselves to the authority of God through the visible authorities He places in our lives, places us under His protection.

My friend Rebecca shares these words:

The God-ordained structure of authority is a far cry from tyranny. It is an order, and when we are in our places within that order, the work of God can proceed with peace. God created us to be under authority; true fulfilment can only come when we are satisfied in the place He has designed us for.

Rebecca Weber

God’s order–man submitting to God’s authority, leading woman as God leads him–provides the safest way home.

Come back November 14ish for the second half of this post where I explore how “Authority Is a God-given Grace” to the leader. Yes, women are called to positions of leadership, just in different ways. Right moms?

Meanwhile, fellow Anabaptists, what stories or testimonies do you have of God’s order being a blessing in your life? Why do you think women find it easy to step outside their role? Curious onlookers, what do you find confusing or compelling about this perspective? How do you feel about submission?

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