We all have complicated a relationship with those who have authority over us. Some of us immediately comply to whatever our boss orders. Others of us have learned to walk the fine line between healthy insubordination and being fired. Some of us take whatever medicine we are prescribed, without question, because we assume physicians to be authorities on our medical conditions. Others of us, double-check every pill on the web. Some people believe whatever their pastor says about the Bible, others have their own interpretation. Jesus gets asked the authority question. In Matthew 21:21, the temple authorities ask him how he came to be an authority on religious practice.
Jesus’ response is illuminating. He pointed to John the Baptist, an un-credentialed peasant prophet. Until his death, John had been speaking out against the religious authorities and politicians of his day. Many people came to believe John to be a better expert on spiritual things than the priests and scholars of Jerusalem. They came out to the wilderness to hear John teach. They applauded John when he denounced Herod Antipas for marrying his brother’s wife. When John was beheaded for questioning the authority of the government (or was it for taking a knee during the National Anthem?) the priests and Pharisees thought that he got what he deserved. Jesus had good reason to be wary of those in authority over him.
How do we know if an authority figure is worthy of our compliance?
I think there are three rules:
1) Does what the authority figure ask of me prevent me from living a life of compassion? My highest calling is to show the world the love of Christ. If what the authority says or tweets prevents that, then he or she is a barking dog.
2) Is the authority well informed and do they invite me to check their sources for my self? In today’s internet age there is no excuse for our not fact-checking our authorities. When authorities propagate falsehoods, they should be denounced.
3) Is the authority figure a willing participant of a healthy process? For politicians in American, the process involves a deep respect for the constitution as a living document. For your workplace the process involves building corporate value by meeting customer needs. If your boss wants you to screw the customer over, they are short-sighted and evil. Christian pastors live within the dual confines of scriptural interpretation and their denomination’s process for decision making. For all of the above, the ends never justify the means.