By tomorrow morning (or maybe several days later), we’ll have an answer to the question the world is watching carefully, today: who will spend the next four years in the White House? Vice President Joe Biden or President Donald Trump? Everything’s been said and now we wait for Americans to cast our votes.
We’re sort of in limbo for twelve hours, so this is a good time for Christians to look at our hearts and ask whether we’re willing to honor and submit to any president—any president at all, but including Joe Biden?
Covid has given us a good look at the state of authority among Christians today, and it’s not been pretty. As rebellious as the next guy, still, I’ve been appalled at the attitude demonstrated among brothers in Christ. There are pastors who brag about their church growing because of their belligerating against civil authorities, seemingly oblivious to the terrible cost they will pay for this when, instead of civil authorities, it’s the authority of their new pastors and elders these rebels next turn against.
Pastors have even mocked those faithful pastors who have warned their flocks against this present Covid belligerating.
Talking with the present Covid belligerators, it’s clear they can’t conceive of anyone honoring and submitting to authorities who are wrong. This is the subtext behind all their talk of stats and studies and the Constitution: any authority who can be proven to be wrong in the general (or particulars) has lost his authority. If I can show him to be wrong in his rules and regulations, his claim to authority is not legitimate and I owe him no honor or submission.
This is the true spirit of our age: “I know better than my president, my governor, my mayor, my police, my pastor, my elders, my teachers, my husband, my mother, my father.”
This is the true spirit of our age.
President Trump and Governor John Doe have often been wrong in their decisions about Covid and the laws they have issued related to this virus. But this is the nature of all authority; “all of us often go wrong.” Wrongness doesn’t absolve us of obeying Scripture’s constant command that we honor and submit to those God has placed over us. Wrongness has defined all exercise of authority by every man since the Fall and showing ourselves superior in knowledge and judgment to our mother, father, husband, elders, pastor, mayor, governor, or president does not excuse our belligerating and rebellion. Not in the home. Not in the church. Not in society.
In Romans 9, the Apostle Paul is working to defend God against the church’s accusation that God our Heavenly Father had not kept His Word concerning the Jews—that He would be their God and the God of their children, to a thousand generations. The Apostle’s defense is multi-faceted, but as the letter goes on, the argument comes down to God’s sovereign choice; to God loving some and hating others:
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:20)
Like the believers in the church of Rome, we too quite naturally respond, “That ain’t fair! That ain’t right!”
Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul responds:
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”
On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? (Romans 9:18-20)
Yes, this is a defense of God’s authority, but it’s also a defense of the authority the Father Almighty has delegated to every human authority including the authority of our mayors, governors, and the President of the United States. We are to honor them. We are to call them “Lord.” We are to submit to them. We are to obey them.
No, certainly not when they command us to stop preaching in Jesus’ Name. That’s obvious. Certainly not when they command us to kill our little children. Certainly not when they command churches not to meet for worship, although we should have some healthy debates over the circumstances of those commands and where precisely the duty to obey ends and the duty to disobey begins (and we’ll certainly have disagreements over it).
But in the end, even those places where our elders lead us to disobey the civil magistrate should be done in such a way as to demonstrate their posture of honoring those authorities.
Life is full of authorities over us—every last one of us. We never escape it and we should live in such a way as to demonstrate to our children that we know one day soon we will be judged by the Father of all the earth—partly for how we honored and submitted to fallen men He Himself placed over us.
For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”
Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. (Matthew 8:9-10)