Don't Hate Authority, Hate Abuse of Authority
Christ Demonstrating the Proper Affect of One in Authority
We live in times where the powers that be are increasingly losing the trust of the average person. Young people look around today and what they see in high places is layer upon layer of corruption. They see it in government, they see it in the media. They see corruption at the upper tiers of much of the corporate world, and especially in high finance.
It would be easy for them to take the wrong lesson from what they have experienced and I fear that many of them are taking the wrong lesson. Rather than objecting to the abuse of authority, they are very close to rejecting the legitimacy of authority itself, especially as it relates to governmental authority. In so doing, they risk becoming rebels, not just against illegitimate authority, but against all authority, just or unjust.
I'd like to make government a lot smaller than it is now, in particular I'd like to reduce the power, scope, and cost of the central government. But that does not mean that I think we'd be better off without a government. As bad as a corrupt government is, the realities of living without a government in a society of fallen people would be much worse. One of many reasons I exhort people to live a life of personal virtue is that it permits the reduction of government. Virtuous people have no need of masters. The weak and the wicked do. Thus a virtuous population is the best defense against big government.
It's true that for most of human history government has been wicked, violent, and oppressive. It often represented nothing more than the toughest gang rather than an institution with the just mission of preserving the rights of those under its protection. In the West, that changed as a new concept of what authority meant and how it ought to be exercised saturated the culture. Authority become more than power under this new concept, it became a duty of love and justice. Where did this new concept come from and how did it differ from what happened before? And most critically, why is it fading from the cultural fabric?
The new concept of authority, which changed the world, came from the scriptures. In Mark chapter 10 (Amplified version) James and John ask to be Christs' right and left hand man in the Kingdom He is setting up. They want the authority. The other disciples get indignant at James and John because of their request. In a beautiful passage of Scripture, Jesus explains the difference between what "authority" means and how it is used in His Kingdom vs. what it means and how it is used in the Gentile nations, whose governments lack the wisdom of Divine guidance......
42 But Jesus called them to [Him] and said to them, You know that those who are recognized as governing and are supposed to rule the Gentiles (the nations) lord it over them [ruling with absolute power, holding them in subjection], and their great men exercise authority and dominion over them.43 But this is not to be so among you; instead, whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant,44 And whoever wishes to be most important and first in rank among you must be slave of all.45 For even the Son of Man came not to have service rendered to Him, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for ([y]instead of) many.
Various people, at various stages of their lives, can benefit from authority. When my young anarcho-capitalist friends have children of their own they will better understand. Authority, even government authority, is not intrinsically evil. At its best it restrains evil. Even a very corrupt government, if it rules an even more corrupt population, can restrain evil. But like Washington said, it's like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master. As long as the weak and wicked are among us, it will be needed in some form.
Even today the high officials of many governments in the Old World are called "ministers" out of recognition that their office was supposed to be one of service to God and man. In the United States they secularized the titles in part because they were leery of government's attempt to co-opt religion for the state's own use, but the Biblical concept of authority ran deep in the culture.
What's happened to us is that we have separated from our culture the conviction that the Biblical world view is the correct one. Why be surprised then when the uniquely just view of authority upheld in scripture is lost as well? When one tosses out the baby of the Christ Child, the cleansing bath water of a high view of government goes with Him. What happens then is that those in power, freed from the restraint of a Godly view of authority permeating the culture, revert to the more corrupt exercise of power which predated the ascension of the Judo-Christian concept. Those young people who arrived after the eclipse of the previous view of authority look at authority, and all they see it rot. No wonder they conclude that authority is intrinsically wicked.
Of course, properly exercised authority (that is, exercised in the manner prescribed by Christ) is not evil at all. It's service, not self-serving. It protects rights, it does not threaten them. It's not a cover-up of their dirt, it's a clean-up of dirt for those under their authority. Just before the Crucifixion He bowed down and washed the feet of His disciples. They protested that it was not right that He, the Messiah, was washing their feet, but He was trying to show them something. This is what Authority looks like when properly exercised. It's humility and service.
12 So when He had finished washing their feet and had put on His garments and had sat down again, He said to them, Do you understand what I have done to you?13 You call Me the Teacher (Master) and the Lord, and you are right in doing so, for that is what I am.14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher (Master), have washed your feet, you ought [it is your duty, you are under obligation, you owe it] to wash one another’s feet.
We don't need anarchy, not while we are still this weak and wayward. Nor do we need more rulers who buy into the pre-Christian concept of authority. We need a return to a concept of authority that subjects it to the Highest Authority of all.