If you are an American reading this blog, I can guarantee you have an aversion to authority. If there were two values that almost every American shares, it would be individualism and freedom. The social revolt that happened in the 1960s, which happens to still influence us today, was all about cultural freedom. It was about freedom of thought, expression, sexual expression, and an attempt to shed any authoritative structure that seemed to be oppressive. But it is as David Brooks says, “Efforts to weaken oppressive authority ends up corroding all authority.” The dream of this generation that wanted to be liberated from all oppressive authority was that this new found freedom would usher in a new era of hope because people would act responsibly once they were given ultimate freedom of choice. We, in a sense, wanted to make ourselves the only king or queen in our world without any checks and balances.
I would say that the Bible puts forth a completely different idea than this. Scripture is thoroughly communal and calls for submission over and over. I believe Oswald Chambers would warn American Christians in this way: “Beware of refusing to go to the funeral of your own independence.” I love that mental image because it flips everything we know and love about America on its head. Or another one of my favorite writers, the Apostle Paul, would counter our cultural mentality with this: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”
And I would say the question for every Christian is this: “Who sits on the throne of your life?” If you’re around church long enough, you’ll learn that the socially correct answer is “God,” but how does this play out for you in your practical life? Who makes all of the decisions for you in your life (How you dress, what you eat, what you do with your free time, how you spend your money, etc.)? How do you respond when someone has a differing opinion and wants you to go in a different direction? How do you act (or react) when you feel you’ve been wronged? Is there someone that you consistently submit yourself to because you have given him or her permission to speak authoritatively in your life? If you do not have someone (or a group of “someones”) speaking into your life, I say you need to do whatever it takes to get dethroned.
If you do not have anyone that represents an “authority” in your life right now, I can guarantee you are headed for a disaster. In fact, if the only person you answer to is God, I can guarantee you are headed for a disaster. The reason I can say that with such certainty is that you are a fallen individual that is incapable of judging your own life without being unbiased. We need someone external to sit on our throne because we are all ruined individuals. And fallen creatures are incapable of handling absolute freedom with any sense of responsibility. This is why Madeleine L’Engle says, “The more freedom we are given, the more possibilities we have of abusing this freedom.”
If we are to be known as followers of Christ, then it should all boil down to whether or not you and I are willing to relinquish our hold on all we possess, our hold on our affections, and on everything, and to be identified with the death of Jesus Christ? This is a tough question with real consequences. Jesus submitted to God and others and ended up dying a painful death. In fact, the soldiers around the cross taunted him, daring him to use his authority to end his suffering in that moment. And Jesus’ response was once again submission to God’s will and these fallen people’s collective will. Until I and other American Christians get over our aversion to authority, it is going to be difficult to really say we are truly “followers of Christ.” Until I begin to let others lord over me and I accept it joyfully, I cannot really say I am “identified with the death of Jesus Christ” and am “crucified with Christ.” When the day comes that I allow myself to get dethroned from the seat of my own independence, I believe that will be the day that I will also find what it truly means to live “in Christ.”