Confessions of a Church: Authority and Responsibility

Deuteronomy 17:8-19 New American Standard Bible 1995
 “If any case is too difficult for you to decide, between one kind of homicide or another, between one kind of lawsuit or another, and between one kind of assault or another, being cases of dispute in your courts, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them and they will declare to you the verdict in the case. You shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the Lord chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.

 “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’ He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.

 “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 

Authority is necessary for any societal structure to function. Authority and submission are fundamental. They were in the Garden before the Fall, and they remain after the Fall. There can be no organization, no order anywhere, if everyone just kind of does what they want, and no one is in charge. Someone must have responsibility, and their word must be final. Regardless of what anyone says, everyone lives as if this is true.

The first half of our passage exhorts us to submit to the authority of pastors and elders as they judge controversies between us. Yes, it is speaking of priests and judges, but commands to the Jews in the Old Covenant continue to apply to Christians in the Church in the New Covenant. By implication, this passage also exhorts us to submit to governing authorities over us.
Admit it, after seeing how the sausage gets made at the state capitol this week, as our legislators debated abortion legislation, and after the failures of civil authorities at all levels these past few years, none of us are in a mood to submit to authority. We all think we can do the job better. We resent those who tell us to wear masks, or drive 65 miles per hour, or install car seats, or to only sell pasteurized milk.

Yet if all of us does just did as we pleased, the structure of society would soon collapse. Authority isn’t just sound reasoning or having the right opinions; it is responsibility.
Before we go, take a look at the last half of our passage. Right after the command to submit to priests and judges, our passage gives specific limits to the power and privileges of the future king of Israel. The principle that authority should be limited and that no one is above the law is found in this passage. Ben Franklin didn’t come up with it. Thomas Jefferson didn’t write Deuteronomy. God’s Word teaches us that there are times and places to Defy Tyrants, but we will not know when those times are if we are not submissive, patient and obedient first.

Prayer of Confession
Heavenly Father, we are sinners who are jealous to always have things our own way. We don’t listen to the wisdom of others and think we are wiser than authorities, both in the Church and in society. In our arrogance we are like the fool in Proverbs; we only want to hear ourselves talk. At the same time, when real tyranny arises in a favorite pastor or politician, we are apt to excuse it, and not apply God’s law to everyone, both small and great. We both complain about tyranny, and also aid and abet tyranny. Teach us to be grateful for the good authorities we do have, and to be wise as we oppose authorities who encroach their proper bounds. Help us to be meek and respectful, but also firm where Your Word requires it. We ask this in the Name of Jesus Christ Your Son, Amen.