When I was in high school I was into the local punk rock scene in Green Bay. Believe it or not, this scene was actually a fairly safe haven in contrast to the many alternatives of booze and drug filled parties. There I found a group of teens who, by and large were accepting, who cared more about music than getting high or drunk, and who were fairly idealistic. While there were many good ideals which we got behind (to varying degrees), I would say one was not a good idea to get behind: rebellion against authority.
It really is nothing new. Almost every generation sees the next generation come up and rebel against the established institution. I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve done some reading lately in the field of ethics and natural law. Truth be told, authority is a good thing.
We actually see this throughout creation. Dogs run in packs with pack leaders, businesses follow the direction of a CEO, governments are based on the idea of a hierarchical authority, churches as they are organized inevitably form some sort of authoritative structure with a pope/bishop/president holding some authoritative responsibility, and families work best when there is the structure of authority. Really when one takes a step back and looks at the world, one must conclude that authority is built in. What I would like to suggest is that this is a good thing.
Of course, we do live in a fallen world. As such, abuse of this authority pops up everywhere, from the dog pack, to the corporation, to the church, and to the family. It is helpful then to remember the Latin axiom abusus non tollit usum, or “the abuse does not remove the use”.
We get a perfect picture of authority without abuse in both the Trinity and also in the person and work of Christ. Within the Trinity there is order: At the head is the Father, and Christ obeys the Good will of the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from Father and Son, but does not draw attention to Himself, but to Christ and His redemptive death on the cross. Christ Himself is also the Head of the Church. The Church, as His bride is obedient to His Word, but here’s where we see things seemingly flipped on its head. Normally, when we think authority we think of power and selfishness (especially thanks to Nietzsche and Hegel) . But with Christ as head of the Church, authority is redefined. Authority and headship are expressed in service, and selfless sacrifice.
For the Christian this should be earth shattering, worldview changing stuff. One who is called to run a business ought think of himself as servant to his neighbor (who are both customers, employees, and investors) looking out for what is best for each. The father of a family puts the interests and needs of his family above his own. As Paul says in Ephesians 5, loving them as Christ loved the Church and gave His life up for the Church. The institutional church leader or pastor takes on the role of servant, of father, of undershepherd to the Good Shepherd faithfully doing what Christ has given him to do, namely preaching the Gospel, forgiving sins, and administering the sacraments.
CEOs, pastors, and fathers will fail in this fallen world. They will try to accumulate power, act in selfish ways, and lord what power they have over others as they refuse to trust, refuse to serve, and refuse to listen. This is wrong. On all accounts this is where confession of sins and forgiveness is absolutely needed. Thanks be to God, that because of the headship of God the Father, His Son was sent as our Head to offer Himself as a sacrifice to accomplish that forgiveness that we so desperately need.