The proper limit of submission to authority
Submission being absolute, but obedience being relative
Submission is a matter of attitude, but obedience is a matter of conduct. Acts 4:19 says, “But Peter and John answered and said to them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you judge.” The apostles, however, were not rebellious in their spirit; they were still submitting to all those who were in authority. Obedience is not absolute. Some authorities we have to obey, but others we cannot obey. The latter include those who touch on basic matters of the Christian faith, such as our belief in the Lord and the liberty of preaching the gospel. A son can say anything to his father. But there cannot be any attitude of rebellion. Our submission should always be absolute. In some matters we can be obedient at the same time that we are submissive. In other matters we cannot be obedient, but we still have to remain submissive. All these are a matter of attitude.
Acts 15 is an example of a church conference. In a conference we can suggest or debate. But when the decision is reached, everyone should be submissive.
The limit of obeying the deputy authority
If there are parents who force their children to stop attending church meetings, the children should be submissive in their attitude, but they must not obey. This is like the apostles preaching the gospel. When the Jewish synagogue stopped them, they were submissive in their attitude, but in practice they went on according to the commission of the Lord. They chose to preach the gospel rather than be restricted by the synagogue. It was not a defiance with quarrels and shouting, but a defiance with calmness. At any rate, there must never be any attitude of stubbornness or words of contradiction against those in authority. Once a man meets authority, he becomes soft and pliant. The submission of a person in heart, attitude, and words must be absolute. There must not be any stubbornness or rebellion.
When the deputy authority (the one representing God’s authority) clashes with the direct authority (God), one must be submissive to the deputy authority but must not be obedient to it. We will summarize the matter in three points:
(1) Obedience is a matter of conduct; it is relative. Submission is a matter of attitude; it is absolute.
(2) Only God is the object of unlimited submission. Man, who is less than God, should only receive limited submission.
(3) If the deputy authority gives an order that is obviously contrary to God’s order, we can only submit; we cannot obey. We must submit only to the authority of God. We do not obey the orders that are contrary to God.
If parents ask their children to go to places that the children do not like to go to, and if there is no sin involved in the matter, we have a borderline case. Submission is absolute. But obedience is another matter. If your parents force you to go, then you have no choice but to go. But if they do not force you to do it, you do not have to go. If all children have this attitude, God will release them in their environments.
Examples in the Bible
(1)The midwives and the mother of Moses disobeyed the order of Pharaoh so that the life of Moses could be preserved. The Bible calls them women of faith.
(2)The three friends of Daniel did not worship the golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar. They disobeyed the order of the king, yet they submitted to the king’s burning.
(3)Daniel defied the decree in order to pray to God, yet he submitted to the king’s judgment to be thrown into the lion’s den.
(4)Joseph escaped with the Lord Jesus to Egypt to avoid the killing by King Herod.
(5)Peter went contrary to the charge of those in the synagogue and preached the gospel. He also said that it was right to obey God rather than men. Yet he submitted to the rulers’ chains and imprisonment.
Definite marks of submission to authority
How do we know if a person is one who submits to authority? Here are a few marks:
(1) As soon as a person meets authority, he will look for authority everywhere. The church is the organ for the training of Christian submission to authority. In the whole world there is no such thing as submission. But a Christian must learn submission. He must, moreover, submit from the heart, not just in an outward way. Once a person learns submission, he will look for authority wherever he goes.
(2) Once a man meets God’s authority, he will soften, wither, and weaken. This is because he has become fearful of making mistakes; he is a truly soft person.
(3) Those who have met authority will not like to be the authority. They will have no desire or interest to be an authority. They have no joy in giving opinions or in controlling others. Those who submit to authority are always afraid of making mistakes. But many love to be God’s counselors. Only those who do not know authority love to be the authority.
(4) Those who have met authority will have their mouths shut. They will be restricted. They will not dare to speak carelessly, because they have the consciousness of authority with them.
(5) If a man has met authority, any transgression in others will be detected by him immediately. He will see through many lawlessnesses and realize many rebellions. He will then come to know that the principle of lawlessness abounds everywhere, in the world as well as in the church. Only those who have met authority can lead others to learn submission. Only when the brothers and sisters are submissive to authority will the church have a testimony and a way on earth.
Upholding the order of authority depending on the knowledge of authority
If a man has not met authority and does not know the principle of submission to authority, he cannot bring others into the way of submission and authority. If you put two dogs together, you cannot make one the authority and make the other submit to authority. This is useless. If a man meets authority, everything is solved. Once he violates authority, he will realize that he has violated God. If a man has not seen authority, it is useless to point out his mistakes. When such a situation occurs, we have to withdraw and take care lest we fall into the same realm of rebellion.
Martin Luther and leaving the denominations
It was right for Martin Luther to rise up to speak for the basic principle of justification by faith. It is also right for us to leave the denominations to stand as the testimony of oneness in the local church. Since we have seen the glory of Christ and the Body of Christ, we cannot have any other name apart from the name of the Lord. The Lord’s name is of foremost importance. Why is salvation not only through the blood of Christ but also through the name of the Lord? This is because the Lord’s name means resurrection and ascension. God has only one way of salvation, and He has placed this under the name of the Lord. In baptism we are baptized into the name of the Lord, and our meeting together is in the name of the Lord. Therefore, the cross and the blood alone cannot solve the problem of denominations. If a man sees the glory of ascension, he cannot insist on any name other than that of the Lord’s. We can only exalt the Lord’s name. There cannot be any other name. Today’s denominational organizations are overthrowing the Lord’s glory. This is a blasphemy to the Lord.
Life and authority
The church is maintained by two things: life and authority. The life is for us to submit to authority. The difficulties in the church seldom arise from disobedience. They mainly arise from an unwillingness to submit. The principle of our life is that of submission, in the same way that the principle of the bird life is to fly in the air, and the principle of the fish life is to swim in the water.
The way of oneness in Ephesians 4 seems far off now. But if men meet authority, the way is not far away. All of the saints may have differences of opinion, but there is no rebellion. The submission is from the heart. Then we will all arrive at the oneness of the faith. Today the life is here, and the principle of life is also opened to us. If the Lord is merciful to us, we will be able to take up this way quickly. Today life is not only for us to deal with sin. That is only the negative aspect. Life is also for submission. This is more crucial, and is the positive aspect of it. Once the spirit of rebellion departs from us, the spirit of submission will be recovered, and the situation in Ephesians 4 will be manifested before our eyes. If all the churches take the way of submission, these glorious facts will unfold before our eyes.