Whether Christians Should Ever Challenge Authority

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Should Christians just do what we’re told? Some say almost always “yes” to this question. But there is more we need to consider. For instance, what happens to godly self-control if someone who claims authority actually is superseding control over us which we should be exercising over ourselves?

This leads into a whole host of additional questions. For starters, who can be said to have rightful authority over us? We should question jurisdiction if someone seems to be overstepping bounds. But even with legitimate authorities, we need to know where the boundaries should be drawn, since there should be boundaries.

Consider briefly the exercises of authority. At a minimum, the one in authority will tell us what we can and cannot do. But where social and group dynamics relate to favored or disfavored actions, they may also tell us what we can and cannot say, since our words and statements will by nature influence the behavior of ourselves and those we communicate with. A particularly savvy authority figure may even tell us what we should or should not think, feel, and believe, recognizing that these in turn influence what we do and say.

On a related note, we should say something about arguments from authority, and how they are typically predicated on some legitimate claim to authority, even by those who do not personally hold that authority, so long as the authority can be cited in support of the claim or argument. However, just as importantly, we must recognize that arguments from authority serve as logical fallacies if the claims made are false and the authority is presumed absolute though it is not.

We should note also how such logical fallacies can all too often be employed capriciously, and to both destructive and even malicious ends, serving particularly to derail efforts by their targets to know, understand, and act according to truth and goodness.

Yet I maintain that an authority should be questioned and even opposed by Christians if it is immoral, and actively does wrong or else prevents the doing of what is right; if it is ungodly, either actively or passively requiring disobedience to God; if it is unlawful – it violates the very laws which it presumes to derive authority from; if it is unreasonable, and it speaks and operates from what appears to be folly, yet refuses to give a just accounting when one is politely requested; or if it is arbitrary, and the basis for its decisions is subjective, internal, secretive, and inconsistent.

In relation to these tests, something should also be said about the undesirability of being under the kind of authority which is wielded in slavery and tyranny.

Under slavery, for one, the individual is regarded as the property and material of others. And where unchecked by either limitations or abolition, this institution invariably leads to the abuse of slaves by masters due to man’s sinful nature.

Under tyranny, meanwhile, the interests and rights of the individual are given no consideration compared with what is presented as the collective good, whether rightly or wrongly. And this is much like slavery, where absent either limitations or abolition, the absolute authority of the tyrant over subjects and citizens invariably leads to the abuse of the same due to man’s sinful nature.

The quick test for whether an authority has designs on enslavement of a people, or else to become a tyrant over them, is whether the figure in question holds the entire notion of self-control by his would-be subjects in contempt, or as an ever-present threat to the control of the governing authorities over the will of the governed.

Benevolent rule, meanwhile, defends and upholds the self-control of its subjects by protecting it from predators of various kinds, both internal and external. Put another way, good government sees itself as also under proper authority, particularly to what is objectively good and true.

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