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Despising Authority

You won't get to a strong soul this way.

Toward a Strong Soul (5)

…the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. 2 Peter 2.9, 10

“Christianity as I see it”
Throughout this study on the nature and nurture of the soul, we have stressed the importance of submitting to the authority of God’s Word. Both for understanding the soul, and for caring for and improving it as we should, the Word of God is the last word on how we must be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures, and the Spirit of God speaking through them, tell us what to believe and how to practice our faith in daily words and deeds. We have no hope of nurturing a strong and stable soul apart from faithful, careful, and prayerful reading and study of God’s Word.

In the early Church, there were people who simply didn’t like being told what to believe. They wanted to be free to define the terms of Christian faith according to their own interests and passions. They didn’t want to have to fuss with such tedious things as “doctrine,” to submit to the disciplines of the life of faith, or to follow the leadership of any local church authorities. They resented those who acted like they had some kind of “calling from God” to be the chief teachers and shepherds of the flock. They wanted to live the Christian life the way they chose, and they didn’t want a lot of church leader-types looking askance at their preferred lifestyle.

In short, they despised all manner of authority, anyone in the church who seemed to think that he was in a better position than they were to decide what the proper understanding of Christian faith ought to be.

Experience above all
The apostles were constantly having to deal with such people. False teachers often stressed personal experience over right doctrine and made a great show of their eloquence. They played mind games with words, made a sport of debunking established authorities, such as Paul and John, and taught people to follow their heart’s desires rather than the austere and self-denying lifestyle of the apostles. They reserved the right to pursue what we might call “Christianity as I see it”, and they were very effective at spotting unstable souls who seemed to be of a like spirit, and could be easily enticed to follow them rather than the apostles.

Peter said that God knows how to keep such unrighteous people under punishment until the day of judgment. He knew how to do so then, and He knows how to do this still.

In every age of Church history, there have been people who don’t like to be told what to believe or how to behave. They reject fixed statements of doctrine and standard guidelines for such things as how to worship, or what ethical behavior is befitting a follower of Christ. They chafe at discipline and feel like they should be free to just “follow the Spirit” as He leads them day by day. They insist that they should be allowed to interpret the Bible and the faith of Christ according to their own needs, and they have worn their pretended autonomy as a red badge of courage against recognized leaders of the Church.

The only authority such people recognize is whatever lets them be Christians on their own terms. These are people of unstable souls. As long as they continue in this attitude, they will never realize the strong soul that is necessary for becoming more like Jesus.

Fighting the deadly corrosive
Augustine wrote that this desire for autonomy is a “deadly corrosive” to the human soul, fighting against the kind of stability that leads to maturity in Christ and fruitfulness in ministry. Throughout the ages, the Church has been built on the authority of Christ’s Word, as the apostles understood that Word, and entrusted it to the saints in every generation. A grand tradition of authoritative interpretation of Scripture has been built up over 2,000 years to guide us in understanding God’s Word and living the Christian life in our day. We neglect, or, worse, reject that tradition to our own peril.

Those church leaders today who make light of doctrine, minimize the achievements of previous generations of the followers of Christ, and insist that the faith needs to be redefined with every new generation are simply carrying on the legacy of the false teachers and unstable souls Peter warned against so long ago. Those who find their teaching appealing, because of the sense of freedom they feel in defining the faith on their own terms, will not realize the strength of soul needed for following Jesus as a disciple.

Under authority?
If their message of such false teachers appeals to you, so that you think the authority of Scripture is something you can take or leave as you choose; the teaching of the Church is not something to which you must pay heed; or the great traditions of our faith should be replaced by the fleeting forms and fancies of our pop culture age, then you must face up to the very real possibility that you are allowing instability into your soul, anchored as it is to nothing more than the spirit of the age and your own changeable whims.

Examine yourself! To which authority have you submitted your soul – mind, heart, and conscience? Is it God speaking in His Word, calling you to pursue holiness and be His witness? Or is it you, and your favorite false teacher, guiding you to define the terms of faith for yourself, and to seek Jesus only for what you think you need Him for? And giving you a false sense of security about the eternal disposition of your soul?

Get the answer to this wrong, and you will continue to destabilize your soul, to the detriment of your faith, and perhaps even to your eternal condemnation. Strong and stable souls are built on the foundation of God’s Word, and the glory and image of Jesus revealed there.

For reflection
1.  What does it mean to submit to the authority of the Scripture and the Holy Spirit?

2.  Why do we say that we should look to the Church from all ages to help us in understanding the Bible?

3.  How can we know, from moment to moment, whether we are living under the authority of God or under the authority of self?

Next steps – Preparation: How can you use your time of prayer to help make sure you live under the authority of God?

T. M. Moore

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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