Not a word that our society happily embraces these days. You may not remember it, but about ten years ago Bon Jovi released a song entitled “We weren’t born to follow.” The chorus went like this:
We weren’t born to follow
Come on and get up off your knees
When life is a bitter pill to swallow
You gotta hold on to what you believe
Although not fully coherent, these lyrics are clearly meant to undermine the idea of authority, especially religious authority. This kind of skepticism toward authority, whatever that authority might be, is simply a jazzed up version of an old adage, usually found on bumper stickers afixed to Volkswagen vans: “Question Authority.” The irony of the Bon Jovi hit and the bumper sticker is that they are both authoritatively telling you to do something. You weren’t born to follow unless it’s a Bon Jovi song or a proverb from the 1960s that you’re following.
The reality is that we can’t escape authority. And, while it is certainly true that authority can be and has been abused, it does not follow that authority in and of itself is evil. Actually, authority is a gift that God has provided for our benefit. Consider these words from David about good leadership.
The God of Israel has spoken;2 Samuel 23:3-4
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth
When a leader exercises his authority well (“rules justly”), his people are blessed; that’s the way God has designed the world to work and why, elsewhere in Scripture, Christians are instructed to obey earthly authorities (1 Peter 2:13-15; Rom 13:1-7).
Obedience to earthly authority results in blessing because it is tied to obedience to the ultimate authority, God. Presently, God rules his people by his written Word so Christian theologians have often referred to the “authority of Scripture.” But what does it mean to say that the Bible is authoritative? Here’s a helpful definition from John Frame:
When God communicates information, we are obligated to believe it. When he tells us to do something, we are obligated to obey. When he tells us a parable, we are obligated to place ourselves in the narrative and meditate on the implications of that. When he expresses affection, we are obligated to appreciate and reciprocate. When he gives us a promise, we are obligated to trustThe Doctrine of the Word of God, 5
To say that the Bible is authoritative, then, is to affirm that every portion of Scripture that is rightly applicable to us, we have the obligation to respond appropriately. A promise necessitates belief; a command requires obedience, and so on. Obedience to this authority, is not oppressive (1 John 5:3), but leads to life, joy, peace, and wisdom (Ps 19:7-11; Ps 119:100). Let us learn, by the Holy Spirit, to continually yield to the good authority of God’s Holy Word for his glory and our blessing.