The Protection of Relative Subjection
When Jesus left earth and returned to heaven, he did not leave us alone to the authority of men. He sent a divine helper to be with us and to guide us to all truth:
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”
– John 16:12-14
We wrote about this extensively in articles such as Lastly He Sent His Son and The Reality of the Spirit of Truth. We notice that this divine helper does not try to usurp Jesus’ teachings or his authority. He speaks only what Jesus gave him to speak – his plain and open teachings. Therefore, if a divine guide will not add on ideas originating from ‘his own impulse,’ how much more so should human guides likewise refrain. There is practical, as well as everlasting, value in appreciating the relative authority of men, especially in the area of religion.
When we properly understand the difference between relative and absolute subjection, we are protected from abuse and lasting harm because abuse arises mostly in the context of mistaken and misplaced authority.
In the home, spousal abuse arises only when one spouse has assume more authority than he or she has rightly been given, and when the other spouse subjects him or herself to the improperly assumed authority as though it were absolute. True, in the family arrangement, God has given the greater accountability to the husband. But that is a duty and an obligation, not a privilege or a reward. He is obligated to treat his wife with special consideration with the same love and support as Christ treats the congregation.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
– Ephesians 5:25-27
Also, in general, children are subject to adults, but that subjection is also relative.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
– Ephesians 6:1-4
Abuse of children arises when adults assume more authority than they are rightly given, and when children are not taught the meaning and application of relative subjection. Children are the weakest member of civilized society. For that reason, they must be taught that they do not owe every adult absolute obedience. They owe them respect, but they can be taught to respectfully decline an adult’s improper authority. How much sexual abuse of children could be avoided if our children are taught relative subjection!
And in the congregation, relative subjection can prevent all types of religious abuse. When members do not allow themselves to be mesmerized by a claim of divine authority by a theocracy, they can act in their own best interests, while at the same time giving proper respect to those taking the lead. (Hebrews 13:7) While a congregation overseer has authority to make sure the meetings take place decently and by arrangement (1 Corinthians 14:40), they are not the masters over the member’s faith.
“I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.”
– 2 Corinthians 1:23-24
Those taking the lead are not authorized to demand absolute or unquestioned obedience. Those men who do expect unquestioned obedience are snatching away your spiritual freedom and revealing a weakness in their own spirit. They are openly establishing that they do not understand relative subjection and that they have not subjected themselves absolutely to the Christ!
When men demand unquestioned loyalty and obedience, those subject to that authority must ask themselves, Is it worth it? The Father has promised everlasting life to those who exclusively obey Christ Jesus.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
– John 3:16
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
– John 6:40
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
– John 17:3
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
– John 5:24
But what does a man or a body of men offer for unquestioned obedience to them? Of course, those who are willing to give unquestioned obedience will be in good standing in the eyes of those men and they may be given certain privileges and honors. But what if their direction and guidance is wrong? Will they be able to compensate you for your loss? What promises or guarantees does a theocracy offer that could be equal to what the Father offers? What powers do they have to fulfill their promises? Can they appeal to God on your behalf and explain away your misstep? Jesus said:
“Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
– Matthew 15:14
Blind leaders will be in no better position that those who followed them into the pit. They will not be able to offer everlasting life to themselves let alone others, nor will they be in a position to plead on your behalf. How foolish to trust your everlasting salvation to a self-proclaimed theocracy that has no authority or power to save even themselves!
How much wiser to respond as did Peter and the apostles when confronted with the commands of a relative religious authority:
“The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him”
– Acts 5:27-32
Better to stay loyal to the Father’s absolute authority and respectfully reject any presumptious demands for allegiance from a theocracy!