Honoring Authority: H.C. Lord's Day 39

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 39

Q 104: What is God’s will for you in the fifth commandment? 
A 104: That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I submit myself with proper obedience to all their good teaching and discipline; and also that I be patient with their failings—for through them God chooses to rule us.

The notion of honoring those in authority over us is not one that we would consider automatic in American culture anymore.  While the 5th commandment is indeed one that is still applicable to Christain life and family life in general, culture continually pushes towards autonomy, individualism, and self-determination.

While none of these things are bad, in and of themselves, when they take precedence over the God-given authority of parents, leaders, and other governing authorities, that can lead to problems.  Specifically, in families, children are given the ability choose things for themselves at ages much too young for the full ramifications of such a choice.  Children are not capable of governing themselves (think “Lord of the Flies”); that is why God set in place the parental authority and emphasized it so heavily in Scripture.

To be fair, parents and leaders in our culture have not necessarily done a bang-up job of exercising authority either.  Countless stories of parental abuse of authority coupled with the copious amount of blame shifting that seems to go on in our culture when things don’t go right (because apparently, it is always someone else’s fault) has led us to a fundamental mistrust of authority, not to mention a deep divide of ideologies when it comes to governmental authority.

However, Scripture does not give us a pass when it comes to honoring those in authority over us.  Neither does it give us excuses for the abuse of authority or the skirting of the roles we are given either.  Quite simply, parents are called to raise their children, to be the primary source of their learning, identity formation, and spiritual formation.  Parents are also responsible for teaching respect to their children through guidance and discipline.

Whereas it is often seen as natural for children to “rebel” from their parents in our culture, no such provision was given to children in the Bible.  Those who were unruly were cast out; the Law even says that such children are to be stoned.

Thankfully that is no longer the case.  We don’t live in a culture that threatens death for being unruly.  However, there is a way to exercise independence, learning to make decisions, failing every now and then, and gaining maturity and wisdom that can happen without casting aside the relationships we have or dishonoring the authorities in our lives.

Like all things that have provisions in Scripture, the paradigm of authority structures that is set up by God Himself is not meant to be burdensome, but to reveal God’s love for us.  Scripture says that God disciplines those He loves, thus setting the model for loving discipline between parents and children.  God’s goal, as ours should be as parents, is to see His children grow in wisdom, maturity, and identity.  This is not accomplished in Scripture by God allowing His people to do whatever they wanted.

This is not accomplished in Scripture by God allowing His people to do whatever they wanted.  In fact, every time we see that happen in the Bible, things go horribly wrong and they end up in bondage to someone or something.  God’s ultimate desire for His people is flourishing in the way He originally intended.  Flourishing, however, does not mean following our whims and wishes, following after things that we think will make us happy.  Indeed, a flourishing life often understands and respects both boundaries and authorities, understanding them not to be limitations but guides in the exercise of freedom.

When we do this well, whether it be exercising authority or honoring it, we begin to experience the freedom and flourishing that God has planned for us in life.  What’s more?  Those around us begin to experience this as well as the light and life of God spreads through us and our lives point back to Him.


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