January 22: Van Horn on Westminster Doctrines : Respect for Authority

“To God’s Glory” : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn.

THE SUBJECT : Respect for Authority.

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : There are too many to list. We recommend you study the verses given in the Larger Catechism, Questions 123-133.

REFERENCES TO THE STANDARDS : Confession of Faith, XIX.6 & 7; Larger Catechism, Q. 123-133; Shorter Catechism, Q. 63-66.

Not long ago a person said to me, “As long as you think a law or a rule is wrong, it is alright to disobey it.” The person was serious. This is the reasoning used today by many people. This is the reasoning that is propagated by so much of the media today. This is the reasoning so many of our young people are taught today.

Whether you are thinking of the relationship of the citizen toward the state, or the worker toward his boss, or children toward their superiors, or the congregation toward the man called of God to preach His Word, you will discover that lack of respect for authority is the prevalent approach of today.

This dangerous philosophy has even reached into churches that call themselves evangelical. There seems to be a popular tendency to ignore many times the Word of God. Too many feel they have a perfect right to make their own rules. The Fifth Commandment speaks very clearly to any person following this false philosophy.

The Almighty, Sovereign God knew that respect for authority was very important. He knew that if a family, a nation, an economy, a church was to carry out its duties in this world there must be some clearly laid down rules. Therefore, He emphasized proper respect for authority in His Word time and time again.

Our Lord told us in His Word, “Obey them that have rule over you.” This thought is presented time and time again in the Bible. He knew that a lawless society would soon become a mob and a mob becomes a group of people out of hand, a law unto themselves.

What has caused the loss of respect for authority? What has caused this new philosophy to become such an important part of the thinking of many? Such questions could not be answered fully in the short space available, but a suggestion can be offered as to what is happening in many churches in this regard.

First, there is the move away from the authoritative preaching of the authoritative Word. The widely evangelical view of subjectivism is rapidly replacing Objective Revelation (God’s Word) in many churches. The emphasis today in so many churches is that of more involvement, more dialogue and less monologue. What is being bypassed is that faith does not just “happen” but it comes through the means of grace. Too many are forgetting Shorter Catechism Question 88 and its definition of the means of grace : “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are His ordinances, especially the Word, Sacraments and prayer…” The need of the people to hear the authoritative Word any time it is proclaimed is great and dare not be bypassed. This is a basic reason for the lack of authority in other areas.

Second, there is the philosophy used by many professing believers that motivates them to move away from any position of unpopularity before others. It is difficult to be popular today and insist upon rightful authority as parents, or teachers, or elders, or whatever their authority might be, decide to close their eyes to certain portions of Scripture in order to keep their popularity. They forget that to break a principle of Scripture is to court disaster as a person and for whatever the cause in which the person is involved.

There is a principle of Scripture involved here that all professing believers need to be reminded of as they seek to walk before the Lord. The Bible states, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (II Tim. 3:12). Certainly believers are not to court persecution but neither are they to expect otherwise if they are walking before the Lord as they should. And sometimes walking before the Lord involves having authority over others and making use of that authority in love.

Third, respect for authority will only come when respect is due. This means that those in authority, whether it be civil, home, school, or church, must command respect because of their walk with the Lord. The example set by those in authority must be Biblical in all ways.

How many times have those under authority seen inconsistencies? Broken promises, lack of separation from the world, unconcern for the church and Bible study, neglect of loving concern for fellow-believers, are just some of the things that could be mentioned as inconsistencies with God’s Word.

If respect for authority is going to return as an integral part of churches who are committed to the Reformed Faith, then those in authority must read again and obey those commands listed in the Larger Catechism, Questions 129 and 130. This is where the change must begin. Respect for authority will be much easier if those in authority live in a way that will command respect. Take heed, civil servants, parents, teachers, elders!

So ends Rev. Van Horn’s study. To approach the issue from a different angle, we might turn to the Diary of the Rev. Jacob Jones Laneway and his entry for this day, January 22, 1801. The sovereignty of God and His rule over all creation is the ground and basis of all authority. For “He changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.” (Dan. 2:21, KJV).

Here Rev. Janeway reflects on how the sovereignty of God should affect our lives as Christians :

“I seem to take pleasure in the sovereignty of God. Surely it is right, He should reign. My soul rejoices in his unlimited and uncontrollable dominion. The last week, it was my desire, and my endeavour, to commit my all into the hands of God; to give my time, talents, reputation, yea, and life also, to him, that he might dispose of them according to his sovereign pleasure. I see that this is necessary to enable me to discharge my duties impartially, boldly, and faithfully. Once I thought something of myself, as to the ministry, but now I see that I am nothing. Lord, who is sufficient for this great work? Men would have me preach smooth things. But, I trust, I dare not thus endanger their souls, and my own soul. Let me never seek popularity at the expense of duty. Let me never preach myself, but Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour. Teach me, oh God, how to proclaim thy truth. Make me to feel its solemn power. Oh! for compassion to the souls of men, and zeal for thy glory. How long, oh Lord, shall I pray for these.”

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