Though it happened years ago, I will never forget driving into the parking lot of the High School where I lived and seeing for the first time a bumper sticker that challenged: “Question Authority.” I’m guessing it wasn’t on a teacher’s car. Since then, I’ve seen and heard it many times.
This slogan was popularized by the late, controversial psychologist Timothy Leary who was known for advocating the use of LSD and psychedelic drugs.
Questioning authority is nothing new.
In the final week of Jesus’ life when he came to Jerusalem, the Jewish religious leaders constantly questioned Jesus trying to trap him. They were fed up with Jesus. He healed on the Sabbath. Associated with sinners. Forgave sins. Condemned their traditions. Overturned the tables in the temple. And generally disrupted and disturbed their comfortable lives.
By what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?” They demanded.
But Jesus turned the tables on them by asking, “The baptism of John — was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.” If they could answer, then he would answer their question.
They were caught in a perplexing dilemma of their own devising. They realized, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ However, they could not say it was from men, because “they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed.”
“So they answered and said to Jesus, ‘We do not know.’”
Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:27-30).
“From Heaven or from men.” That’s a good question. When we seriously examine our religious beliefs and practices are they of divine or human origin?
Authority is necessary for every area of life. The government. The home. The church. Societal order. Imagine driving where there is no respect for the rules for the road. No regard for speed limits. No agreement on the purpose of a red or green light. No recognition of a stop sign. Without authority you have chaos.
Religiously speaking it is possible to become like the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day and be guided by tradition instead of Truth. When asked “by what authority do you do these things,” some respond, “We’ve always done it that way.” Or “that’s what my church teaches.” Or may even admit, “that’s just our tradition.” But is your practice “from heaven or from men”?
Furthermore, subjectivism diverts us from divine authority and leads us into justifying ourselves with reasoning that begins with subjective statements like “ I feel.” “I think.” “I don’t believe God will ______”(you fill in the blank). And the ever-popular “That’s not my truth.”
It’s disconcerting to hear Christians hurl pejorative epithets that disparage the Lord’s church, gospel preachers, and Bible authority. Often on facebook I read statements that scorn the apostolic examples recorded in the New Testament. Or poke fun at the idea of a common sense Biblical inference. And even outright reject the plain, simple commands of Scripture.
I want to ask those inclined to ridicule authority, what is your Biblical hermeneutic? Your method of interpretation? Your approach to understanding Scripture? I would like to know, “Is it from heaven or from men?”
It is well to remember that the church is not democracy. It is not our place to change God’s Word. Some vote to amend their doctrine. Or sanction an alternative lifestyle condemned in the Bible. Or eliminate from Scripture that which they find offensive and not politically correct. Is it fair to ask, as Jesus did, “Is it from heaven or from men?”
Finally what directs our personal lives? Our morals? Ethics? Behavior? And habits? Is it based on popular opinion? Political correctness? Or fleshly desires? Jesus has given us a standard to live by. The Bible says, “Be not conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). “Abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). “Be holy for I am holy,” says the Lord. (1 Pet 1:16).
Jesus’ question to the Pharisees was not difficult. But it was painful to ponder.
What about you and I? How will we answer? “Is it from heaven or from men?”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman