It seems to me that a few too many Christians are really in love with authority. Having discussed how Christians and Pharisees are alike – this trait seems to be the common denominator. The Pharisees were the authority, they interpreted Scripture into rules, they called out people who did not submit to their rules (Jesus included), and they were obsessed about keeping their place.
The Pharisees had it good and they knew it. The Pharisees were the result of the former leaders who had charged the priests with both spiritual and political authority. (Imagine what it would be like if your pastor was also your Republican party state representative.) The Hebrew word for ‘Pharisee’ comes from a word that means ‘one who is separated’. One of their most notable beliefs is that all of the Purity Regulations for the Temple were to be observed outside the Temple as well as inside. On top of that, they also adhered to their own laws and Jewish laws. “The Pharisees were considered the most expert and accurate expositors of Jewish law …” noted Josephus, a historian from that time, he also said that: “the Pharisees received the backing and good-will of the common people …” In short, they had political power, popularity, and purpose from God. That sounds like something a Christian could have said a few decades ago when they were in the golden age of the Moral Majority.
The Pharisees had high standing in their society. In terms of religious authority, they were ‘up there’: The High Priest, the Saducees, and then the Pharisees were pretty much it, everyone else was below them. The Saducees were not popular and only men from certain families could join them. The Pharisees were open to accepting everyone else, including Saul. But the Pharisees were also a political party and that gave them a second kind of authority. So long as they maintained the status quo, they couldn’t lose.
Then this eccentric miracle-worker called Jesus arrived on the scene and He just wouldn’t do things their way. He didn’t observe their traditions or make his followers keep their laws. He didn’t even teach their interpretation of the law. He never lost a public challenge, which dishonored them. He was also wildly popular. He was a threat to the structure that they had toiled for centuries to build and everything it stood for. He was dangerous.
Keeping their place was vital. In their day, the influence of the Pharisees over the lives of the common people was strong and their rulings on Jewish law were deemed authoritative by many. Then again, the Christians that love authority are just like that. They have a strong pull over the beliefs of most believers and their rulings on Scripture are often deemed authoritative. When people don’t know how to understand a verse, they write to these pastors who answer their questions on television for all to see. Nobody questions whatever the answer is. (Unless the person being asked is Pat Robertson, in which case one would be well advised to ignore his answers completely. I find the ‘mute’ button on my remote to be my best ally.) But for most of us the authority that we will actually deal on religious subjects are our pastors.
We ask them a question, they do their best to answer it. If we stump them, they get in contact with other pastors to talk over the question and they get back to you. They don’t really have to go anyone on a lower level than them, just to fellow pastors who are perceived on a spiritually higher or more experienced level but who is essentially their equal as they are both at the top. Like it or not, they are the authority. To lose that – they’d lose a lot. They would lose the position, the title, the power, the respect, the pay, and the privileged of their work.
Being the authority makes you like the president, who can issue executive orders and veto laws. Beings the authority makes you like a four star general, who can order men and women into battle knowing full well that some of them will die. Being the authority makes you the keeper of the keys into heaven, you get to decide who believes what in order to make it in and who will not make it in. Being the authority gives you power over others. Power to say “come here” and somebody will come here. Power to say “go there” and somebody will go there. Power to say “do this” and somebody does it. It’s the authorities that decide what’s orthodox (right) and heterodox (wrong).
How can you not fall in love with that? Especially when every detail of what you believe is in it’s own order? The order of authority in the church, the order of authority in the home, the order of authority in matters of government, the order of authority in matters of the law, the order of authority in business, the order of authority of a man over his dog. The best thing is that you know what role you’re supposed to play, what is expected of you, and that if enough people higher up than you are eliminated then you become the authority. That’s the best possible news if your personality predisposes you to particularly enjoying having power. That also puts you in a position where that power can go to your head.
When power goes to your head, you make really terrible decisions. You bill people for not tithing, you discipline them for missing too many services, and you demand for things … like an expensive jet just because you can. But Christians are set apart, part of a royal priesthood, God’s ambassadors and representatives on Earth. They’d never do anything like that – but their leaders would if they loved their own authority more than Jesus.