Previously I reviewed the initial episode of a new podcast on Reconstruction Radio called The Monstrous Regiment, which disapprovingly alludes to John Knox’s famous tract by the same name. I pointed out that the hostesses failed to engage with many of the relevant biblical texts that militate against their feminist position. The few texts that the hostesses do address are subjected to tortuous exegesis in order to get these passages to say what they clearly do not. In this follow-up I would like to address the problem of authority that underlies the thinking of “Christian” libertarian thinkers like Bojidar Marinov, Joel McDurmon, and their disciples.
During the introductory podcast, Kate Robinson states that she doesn’t believe in women pastors, but only because she is opposed to the office of a pastor in principle. The reason that the hostesses don’t believe that women should have authority over men is because they reject most traditional ideas of authority. They state a desire to serve men, but they also want men to serve alongside them without any need for submission. Traditional and biblical conceptions of authority are swept aside as “pagan power religion.”
These ideas are not confined in popularity to the circle of Bojidar Marinov. Andrew Sandlin expressed similar ideas in his article The “Patriarchy” Problem in which he argues for the equal parental authority of both parents over their children. Sandlin recently stated on Facebook that a husband’s authority can never be absolute, because he could never command his wife to sin. These comments reduce human authority, in this case the authority of a husband and father over his household, to the role of a Bible answer man. The same tendency can be seen in Marinov, McDurmon, etc., who base their understanding of authority on libertarian presuppositions. In this view God is the only authority in the lives of individuals. Any intermediate authority isn’t really an authority proper, being permitted only to repeat what the Bible already says — nothing more.
This idea needs to be deconstructed in order for a truly Christian understanding of authority to emerge. Sandlin, Marinov, et al. affirm that no human authority figure can command their subordinates to sin. True, but this is simply not entailed by patriarchy or traditional Christian authority. A straw man has been erected and demolished. No Christian believes that any proper human authority ever has the power to command anyone to sin, and this applies to husbands, parents, kings, governors, judges, pastors, elders, and all other authorities. God alone is the ultimate authority, and all authority is and must be derived from God’s ultimate authority. Jesus states this when he tells Pontius Pilate that his own authority is given to him from God above (Jn. 19:11). Consequently no human authority can ever contradict or nullify what God has revealed in His word. This is not the point of contention on the question of patriarchy or other manifestations of traditional authority.
The Bible consistently teaches that human authority is required to operate under the constraints that God has revealed within its own sphere, and authority is also given to apply God’s revelation to specific circumstances. Jesus commands his disciples to obey the legitimate authority of the Pharisees (Matt. 23:1-3a), even though Jesus had earlier condemned the Pharisees for making void the law of God through their own tradition (Matt. 15:1-9; cf. Mk. 7:1-13). The clear implication here is that tradition and custom established by human authority can be binding as long it does not violate divine precepts. The Rechabites are praised in the prophet Jeremiah for their fidelity to the extrabiblical commandments of their patriarch (Jer. 35). Children are commanded to obey their parents (Col. 3:20), wives their husbands (Eph. 5:22-24), and servants their masters (Col. 3:22) in all things. This obviously does not mean that these authorities can command that which is actually sinful. In the event of a conflict between human authority and divine law we are required to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). However the phrase “in all things” in these verses cannot be limited to what God has already commanded in the Bible, because this would be unnecessarily superfluous.
During the course of our daily lives there arise numerous circumstances and occasions that the Bible doesn’t specifically address. The purpose of human authorities is to give guidance, direction, and even direct commandment regarding these circumstances. Parents directly guide the upbringing of their children and have the authority and responsibility to establish rules for the proper formation of their children. Parents have the authority to establish rules about sleeping (bed time, napping, etc.), nutrition, play time, education, family worship, and so on. The Bible certainly provides broad principles that govern these behaviors, but the application of these principles to specific times and places must be made by competent authorities that God has ordained. Those who argue that the Bible in fact does provide exhaustive detail on all these matters are bound to fall into either legalism or antinomianism. Human authority will either be diminished to the point that it becomes meaningless with the result being disorder and anarchy, or human authority will be given Talmudic license to overregulate everything to a tyrannical degree.
The Importance of Legitimate Human Authority for Resisting Tyranny
It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that legitimate human authority stands as a bulwark against tyranny. After all, power cannot be abused if no one can exercise it…right? The problem is that authority and power are unavoidable realities in life. God has created mankind to need authority for a properly functioning society. The existence of multiple loci of authority serves as a natural check against abuses of power. The former authority enjoyed by the church, family, craft guilds, social institutions, and local governments helped limit the power of the central government. Modern Americans are fooled into thinking that power is diluted by the appearance of checks and balances and separation of powers within the federal government, but these are easily controlled by financiers without any real hindrances to their agenda.
Robert Nisbet explains the role of traditional authority in restraining tyranny by noting that a premodern
king may have ruled at times with a degree of irresponsibility that few modem governmental officials can enjoy, but it is doubtful whether, in terms of effective powers and services, any king of even the seventeenth century ‘absolute monarchies’ wielded the kind of authority that now inheres in the office of many high-ranking officials in the democracies. There were then too many social barriers between the claimed power of the monarch and the effective execution of this power over individuals. The very prestige and functional importance of church, family, guild, and local community as allegiances limited the absoluteness of the State’s power.1
Nisbet further observes that during the Middle Ages
power was dilute, not because it was distributed in many hands, but because it was derived from many independent sources. There were the liberties of the church, based on law superior to that of the King; there was the law of nature, graven in the hearts of men and not to be erased by royal writs; and there was the prescription of immemorial local and feudal custom stereotyping a variety of jurisdictions and impeding the operation of a single will.
Nisbet notes that by contrast,
The modern State is monistic; its authority extends directly to all individuals within its boundaries. So-called diplomatic immunities are but the last manifestation of a larger complex of immunities which once involved a large number of internal religious, economic, and kinship authorities. For administrative purposes the State may deploy into provinces, departments, districts, or ‘states,’ just as the army divides into regiments and battalions. But like the army, the modern State is based upon a residual unity of power. . . . This extraordinary unity of relationship in the contemporary State, together with its massive accumulation of effective functions, makes the control of the State the greatest single goal, or prize, in modern struggles for power. Increasingly the objectives of economic and other interest associations become not so much the preservation of favored immunities from the State as the capturing or directing of the political power itself.2
When Marinov and his disciples reject human authority on libertarian and egalitarian grounds and under the pretense of power-forsaking humility, they inadvertently lay the foundation for statist tyranny. The undermining of the authority of parents in general and husbands in particular has made the state’s intrusion into the family possible. In order to restore true Christian liberty in society, we must once again learn the proper respect for legitimate human authority that God has ordained.
- Community and Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 196), p. 103-104. Citation from Democracy: The God That Failed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, pg. 273-274. ↩
- Community and Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 196), p. 110. Citation from Democracy: The God That Failed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, pg. 197-198. ↩