In the state
Sadly enough, it happens that some who are in positions of authority abuse their power and position. Governments do. There are governments that oppress their people. We can think of the communist regimes of Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. Every November a Sunday is declared the International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians. In many Asian and North African countries, Christians are persecuted for their faith. They are oppressed by the state. Clearly, such governments are abusing their authority. God will hold them to account for this and will punish them for it.
This abuse of authority also happens in churches. In the 1500s, church reformers called the Medieval church back to the Word of God. Through the centuries, the church had strayed far away from the simple but true message of Scripture. The church had added all sorts of doctrines not found in the Bible. On top of that, many of the church leaders were living godless lives. The reformers called the church back to the Bible and away from false doctrine and permissive living. What was the reaction of the church? Persecution! Excommunication! Death by burning at the stake!
The church assigned more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God. It refused to submit itself to the rule of Christ. It persecuted those who lived holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuked it for its sins and false doctrine. The church of the Middle Ages would not take it. It used—or rather—it abused its power and authority to silence those who called it to faithfulness and submission to God's Word.
This example, which led to the Reformation of the church, is not the only example of the abuse of ecclesiastical authority. Throughout history, there have been many instances of churches abusing their authority, misusing their power, to silence those who would live godly lives and call a disobedient church back to the Word. The history of the Canadian Reformed Churches, which goes back to the Netherlands, bears this out.
Abuse of authority does not only happen in the state and the church; it is also, sadly, found in families. All physical, verbal, and sexual abuse by someone in authority perpetrated against someone under authority is abuse of authority. We wish we could say that this does not happen among Christians and in the church, but we would be lying.
What must someone suffering abuse do? He or she needs to go to someone else in authority for help. We are all under several spheres of authority: the authority of parents, teachers, the police, and elders in the church. An abused person must go to someone else in a position of authority for help. The abuser must be brought to justice and face the just consequences of his crime. He must be brought to repentance at the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only when we fall broken at the foot of the cross that we are reconciled to God and that we can be reconciled to one another.
(The final post in this series deals with the rejection of authority.)