STUDY FIFTEEN: ANTI-AUTHORITARIANISM AND ANTI-NOMIANISM

© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015

A. ANTI-AUTHORITARIANISM

Right from the very first time we as infants look defiantly at our parents, or speak our first, experimental, rebellious ‘No!’ we demonstrate our innate rejection of authority. We do not like to be told what to do; we want to usurp the right to run our own lives. At all levels our inclination is to rebel against authority: children against parents; pupils against teachers; employees against employers, citizens against the laws of the state; and human beings against God.

This rebellion against authority was, for a few centuries in so-called ‘Christian countries’, veiled under a superficial veneer of acceptance of the standards set by God in his Law. When, however, the atheistic presuppositions of evolution and the anti-god mentality of secular humanism filtered from the scholars through to the mass of ordinary people, this apparent honouring of God and submission to his authority was cast aside. Having been liberated from believing in a supernatural, outside-of-me God, modern generations see themselves as liberated also from his authority. The once-given, always absolute laws of God are discarded. The resulting general attitude, which is now obvious in our society, is anti-authoritarian.

A.1 What are the basic concepts and attitudes of anti-authoritarianism?

Discussion points:
Discuss the following contemporary secular concepts and attitudes. How do they display rejection of authority? Share evidence or examples from your own experience and observation. Make notes of the discussion.

[1] There is no outside-of-me authority with the right to tell me what to do.

 

 

[2] I decide what is right for me.

 

 

[3] Laws should be the normalization of current opinions about what is right.

 

 

[4] ‘It’s only wrong if you get caught’.

 

 

[5] Ultimately we are not answerable to anyone.

 

 

[6] There is no heaven and no hell, and therefore no salvation.

 

 

[7] The Bible is not the authoritative Word of God.

 

 


A.2 In contrast to this, the teaching of the Bible is:

Discussion points:
Discuss these Biblical perspectives, supplying Biblical texts to confirm them. Make notes of the discussion.

[1] I am answerable to God.

 

 

[2] God’s word, the Bible, is authoritative.

 

 

[3] God’s word, the Bible, is absolute and final.

 

 

[4] Laws should express and affirm God’s Law.

 

 

[5] There is a hell and a heaven, and God has provided salvation for me to avoid the one and enter the other.

 

 

[6] If God says something is wrong it is - whether I like it or understand it or not.

 


[7] Government, church, and parental authority are in place by God’s will and should be obeyed

 

 

A.3 Anti-authoritarianism in secular society
Those of us who are Christians ought not to react too strongly against those outside the church who embrace anti-authoritarianism, but should understand that it is an honest and logical expression of the belief that God is not there. If there is no God, then why obey God’s laws? If there is no God, then why worry if we do things he is said to forbid? It would be hypocritical to do so. Non-Christians who demonstrate anti-authoritarian attitudes are no longer kidding themselves that they believe in God. They are living out the honest implications of their belief that there is no God and therefore no absolute law of right and wrong.

This honest, logical outworking of non-belief, although in some ways it makes our physical lives less safe and less predictable, doesn’t make these unbelievers any further removed from God and the Gospel than they were before. In fact they have a far clearer concept of where they stand: they have chosen to reject the whole concept of God and his authority. What should concern us is that the attitudes created by this non-belief are infiltrating the church, and, combined with the sinful bent of our hearts, are corrupting and confusing the thoughts, attitudes and actions of those who would call themselves believers.

A. 4 How is anti-authoritarianism expressed in the church?
In its expression in the church this rebellious, anti-authority mindset is evidenced by the following:

[1] The authority and relevance of the Bible is questioned. Many preachers, teachers and leaders no longer hold to the Bible as the written word of God. For many it is just a collection of human writings, which may or may not give spiritual and ethical guidance. It has little or no authority.

[2] The Biblical standards are considered out-dated. The moral and ethical standards and laws contained in the Bible are seen to belong to past eras, with little or nothing to say to the current generation. They are chopped about and changed to make them more acceptable, less authoritative. They are relativised and amended to fit into the current norms of behaviour. Churches, officially or unofficially, condone behaviour clearly outlawed by the Bible.

[3] Jesus is presented as Saviour, with little or no reference to his Lordship. The majority of evangelistic ‘appeals’ tells us to accept Jesus as ‘Saviour’, which is something the Bible never does. What the Bible commands is that we acknowledge Jesus as Lord, and to those who so acknowledge him it promises salvation. But the concept of Jesus as Lord is too authoritarian, too demanding. People do not want to submit to One who is Lord. In this subtle but significant shift the church has knowingly or unknowingly given in to the anti-authoritarian spirit of our age.

[4] False assurance of salvation is given; people with no evidence of repentance are assured that they are going to heaven. But the Bible indicates that the necessary response to the Gospel is repentance and faith, and it is only to those who come to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith that the promises of the Gospel are given. Yet many churches today tell people they are saved and going to heaven irrespective of the fact that they have not called these people to repentance, which, of necessity, involves a return to submission to the authority of the Lord.

[5] Godly living is seen as optional. This goes hand in hand with (4). The absence of an initial command to repent is accompanied by a lax attitude towards God’s commands. Congregations are given no indication that their claim to be believers in Christ should be confirmed by an accompanying obedience.

[6] The concept of church discipline is almost absent. Only rarely do we hear of churches putting the New Testament guidelines into practice in relation to a church member who has deliberately and consistently sinned according to Biblical standards. When such discipline does occur there is a great hue and cry about it, and the church’s right to impose such discipline is hotly debated or even denied. This rejection of this authority of the church is fundamentally a rejection of the authority of God, an expression of the anti-authoritarian mindset.

 

A.5 How is anti-authoritarianism affecting individual Christians?
Influenced by both the anti-authoritarian mentality of our age, and the rejection of the authority of the Bible by many church leaders, many individuals who consider themselves Christian believers exhibit anti-authoritarian attitudes.

Discussion points:
Discuss examples of the following. How are they expressions of anti-authoritarianism? Make notes of the discussion.

[1] Rejection of the authority of the Church

 

[2] Refusal to submit to the authority of the Word of God

 

[3] Refusal to obey God

 


[4] A self-centred, rather than a Christ-centred, concept of the Gospel

 

[5] A lack humility in the presence of God

 

[6] People think they can ‘come to Jesus’ then do as they please

 

[7] A reduced concept of the holiness of God

 

[8] A reduced concept of personal sinfulness

 

[9] A reduced concept of the gravity of the situation for the non-believer

 

[10] A reduced concept of salvation, thinking God’s grace is cheap and easy

 

[11] Disregard for government authority

 


A. 6 What can we do to strengthen ourselves and our families against this anti-authoritarian mentality?

To protect ourselves against these insidious, destructive and God-dishonouring attitudes we need to constantly

Remember that Jesus Christ is the Almighty Sovereign Lord as well as our Saviour; his authority is not something we can take or leave as it pleases us;

Remember that our salvation has a purpose: the glory of God; we foul up this purpose every time we reject his authority;

Maintain a Biblical concept of God, refusing to reduce his power and authority;

Remember that salvation is not our right, but a gift;

Take our cue from the example of Jesus Christ, who, though he is the divine Son, submitted to the authority of his Father, of the written Word, and the law of the land.

Scripture research:
Study these Scriptures to gain a Biblical perspective on anti-authoritarianism

For the original rebellion against authority:    
Genesis 3.

 


For an indication of what God thinks of rebellion against his authority:      
Deuteronomy 9:6,7,13,24; 31:27; Nehemiah 9:16,17; Isaiah 1:2-4; 53:6a; 63:10;
Jeremiah 5:23; Ezekiel 2:3-8; 12:2; Romans 1:18-31; 3:10-18.

 

 


For the attitude God commands:
James 4:7a; 1Peter 2:1-17; Philippians 2:1-11; 2Corinthians 10:5b; 1Corinthians 10:31; Romans 12:1,2;
13:1-7; John 14:15; Matthew 7:21-23.

 

 

 

 

B. ANTINOMIANISM

Anti-nomianism is a specifically Christianized expression of anti-authoritarianism. By definition: anti - against; nomos - law. Thus: antinomianism is the belief that Christians have no obligation to respect or submit to God’s moral law.

Wherever the good news about the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin is faithfully preached there are some who respond with an antinomian attitude. The logic of this response is:

If we are saved by grace, through faith, and if God no longer takes our sin into account, and sin can no longer condemn us to hell, then it doesn’t matter if we sin. In fact, it’s okay to sin.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, commenting on the expression of anti-nomianism in Romans 6:1, ‘shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?’ states:

‘First of all let me make a comment, to me a very important and vital comment. The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel. Let me show what I mean.

‘if a man preaches justification by works, no one would ever raise this question. If a man’s preaching is, “If you want to be Christians, and if you want to go to heaven, you must stop committing sins, you must take up good works, and if you do so regularly and constantly, and do not fail to keep on at it, you will make yourselves Christians, you will reconcile yourselves to God, and you will go to heaven.’ Obviously a man who preaches in this strain would never be liable to this misunderstanding. Nobody would say to this man, ‘Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”, because the man’s whole emphasis is just this, that if you go on sinning you are certain to be damned, and only if you stop sinning can you save yourselves. … This particular misunderstanding can only arise when the doctrine of justification by faith only is presented.’ [p8,9, Romans: Exposition of Chapter 6]

The evidence of antinomianism is seen in people claiming to be Christians, claiming to have received Jesus as Saviour, yet following a persistent lifestyle of disregard for and disobedience to the moral laws contained in the Bible, with no observable evidence that they acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord of lords and King of kings, to whom every knee must bow in recognition and submission.

B.1 Basic misunderstandings behind the antinomian response
This lawless attitude disrespecting God’s laws and standards portrays a complete failure to understand some central facts of the Christian gospel.

Firstly, it fails to understand that in the New Testament receiving Jesus Christ does not mean receiving his salvation, but receiving him as the One he claimed to be, that is, receiving him as Lord or God

The critical focus of belief in the New Testament is not in the salvation which Christ gives, but in the Lord Jesus Christ who gives the salvation.

Discussion points:
Identify and discuss the focus of faith in these Scriptures
John 1:12

John 3:18

John 8:24

Acts 2:36,37

Romans 10:9

1John 5:12


Jesus is the Lord, the Creator of the universe, the Almighty God – it is when a person believes in this Jesus that repentance and conversion and salvation occur. This is no take-it-or-leave-it God who doesn’t care how we live or what we do. This is the Lord God Almighty, the Holy One, who is totally and utterly opposed to sin in all its forms, whom we are receiving and acknowledging as or God. He is the One who has the right to command our obedience. He is the One to whose Kingdom we belong and under whose authority we live.

Secondly, it fails to understand and consider the utter holiness of God. The fact of salvation does not change the character of God. He is still holy. In fact his holiness is one of the necessitating causes of our salvation.

Scripture study:
What are the implications of the holiness of God in relation to man’s sin?
Exodus 33:18-23


Isaiah 6:1-7


Habakkuk 1:13


1Peter 1:15


Revelation 4:8


Revelation 15:4

In addition, there are approximately 100 New Testament verses referring to God’s Spirit as the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit

Thirdly, it fails to understand that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for sin is a massive indictment against sin, demonstrating once and for all God’s extreme hatred of sin.  

No one knowing what God did to Jesus at Calvary can ever again think that sin is okay, or that sin doesn’t matter. Anyone who does so has not even begun to understand either who Jesus really is or what he did when he died. This death, of this perfect and holy Christ, on this cross, depicts for us once and for all how offensive sin is to God. This cross, this rejection, this death, is what God the Father did to Jesus, when he laid all of our sin upon him. This is how offensive sin is to God.

Fourthly, it fails to understand that the cross of Christ is an indication of the extreme judgment that is due to all sin. This cross indicates the judgment that sin incurs. The fact that Christ took the judgment in our place so that we can be delivered from it does not render our sin any less deserving of this judgment.

Discussion points:
Describe the extreme repulsiveness of sin and the extreme nature of God’s judgment on sin that is depicted in these verses. [What are the implications for the antinomian mindset that thinks that sin is okay simply because it is forgiven?

Isaiah 53

 

Matthew 27:46

 

Romans 5:12; 6:23a

 

2Corinthians 5:21

 

Galatians 3:10-13

 

Hebrews 9:11-15, 26-29; 10:10-14


1Peter 2:24

 

Revelation 5:8-9


Fifthly, it fails to understand the nature and the purpose of our salvation: that [1] we are made holy [set apart by God for God, [2] that that the indwelling Spirit is at work gradually transforming us into the image of Christ, and [3] that we are to live for his glory.

Discussion points:
Discuss these verses. How does their description of salvation, the work of the Spirit, and the purpose of salvation, contradict the antinomian attitude?

About the nature of our salvation
Romans 6:11-14

Ephesians 1:4


Colossians 1:22


Hebrews 10:10,14

 

About the work of the indwelling Spirit of God
2Corinthians 3:18


Galatians 5:22-25


About the purpose of salvation is that we will glorify him
Matthew 5:16


Ephesians 1:6,12,14


Ephesians 2:10


1Peter 2:9b

 

Paul quoted the antinomian attitude: ‘Let us do evil that good may result’ (Romans 3:8) and ‘Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?’ (Romans 6:1), ‘shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?’ (Romans 6:15), with its inference being that the more we sin the more grace God will pour out on us.  Paul was horrified that people should respond to the Gospel in such a way, and argued strongly in Romans chapters 6 to 8 that such an attitude is inconsistent with true belief in Jesus Christ and true understanding of the Gospel, indeed it just does not jell. It is incongruous. John also pointed this out repeatedly in his first letter, making it quite clear that a person with such an attitude is simply not a true believer.

Additional study:
Read 1John. As you read make a list of all the verses that point out the impossibility and incongruity of someone claiming to be a Christian believer and at the same time persistently engaging in a lifestyle in direct conflict with the example and teaching of Jesus Christ.