While studying creation order, I learned that authority and submission is part of the very nature of God; one that he imprinted upon humanity in the form of our relationships. Just as the Father has authority over the Son and the Holy Spirit and the Son submits to the Father and has authority over the Holy Spirit, all of us exist as either one having authority over another or one submitting to the authority of another; sometimes both in every single relationship we have.
So the best thing to do would be to establish who’s who in these spheres so that we do not accidentally usurp another person’s authority or passively fail to rule with authority those who ought to submit to us. The Truth Project categorized a few of these relationships for us:
In the Trinity; God the Father has authority, God the Son submits to God the Father and yet has authority over God the Holy Spirit, and God the Holy Spirit submits to both God the Son and God the Father.
In the Church; Christ has authority (like God the Father), Leaders submit to Christ and yet have authority over the Flock (like God the Son), and the Flock submits to both their leaders and to Christ (like God the Holy Spirit.)
In the Family; Husbands have authority (like God the Father), Wives submit to their Husbands and yet have authority over the Children (like God the Son), and the Children submits to both the Wife and the Husband (like God the Holy Spirit.)
But the analogy isn’t carried out beyond that – it’s easy to see why; if it’s in every single relationship, then the foundation of how we ought to relate to each other is as either servants or masters.
You are one of three friends. Who has authority? The eldest? The wealthiest? The smartest? Who gets to have authority over one, but not both of their other friends? How is that decided? Who gets to submit to the authority of both of their other friends?
You’re one of three aunts and uncles. Who has authority? Who gets to have authority over one but not both of their siblings? Who gets to submit to both of their siblings?
You’re one of three co-workers … total strangers … members of the jury … members of a club; etc.
You’re one of five, seven, nine, a baker’s dozen, a score; etc.
If authority and submission is the foundation of every single human relationship, then we ought to have an entire arrangement of vocabulary to help us categorize each other as to what sort of level of authority we have. It might go something like this:
(A woman arrives at the cafeteria to find that all the tables are full and all the seats are taken.)
KIRA: I guess I’ll have to take my raktajino with me.
(A Bajoran woman stands up.)
JIA: Please, sit here.
KIRA: You’re not finished.
JIA: I’ll find someplace else to sit.
KIRA: You don’t have to get up for me.
JIA: You’re Ih’valla. I’m Te’nari.
(And she leaves.)
SISKO: It’s been going on all morning whenever someone with a higher ranking D’jarra comes in.
KIRA: I guess I’ll have to start getting used to being treated like that.
SISKO: I remember when I got promoted to lieutenant. It took me a while to get used to being called sir by my friends who were still ensigns.
KIRA: That’s different. You’d earned the right to be treated with respect. I haven’t done anything.
SISKO: Sounds like you have some reservations about bringing back the D’jarras.
KIRA: I have some questions, sure. The Emissary is asking something very difficult of us, but we have to have faith that he’s guiding us toward something.
SISKO: Even if what he’s guiding you towards doesn’t include the Federation?
KIRA: It’s not our place to question the Emissary.
SISKO: No matter what?
KIRA: Maybe you never realized this, Captain, but we would’ve tried to do whatever you asked of us when you were Emissary, no matter how difficult it seemed. I’d better get to Ops.
That’s a scene from Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Accession. The Bajoran society had a caste system, different families had higher ranks than others. They called them D’jarras – each one represented a way of life: farming, merchant, artisan, priest, mortician; they came with different levels of privilege. If Christians truly believed that authority and submission was built into every single relationship, then we’d have D’jarras of our own; we’d segregate ourselves into groups of people who are like us with whom we were equals, we would know who was below us and had to submit to us, and we would know who was above us to whom we would submit. Every single relationship would be weighted and measured so that we would all relate to each other in this order of authority and submission. Tens of thousands of Jias would be giving up their tables and chairs for tens of thousands of Kiras even in the middle of a meal each and every day, all day long.
After all, this is the divine imprint, it’s how God relates to himself and how we are to interact in all of our various relationships. We are always one of three, and when there are three of us who are ‘equal’ then these three exist in a hierarchy within a hierarchy. We could do what Kira and Jia had done – wore an emblem of our D’jarra so that everyone can see who and what we are, if they are to submit to us or we are to submit to them. Perhaps those who are first ranked are to wear blue, those who are second ranked ought to wear red, and those who are third ranked ought to wear yellow. So perhaps a pin or earring or bracelet that shows what color we are when we’re among equals: blue for the first ranked, red for the second ranked, and yellow for the third ranked. That way even among blues or yellows or reds the hierarchy is intact and the blue-blues need not submit to anyone, the blue-reds need only submit to the blue-blues, and the blue-yellows are required to submit to both blue-blues and blue-reds, but all reds and all yellows regardless of their secondary stripe must submit to all the blues.
We already have some of the vocabulary ‘headship’ ‘authority over’ ‘submission to’ as well as some of the foundation – treat elders with respect so elders must have headship and youth must not. We usually read the slave and master relationship as equivalent to that of employees and bosses – so bosses must have headship and employees must not. Parents have authority over their children. The church sometimes uses the word as ‘male headship’ which one would think that gives authority to all men over all women, but they limit to the context of church and family; but they can get a little ‘unbiblical’ in it’s application. One teacher even clarifies that single women should not submit to single men, but in mixed group bible studies, single women ought to defer to single men (the dictionary definition for ‘defer’ includes the word ‘submit’); Oh, and all mixed group bible studies must be taught by men.
But what if it’s not in every single relationship? What if there are exceptions? What if there are some churches and some families that are exceptions as well? When it comes to Scripture, a common teaching is that if something is true in part, then it must be true as a whole; and anything that is untrue in part must also be untrue as a whole. If the divine imprint of hierarchies isn’t true for all relationships, then it could very well be untrue for every relationship.
Now it’s true that you see the language of authority and submission and headship and respect and honor in the Bible because it was written to a world that lived in hierarchies. The best description of the Roman social class was one of overlapping hierarchies – freeborn citizens had to consider one’s ancestry, wealth, political privilege, attainment of honors or nobility, and citizenship. There were classes of non-citizens; such as slaves. Two people could be free, but one would be ranked higher with more privilege than the other.
It’s been noted that the churches to which Paul wrote suggested a staggering amount of diversity; men and women, slaves and free, wealthy and poor, locals and foreigners all worshiped together, in each others houses. They might have lived in a world of hierarchy and segregation, but the church is where these boundaries all melted away. For when there is one, there can be no authority over another or submission to another.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. – Colossians 3:11
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28
In Christ, the Roman social classes are gone, but now we have established new ones – there is now male and female, married and not married, with children and without, old and young, wealthy and poor; these are our classes of Christians. This means that we are now not one. Like in the Roman empire, the ideal was a free man, from a powerful and noble family, that was wealthy, who had the vote; for us the ideal is to be a man who is the head of his family, who is free and wealthy and old enough to have the respect of the youth, whose wife submits to him, and whose children are obedient; to be a deacon, elder, or even pastor of a church, whose authority exists in all spheres and exerts itself, perhaps has a manager over employees, in much the same way that his Roman counterpart would have been a master over slaves. So the not ideal would have been a woman who was a slave, without any freedoms or the right to vote, without any wealth or a family of their own, who would have been young and had somebody in authority over them at all times and our not ideal would not have been very much different.
Christianity was, after all, the religions of slaves, women, and children, the powerless, the voiceless, the poor, vote-less, miserable people who were without influence in the empire. Free adult men had more powerful groups to which to belong, ones that didn’t let just anyone in. Christianity threatened that – but when we divorced the Bible from it’s historical and cultural context, we had forgotten it entirely; allowing us to re-establish the hierarchies of old.
And so here we are – talking about order and hierarchies, first and last, most important and least important, insiders and outsiders – we have destroyed the oneness of God for the threeness of the Trinity. We might as well say that authority has become our God: it is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, it goes out before and follows after, it reigns from the highest of heights to the deepest of depths, it commands obedience and orders submission for it’s name’s sake. All people are subject to it, exerting it to the limits of their power and obeying it’s authority in all things. Absolutely nothing is more important, or higher, than the most high; not even God has the authority to disobey authority; and so neither do we. Which is why all believers exist in hierarchies of power and privileged and honor and respect. And this is why, God willing, Jia must and will always have to give up her table and chair to Kira even in the middle of a meal; she doesn’t have the authority not to.