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  • Martie Johnson Jr.

Obedience

RIGHTEOUS OBEDIENCE AND RIGHTEOUS DISOBEDIENCE


If, when an Orthodox Christian shows from the Scripture or the Fathers that the normal, oft-exhorted relationship to the appointed authorities of the Church is obedience, your response uses some version of the phrase "blind obedience," then your model of authority isn't Orthodox. It's Protestant.


Almost no one other than a few true fanatics actually argues for blind obedience. There are other kinds of obedience than blind obedience.


Constant distrust and resistance to authority might be a political virtue, and it certainly is a Protestant ecclesiastical tradition, but it's not how the Orthodox Church functions.


Obedience is a virtue. Full stop.


For example, St. Paul said: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you" (Heb. 13:17).

And who can forget the oft-repeated exhortations from St. Ignatius of Antioch to follow the bishop and the presbyters and the deacons?


These themes get repeated in every place in every century of Church history, through wars, schisms, cataclysms, mass apostasy, etc. At no point is the norm changed. At no point do the saints tell us to go from being the Church of the Fathers and the Councils to the Church of the Self-Willed and the Self-Appointed.


If you're obedient only when you've picked apart everything Church authorities say and decided you agree with it all, you're not actually obedient. You might be collaborating, though probably not. But that's not obedience.


Of *course* we are not called to follow leaders into sin. Of course not.


But if our default response to their leading is to assume it's sin unless proven otherwise, to treat everything with suspicion, then we are not practicing the virtue of obedience.


And we are also contributing to schism.

And if we encourage other people to have the same attitude, then we in fact are the ones leading people into sin.


I've read some say that the ecclesiology of obedience found in the Scripture and the Fathers does not apply because we are living in a time of Antichrist. But such a claim reveals an ignorance of the Orthodox tradition, in which even the earliest Christian leaders were confronted by Antichrists.

We have always had Antichrists with us, and yet never did the Church institute a theology of resistance to authority, when we can cast off our bishops because we've decided the end of the world is coming. Indeed, we have been living in the Last Days ever since the Messiah came. The norms of Church life were given to us by Christ and His Apostles precisely within the context of assaults by Antichrists.


The normal relationship to Church authority is obedience.

Yes, sometimes we have to respectfully disobey if the authority really is leading into sin, to "obey God rather than man."

What comes next, then? If we follow the example of the saints who righteously disobeyed, then we also patiently accept whatever consequences come as a result of our righteous disobedience. Suffering patiently for righteousness's sake forms us in holiness.


If someone encourages you to disobey but you don't see him patiently and lovingly accepting the consequences of his own righteous disobedience, if you see that the fruit of his teachings in others is not patience and long-suffering, then you've got every reason to believe he's not doing it righteously.

If we were meant by Christ to make resistance to Church authority normal, He would have said so. His Apostles would have said so. The Fathers would have said so.


But they didn't. They said the opposite.

That should give us very long pause before we decide to go the other way on this.


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