Daily Office Readings – NT ( Hebrews 13:17-25 )
I’ve been involved in various Christian churches since birth. At one point in my life, I belonged to a particular denomination that closely resembled the Catholic/Anglican/Episcopal traditions, but wasn’t related to any of them. They were a blend of the charismatic, the evangelical and the liturgical, which is great when all of these things are kept in balance, as can be seen in various Charismatic Catholic Renewal groups. This denomination, however, liked to say that they were the only church that had gotten it all right, and the only ones that were closest to the original church of Jesus’ time. I generally disagreed with their pride in this matter, but gave them a pass, since it’s not a theological point worth arguing about.
However, this tendency toward pride (“We’re the one true church.”) is something that I had brought with one of the priests in this denomination, and told him that this overwhelming pride would be the denomination’s downfall at some point. Also, this tendency toward pride, coupled with the charismatic tendency to rely more heavily on things called “extra biblical revelation” (read general and personal prophecy) slowly moved this denomination into one that gave more authority to some people than others, because they had more divine revelation from God.
This extra authority usually came by way of the verse from today’s reading, Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” This verse was often spouted when someone questioned the reasoning behind a decision, or even whether the decision had a biblical basis behind it. Since the leaders generally had “extra biblical knowledge” this question could be dispensed with, and often was.
The troubling thing with this passage is that the original Greek did not actually have the word “authority.” The passage just reads, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” Moreover, the word “obey” used here actually means to allow oneself to be persuaded (as with sound reasoning), rather than to blindly follow orders. So what this passage could really be translated as is, “Allow yourself to be persuaded by your leaders and agree with their sound reasoning when they give direction.”
Unfortunately, this church did not agree with this sort of analysis. They also didn’t like to quote the remaining bit of the verse, which reads, “for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account.” That last part, about giving an account (for their own actions) is the important part. Anyone acting in their own self interest will, of course, have to give an account to God for why they tried to force people to submit to their will, rather than to provide loving, persuasive direction. If someone provides that sort of biblical, reasoned direction, instead of just stating, “Respect my authority,” then they can reasonably expect people to be persuaded and follow their direction.