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Rebellion and How an Authoritarian God Deals With It


Rebellion is a common word in the vocabulary of Evangelical Christian pastors, church leaders, husbands, and parents.

Here’s what the Bible says about God’s view of rebellion:

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Samuel 15:23)

Those who practiced witchcraft were to be put to death (Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:9-11), so it is clear that God considered rebellion a serious matter.

God commanded a harsh punishment for a rebellious son:

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them; Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

The Old Testament is the written record of how a thrice Holy God dealt with a rebellious people, Israel. Page after page details God’s judgments against his people and those who got in his way.

When we get to the New Testament, the word rebellion is not used. Does this mean that God has changed? Of course not. How is it possible for a perfect God to change? Malachi 3:6 says:

For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.

The Bible says, speaking of Jesus:

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)

It is clear, from the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God that God is immutable. He doesn’t change (though there are a few texts that seem to suggest otherwise).

Evangelical churches and pastors generally believe that both Testaments are authoritative (especially those Old Testament verses about tithing). Granted, Evangelicals are quite contradictory in their interpretations of the Old Testament, picking and choosing what they want to believe, but they do say all sixty-six books of the Bible are authoritative.

The key word is AUTHORITATIVE.

Evangelicals take seriously the matter of rebellion because they believe that the Bible is an authoritative text, and from that text they deduce an authority structure.

It goes something like this:

  • The Christian God is the supreme authority over everything. He is the sovereign King and Lord over everything. He is the creator. He is in complete and absolute control. Even with salvation, no one can be saved unless God permits them to be saved. Both Calvinists and Arminians alike believe God is the final arbiter when it comes to salvation.
  • The Christian God has established an authority hierarchy in the church. Under Jesus Christ, pastors (elders, bishops) are the head of the church. They have been called by God to teach, correct, lead, and direct the church. They are to initiate discipline when necessary to ensure the church is a pure, holy body (though many churches have a pretty low standard for pure and holy).
  • The Christian God has established authority hierarchy in the home. Again, under Jesus Christ, the husband is the head of the home, and his wife is to submit to his authority. Children are to obey their parents, and submit to their authority.
  • The Christian God has established an authority hierarchy for nations. All nations are to bow to the authority of the Christian God. Their laws should reflect God’s law. Better yet, theocracy, God rule, is the best form of government.

Evangelical Christians believe God rules over everything. There is no King but Jesus, and no God but the trinitarian deity of Christianity.

The problem here, of course, is that Evangelical Christians are human. Contrary to all their talk about being saved and sanctified, Christians are pretty much like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. For all their praying and confessing sin, they live and talk just like everyone else. Simply put, like all of us, they do what they want to do.

And that is a big, big problem.

You see, the authoritative God of the authoritative Bible demands absolute obedience. God expects Christians to implicitly and explicitly obey his commands. All of them. God will have none of this picking and choosing that American Christians love to do.

So everywhere you look you have Christians in some form of rebellion against God, their pastors, their parents, or their husbands. No matter how much they pray, read the Bible, go to the altar, and promise to really, really, really obey God this time, they continue to lapse into sin and rebellion.

This is what Jesus told his followers in Matthew 5:48:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

It seems “nice” Jesus didn’t lower the standard when he came to earth. God expects and demands perfection. God will have none of this “I am not perfect, just forgiven” cheap grace Christianity. Jesus expects his followers to walk in his steps. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they have been given everything they need pertaining to life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)

The difference between atheists and Evangelical Christians is guilt. Evangelicals live in a constant cycle of living right, rebelling, feeling guilty, repenting, and going back to living right. This cycle can go on numerous times a day. Atheists can feel guilty at times, but since they are not encumbered by a long list of Biblical laws, commands, rules, regulations, precepts, or standards, they are less likely to feel guilty. With no God hovering over them and no pastor preaching at them, the atheist is pretty much free to enjoy life. Generally, atheists try to live by the maxim: don’t hurt or cause harm to others, and when they fail they are likely to make restitution and ask for forgiveness from the people they hurt. No need for a God, Bible, church, or pastor. As humans, atheists have all the faculties necessary to be a good person.

What makes it worse for Evangelicals is that when they go to church on Sundays, their pastors remind them, from the Bible, of course, of how rebellious they are. These fallible, frail, sinful men of God point out the sins of their congregants, reminding them that God hates sin. These whitewashed sepulchers call on rebellious church members to repent. You would think that people would get tired of all this, but each week they dutifully return to church so their pastors can remind them of their sinfulness and need of repentance.

Children, especially teenagers, get this same treatment from their parents. When children don’t obey their parents, they are chastised and reminded that God hates rebellion. But kids will be kids, as every parent knows, and in most homes, it seems that children are either starting into rebellion or coming out of it.

Parents are commanded by God to beat the rebellion out of their children (Proverbs 13:24). God provides himself as a good role model to follow.  Hebrews 12:5-10 says:

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

The Bible records how God goes about chastising rebellious Christians. He maims them, makes them sick, kills their families, takes away their possessions, starves them, and, if necessary, kills them. God goes to great lengths to make sure a Christian seeks after the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Here’s how God expects Evangelical Christian parents to respond to the rebellion of their children:

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13,14)

Let me tie this all together.

A divinely authoritative text from an authoritarian God establishes authority structures (hierarchies) for the church, family, and nations. Disobedience to God-ordained authority is to be punished.

For those of us raised in this kind of Christianity, we well know how this works out practically. The Bible, in the hands of God’s man, the pastor, is used to dominate and control people. Individuality and freedom are discouraged, and, in some cases, severely punished.

Pastors remind their churches about “pastoral authority.” Parents remind their children that they are to be obedient, and threaten them with punishment if they don’t. Husbands remind their wives that they are the head of the home and their word is f-i-n-a-l. Collectively, Christians warn government officials that Jesus is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and God demands they submit to the authority of God, the Bible, and his people (this is the essence of the theocracy movement in this country).

Some readers are likely weeping by now. Their minds go back twenty years or more to a time when they were teenagers. Their parents considered them rebellious. Often their rebellion consisted of things such as listening to rock music, smoking, getting pregnant, talking back, having sex, or smoking marijuana. Their parents, needing to show them that they were in charge, sent them off to group homes to get their “rebellion” problem fixed. What really happened is that they were cruelly misused, abused, and debased. Years later, their lives still bear the marks of the Godly “rebellion” treatment they received.

It is hard not to see cultism in all of this. I am sure Bible-believing Christians — people of the book — will scream foul, but the marks of a cult are there for all to see if they dare but open their eyes. Millions of people attend churches that believe the things I have written about in this post. This is what Bible literalism gets you. How could it be otherwise?


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    At one point in the OT the Hebrews ask Yahweh to give them a king. Yahweh says they won’t like it, bit accedes to their wishes. SO, Israel (Judah?) ends up with a king, but of course, that king is subordinate to Yahweh. The so-called 12 disciples in the NT were promised kingships in the new world order and of course, they would be subordinate to Yahweh/Jesus.

    So, rebellion against any part of the system down the line is rebellion up the line against … Yahweh … and we can’t have that! That is not only rebellion but heresy at the same time and the only punishment is stoning and crucifixion, and burning at the sate, and staking the remains out in the desert for the wild critters to eat.

    Lovely bit of thinking there.

  2. Avatar

    I like a life where I don’t feel guilty, as long as I am attempting to be a decent person. And if I do hurt someone, I do try to fix it. But fundamentalist/evangelical/conservative Christianity is about people needing Jesus to be saved from sin. And the sins are numerous…and yet, so many sins are overlooked. Homosexuality is considered horrible and evil and damning to all, but church members are gluttonous and backbiting, speaking ill of each other and even hurting one another. But those sins* are ignored. Personally, I’d rather be friends with LGBTQ people, and since I already am, I guess I’m offensive to fundies. Tant pis.

    *Of course, people who have consciences will experience guilt. Apparently there are many Christians who are comfortable in unkind ways, who don’t feel a particle of concern. Over 500 innocent children were separated from their parents at the border 2 years ago, and they will never recover from the psychological blow, even if the family’s are reunited. These things don’t seem to cause our standard fundie to give a fuck, and they will happily vote for Trump.

  3. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Fundagelical believers are very very moderate in their correction of their greatest love, (2nd to Jesus of course) their dear children. When they get out the belt to whip their kids, Deuteronomy rolls over in its grave and laments that they are so pussy-willow soft and cannot bring themselves to do God’s Will at the gate, to take up the stones and put-down the one who offends God. Instead, they bring out switches and belts and wooden paddles and use those on their kids.
    Can’t you see the faith falling to pieces when parents cannot even obey God and kill off bad progeny? No wonder God put Donald into the White House: Things have gotten liberal, as if the family was some kind of democracy! A firm hand is needed and lots of rocks! Trump in 2020!
    What you non-believers refuse to see and it is obvious, God is talking about grown-up kids here, drunkards and rebels, not little kiddies! Once they are old enough to get into the booze and speak rudely, well, then, they need to be stoned to death. It’s a simple teaching from the mouth of God, fer Chrice sake, amen.

  4. Avatar

    When I was a kid/teen in evangelical church and school, I learned early on to present an outward front of obedience while keeping my rebellion hidden inside. Occasionally I could act in rebellion, but not often. I boded my time until I was an adult and could get out. I tested my rebellion but by bit, testing to see where the line was where God would strike me in punishment. He never did, so I kept up my search for truth, reading forbidden subjects like evolution, history, psychology, philosophy, etc…. I guess he doesn’t love me – and I am ok with that. The collateral damage was that I was a miserable teen, seething with the anger and rebellion hidden under the surface and waiting to be let out. On the outside I was the perfect honors student, could parrot bible verses and doctrine, was obedient……f$%# evangelical authoritarianism.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      They built a structure that assured we had to lie as kids, to at least lie in action, in compliance, if not in our own hearts and heads. I lied in every way. Jesus saves alright…

  5. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    My parents, and my mother in particular, were proud that they never had to spank me. It never occurred to them that a kid who never misbehaves is not a normal kid, and might have something bad going on, like maybe major depression. I remember them carrying on about the neighbor’s kid, who was a rebellious teenager, and how his problem was that his parents hadn’t beaten him.

    My husband and I had a lot of reasons for not having children, but one of the minor ones was that I wasn’t going to give anyone my parents for grandparents. Dad was actually a great parent of elementary school age kids, but he would never have coped with normal teenagers.

    Authoritarianism sucks. I look at my Norwegian cousin’s kids, never spanked in their lives, and probably seldom yelled at. (I think spanking is actually illegal in Norway.) Wonderful young men, politically engaged, thoughtful, kind, generous. If that’s what abandoning authoritarian structures gets us, bring it on!

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Bruce Gerencser