When to speak up and when to submit

July 30, 2014

Submission. It's a word loaded with a powder keg of emotions. We live in a culture more accustomed to questioning authority than submitting to it. Those in leadership are often viewed with mistrust rather than respect. Many have felt the sting of poor leadership in their homes, churches, and government. For some, this word is associated with weakness and inability rather than strength and dignity.

However, the Bible provides us with simple and clear commands regarding submission. Wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22). Civilians should submit to their governing authorities (Rom. 13:1). God's people should submit to their leaders in the church (Heb. 13:17). Jesus serves as the perfect example of submission, praying on the eve of his crucifixion, “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Submission is part of the Christian life. None of us is free from authority.

While every Christian is called to submit in some form, Scripture also provides examples when God's people disobeyed those in leadership so they could faithfully follow God's commands. Rahab failed to submit to her king when she hid the Israelite spies. She chose to align herself with the people of God and was rewarded because of her actions (Josh. 2:1-6; Heb. 11:31; James 2:25). Abigail didn't submit to her husband's sinful injustice toward David. She secretly met David and his men in order to rightly repay them for their service. Her discernment saved her family from the disaster that was upon them (1 Sam. 25:3-42). Peter and the other apostles didn't submit to the Jewish leading council when commanded to refrain from speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus. They boldly replied, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

These passages clarify that submission is not merely passive obedience to authority. It is an active and thoughtful obedience first to God and then to the authorities he has placed over us. At times, each of us will wrestle with God on how to apply the clear commands of Scripture in the complicated and gray areas of our experience.

How are we as believers to navigate the waters of submission when we find ourselves in a clash of callings? What are we to do when our obedience to God or the betterment of his people collides with the call to submit to our husbands, churches, or governments? Two biblical principles can guide us as we seek to honor God in our submission.

Principle #1: It is Sinful to Submit to Sinful Commands

First, we must acknowledge that we should never submit to authorities by following their leadership into sinful actions. When King Darius ordered that no one could petition any god expect himself, Daniel was right to disobey the lesser command from Darius and continue his regular habit of prayer (Dan. 6). If a husband were to command a wife to stop reading the Bible or meeting with God's people, she would be right to go against his leadership in order to follow the clear teaching of Scripture (Col. 3:16; Heb. 10:25).

In the book of Acts we are told the story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. Ananias sold a piece of property to give to the disciples but kept back for himself some of the proceeds, with the knowledge of his wife. When Peter confronted Ananias with his sinful actions, immediately Ananias fell down and died. A few hours later when Peter asked Sapphira about the piece of property, she continued in the lie and suffered the same consequence as her husband (Acts 5:1-11). A husband's headship doesn't mean his wife will escape judgment for her complicity in their sinful actions. When a husband, church, or government asks a Christian to sin, the believer always has the responsibility to obey God.

Principle #2: It is Not Sinful to Influence or Persuade God-Given Authorities

An authority over us may choose a less wise course of action, but not necessarily a sinful one. Perhaps a wife truly believes that a certain schooling choice is the best option for their children or would like to attend a more biblically based church, but her husband disagrees. Perhaps a church makes what some in the congregation feel is an unwise decision on using funds. Perhaps a government makes laws that seem to promote injustice, while not necessarily causing an individual to sin. While a believer may be called to submit in these areas, it is also appropriate to respectfully engage and present one's case before his or her authority.

Here are a few principles that can guide us as we approach those in leadership with our concerns regarding their decisions.

1. Seek the Lord in prayer.

Before Nehemiah approached King Artaxerxes to speak with him about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he went before the Lord in prayer and fasting. For four months he patiently prayed and waited before bringing the matter up to the king (Neh. 1). Prior to Esther presenting her request to her husband, she asked that Mordecai gather all the Jews together to fast on her behalf. As we go before the authorities, we should first spend time in prayer and fasting, asking the Lord to bless our requests. It's also important to pursue wise council and support from godly people.

2. Choose an appropriate time and place.

Esther asked King Xerxes to join her for a private feast before asking him to save her people from destruction. She didn't offer her request before all his officials in court but waited until they were alone, with only Haman there to hear her request (Esther 4-5). Each of us would be wise to consider the timing we choose to bring up areas of disagreement with those in authority. A wife might ask if she could meet her husband for lunch or dinner to discuss a specific topic. A church member would be wise to wait for a moment other than Sunday after the sermon to discuss his particular concern with his pastor. Choosing an appropriate time and location demonstrates respectful consideration of the person in authority over you.

3. Present your request with respectful boldness.

When Nehemiah went before the king, he was “very much afraid.” Esther also felt the weight of her request, telling Mordecai, “If I perish, I perish.” Yet both of them went before their leader with a respectful boldness that won them favor. They had the courage to ask, but they did so in a manner that honored the one of whom they made the request. As we seek to influence those in leadership over us, we can boldly put our requests before them, but we must do so a way that demonstrates respect to the role and authority God has given them in our lives.

4. Submit to God's providence.

In the end, a husband may not agree to his wife's request. A church may continue down a path that seems unwise. A government may make choices that fail to promote the welfare of those it governs. In these moments we must submit, trusting in the Lord and leaning not on our own understanding. Proverbs 21:1 encourages us: “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” Ultimately, God is providentially at work through the authorities in our lives. They are the human agents by whom God is fulfilling his good purpose for each of us (Rom. 8:28).

We are called first to submit our lives to God and second to those in authority over us. The way may not always be as clear as we would like, but our willingness to humbly entrust our submission to God forces us to a new and deeper understanding of his sovereign goodness. Thankfully, we follow first and foremost a Savior who knows not only the painful cost of submission, but also the joyful purposes for which God intends to use our willing obedience.

NOTE: This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24