God is over mankind and all of us are under God’s authority. Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation and human beings were given authority over all other aspects of that creation. These two facts of reality are unassailable– in virtue of this we, as free agents, are burdened with hierarchy. And, being burdened with it, we are burdened with “moral responsibility” and “inescapable accountability”.
The structures of the biological family and of God’s spiritual family, the Church, are also hierarchical. To advance this truth today will obviously put one in the crosshairs of many who resent hierarchy in both arenas. However, the Church’s purpose is not to be the culture, it is to subvert the culture and call it to repentance.
The Triune God Is the Source of Hierarchy
Jesus subordination to the Father discloses something transcendent to us: the eternal subordination of the second Person of the Trinity to the First:
““Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19
“Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” John 6:57
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” John 10:18
These and several other passages, especially in John’s Gospel, reveal that there is subordination within the Trinity itself. This is why hierarchy can never cease to exist. Because there is a hierarchical relationship within the very Godhead, in the Son’s eternal subordination to the Father, and because the creation proclaims the glory of God, there can therefore never be a creation without hierarchy.
The problem, therefore, is not with hierarchy. The problem is what we as sinful creatures do with the authoritative roles that exist within hierarchies. That is the problem that requires our attention. All other attempts to eliminate hierarchy, authority, or subordination are but fool’s errands. They are quixotic undertakings that can never be realized and that only lead to our own misery as we continue to tilt at windmills.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.“
And so while bad hierarchies or bad people who fill authoritative roles within a hierarchy may corrupt our understanding of it, it is not “hierarchy£ itself that is the problem. In fact, it is part of the solution to our modern malaise, our current malady of “tyranny of the masses.”
Unfortunately, for a culture saturated with Critical Theory in its various manifestations, just the mention of hierarchy, often construed as “subordination,” will engender a kind of primal rage– one that goes so far as to abandon the neutrality of law itself. Mari Matsuda, one of the founding mothers of Critical Legal Theory, explains the need to dismantle hierarchy and the means by which it might be done:
“Through our sometimes painful work in coalition we are beginning to form a theory of subordination; a theory that describes it, explains it; and gives us the tools to end it. As lawyers working in coalition, we are developing a theory of law taking sides, rather than law as value-neutral.” Matsuda, Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy: Legal Theory out of Coalition
For Matsuda, any structure of authority in the culture is a threat to autonomy. It is “subordination” to an authority other than the self, and subordination of any form to an external authority is treated as an intrinsic evil. The means to end “subordination” for Matsuda is to turn the law itself into a tool of political activism; to make the law “take sides.”
In this vision of the law, lady justice (or “person justice”) has the blindfold removed. Now the all-seeing eye of justice can impose justice where justice has been neglected. But this imposed justice cannot tolerate inequality of any kind, and so hierarchy in all its forms and manifestations must go–to include hierarchy in the family. As is with any Marxist-inspired mode of thought, however, the injustice that might have to occur in the process of righting previous injustices is given little to no consideration.
Jesus, unlike modern, Ivy league-trained lawyers, has a very different view of hierarchy and authority. On the one hand, he commends those who recognize their place in hierarchical structures, praising them in fact for their faith:
“When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.” Matthew 8:5-13
The centurion’s grasp of his place, both as a man under authority and one in authority, is held up by Christ as a model for others. Of course what stands out in this account is that the man in authority, the centurion, comes to Jesus on behalf of his servant–out of genuine concern, out of love, for the one under his authority.
This is servant leadership. It is the same kind of servant leadership that Jesus Himself exemplifies in paradigmatic form as the Creator of the universe who comes into His own creation to serve it:
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. Mark 10:45