"Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God." (Rom 13:1)
Every orthodox Catholic is aware of the critical need to obey the magisterium, the voice of Christ on Earth. As Jesus Himself said, "He who listens to you listens to me and he who rejects you rejects me and he who rejects me rejects the one who sent me." (Luke 10:16) But the concept of the magisterium, a body of teachers who taught with authority (rather than speculation or supposition), was not novel Christian doctrine. Already we begin to see something of the roots of the magisterium in Jesus' day when he admonishes the Jews, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” (Matt 23:2-3)
The concept of a magisterium, in some form or another, extends almost as far back before Christ and it does after Him. And there are some very interesting things said about it in the Old Testament. Let's take a look at some of those things.
In Exodus 4, God calls Moses to be His direct representative to both the Hebrews and a direct messenger to the Egyptians but Moses balks at the idea since he did not think himself the ideal candidate to be anybody's "spokesperson." Moses tells God to send somebody else more qualified. Upset with Moses for doubting His providence, the Lord gives in to His servant's request but also insists that Moses still go with that person. God leaves no doubt, "[Aaron] shall speak for you to the people; and he shall be a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God." (Ex. 4:16) (Emphasis mine.)
How striking, that statement. Not "You shall be to him as the boss", or "as the one who leads the pack" or "as the superior." "You shall be to him as God."
A few chapters later, we find a similar idea expressed. "And the Lord said to Moses, 'See, I make you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you; and Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land'." (Ex. 7:1-2) (Emphasis mine) Again, it's not, "I will make you the greater authority over Pharaoh" or "superior to Pharoah"; "I will make you as God to Pharoah." Clearly, God is trying to tell the rest of us something that, let's face it, most of us are not comfortable hearing. That, shy of a command to commit immorality ("Go steal that purse", "Lie to the court", "Sex outside of marriage is no biggie, go for it", etc.) or to do something that's not possible ("Drop and give me a thousand push ups"), if God's representative speaks, we must listen and do. Period.
All of us are inclined to submit to authority to some degree or another. But, in all but the rarest few it seems, the tendency toward ego, toward self-will, toward rebellion always rears its ugly head eventually. In the book of Numbers, there is a famous account of just such a dramatic event wherein a man named Korah and three of his compatriots gather a group of 250 Levites together to tell Moses and Aaron they'd had enough. "You have gone too far!" they said. "For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Num 16:3) "You're not special," Korah and his men insisted. "God is the head of His people, not you! Stop acting like you're better than any of the rest of us!"
The flexing of their collective will didn't end well.
"No," Moses assured them. "It is you who have gone too far. Tomorrow morning, you will see..." (cf. Num. 16:4-7) He explains to them that it is God they are rebelling against ultimately, not him and Aaron. Moses summons Korah and his men the following morning and they appear at the Tent of Meeting and begin to burn incense, as directed. God then commands Moses to "back up" lest he be consumed in the imminent conflagration. Moses then goes around to the Jewish general public and explains to them that Korah and his men are about to be put to the test.
"And Moses said, 'Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they are visited by the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord'.” (Num 16:28-30)
For Korah and friends, it all went downhill from there.
"And as [Moses] finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split asunder; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. And all Israel that were round about them fled at their cry; for they said, 'Lest the earth swallow us up!' And fire came forth from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense." (Num 16:31-35)
So much for Aaron and Moses not being special.
In our own day, a similar rebellion is brewing. All too many who used to readily insist on obedience to the magisterium (including her otherwise faithful prelates) are now consistently seeking ways to undermine it and, in worst case scenarios, to directly challenge its authority altogether. It's probably highly unlikely that an earthquake or fire from the sky will consume the fomentors of this particular rebellion. But a far worse fire may await them at the end of their natural lives because God did not tell them to take note of the character of the one occupying the highest office of the Church. God never said "If you think the pope and dicasteries are performing well or are holy people, then back them. If not, make sure to publicly correct them or tell them how to do their jobs better." In fact, He said quite the opposite in the gospels. (cf. Matt 23:1-3)
When we see things we don’t like coming from our leaders, we in America especially are prone, out of a misguided sense of justice, to want to speak up and “correct” those things. The problem is that secular authority is not imbued with the same charism of protection afforded the magisterium. And so our response to secular authority is “apples and oranges” different than it is to our proper response to the Church.
Jesus' instruction is very simply, "He who listens to you listens to me and he who rejects you rejects me." Without qualification (beyond the obvious – that no one is required to obey an immoral command). Rather than accuse Christ of being ambiguous and confusing here, let's obey the scriptures. Let's have the same mindset as Christ, as the scriptures tell us to, and submit to him "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient [to human authority] unto death, even death on a cross." (Phil. 2:6-9)
Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on all of us self-willed sinners!