West Allen Church of Christ
The Need for Bible Authority
It is almost universally recognized that men can co-exist peaceably only with a recognition of authority. True anarchists (those who rebel against any established authority or power) are few and far between, because anarchy leads to confusion and chaos. Even one who occasionally breaks the rules understands that the rules are necessary.
There are authoritative documents (the Constitution and laws of the land), authoritative people (policemen and judges), and authoritative institutions (governments). For a society to function correctly, each of these authorities must be respected. Those who reject such authority are dealt with accordingly. "Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same" (Romans 13:2-3).
Before the flood, men had rejected God, and became evil in their intent. Concerning them God said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them" (Genesis 6:7). When man rejects God he rejects the ultimate authority, and rightly brings condemnation upon himself.
Religiously, Jesus Christ is the authority. He claimed such in Matthew 28:18, "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.'" We will not spend time here examining that claim. Those who name the name of Christ will not dispute His statement. What is disturbing is that those who will attest to Christ's supremacy, and assent to His Lordship nevertheless refuse to recognize their responsibility to submit to His authority in their religious practices. While it is true that we may practice religion outside of the scope of Christ's authority, such rebellion has a price. "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9).
Old Testament Examples
The need for authority in our religious practices is seen by looking at examples in the Old Testament. Three examples are here submitted which show how seriously God treats unauthorized religious activities.
First, the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, as recorded in Genesis 4. The Hebrew writer (11:4) indicates that the sacrifice of Abel was offered "by faith." That is, it was in accord with God's instructions: "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Cain, however, rejected the instructions of God, and offered a self-willed sacrifice. Regarding his offering we are told that God "...did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the LORD said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it'" (Genesis 4:5-7).
Second, Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-2). That is, they offered fire "which He had not commanded them" (vs. 1). Some may think that the origin of the flame was of no significance, but it constituted vain worship before God. For their rebellion, Nadab and Abihu lost their lives. "So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD" (Leviticus 10:2).
Finally, Uzziah acted without divine authority in wanting to burn incense before the Lord (2 Chronicles 26:16-20). As King, it was not Uzziah's place to burn incense. Only the priests had been given authority by God to do so. When the King's heart "was lifted up", that is, he became arrogant and proud, he sought to become an authority unto himself. God responded by striking him with leprosy upon his forehead. Uzziah learned his lesson. "...Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the LORD had struck him" (vs. 20).
Let us learn from these examples, and respect the authority of God and his Son Jesus Christ.
The Source of Divine Authority Is Not...
The Doctrine or Practices of the Old Testament
There are a number of common religious practices today which were characteristic of Old Testament worship. Some denominations advocate the use of an instrument of music in worship because of the Old Testament practice. Others speak of tithing as required of God, or the practice of sabbath observation. Some Mormons actually appeal to the Old Testament as giving authority for the practice of polygamy.
What is not understood is that the Old Testament is not our source of authority for religious practices. To justify our actions by the old law is to jeapordize our standing in grace. (cf. Galatians 5:4).
The law of God to the Jews is no longer binding today. We can not go to it for authority in our religious practice. It is no more... "Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Colossians 2:14).
What the Preachers Say
Perhaps due to the clergy/laity distinction, and the mysterious "call to preach" many are willing to put their trust in a man regarding authority for religious practices. To do so is dangerous. One of the peculiar aspects of our religious culture today is the abundance of conflicting doctrines preached by men who claim to be "called of God."
A preacher is to be followed only as he preaches "the" word, not his own word. "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:1-2). The teaching of any man is to be compared to the word of God (cf. Acts 17:11).
Creeds of Men
Practically every denomination has a manual, discipline, prayerbook or creedbook which is followed. While it is true that creeds are not pressed as often in our time, nevertheless the substitution of the "traditions of men" for God's word in matters of faith and worship constitutes the establishment of a creed.
We can not please God by accepting any creed of man. "And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).
The Desires of the Congregation
The church of our Lord is not a democracy. It seems in our time that many think churches have the right to decide for themselves what they will believe and practice.
However, the desires of the majority are often at odds with the will of God. You can look at numerous Old Testament examples of this truth. For example, Israel wanted a king that they might be like the nations which surrounded them. In clamoring for a king, Jehovah said that Israel had, "rejected Me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Samuel 8:7).
It is wrong to say that congregations have the right to do as they wish. Instead, they have the right to do as God wishes, even though all others might reject His will.
Other examples could be cited. Some believe elders have the right to establish religious practices. While they indeed have oversight in a congregation, such authority does not extend to the establishment of doctrine or practice. Others believe that the "end justifies the means." In other words, if the practice "does good", that in and of itself is sufficient authority for its existence.
All of these concepts are incorrect. The sole source of religious authority for the child of God is our Savior Jesus Christ.