On Making General Authority Specific
Jerry F. Bassett
Cottage Grove, Oregon
Every man must abide in the authority of the doctrine of Christ if he is to enjoy fellowship with God, outside of that doctrine man is also outside of God's fellowship (Matt. 28:18-20, II John 9.) Further, this authority is expressed in two different forms, and abiding in the doctrine of Christ depends 011 a proper respect for both of them.
The first is specific in form and therefore exclusive in nature, and the second is that which is generic in form and therefore inclusive in nature. A classic example of these two forms of authority is found in Mark 16:15-16. Notice that Jesus commanded the preaching of the gospel. This is specific as to the message to be preached and therefore excludes the preaching of everything except the gospel. However, notice that Jesus also commanded men to go and preach, but he did not specify the means of travel. Thus, the command "go" is generic so far as the means of travel is concerned, and therefore includes every means expedient to obedience.
Through the years the failure of brethren to recognize the exclusive nature of specific authority has led to one apostasy after another. For example, in the 19th Century brethren ignored God's specification of the local church as the pillar and support of the truth and tried instead to make the churches into pillars supporting a missionary society, which in turn was supposed to support the truth for the churches. Today brethren are again ignoring this same specification by trying to make the churches into pillars supporting, not the truth, but sponsoring elderships such as that involved in the Herald of Truth broadcasting program which in turn is supposed to support the truth for the churches. In the former case flagrant disrespect for the exclusive nature of specific authority produced a denominational church. In the latter case the same disrespect will produce, and is producing, the same result.
However, another aspect to this matter is the reaction of some brethren as they oppose the violation of specific authority. In the commendable desire to be "safe" some adopt an attitude that is anything but safe. They not only demand that we respect the exclusiveness of specific authority but they also take generic commands that authorize a number of expedient choices, and bind one of them as though the command authorizing it was specific instead of generic. In this they too violate the authority of Christ by trying to specify where He has not.
For example, the Lord has specified that the local church is to teach the truth, but he has not specified the grouping of the students as the church does this work. Thus, the church must arrange those who assemble to study God's word in whatever grouping may best suit the needs and circumstances of that congregation. But some brethren are willing to make specific authority out of that which is generic by demanding that all the students attending Bible study be taught in one undivided assembly. In this they violate the authority of Christ by being more specific than His revealed word.
In the institution of the Lord's Supper Jesus gave 'a cup" (ASV) to his disciples and told them to divide it and drink it. Since that cup is to be divided and drunk, and since that which we divide and drink is the fruit of the vine, it is evident that the cup of the Lord's Supper is specific of the element we drink and not of its containment. Thus, we have generic authority that requires us to choose the type and number of containers to be used in distributing the fruit of the vine. But some take this generic authority and try to make it specific by demanding that we all drink out of one literal drinking vessel. In this they violate the authority of Christ by being more specific than His Word.
Those who make these and other demands for our observance of their human specifications always plead for them on the ground that the practice is safe; and then proceed to draw the line of fellowship against those who will not submit to them. Certainly the practice advocated may be scriptural, but it Did the lame and sick sacrificial lambs prove to God Israel's true love? Even in physical affairs a young lady would not be so naïve is here emphatically denied that it is ever safe to bind an expedient that is generically authorized as though the Lord specified it. Admittedly, it would be safe for a brother to ride to services upon the back of an ass even as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. But surely even the ass would agree that it would be anything but safe to allow some misguided brother to bind such a practice on all and make it a test of fellowship.
Brethren, the authority to bind and to loose belongs only to Jesus Christ and was delegated by him to none except the apostles. Therefore remember that it is never safe to let any man take this authority to himself; either by loosing where the Lord has not loosed, or by binding where the Lord has not bound.
TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 2, pp. 15-16 November 1965