Issues that Divide Us (I): Understanding Authority
(Editor's Note: The following material was originally presented as a series of radio lessons last year during a meeting at the Twin Oaks Church of Christ in Huntington, Tenn., and copied by the elders. It has been edited and adapted for publication.)
We would like to encourage you to get a Bible so that you might study the Bible with an open mind and free of any prejudice, and examine everything that is said by the revelation of Christ. It is our purpose to speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent in order that we might be found acceptable in the eyes of Jehovah. As suggested by the title, we are going to have a series of lessons dealing with the issues that divide us.
First of all, let me say that division is indeed a shame. It never was in the mind of God, and God did not intend for such to be. All you need to do is to read the New Testament and you will find that Jesus Christ, His purpose and His goal was that people might be one. This was the scheme of redemption that was in the mind of God from the very beginning of time. And so then Jesus Christ died upon the cross and purchased His church in order that all men might be one in Christ, whether they be Jew or Gentile, black or white, bond or free, rich or poor.
But yet at the same time, we need to recognize that upon certain occasions that division is right, and that Jesus Christ said that He brought division. This might sound strange to some people because they labor under the impression that the Son of the living God was so meek and so lowly that He did not intend to divide anyone over anything, but this is not true. When you read the revelation of Christ and you read about the life of the Lord Jesus and you listen carefully to His words, you will find that He emphasized that under certain conditions that division must come. If you have your Bible, turn to Matthew 10, beginning in verse 34-"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." In the words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ, you can readily see that the Son of God said, "I came not to bring peace upon this earth," and yet it is also stated in the Bible that He is the "Prince of Peace." But now what Christ is saying here is that under certain conditions, there will be division-that whenever people go astray, leave that which He has committed unto them, then there will be division.
Whenever there are people who are willing to follow after the doctrines of men rather than following after the teaching of Christ, then Jesus said division will come. And, he said, "Think not that I have come to bring peace." but "I have brought a sword," and there will even be division. There will even be division among families. He said that "a man's foes shall be they of his own household." Whenever there is a man who loves his mother and father more than he does Christ, then something is wrong. But if a man will love the Lord first, he will obey the gospel; and many times this will bring division even within the family rank.
So, we can see that upon certain occasions that division is wrong and sinful, that God intends for all of us to be o, e, that Christ died upon the cross for unity, that He prayed for unity, and therefore condemned division. Yet at the same time, the Son of God said to remember that "I have brought a sword," and that under certain conditions there will be division.
Now then, as we think about division and the issues that divide us today in the Churches of Christ, we need to be concerned about authority. I think one of the major principles that we fail to understand is the authority in religion, and as a result of not understanding authority, we find something that divides us today.
When we talk about authority in religion, we need to remember that first of all, Christ has all of the authority. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, "All authority has been given unto me, both in Heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Now, in the verse that we have just quoted, we observed that Christ said, "All authority hath been given unto me." Now note that He said, "both in Heaven and in earth."
Sometimes we find people saying that Christ has all of the authority in Heaven, but then someone else has the authority on earth and as a result of that, we have one in the Vatican City who makes the claim that he has the authority to speak for the church upon the earth. Again that is a misunderstanding of authority. Jesus said, "All authority hath been given unto me both in Heaven and in earth," so we need to recognize in the very beginning of our study that Jesus Christ has all of the authority-not your mother or your father, not your preacher, not your church, not anyone in the Vatican City; but we need to understand and put it down first in our mind that Jesus Christ is the Master, that He is the Son of God, that He is the head of the church, that He is the one that has all of the authority "both in Heaven and in earth;" and in order to carry out the commandments of God we must respect the authority of Jesus Christ.
Well, a lot of people say, "Preacher, I tell you one thing: I believe that Jesus Christ has all of the authority. I believe that He is the Son of the living God." And then they turn right around and deny the commandments of Jesus. Remember what the Lord said in Luke 6:46, "Why call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I command you to do." Now, my beloved friend, listen to me. If you call Jesus Lord, that means you respect Him as the Master and the Authority. If you respect Him as the Master and the One with authority, then you would be willing to obey every command. You would not quibble and argue about what the Lord says. Whatever Jesus tells' you to do, you would be willing to do it. For an example, in Mark 16:15-16, the Lord says, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Now, if you respect Jesus as one with all authority, and as the Lord, then you would be willing to believe and to be baptized. You would not argue about it, you would not quibble about it, you would just simply say, "Lord, you speak and I'll obey."
Now one thing that divides us in religion is the fact that people fail to recognize Christ as the One with all authority in religion. But then again, we need to recognize that by Christ having the authority, we must recognize His word as the authority. Christ is now in Heaven, but we have His word upon earth; so then we must abide by the word of Christ. To emphasize this, Jesus said in John 12:48-"Whosoever rejecteth me and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the same which I have spoken shall judge him in that day." There we can plainly see that the word of God is the authority in religion, that Jesus said that when you reject my word that you reject me. So then, when we talk about authority, we talk about the Bible, we talk about the word of God.
But today people misunderstand the Bible. They misuse the word of God, and as a result of it, there is divisioneven among the ranks of the people of God, and such ought not to be so. First of all, people fail to rightly divide and handle aright the word of God.
Now it is true that the Bible is the authority, but we need to recognize that the Bible is divided into what we call two major divisions: The Old Testament and The New Testament. Sometimes people say, "Oh, you people in the Church of Christ, you do not believe the Old Testament is the word of God." That, my friend, is not so! We believe that it is the word of God. We believe exactly what the apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:21, when he said the men of old were moved by the Holy Spirit of God as they spake. We believe that everything they said is infallibly so-but it is not binding upon us today. In Galatians, chapter 3, Paul said that we lived under the schoolmaster-the schoolmaster being the Old Law-but he said we are no longer under the schoolmaster. We are no longer under that law, as he said in Colossians 2:14 because He nailed it to the cross. So then, there are some people today who go back to the Old Testament for their authority, and as a result of it, there is division among us today, and such ought not to be so.
But today in the Churches of Christ there is division in our number because people fail to understand how to establish divine authority. Now we have the Bible, but how do you establish divine authority? Well, if I understand the teaching of God's word correctly, we establish divine authority in at least three ways: First of all, by direct command; secondly, by necessary inference; and thirdly, by a divine approved example. Now this can be proven by many places in the word of God, but in simple language, open your Bible to I Corinthians, chapter 11.
In 1 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul is giving the command of the Lord's supper. He said, "As I received of the Lord, so do ye." In verse 24, he said, "Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you. This do in remembrance of me." Now if you have your Bible, note that he said, "This do ye." Now when you have got a "this do ye," you have a direct command. So when you find in the Bible where the Lord says, "This do ye," this means you must do it. This is the authority.
But then secondly, we need to observe that there was a divine approved example-that they had the Lord's supper upon the first day of the week. In Acts 20:7, "the disciples came together upon the first day of the week." So there we have disciples coming together by apostolic authority upon the first day of the week. Now when someone asks me the question, "Where is your authority for the Lord's Supper?", the Lord said, "This do ye." "Where is your authority for the Lord's day?" Why we have the authority by divine approved example where they came together upon the first day of the week.
Then we have the necessary inference: upon the first day of every week. But somebody will say, "Preacher, the Bible does not say to eat the Lord's Supper every first day of every week." But this, my friend, is where you misunderstand it! It is necessarily inferred that every time there is a first day of the week that the disciples of Christ are to eat the Lord's Supper. Under the Old Law, when God gave the commandments in the book of Exodus, he said to "Remember the Sabbath Day." Now, show me where the Lord said to remember every sabbath! But, I tell you one thing, my beloved friends, the Jews understood that every time there was a Sabbath day, that they were to observe the Sabbath. Now then today, we understand that every time there is a first day of the week that God's people are to observe the Lord's Supper.
And so then, we have the direct command, a necessary inference and approved example. And this comes under a generic command and also a specific command. This is the way that you establish divine authority, and as a result of people not doing this, there is division among our ranks, and for this we are sorry.
Truth Magazine XXI: 13, pp. 200-201