Things Which Do Not Establish Authority In Religion
Pine Bluff, Arkansas
At least three things are implied by the title of this article, viz. (1) Ascertaining how the Scriptures authorize is obligatory (cf. Col. 3:17; 1 Cor. 4:6; 1 Pet. 4:11); (2) Inasmuch as God demands that we have His sanction before we act, it is possible to know how God authorizes; or put another way, it is possible for rational, accountable men to "understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 3:3-4; 5:17; et.al.); (3) There are certain criteria by which one cannot determine what is and what is not authorized in the realm of religion. It is with this particular fact which our title implies that we consider to be one of great urgency at this time.
It appears to me that some brethren believe what they believe about "issues" past and present, not because they have diligently "searched the scriptures daily, with all readiness of mind, to see whether the things are so" (Acts 17:11), but they adhere to "positions," "opinions, " and "judgments" based on criteria which are within themselves dangerous, and lead to perilous tendencies. What follows is my analysis of what some of these false standards are, and an explanation of why I believe some are "bent" on relying on these false standards.
The majority or large numbers are employed by many to determine what is right or wrong as a religious practice. I know that error does not always have the larger following, but I am firmly convinced that, as a general rule, the "way of truth and right" will not have many to adhere to its tenets! One possible reason why people seem to have a sort of "natural inclination" to be "crowd followers" is, we want to convince ourselves (and some have done so) that there is strength in numbers, and as some say, "Surely, all of those people are not wrong on the issue(s)." I think that such individuals fail to realize, many people can be (and have been) dead wrong about one (or many) issues!
To ancient Israel, God by Moses said, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude (lit. "run after many") to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to wrest justice" (Ex. 23:2). The underlying principle of this enactment is still binding, viz. right and justice are not established by numbers! Evil does not become good, even when espoused and practiced by a multitude! It takes a great deal of "intestinal fortitude" to oppose erroneous doctrines and/or positions, especially when standing with the truth puts you among the minority!
Jesus taught the disciples in Matthew 7:13-14 saying, "Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it." Our beloved Lord said in Luke 13:24, "Strive (lit. "agonize") to enter in by the narrow door: for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able." These texts demonstrate that, relatively speaking, the vast -majority of people are traveling the wrong road!
I think there is another reason why some are influenced by the dictates of the multitude, viz. "they love the praise that is of men more than the glory that is of God" (Jn. 12:42-43). This certainly involves the constant fear of some of being "labeled and stigmatized." No friends, number does not establish authority in religion. Let all of us resolve to stand with truth regardless of who or how many do otherwise!
Another thing which does not establish authority in religion is the pronouncements of well-known, highly respected men whether denominationalists or brethren.
Paul and Silas were two well-known men who did much for the cause of truth in the first century, and were, therefore, highly respected, but when they went into Berea, Luke records, "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so."
This same attitude should characterize every person today, who is truly concerned with the eternal well-being of his soul! The apostle John admonishes, "Beloved, believe not (lit. "stop believing") every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world." Preachers have been wrong in the past on vital issues and many are wrong today on the very same issues! A thing is not authorized just because "your favorite preacher" says it is! The job of the faithful evangelist is to proclaim what has been written and "not go beyond the things which have been written" (1 Cor. 4:6). They must "speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11), and when they fail to do so, must be reproved the same as anyone else.
Elders of local churches are in the same category. They are not legislators. They are men who are sometimes wrong. They are not ones who make laws for God; they simply see that the things which God requires are done right by saints in congregations. Nothing is right in that elders recommend and/or enforce it. It is right if authority can first be found in the sacred writings, and then expediently carried out under the oversight of the elders (Acts 20:28-3 1; 1 Pet. 5:1-2; Heb. 13:17; et.al.). It is sectarian in essence and denominational in scope and approaches Catholicism's diocesan (man-made arrangements of authority) arrangements when we recognize elders and preachers as speaking ex cathedra (or as the voice) for the saints! Were the elders and/or preachers "crucified for you? or were you baptized into the name" of the elders and/or preachers? If the answer to the above questions is "no," then they cannot be the determiners as to what is, and what is not authorized in religion!
Authority in religion is not established by uninspired literature such as religious periodicals, Bible class material, commentaries, word studies, and lexicons! The reason is, these documents are the products of men who are not free of error; they are fallible. These works are useful in the study of the Bible, but they are not the standards by which we determine what is an acceptable item of worship or a doctrine to be espoused. This is settled by the word of God!
I think one of the "tell-tale" signs of a periodical which is approaching a dangerous scale of authority is when both sides of an issue will not be carefully and thoroughly examined. One journal published in Los Angeles, California, consistently carries a "special notice" on page two which reads, "The publisher of ______ reserves the right to refuse to publish any article that he feels does not contribute to the unity and growth of the Lord's Church." This appeals to one as a worthy aim, but the significance of it, as it applies to controversial subjects, seems to have been in the past (and even now), "The publisher reserves the right to refuse to publish any article with which he disagrees and/or cannot answer, especially if said article contains the truth in opposition to liberalism and the social gospel!"
Regarding commentaries and lexicons, I must say, they are not always right. There are times when I must for the sake of truth and conscience differ with a widely recognized "scholarly" work because I do not think the author gives the correct definition and/or exegesis in keeping with the context and/or scriptural usage of a word or phrase. Notable examples include New Testament word books which define psallo to mean "to play on the harp or mechanical instrument," or lexicons which define hades to mean the "grave" in the New Testament, or Old Testament lexicons which define almah in Isaiah 7:14 and its counterpart parthenos in Matthew 1:23 to mean "young married woman, etc." My hesitancy to accept with blanket endorsement, each comment of the various commentators does not mean that I disavow their scholarship or expertise in their respective fields; I merely recognize that they are not inspired and are, therefore, subject to error! Hence, I must be cautious. They are not the authority in religion!
Religious authority is most definitely not established by uninspired, human tradition. There are basically two kinds, viz. uninspired, human tradition, and inspired, authoritative. The former is exemplified in Matthew 15:2-6 and the latter in 1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Human tradition usually manifests itself in the following words, "We've always done it this way," or "I've never seen or heard it that way before." I ask, so what? What does that have to do with the validity of it? Human tradition can be a detriment, especially when we begin to think that to do a thing some other way is sinful, or when we become attached to doing the wrong things and refuse to change because of "traditionally practicing error." Some examples of traditional practices which are an integral part of the work and worship of some local congregations are: (1) segregated singing groups which violate Colossians 3:16, (2) humming during the Lord's supper violates Ephesians 5:19, (3) midweek collections which violate I Corinthians 16:1-2, Acts 20:7, and many other unscriptural practices which are condoned and justified (?) on the basis that "We have always done it this way with no objection(s), so why should we stop now?" The point which is often not understood is, the thing that makes an act right or wrong is not the past or present practice of it, but whether or not the word of God authorizes it to be done.
Nor is the authority established by expediency. The first question to ask is not, "What is best and most advantageous for us?" Nothing is expedient which cannot first be proven to be lawful! Expediency does not establish or precede law. It grows out of law, i.e. the lawfulness of the act must first be established (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). The missionary society is not lawful (authorized), hence cannot be expedient in evangelism between local churches, the evangelists, and lost ones. The benevolent organizations supported (built and maintained) by local churches are not authorized by God's word, and, therefore, cannot be expedient "methods" through which churches work in doing their work of benevolence or caring for the needy. Educational societies supported by churches from their treasuries are not authorized, hence, cannot be expedient means for churches to edify their members and/or develop elders/preachers.
Finally, authority is not established by the silence of the Scriptures! Some have said, "Well, after all, the Bible does not say, 'thou shalt not' do thus and so; so what is wrong with it?" The problem is this: those who seek to walk by the apostolic way, do only what the Bible says (teaches, authorizes), not what it says nothing about, i.e. what it does not teach or authorize (cf. Col., 3:17)1 Man may not act where God has not authorized by explication or implication. Those who did so in early Bible history stand as memorials to the consequences of such presumptuous acts (cf. Gen. 4; Lev. 10: 1-2; Heb. 7:11-14). God told Noah to use gopher wood, and he meant gopher wood, all gopher wood, nothing but gopher wood (Gen. 6:1-4,22). God by the Spirit, in the apostles, through the word commands us to sing in worship, and he means sing only with respect to New Testament music (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19; Jas. 5:13). We are instructed to immerse the penitent believer of the gospel. There is no authorization provided in the word of God for the immersion of infidels, idiots, or infants (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:30).
Friends, the only infallibly safe guide is the Sacred Writings. They are inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 2:13), ought to be searched and studied (Jn. 5:39; Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15), and will save one from sin and prepare him for heaven (Jas. 1:21; 1 Pet. 1:22-23; 2 Pet. 1:3; Acts 20:32). Let us endeavor to be absolutely certain that the acts which we perform are proven to be in harmony with divine revelation, for only in that way will we please the Majesty in the heavens and bask beneath the starlit throne of glory throughout the ages!
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 5, pp. 135-136, 148