"By What Authority"

Lowell Blasingame
Grenada, Mississippi

Authority is defined as legal or rightful power; a right to command or to act; dominion; jurisdiction. When one acts with authority, he does so under jurisdiction or at the authorization of one who has legal or rightful power. When he acts without authority, he lacks these to authorize his acts.

While Jesus was in the temple the chief priests and elders came to him wanting to know by what authority he did his things and who had given this authority. Apparently, they thought they could silence him or destroy his influence by showing that he lacked jurisdiction or legal and rightful power. He responded to their questions with a question and promised an answer when he received one from them. In considering his question they saw that either answer that they might give involved them in an embarrassing situation, so they replied that they could not answer. Jesus then told them that he would not, not that he could not, answer their questions that related to his authority (Matt. 21:23-27.)

The need for authority has long been recognized. Along with its need, there must be the means for establishing it and there must be respect for it. This is true in the home, the school, the state and the church. Failure to respect authority in any of these will result in lawlessness, disaster and ruin.

Many have failed to recognize man's need for divine authority in religion. Reliance upon self or upon others may be the cause for this. The danger of relying upon self is seen in man's inability to direct his steps (Jer. 10:23), and in his supposing a way is right when it leads to death (Prov. 14:12). The danger of relying upon others is shown in the Lord's statement that the doctrines of men render our worship vain (Mt. 15:9). This failure of man to recognize his need for divine authority illustrates that he has failed to learn one of the basic Bible lessons governing acceptability with God. Man may go beyond divine jurisdiction but he cannot do so and retain the fellowship of God (2 Jno. 9)

This lesson is taught in many of the examples of the Old Testament. Abel acted by divine authority when he walked by faith (Heb. 11:7; Rom. 10:17), in offering a sacrifice from his flocks. Cain's substitute was without divine jurisdiction and was rejected. Nadab and Abihu acted without divine authority when they offered strange fire, one which God "commanded them not," and were slain for so doing (Lev. 10.1-2). The priests said to Uzzah, "It appertaineth not unto, Uzzah, to burn incense unto the Lord" (2 Chron. 26: 16-20). Uzzah may have thought that since this was a good work that he did not need divine authority but when he acted without it, he was smitten with leprosy.

The New Testament equally as well sustains the lesson that man must have and respect divine authority in his religious acts. Jesus taught the lesson in the parable of the wise and foolish builders (Mt. 7:24-27). The wise man heard and did, thus acted according to divine jurisdiction, whereas the foolish man heard and did not as instructed by divine authority. His house fell. The lesson is simple. When we act by divine authority, we build upon a solid foundation. When we act without it, we invite disaster and ruin.

Another thing illustrating man's need for divine authority is the New Testament appeal for unity among followers of Christ. Jesus prayed for it (Jno. 17:20-21), and Paul plead for it (1 Cor. 1:10). But unity cannot be attained without a rule and this cannot be had without an authority to establish it. Merchants in our country practice unity in weights and measures. This is accomplished by their abiding by the same rule and there had to be an authority to establish what the rule should be. If each merchant relied upon his feelings to determine the measure of a yard or the weight of a pound, unity of practice would not exist among them. To attain unity in religion there also must be a rule and a recognized authority that establishes it. When we accept this and walk by the same rule (Phil. 3:16), unity will exist. Reject the authority for establishing the rule and religious chaos and ruin will follow.

The final things that we employ to show that man must respect divine authority are the passages in the New Testament that forbid his going beyond, adding or subtracting, or substituting for what God has authorized. Such passages as 1 Cor. 4:6 RV; 2 Jno. 1: 9; Rev. 22:18-19 and John 12:48 show that if we fail to respect the authority of the Lord's word that we forfeit the fellowship of God and our right to the blessings of the heavenly home. Man must speak as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11), and he is not at liberty to act in the absence of divine jurisdiction.

Those who scorn the need for divine authority in doctrine and practice overlook one of the basic lessons taught in both the Old and New Testaments. This lesson needs to be learned by our religious neighbors who have inaugurated ways of salvation and practices in worship for which no divine jurisdiction exists. It, also, needs to be learned by our brethren, who seem to have forgotten that we have no legal or rightful power to engage in any practice, regardless of how good the work may appear to be or how great the results accomplished, if there is no divine jurisdiction for the same. To so do is to act without authority and to act without authority is to invite disaster and ruin.

Truth Magazine IX; 2, p.1-2
November 1964