October 23, 2017

Who Gave Thee This Authority? (3)

By Morris W. R. Bailey

The question of who, or what constitutes authority in the Christian religion may be discussed from various
angles, depending on who we are discussing with, and the precise point being discussed. For example, if we
were discussing the subject of authority with a Roman Catholic, the discussion would revolve around the
authority of Jesus Christ vs the authority of the pope. If we were talking with a member of one of the Protestant
denominations, we would discuss the Bible vs human creeds.


Those who have subscribed to the principle of the restoration movement have long been outstanding in their
plea for the Bible alone, as an all-sufficient rule of faith and practice. They deny the right of any human
authority, be it pope, council, or human creed to have any part in determining the faith and practice of the
church of Jesus Christ. It is a sad fact, however, that even among those who have made a plea for the
all-sufficiency of the Bible, there have been, and are those with whom the claim is evidently only a matter of
lip service, and who have, in effect, rejected the authority of the Bible, as seen in the rank modernism that
pervades the liberal amount of the Christian church. Others there are who are no doubt sincere, but because
they have never learned the principle of how to establish authority they have accepted without question human
innovations or else have spent their life time opposing that which is scripturally right. Some have sought to
loose where God has bound. Others have sought to bind where God has loosed. Instrumental music is used by
some, on the plea that there is no command in the Bible that specifically prohibits its use. Other brethren have
opposed what is commonly called the Sunday school, on the ground that there is no specific command in the
Bible that authorizes the dividing of the assembly into classes.


The current issues which face the church, over the right of the church to build benevolent organizations
separate and apart from the church, to do the work of the church, and the right of churches to centralize their
work under the oversight of a sponsoring church can only be settled by an appeal to divine authority, - what
the Bible teaches and authorizes. If the Bible authorizes these things, no one has any right to oppose them. But
if the Bible does not authorize these things, no one has any right to introduce them. But before men can
determine what the Bible teaches, they must be agreed on how the Bible teaches.


How can we know when the Bible authorizes a practice? How can we know when the Bible does not
authorize it? Does the Bible teach in any other way except by direct command? Does the Bible just teach
general principles and leave man to use his own judgment as to the application of these principles? Or is the
Bible specific in its teaching? Does it teach in such a way as to exclude other than that which it specifically
authorizes? These are questions that we shall try to answer as we discuss the matter of


How to Establish Scriptural Authority


Concerning a certain practice we may say or hear some say, "That is scriptural." Of another practice we
may say, "That is not scriptural." How do we know? What is our yardstick in determining that the Bible
authorizes one practice but does not authorize something else?


In answering these questions, there are some matters that are so familiar to the reader that we shall try to
deal as briefly as possible with them.


1. So far as the church or the Christian is concerned, the Old Testament does not constitute authority for
any religious practice, whether work or worship. That does not mean that we do not believe the Old Testament.
We believe every word of it. It is profitable for teaching. 2 Tim. 3:16. It furnishes the only true account of the
creation. It furnishes us with examples of how God has dealt with men in past ages, rewarding them for
faithfulness and punishing them for disobedience. But as a system of law, it does not apply to Christians.
Christians are not under the Old Testament but they are under the New Testament. Rom. 7:6. The church is
not subject to Moses, but to Christ. Heb. 1:12 Eph. 5:24.


2. Even the four gospels do not necessarily constitute authority for the church, -except as their teaching
is made a part of the gospel which was preached by the apostles. It must be remembered that Jesus was born
under the law. Gal. 4:4. He lived under the law and kept the law and taught the people with whom he associated
to keep it. The law of Moses remained in force until his death. Col. 2:14. The New Testament did not and could
not become effective until after his death. Heb. 9:16,17.


3. The apostles were sent out to preach the gospel and were given the authority to retain or remit sins. John
20:21-23. This they did bv announcing the conditions upon which sins may be remitted. Acts 2:38. They were
made sufficient as ministers of the New Testament. 2 Cor. 3 :6. To receive the teaching of the apostles is to
receive Christ. John 13:20. To reject the apostles is to reject Christ. Luke 10:16. It is thus evident from the
foregoing observations that the will of Christ must be understood in the light of the gospel as it was preached
by the apostles under the great commission. Let no one think that this detracts from the authority of Christ. He
has all authority in heaven and on earth. Matt. 28:18. But he exercises his authority through the apostles whom
he sent, and his will must be understood in the light of what they taught.


Having learned what part of the Bible constitutes our authority for what we do in work and in worship, we
are now prepared to state that scriptural authority for any religious practice may be obtained, (1) By direct
New Testament command. Or, (2) By approved apostolic example. Or, (3) By necessary inference. Let us deal
with each of these in their order.


Direct Command


A command is an order. Only those who are vested with the proper authority have the right to issue
commands. There is no question about the authority of Jesus and the apostles. Matt. 28:18. John 13:20. Jesus
commanded his disciples to eat the Lord's supper. I Cor. 11:23-26. Paul commanded Christians to assemble
themselves together. Heb. 10:25. From I Cor. 11 :33, we learn that the purpose of assembling is to eat the
Lord's supper. Thus when Christians meet together to eat the Lord's Supper they are doing that which is
scriptural. They are doing something that has been authorized by a direct command. The commands of the New
Testament would form a long list. But wherever we find a command in the New Testament, the thing
commanded is thus authorized and Christians can claim scriptural authority for doing the thing commanded.


Approved Example


Paul said, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do." Phil.
4:9. Thus Paul classes apostolic example (what they had seen in him) as of equal authority with apostolic
command. (What they had heard.) Jesus commanded the apostles to "teach the disciples to observe all that he
had commanded." Matt. 28:20. Whenever, therefore, we find an example of something practised with the
approval of the apostles, we may be certain that it represented the Lord's will in the matter, and such an
example is just as authoratative as a direct command. The day of the eating of the Lord's supper is a case in
point. We have the command to eat the Lord's supper. But we have no command regarding the day on which
to eat it. However we do have an example. Acts 90:7 tells us that, "the disciples met together on the first day
of the week to break bread." Since this had the approval of an inspired apostle, it comes within the scope of
approved example, and thus when Christians today meet on the first day of the week to break bread, they do
something that has been authorized by approved apostolic example.


The Necessary Inference


A necessary inference is the conclusion that must be drawn from existing conditions or circumstances. We
emphasize the fact that the inference must be necessary. It must follow as a logical consequence. Possibilities
and probabilities do not fall within the scope of the necessary inference. A possibility or probability may
indicate a fair inference, but never a necessary inference.


A necessary inference authorizes anything that is necessary to carrying out a command. The command to
assemble, Heb. 10:25 necessarily infers that there must he a place to assemble. It would be physically
impossible for Christians to assemble without a place of assembly. Jesus gave the command to "Go." There
must he a way of going. Jesus gave the command to "Teach." We necessarily infer that there must be a way
of teaching.


Closely related to the necessary inference is the realm of expediency. An expedient is, defined by the
dictionary as, That which is proper under the circumstances. Therefore we may regard expediency as the most
effective means of carrying out a command. The command to assemble, necessarily infers a place to assemble.
Expediency determines the best place in which to assemble. Necessary inference dictates that in order to carry
out to the command to "Go", there must be a way of going. Expediency determines the best way, whether by
car, train, or airplane. Necessary inference requires that in order to "Teach," there must be a method or methods
of teaching. Expediency determines the best method of teaching under the circumstances, -whether by chart,
blackboard, radio, cottage meetings, class teaching. It would not be expedient to try to teach blind people with
blackboard or charts, nor would it be expedient to teach totally deaf people by preaching a sermon to them.


A necessary inference is the only logical conclusion to be drawn from conditions or circumstances, yet
which is not expressly stated. Churches of Christ, in opposition to the denominational world eat the Lord's
supper on the first day of every week. While there is no express statement in the New Testament that the early
Christians met on the first day of every week for the eating of the Lord's supper, the language of Acts 20:7
makes necessary that conclusion. Israel was commanded to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Exodus
20:8. I am sure that it never occurred to any Jew to ask which Sabbath he must keep. The very nature of the
command would infer that the Sabbath was kept as often as it occurred. If the Sabbath day of Ex. 20:8 meant
every Sabbath day, why does not the first day of the week of Acts 20:7 mean every first day of the week?


General and Specific Authority


A discussion of how to establish scriptural authority would not be complete without giving some
consideration to the matter of general and specific authority. In fact the failure to recognize these two realms
is the rock on which many have made shipwreck of the faith. Failure to recognize the realm of general authority
has led some to condemn as unscriptural that which is not specifically commanded. Failure to recognize the
realm of specific authority opens up the flood-gate to any innovation man wants to introduce that is not
expressly prohibited.


General authority has to do with classes or species. It authorizes anything that falls within the class or
species commanded. God commanded Noah to take food in the ark. Gen. 6:21. God did not specify what was
to be included in the term, food. Therefore Noah was allowed to exercise his own judgement as to what he took
into the ark in the form of food, and how much food he took in. However we may safely infer that Noah
exercised good judgement and took in the kind of food that was eaten by each kind of living creature on board
as well as taking in enough of each kind of food to carry them through that long voyage. Any kind of food that
Noah took in would be authorized by God's command to take food into the ark.


We have the command to teach. Matt. 28:19, 20. Teach is a general term. What method shall we use in
teaching? God did not specify any one method so man is left to choose the method he prefers or the most
effective method. Public preaching, personal teaching, Bible class teaching, radio programs, religious literature
all fall within the scope of the word, teach, therefore they are authorized by general authority.


Specific Authority


Specific authority has to do with that which is specified and excludes all else but that which is specifically
commanded. God commanded Noah to make an ark of gopher wood. Gen. 6:14. If God had merely commanded
the ark to be made of wood, Noah would have been at libertv to use any kind of wood that he wished or
considered expedient. The fact that gopher wood was specified ruled out any other kind of wood. The nature
of the command made unnecessarv an express prohibition against pine, cedar, fir, or any other kind of wood.


God commands Christians to sing. Eph. 5:19. Col. 3:16. If God had merely commanded music, man would
have been at liberty to offer any kind of music he chose. The fact that God specified vocal music (singing) rules
out music made on mechanical instruments. When Christians sing hymns in worship, they do that which God
has authorized by specific command. When they add mechanical music to their singing they do what God has
not authorized them to do. Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord because they offered fire which the Lord had
not commanded. Lev. 10:1. Shall we believe that God is pleased today when men offer music which he has not
commanded ?


An example may also be exclusive. Acts 20:7 is a case in point. It tells us that the disciples met on the first
day of the week to break bread. Since there is no example of their having met on any other day but the first day
of the week to break bread, it is evident that that is the only day on which they did meet to eat the Lord's
supper. When Christians meet on the first day of the week to break bread, they have authoritv for so doing in
the form of approved example. To meet on any other day of the week to break bread would be without
authority, therefore wrong. If apostolic example is as binding as apostolic command, and a specific command
excludes all else but that which is specifically commanded, would not a specific example exclude all else but
that of which we have an example?


Thus we have before us in outline how scriptural authority may be established for any activity or program
of work in which the church may engage. As it relates to the current issues that trouble the church, a simple
application of the foregoing principles will solve all problems for those who respect God's word. If the schemes
promoted by ambitious brethren today are authorized either by command, approved example, or necessary
inference,-if they come within the scope of general authority or specific authority, this will settle the issue and
all opposition should cease. If, however, there is no command, example, or necessary inference,-if general
authority does not include,-If specific authority excludes these things, they are wrong, and brethren should have
respect for God's word to abandon them.


Truth Magazine III:2, pp. 16-19
November 1958

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