Who Gave Thee This Authority?
"And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?" Matthew 21 :23.
The above question was asked of Jesus nineteen hundred years ago. But it is a question that could very well be asked today concerning any religious faith and practice. By what authority do we preach and practice the things we do? Who gave us this authority?
The question of authority is a live issue in all phases of life. It is, and has always been a matter of primary concern in man's efforts to serve God. If there is one thing that stands out clearly in the Bible, it is the fact in the religious faith and practice of man, from the very beginning of time, God has required that men respect his will, and act only as he has authorized them to act. It is equally clear that when men did this, they met with God's approval and were rewarded. But when men introduced into their worship things, which God had not authorized, they incurred God's wrath and were punished.
During the nineteen hundred years of its existence on earth, the church of the Lord has been troubled by many issues, and has passed through numerous crises. Very early in its history there was an attempt on the part of Judaizing teachers to bind circumcision and the law of Moses on the disciples. Acts 15:5. The issue was settled by an appeal to the proper authority. The inspired apostles issued a decree which revealed God's will in the matter, and the crises was safely passed .
Some years ago the church passed through a crisis, when men began to introduce instrumental music into the worship, and began to form missionary societies to do the missionary work of the church. God-fearing men opposed these innovations because they believed that they were not divinely authorized and therefore sinful. By this appeal to divine authority a remnant of the church was saved from digression. Among those who chose to be guided by human wisdom, rather than by God's authority, there was a small conservative element that continued to preach the truth on the plan of salvation. But by far the greater part continned down the road of digression to complete apostasy. It would be difficult to find a denomination today with less respect for the word of God than is found in the liberal element in the Christian church.
Today, once more, there are issues that trouble the church of the Lord. These issues have to do with the question of co-operation. The issue is not, May congregations co-operate? but the issue is, How can congregations scripturally co-operate? In some instances a certain work is centralized, with a number of congregations pooling their resources in and under a sponsoring congregation. In other instances, human organizations with their board of directors are being formed to do the benevolent work of the church. Such set-ups are being, vigorously opposed by many good brethren who contend that they are not scripturally authorized, and that they are parallel, in principle, with the missionary society. These brethren have been labelled "ant's" and various kinds of "ites." It is evident, however, to all who are concerned with the importance of having divine authority for all that we say and do, that name calling and recriminations do not constitute scriptural authority for my practice. Only scripture can prove a thing scriptural. If God has authorized it, it is scriptural, and no one should oppose it. If God has not authorized it, it is not scriptural and the weight of numbers who practice it does not make it right. It then needs to be opposed in spite of everything. Thus, the question, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? has a very definite application to the issues that confront the church today.
To those who plead for a return to New Testament Christianity, the matter of divine authority for every thing that we preach and everything that we practice is basic and fundamental. The sowing of human creeds will never produce anything but human denominations. Only the sowing of the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8 :11 ) will produce a church of Christ. Thus when the pioneers in the restoration movement began their plea for a return to New Testament Christianity, they resolved to take the Bible and the Bible alone as their rule of faith and practice. Accepting the admonition of the apostle Peter, that, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." I Peter 4:11, they adopted the motto, "We will speak where the Bible speaks. We will be silent where the Bible is silent." It was inevitable that such a course brought them into conflict with the greater part of the religious world and even with their former practices. But they stood upon the word of God and accepted the consequences as they came. One by one, former practices-Infant baptism, sprinkling for baptism, human creeds, etc. were put to the test of scripture and discarded when found to be without divine authority.
To all students of the Bible, who are interested only in truth, the course pursued by the leaders in the restoration movement was commendable and right. True, they sometimes made mistakes and sometimes there was inconsistency between their preaching and their practice. There can be no question, however, that their determination to be guided solely by the Bible-to call Bible things by Bible names, and do Bible things in the Bible way, was the only way in which the church of the New Testament could be restored. It is the only way in which unity can be brought about in a troubled religious world today.
Christianity is, in preaching and practice, a life of faith. Paul said, "We walk by faith and not by sight." 2 Cor. 5:7. Again he said, "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him." Heb. 11:6. Hear Paul again. "And whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." Col. 3:17. As a Christian, I have no right to preach anything or practice anything that I cannot do in the name of the Lord Jesus, or by his authority.
But just as important as the matter of faith, itself, is the question of the source of faith. For years we have exposed as false the idea prevalent in denominationalism that it doesn't make any difference what you believe as long as you are sincere. Today, it seems that an equally false concept has arisen in the church, with many brethren committed to the idea that the church can do just about anything as long as it is a good work. As no stream can rise higher than its fountain, just so, no faith can rise higher than its source. Human creeds and human wisdom will only produce human faith. The only faith that will make us acceptable with God is faith that is founded on, or produced by the divine creed, the word of God. "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Rom. 10:17.
The history of man's efforts to serve God, from the beginning of time, contains abundant evidence that when men act on1y upon God's authority, God is pleased. When men act without divine authority, God is displeased and punishment is the inevitable result. Cain and Abel both attempted to serve God by sacrifice. Cain was a farmer and brought as a sacrifice of the fruit of the ground. Abel was a keeper of sheep and brought as a sacrifice one of his flock. The writer of Genesis tells us that the Lord has respect unto Abel's offering, but unto Cain and his offering he had no respect. Gen. 4:4, 5. Why? The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abel offered his sacrifice by faith. Heb. 11:4. Cain didn't offer his by faith. Since faith comes by hearing the Word of God, Rom. 10:17, Abel's sacrifice was thus authorized by God. Cain's sacrifice being not of faith, was not divinely authorized. The fact that God had authorized Abel's sacrifice was the ground of its acceptance. The fact that God had not authorized Cain's sacrifice was the ground of its rejection.
The story of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron stands as a grim warning concerning God's attitude toward the introduction of things that he has not authorized. God specified that a certain kind of fire must be used in the offering of incense. Leviticus 16:12. The fact that the command was specific, automatically excluded fire from any other place but from the altar of burnt offerings. Nadab and Abihu took strange fire which the writer describes as fire WHICH THE LORD HAD NOT COMMANDED. Lev. 10:1. They used fire which God had not authorized them to use. The result was that God's anger was kindled and they died before the Lord. Lev. 10:2.
In the closing words of the sermon on the mount, Jesus said: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven,- but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say unto me in that day', Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out demons? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you ; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Matt. 7:21, 23. In these words Jesus tells us of some who are going to be saved, and some who are going to be lost. Those who will be saved are those who do the will of God. Those who will be lost, Jesus calls workers of iniquitv. But let us take a look at these people. No charge of immorality can be brought against them. On the other hand they were people who were evidently trying to serve God. Why then will they be turned away? Is it not evident that in spite of the good works that they professed to be doing, they were not doing the will of God that they were acting without divine authority. If they had been doing God's will they would never be turned away.
In all the issues that have troubled the church of the Lord in past years the question of divine authority has been the ground on which the battle was pitched. When digression swept through the church nearly a hundred years ago, the men who opposed the human innovations were not just a few "antis" and "hobby-riders" who didn't like music and were opposed to missionarv work. They made their opposition on the ground that these things were not authorized by scripture.
When premillenialism became a threat to the church a quarter of a century ago, those who opposed it saw in it more than just the question of whether Jesus would come back to this earth to reign for a thousand years. They saw that the question of the authority of Jesus Christ was involved. Premillenialism, when pressed to its logical conclusions, denies that Jesus Christ is reigning as king today, therefore denies that he has all authority. Matt. 28:18.
In the current issues that trouble the church, nothing but scriptural authority will satisfy those whose aim is to please God. Name calling and charges of inconsistency will not prove my opponent's position wrong, nor will it prove my position scriptural. Only scripture can prove a thing scriptural. Only divine authority can authorize any religious practice.
(More to Follow)
Truth Magazine II:9, pp. 22-24