Who Gave Thee This Authority? (3)

Morris W. R. Bailey
Moose Jaw, Sask. Canada

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