Some Standards of Authority (4)
Thus far in our discussion of authority in religion, we have examined conscience, reason, and human creeds as authority. In this article our attention will be directed to the authority of special ecclesiastical groups formed by men.
God's revelation in the New Testament is complete and accurate. Those who served as His messengers were guided by the Spirit in the words they spoke (I Cor. 2:13; I Thess. 2:13). To the apostles, Jesus gave the authority to bind and to loose what He was to bind and to loose in heaven (Matt. 18:18). These men were ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). As ambassadors, the apostles had the authority to speak in the name of Christ, and to bind on men His will.
Scriptures given from God make one complete, completely furnished to every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). The faith (the gospel system) was given once for all time (Jude 3) and will be that by which one will be judged in the last day (John 12:48-50). For this reason all men are called on to repent (Acts 17:30-31). The message declared by the apostles cannot be changed (Gal. 1:8-9) except at the anathema of God. All things that pertain to life and godliness have been granted through the knowledge of Him that called us (2 Pet. 1:3). Accordingly, we are urged to hold fast the gospel that was delivered (I Cor. 15:1-2) and the same message is to be committed to faithful men who will teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).
It follows that the New Testament is the complete, final, and infallible message and law of God, Those who were authorized to speak in the name of, and for the Lord did. This law tells us that Christ is the head of the church (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23) and that each local congregation should have a plurality of elders when fully organized (Acts 14:23; Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:17, 28). The elders are called bishops (Acts 20:17, 28), they are called pastors and shepherds (I Pet. 5:1-5; Eph. 4:11ff). Deacons minister or serve, and there should likewise be a plurality of them in local congregations.
These officials, elders and deacons, do not have legislative or lawgiving authority. They must be ruled and governed by the gospel just as everyone else. The bishops or elders have the responsibility of instructing and guiding the flock in the right ways. Encouraging, reproving, correcting and strengthening in harmony with the will of the Christ, they go about their work of pastoring or shepherding the spiritual flock committed to their care.
Those authorized to announce the law of the gospel to men did so. Since we are governed by this law, and will be judged by it in the last day, it follows that no group of men is authorized to speak in the name of and for Christ now. The gospel as it was originally proclaimed cannot be altered. This being true, it follows that no religious or ecclesiastical body can now speak authoritatively by the authority of Christ. His will having been revealed in the first century, it is our responsibility to see that we yield to its instructions. All men are equally related to this will, and no man or group of men has the authority to announce to others ecclesiastical rules. We are each bound by the same law; this law is unchangeable. We should beware that no, one lead us to believe that anyone now has the power to legislate on religious matters.
Ecclesiastical bodies claiming now to speak in the name of, and for Christ do so without divine approval. It is usurped, not delegated, authority!
The question of authority in religion has been discussed in a series of articles in this magazine. We have learned that all authority belongs to Christ, and the New Testament is His will expressed to man. This will carne through the work of the Holy Spirit, who guided its writers so that what is written is that which God spoke (2 Pet. 1:19-21; I Cor. 2:13; 1 Thess. 2:13). What one believes and practices in religion should be that revealed in the will of Christ.
The authority of Christ is as much behind the apostles' teaching today as it was when their words were first heard, for Jesus said that He would be with them always, even unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:20). Keeping in mind the proper authority in religion, we should seek to answer all questions with the Lord's will.
Truth Magazine III:9, pp. 1, 5