A New Source of Authority Among Us

Bryan Vinson, Sr.
Longview, Texas

The real point at issue in every religious discussion and controversy is that of authority. Whatever ramifications such discussions may embody, they must, in their final analysis and determination, be settled by a proper recognition of and satisfaction with the authority governing the question. A difference in the recognized standard of authority will forever preclude the reaching of an agreement on the point at issue. This is the answer to the question of why so few, if any, differences are resolved and peace and harmony restored between those thus differing. In most instances, however, there is, at least, the professed acceptance of the scriptures as solely authoritative-even among the Protestant Denominations. This is evident in religious discussions through the years with the advocates of sectarian doctrine by Gospel preachers. Propositions generally affirmed by Baptists and other debaters begin with: "The Scriptures teach (or authorize)-." Of course it becomes obvious on hearing or reading such debates that very little reliance is placed on what the scriptures teach by those thus affirming. However, the strength of the position held and defended by Christians in their struggles with Sectarianism has been the firm and unwavering dependence on and devotion to the Word of God as the sole authority in establishing their faith and practice.

This, it now appears, may soon become a past condition rather than a continuing one. There has developed in attitude among some members and congregations which is reflected by their pronouncements to be entirely opposite the above reliance only on the Word of God. I have copies of the "restrictive" clauses in two deeds on church property. One is twenty years of age; the other is of recent formation. Both are identified with the same congregation. Hence, the difference is not found to be in two distinct groups of people, but rather a change wrought in the thinking, the faith and the practice of the same body of people. Of course there has been some alteration in the individual constituency of the congregation, but this does not account for the change. Rather it is to be explained by a changed attitude of the congregation toward the scriptures.

Let us set forth the language from each which presents the radical change: "As a part of the consideration for the transfer of said described property to said Trustees it is understood and agreed that no innovations, such as mechanical instruments of music in the worship, church shows, festivals, suppers, or human societies, such as are not authorized by the New Testament, and such as heretofore divided churches of Christ in Texas, shall be tolerated in the church building, the parties introducing said innovations shall immediately forfeit all right, control, or ownership to said property, and any member or members opposing such innovation shall take over the possession and control of said property, but in event no faithful members remain, then and in that event the said church property shall pass into the possession of J.W. Akin or his estate, Longview, Gregg County, Texas."

To contrast thereto read the following:

"It is distinctly understood and agreed that the Trustees herein named are to hold said described property for the Church of Christ of Henderson, Texas, and as a part of the consideration for the transfer of said described property, and as a material inducement for the transfer of said property, it is understood and agreed that no innovation such as the use of mechanical instruments of music of any type or form in any kind of worship service by the church; church shows; festivals; suppers; or human societies, such as are not authorized by a well-defined and clear-shown majority of the churches of Christ in Texas, shall be tolerated in the church building to be erected on said property, or at any place on the property itself; and should any of such things be induced or employed in said building or on said property, the parties inducing or employing same shall immediately forfeit all right, control or ownership of said property, and any member or members opposing such innovations shall take over the possession and control of said property, but in the event no faithful members remain, or no members who oppose such innovations, the said property herein described shall revert to the possession and ownership of the nearest church of Christ worshiping after the New Testament order without the use of mechanical instruments of music. However, it (if) at any time in the future the church should desire to sell this property, then, and for no other purpose, the congregation may by a majority vote lift or cancel this restriction."

It is very plain to the most casual reader of the above two statements of restrictions incorporated in the deeds, respectively, of the first property and the newly acquired property of this congregation that they are radically and fundamentally different. Much of the language is similar, and so much so as to suggest that in the construction of the language of the new restriction that of the former was before the one, or ones, who composed it. This but accentuates the radical difference in the underscored statements in each. The first qualifies the acceptable as distinguished from the prohibited practices by "the authority of the New Testament" ; the latter substitutes this authority for that created by the "well-defined and clear-shown majority of the churches of Christ in Texas." That is, authority is a fickle thing with this congregation, and that which may be unauthorized today may be authorized tomorrow, with the whole matter turning on the single and singular fact that the majority of churches practice tomorrow that which either none, or a minority are practicing today!

Since authority is identified with will, and resides with the one or ones whose will is entitled to prevail, and the New Testament scriptures being the sole expression of the Will of The Lord, this change denotes that those who made it regard the will of the majority of the congregations in Texas to be superior to the revealed will of Jesus Christ. From this conclusion there is no logical escape. Of course, when men depart from the Word of God such but manifests an underlying dissatisfaction with, or ignorance of the Will of Christ. If the former, then it proves such folks have more respect for the will of men than for the will of God. This condition of heart will condemn any man before the Lord in the last day.

Brethren who are inclined to minimize the gravity of present conditions in the churches need to give some thought to just how far this congregation has departed from God. A more radical and fatal departure isn't conceivable than that reflected in these two documents. True, some within the congregation may be unaware of it, and even the "leaders" may fail to grasp the full significance of its seriousness and magnitude. But such would never have found expression unless some one or ones have within their hearts of unbelief in departing from the living God. For men to trust in themselves or one another rather than in the Lord cannot but result in their ruin, and to turn from the authority of the New Testament to the majority will of brethren as authority is but to exercise themselves in distrust for God and trust in themselves. Also, the force of this restriction is voided by the fact that by majority vote within the congregation it can be nullified. It appears, therefore, from every viewpoint they are infatuated with majority role. Even within congregations with elders, oftentimes, decisions turn on a majority rule within the eldership.

The supreme need of God's people today, and at all times, is to allow Christ to be enthroned in their hearts, and when he is he will actually be the head of the church, and of all things to the church. He is the one, and the only one who has a right to govern the congregations of the saints everywhere on earth, even as he does those who have gone on before.

Truth Magazine III:10, pp. 18-19
July 1959