Biblical Authority (1)

By Forrest D. Moyer

(With a deep sense of awareness of my responsibility to God and to you, I send forth this message on Biblical Authority. I am doing so with a sincere desire to help “heal the hurt” of God’s spiritual Zion. That God may truly bless our efforts to be drawn closer to His will and to one another is my earnest prayer for this day. FDM)

One of the grandest chapters in the annals of our nation’s history is that of the great Restoration Movement that took place in the previous century here in America. American historians have not given to it its rightful place. The only movement that has overshadowed it was that of the beginning of the kingdom of Christ in the first century when Jesus had called and commissioned a few humble men to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostles began to declare the divine message throughout the world. The kingdom grew and spread throughout all lands captivating the hearts of thousands upon thousands of men and women.

But as time passed and the apostles died, men who did not respect the authority of our Lord began to substitute human wisdom for the divine and to institute human practices for the God-ordained worship and work. The church departed from the faith and went into a dark period in which the beauty of Jesus and His plan was no longer seen. As centuries came many valiant men arose in efforts to reform the church of that day. Most of their efforts resulted in the formation of human denominations.

It was not until the nineteenth century that we see genuine efforts to restore the original plan and purpose of God for His church. Godly men, determined to “speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent,” advocated a return to the New Testament pattern of doctrine, worship, work and organization. They recognized Jesus as the only head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23) and the Bible as truly the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13) and therefore, the only guide in religious matters. The result was that thousands of people obeyed the simple plan of salvation and the kingdom was spreading across this nation like a blazing prairie fire.

Even more tragic than the hideous civil war of the United States was the division that came in the ranks of the churches of Christ. Instead of brethren marching arm in arm in the mighty conflict against sin, swords were turned on one another as a result of the innovations that crept into the church. I think that A. W. Fortune in The Disciples in Kentucky summed up the causes of the division as well as anyone could. He wrote:

There were two different interpretations of the church which inevitably came into conflict. There were those who believed the church should move on with the world and adapt the spirit of the New Testament to conditions that were ever changing. They held that, when not forbidden by the New Testament, they were free to adapt their program to changing needs. On the other hand, there were those who believed the pattern of the church was fixed for all time, and the fact that certain things were not sanctioned was sufficient ground for rejecting them. The men on both sides were equally honest, but they had a different approach to these issues that were raised (A. W. Fortune, The Disciples in Kentucky, pp. 364-365).

He further stated:

The controversies through which the Disciples have passed from the beginning to the present time have been the result of two different interpretations of their mission. There have been those who believed it is the spirit of the New Testament Church that should be restored, and in our method of working the church must adapt itself to changing conditions. There have been those who regarded the New Testament Church as a fixed pattern for all time, and our business is to hold rigidly to that pattern regardless of consequences. Because of these two attitudes conflicts were inevitable (Ibid., p. 383).

We should do well to ask, “Were our brethren in error who believed that the pattern of the church was fixed for all time, and the fact that certain things were not sanctioned was sufficient ground for rejecting them?” Were they right in their contention that it is our business to hold rigidly to that pattern regardless of the consequences? Or were those who formed the Disciples movement correct in their advocacy that we adapt the spirit of the New Testament to conditions that are ever changing? Were they right in saying that it was the spirit of the New Testament Church that should be restored and in our method of working the church must adapt itself to changing conditions? Which of these attitudes was really responsible for the division that took place? Do we see both of these attitudes in the churches of Christ today?

After the division had taken place, the churches of Christ were often left without buildings to meet in. Virtually, they had to begin again. But the brethren believed implicitly in the power of the gospel and they preached that gospel with fervor. The churches grew as a result of that gospel preaching. In 1906 the government reported 2,649 congregations with 159,658 members. By 1926 there were 6,226 churches with 433,714 members. By the 1950’s churches of Christ were the fastest growing religious body in America. (The 1984 census reported over 13,000 congregations.) But once again the ominous clouds of division loomed on the horizon. Once again, there were two differing attitudes toward authority and the application thereof. It becomes absolutely compulsory that we look once again at Bible teaching concerning authority and to the proper application of it to our practices. How important is it for us to have Bible authority for all that we do? When we ask for Bible authority, is it “pattern theology”? Let us address ourselves to this issue.

I. Authority Must Begin With God.

A. 1 Cor. 2:9-13.

1. God’s will for our lives is in the mind of God. It has not by any natural means come into the mind of man. Man did not think of it; man did not originate it.

2. The only way we can know the mind of God what God thinks – about any subject is by a divine revelation. The Holy Spirit reveals what is the mind of God on any subject.

a. How could I know how God feels about baptism without a divine revelation?

b. How could I know how God feels about the worship He desires unless He reveals it?

c. How could I know how God feels about the work and organization of the church unless He reveals it?

3. Therefore, in order that man may know God’s mind, God has revealed what He wants us to know by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through His apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:3-5). This has been revealed in “words taught by the Spirit” (v. 13). By verbal inspiration, God has made known His will for us. Without that revelation I could know nothing of what God wants His people to do in serving Him. I cannot reason that “surely God wouldn’t care if we did this.”

B. What we have observed in 1 Corinthians 2:9-13 is in complete harmony with John 16:12-13.

1. Jesus had not taught the apostles everything’ that was in His new covenant. Even if He had done so, they would not remember it all.

2. So He promised to send them the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. Thus, what Jesus taught plus what was revealed to the apostles would constitute “all truth” – the all-sufficient message for our-spiritual guidance. They wrote by divine guidance what was revealed and we have “all truth” in the pages of the New Testament. We can say with all confidence that if something is not in the New Testament, it is not a part of “all truth” or “all things that pertain to life and godliness” or that which “completely furnishes us unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Unless something is revealed in the New Testament, then it is not a “good work” for the church to engage in.

C. These passages help us to understand Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus tells us that in order for us to go to Heaven, we must “do the will of our Father who is in Heaven.” Those people who considered themselves servants of Jesus will be ghastly disappointed on the judgment day when they are sent away into hell. When they argue that they had done many wonderful works in the name of Jesus, they only hear Him say, “Depart from me . . .”

1. I suggest to you that this becomes a very serious matter to each of us. How tragic to labor all of our lives in that which we believed was pleasing to Jesus and yet go to Hell. There is no practice so humanly precious that is of greater value than our souls! However dear these “many wonderful works” may seem to us, unless they are in “the will of God,” we cannot, we dare not, practice them! Brother, we cannot just apply these points to denominational people! We must apply them to ourselves as well. We sometimes think that only the denominations are subject to religious error!

2. Therefore, we need to carefully examine our every practice to make sure that it is in “the mind of God” or “the will of God” or in “all truth.” The only way to make sure of such is to be able to read it in the Bible.

(To be continued.)

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 7, pp. 193, 214-215
April 2, 1987