By What Authority?

By Lewis Willis

An incident in the ministry of Jesus, recorded in Mark 11:15-33, is the focus of attention in this article. Jesus had entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. In the temple he found common, marketplace trade being conducted. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of them that sold doves and cast them out of the temple. Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:7 that the temple, God’s house, was to be “the house of prayer.” He charged that they had made it “a den of thieves.” Though what these people were doing was clearly wrong, the scribes and chief priests sought to destroy Jesus for what he had done.

The next day, Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem briefly, When they returned, as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes and the elders came to him with a question. “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?” (v. 28) Jesus said that he had a question for them, which if they answered, he would tell them the authority with which he acted. He asked if the baptism of John was from heaven or from men? The Jews reasoned that if they said it was from heaven, Jesus would ask why they had not believed John the Baptist. At the same time, they feared the people if they said it was from men, because the people considered John to be a prophet. Thus, their answer to his question was, “We cannot tell.” Jesus said, if they would not answer his question, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things” (v. 33).

Had their motives been noble, the Jews asked Jesus a good question when they asked, by what authority doest thou these things? Had they been submitting to the authority of God themselves, they could have demanded to know the authority by which Jesus acted. What Jesus did was to expose their hypocrisy. Because they rejected his Deity, they were looking for some occasion to charge him with blasphemy. Hence, he knew they were insincere with their question, and that was what prompted him to reply as he did.

Nonetheless, we need to work a while with the question, by what authority certain things are being done. We will allow these hypocritical Jews to give us our thought. We need to be asking some questions about the authority with which people are doing in religion some of the things that we observe.

1. By what authority does the Catholic church ascribe to the Pope his supposed headship over the church? The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus Christ, the Christ alone, was given that function (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18).

2. By what authority do Protestant denominations teach that salvation comes by faith alone? Many of them do, such as the Baptist and Methodist churches. The Bible says we are not saved by faith alone (Jas. 2:24).

3. By what authority do Pentecostal churches teach that we today are baptized with the Holy Ghost, can speak in tongues, and receive further revelations from God? The Bible plainly teaches that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was promised to the Apostles (Acts 1:1-6); that the gift of speaking in tongues would cease when the perfect revelation was given (1 Cor. 13:8-10; Jas. 1:25); and that the revelation of God’s will was given “once” and not thousands of different times (Jude 3).

4. By what authority does the Christian church use mechanical instruments of music in their worship? The New Testament is emphatic in teaching us that we should “sing” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Jas. 5:13).

5. By what authority do some Churches of Christ build facilities (called fellowship halls) out of treasury funds for dinners and games? The Scriptures teach that “eating” is to be done at home (1 Cor. 11:22,34); and there is absolutely no assignment to the church to engage in recreational activities – it is assigned only the works of edification, benevolence and evangelism (Eph. 4:12).

It is evident that many things are done in religion for which there is absolutely no authority! It is surprising that this would be done when we are taught that every doctrine and action is to be done by the authority of the Lord (Col. 3:17). Respect for God, for Christ and for the New Testament demands that we confine our practices to those things they have authorized. Anything more or anything less is sin.

“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 Jn. 9-11). This is a lesson that must be learned or we will repeatedly jeopardize our relationship with God!

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 18, p. 555
September 17, 1992