Conscience and Authority

By Larry Ray Hafley

Modern views of the conscience of man and the Scriptures of God are weighted in favor of conscience. The discerner and interpreter of truth is the conscience. The verdict of conscience is supreme, and if it seems to be out of harmony with the understanding of Scripture, then Scripture must be re-evaluated so as to coincide with conscience. This reverence for private conscience is another form of idolatry. If personal judgments supercede the word of God as supreme authority, the underlying roots of infidelity and moral anarchy will be enthroned under the guise of an inner, spiritual and reasonable faith. In this, each man is God and each, mind is the Bible. Under this system, the word of the Lord is a force at the mercy of the choice and caprice of the individual. Thus the spirit of conscience usurps and assumes the throne of authority. As judge he reigns and rules the congress of his own inner kingdom. He, invested with full power, decides the merits of the past and legislates and dictates the course of the future. The only court of appeal is himself.

It may be thought that the above reflects solely the idea of unbelievers, but it does not. Misunderstanding of grace and liberty in Christ causes one to unwittingly reject the authority of the Bible. Subverters and perverters of the work, worship and organization of the churches of Christ are allowed unscriptural liberties with the function of local congregations on the basis of their conscientious love and zeal. A mere conscientious love and zeal is not, however, an acceptable substitute for scriptural, conscientious love and zeal-let that not be forgotten.

Conscientious Sin

If human conscience is the hand that molds and forms the clay of divine Scripture, there could never be sincere sins of ignorance. In John 16:1-3, the Lord warned, “The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” Were those guilty before God who murdered the Master’s men thinking they did God service? Was one Saul of Tarsus innocent when he truly “thought with (himself) that (he) ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth?” (Acts 26:9) All whose con-, science said make “havoc of the church” were innocent if the conscience be the Supreme Court, but later Saul said of this conscientious behavior, I am “chief of sinners.” A distorted conscience. in light of the Scripture, can never alter the nature of sin or make it lawful. Conscience may call evil good, and good evil, and put darkness for light and light for darkness and put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, but it cannot change the truth with respect to what is good, light, and sweet.

Authoritative Doctrine

The outstanding fact of the sermon on the mount was not its wooing call to conscience, nor its appeal to hearts steeped in righteous judgments, as well it might have been, but the significant feature was astonishment “at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority” (Matt. 7:28, 29). Let that seep and sink in the next time you are tempted to sentimentalize sin or excuse ‘error. “He that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings” (Jn. 14:24). “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love” (Jn. 15: 10). “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (I Jn. 2:4).

Therefore, those who, in the name of love, liberty, conscience or unity, attempt to set aside the pattern of the Scriptures in any area of the life of a Christian or the labor of the church are guilty of iniquity or lawlessness. Their sincerity does not justify them. Their clear conscience does not soften or lessen the havoc of the church.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:34, p. 13-14
June 27, 1974