Divine Law in the Church

By Cecil Willis

As a member of the Lord’s church, there are some things permissible and some things forbidden. In order for one thing to be right and another wrong, there must be some law by which we are to abide. The fact of sin presupposes law, for John says “Sin is a transgression of the law” (1 Jn. 3:4). It is the thesis of this article to attempt to ascertain the divine rule by which the church is to abide.


In the outset of the lesson, let us observe what we are not attempting to do. (1) We are not discussing authority in religion, for there are both true and false religions, and simply to discuss authority in religion would necessitate going into all the various books recognized as authoritative in different religions. (2) Neither are we discussing the source of authority in the different dispensations in which man has lived, such as the Patriarchal and the Jewish or Mosaical, for these periods ended with the ushering in of the Christian era. (3) Nor, are we discussing the interpretation of Scripture. There can be no importance in interpretation of Scripture until one learns the authority back of the Scripture to be- interpreted. Authority must precede the giving of Scripture, and no- interpretation can be made until the Scripture is revealed. Furthermore, we may agree as to authority, but differ on interpretation. A religious debate is possible when two men agree as to authority, such as the Bible, but differ in their understanding of the Bible. They can, therefore, undertake together a systematic study of the subject under discussion.


But positively speaking, we are discussing the authority in the system we know as Christianity. This authority must of necessity be objective. That is, it must reside outside of you or me as individuals. Man is not the authority of Christianity. If the authority were subjective, every man would be an authority within himself, and therefore the authority of Christianity would be contradictory.

Christianity as a system is built around the declarations of Christ, the Master Teacher. In John 3:2, Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him.” In Matt. 28:20, Jesus commands the disciples, after they baptize individuals, to “teach them all things I have commanded you.” Christ’s teachings are the core of Christianity.

Christianity is, in the New Testament, represented as a law. Today we hear people protest one’s speaking of laws of the New Testament. They detest law, for law tends toward a legalism, we are told. But protest, or no protest, we must speak of laws within Christianity. The Bible is too plain for us not to speak of law within the church. Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1, 2). Notice again, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Again Paul instructs us, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). On other occasions Paul speaks of the gospel, but let us note but one more instance. “Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith” (Rom. 3:27). So there are laws in Christianity, and for there to be law, there must be the authority of the law-giver. Authority implies the right to command and enforce obedience. So we are discussing the right of Christ to command and enforce obedience.

Kinds of Authority

In order for us to see the kind of law or the authority in Christianity, let us note the different kinds of authority. (1) There is inherent or primary authority. This is the kind of authority that God has. God exists in His own right. His existence is not predicated upon the existence of any prior individual. His authority is ultimate and belongs to Him because He is God. Authority inheres in Him, because He is the source of all authority. (2) Then there is usurped authority. This is the kind of authority the devil has. His authority does not belong to him, but has been taken from another or others. But we are not primarily interested in this kind of authority at the present. (3) There is also delegated authority. This is authority that belongs to one, but is given to another. With authority being inherent in God, with God being the source of authority, for any authority to reach earth, unless God personally spoke with man, His authority had to be delegated to someone.

The Authority of Christ

Christ was the One to whom God delegated His authority. Jesus was a messenger from God commissioned with divine authority. So the words that he spoke constituted divine law. He said, “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me; he hath not left me alone; for I do always the things pleasing to him” Quo. 8:28, 29). The words spoken by Christ were God-given. Jesus said, “For I spake not from myself; but the Father that sent me, he hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life eternal; the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father bath said unto me, so I speak” Ono. 12:49, 50). Jesus again asserts his divine commission in Matt. 11:27; “All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the, Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.” Then perhaps the best known of Jesus’ statements of His authority is this: “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.” This statement just precedes the great commission and is recorded in Matt. 28:18.

In transferring the authority from God, in whom all authority is resident, to Christ, there was no possibility of error, for Jesus was deity. Jesus was God manifest in human form. In John 14:9 Jesus said, “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” Phil. 2:5-7 says that he “counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped” or held on to. He was God’s equal. In Heb. 1:3, we read that Christ was made in the “express image of God.” Col. 2:9 says that in him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. So after deity became incarnate in the form of humanity in Christ Jesus, he taught with the authority of God. So the Bible says: “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son” (Heb. 1:1, 2). God hath spoken in his Son! The teachings of Christ constitute divine laws.

Christ Delegates Authority

In the providence of God, it had been willed that Christ should die on the cross, be resurrected, and finally ascend to heaven. So provision had to be made for the perpetuation of the teaching he had declared to the sons of men. The apostles were chosen, trained, and were therefore prepared to become ambassadors of Christ, earthen vessels of the truth. Speaking of the apostles, Christ said, “Now they know that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are from thee: for the words which thou gavest me I have given unto them, and they received them.” In the same chapter, Jesus further says, “I have given them thy word” (Jn. 17:7, 8, 14).

Christ had been made in the “express image of God,” and thus infallibly delivered the message given to him by God. But these apostles were mere men. So provision was made to safeguard the revelation which was to be given to them. This safeguard given to them was the Holy Spirit, who was to insure that the message was received, declared, and recorded without error. As Jesus promised to ascend to the Father, he promised to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles. He said, “These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have spoken unto you” (Jn. 14:26). What was the work of the Holy Spirit? He was to remind the apostles of the words spoken by Jesus. In almost a parallel passage, we find this reading; “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto ?you the things that are to come” (Jno. 16:13). The Holy Spirit was to guide the apostles into all truth and bring to their remembrance the words of Christ. So the words spoken by the apostles were true, for they were the words spoken by God.

When the apostles spoke, they spoke with the authority of God. They were ambassadors of Christ, who was the Son of God. Numerous New Testament passages assert the authority back of their words. Paul says, “Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things (thoughts, K.J.V.) with spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13). In another place, the same writer asserts: “For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11, 12). (Also read 2 Pet. 1:20, 21; 3:2; Luke 10:16; Rev. 1:1-3.) But the authority of God is resident in the words spoken through the inspired apostles, and infallibly recorded in the Bible. This is the law, the divine law, of the church. There has never been any further delegation of authority in revealing divine truth.

Preachers all over the land are claiming inspiration. They claim divine aid in their preaching, even saying that God chooses their subjects, and their very words. But, God hath spoken unto us in his Son, recorded by the apostles and other inspired men. There is divine authority in no other. This fact indicates that no council, no synod, no assembly, no conclave of man has the right to legislate for the church. The only law of the church of Christ is the word of Christ as revealed in the Bible. We have no creed-book but the Bible. We are bound by no man-written discipline, manual, or confession. The Bible and the Bible alone is the creed-book of the body of Christ. We propose to speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent. Let us call Bible things by Bible names, and do Bible things in Bible ways. If we will but accept the Bible, and only the Bible as our rule of faith and morals, religious division will soon be abolished. It takes the preaching of something other than the Bible to make one anything more or less than a Christian. Denominationalism will die when the Bible alone is preached. It takes the creeds of men to make people what members of some religious bodies claim to be. The Bible will not do it. The only divine law for the divine church is that received, revealed and recorded by the Holy Spirit inspired apostles.

Truth Magazine XIX: 8, pp. 115-117
January 2, 1975