By Mark Mayberry
Despite the Lord’s plea in the garden of Gethsemane (Jn. 17:20-21), today’s religious world is tragically divided. This situation exists because people hold to many different standards of authority. Catholics look to the Pope. The Mormons base their doctrines on the writings of Joseph Smith. The Seventh Day Adventists follow the teachings of Ellen G. White. Other denominations have their creeds, manuals, disciplines and confessions of faith, traditions, and human doctrines. The resulting confusion is obvious.
When there is no accepted standard, chaos is inevitable. According to our established standards of weights and measurements, a yard is equal to 36 inches. Yet, what if various stores had different standards? What if Wal-Mart said a yard was equal to 28 inches, but K-Mart said it was equal to 40 inches? This sort of situation existed in the early days of our country. The colonies had differing standards of weights and measures, making commerce difficult and confusing.
This article focuses on the subject of Bible authority. No more important theme could be studied. The question of authority is at the heart of every religious issue. It is imperative that men recognize the same standard of authority in religion. It is also imperative that men recognize the right standard of authority in religion. This is the only path to unity.
A. The Nature of Religious Authority
Are we going to look for the right standard of authority in the subjective or the objective realm? Shall we rely on our own feelings or upon the revealed word of God?
1. Subjective religion is based on man’s will. Many people approach religion subjectively. That is, their convictions are based upon personal feelings. They say, “This is how I feel. . . . This is what I think. . . This is what I believe.” Yet, man cannot direct his steps in the area of religious truth (Jer. 10:23). The heart cannot be trusted because it is often deceitful (Jer. 17:9).
2. Objective religion is based on God’s will. The final court of appeal in religion is higher than man. We must put our faith in something greater than ourselves. In religious matters, it is not our own views that are important, but rather what God has revealed. Truth is not subjective, i.e., it does not originate with a person’s own thinking. The Bible is an objective standard that must be studied and obeyed (2 Tim. 2:15; Jn. 8:32). Recognizing that the creeds and opinions of men are not authoritative, let us focus on the divine standard of authority, the Bible.
B. The Source of Religious Authority
1. God. The ultimate source of all religious authority is God. As Creator of the universe, Jehovah has inherent authority (Gen. 1:1). Since God is the potter and we are the clay, he has the right to mold and make us after his will (Isa. 64:8).
2. Christ. God has delegated authority unto the Son (Matt. 28:18-19; Jn. 5:19-23; Heb. 1:1-2). He now sits at the Father’s right hand, as King of kings and Lord of lords. Because of his exalted position, it is imperative that we respect the authority of Christ (Acts 3:22-23; Col. 3:17).
3. The Apostles. Christ delegated authority to his apostles (Matt. 18:18; Jn. 13:20). Before his crucifixion, Jesus promised that they would be given the Holy Spirit. In this way, they would be given a perfect remembrance of his teaching and would be guided into all the truth (Jn. 14:25-26; 16:12-14). The apostles and prophets did not claim originality for the things that they wrote. Instead, they received their message by revelation (Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:1-5).
4. The Bible. Today God speaks to us through the New Testament (1 Thess. 2:13). The Scriptures are “inspired,” which literally means “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). To guard against any possible mistake, God was active throughout the whole process of revelation (2 Sam. 23:1-2; 1 Cor. 2:1-13). As originally delivered, the gospel message is infallible and inerrant. Furthermore, through divine providence man continues to have access to the inspired word of God.
Some have argued that the Bible cannot be understood. Yet, salvation is contingent upon knowing and obeying the truth (Jn. 8:31-32). If men cannot understand the Bible, God didn’t clearly reveal his mind unto mankind. If this is so, the final judgment will not be fair because man will be judged by God’s word (Jn. 12:48). In reality, the Bible is clear and understandable (Psa. 119:105; Eph. 3:3-5). God’s revelation is perfect (Jas. 1:25), complete (2 Pet. 1:3), and final (Jude 1:3).
Because of its divine origin, we must accept and obey Bible truth (Matt. 7:21; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Those who seek to please Christ will look to the Bible as their only source of authority in religious matters. God’s word will judge us in the last day. Thus we must recognize the sinfulness of adding to or taking away from the word of God (Deut. 4:2; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Jn. 1:9).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 12, p. 364
June 21, 1990