Does Bible Authority Really Matter?
When they were very young, my niece and nephew used to play, and my nephew would always make my niece take the subordinate role. She would say, “Let’s play like we’re dogs,” and he would say, “I’ll be the big dog, and you be the puppy.” Or she would say, “Let’s play house,” and he would say, “I’ll be the Daddy, and you be the baby.” Finally, one day my niece said, “Let’s play church,” and my nephew said, “Okay, you can be the preacher.” Her eyes lit up. Finally, she was going to play the lead role, and she said, “Okay!” And then my nephew said, “And I’ll be God!”
The point is, kids know who’s in charge. They know that God has authority, but how do we know what God wants us to do? In the denominational world, there are many different answers. Indeed, even among our brethren, there are those who cannot tell you why we do what we do. Let’s look first then, at some false standards for determining authority.
Sometimes, when you ask people, “Why do you do things this way?”, the answer you get is, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” That is authority for absolutely nothing. What if the way we’ve always done it is wrong? We want to do something because it harmonizes with God’s will, not because years of tradition have ingrained it in our minds. If “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is our answer, even for something that is right, we’ve gotten it wrong. If we are to be the people of God, it will be because we follow His will for us, not because we have always, five or six generations back, been the people of God. That’s exactly the problem the Pharisees had (Matt. 15:1-9).
A further error in establishing authority is the idea that because the people are behind a thing, that makes it all right. Recently, several denominations have either changed their position, or reaffirmed their position about homosexuality. And they’ve made those decisions by voting. Nowhere will you find basis for this in scripture. And the reason some of those churches have changed, is because their members have changed their minds and I’m no prophet, but as soon as it becomes even more accepted, the churches which voted to keep standing against it, will change as well. The Hebrew writer said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
Unfortunately, a third faulty method of authority is to accept something just because our favorite preacher said so. Or because the elders of the church said so. This too, is against God’s will (Gal. 1:8). Even right things should not be determined in this way. It is laziness, and it is not what God intended for His people (Acts 17:11).
How then, do we establish Bible authority? What do we do to determine what is truly God’s will? There are three ways in which God has communicated to us what He would have us do, and it is important to go over them again.
The first is the direct command, and it is the most easily understood method of determining authority. However, that doesn’t mean everyone gets it. Let’s examine some direct commands.
Acts 17:30. There is no getting around the fact that to be acceptable to God, we must repent of the sin in our lives. Certainly, everyone can understand that.
Acts 2:38. This one is a little tougher on the religious world, yet despite the claims to the contrary, John says, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jn. 5:3), and if we wish to be pleasing to God, Acts 2:38 tells us we must be baptized.
Hebrews 10:25. This one hits a little closer to home, as we realize that to please God, we must meet regularly with His people. Direct commands are easy to understand, and it is easy to recognize the authority behind them.
A second method of determining authority is through the use of approved, or apostolic, examples. By this, we simply mean those things which the early church participated in, which were approved by the apostles.
In Acts 11:27-30, as the church in Antioch heard of the famine which would hit Jerusalem so hard, they determined to send relief. How did they know they could do that? They had an apostle there, and Paul, or Saul as he is called here, allowed this to happen. Thus, he approved it, and being an inspired man of God, he sanctioned its authority.
The final method for determining God’s will is when we read the scriptures and are forced to conclude something. In other words, that is the only conclusion we can draw.
When Paul uses the term burial in Rom. 6:4 to describe baptism, can there be any doubt he is talking about immersion, especially when paired with the story of the eunuch in Acts 8:38- 39. The fact that Philip took the eunuch down into the water to bury him, forces us to conclude that baptism is immersion.
In Matt. 22, the Sadducees had questioned Jesus about the woman married to seven brothers and whose wife she would be in the resurrection? And Jesus explained that they were mistaken about heaven, but then He said that because God said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (vv. 31-32), and not “I was their God,” we are forced to conclude that God’s people will be resurrected, because God is the God of the living. Many would like to quibble with this method of establishing Bible authority. Let them quibble with Jesus.
Let’s see if we can’t tie this all together in one neat package. Christians are commanded to partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-26). But when? The Christians at Troas came together on the first day of the week to partake of the Supper (Acts 20:7). In fact, Acts 20:6 tells us that Paul and his companions stayed in Troas an entire week so that they could meet with these Christians. Thus, Paul’s presence gives first day of the week observance apostolic approval. But how often did they do this? The combination of Acts 20:7’s first day with Jesus command “as often” gives us a clue. When coupled with the Old Testament command to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” (Ex. 20:10), and the fact that Jews kept every Sabbath, can there be any doubt that early Christians kept this remembrance every first day of the week? And so, because of command, example and conclusion, we partake of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.
A final question to be answered then is, “Why is all this important?” Is it really so terrible if we don’t have authority for everything we do? I would assert to you that it is terrible. James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:8), but when we act without God’s authority, we drift away from God. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” We simply cannot claim to be the people of God while devising our own plan for serving Him.