It is usually a good reminder to consider what the Bible teaches regarding the source of our authority in religious matters. All that we do in life is by authority, whether parental, civil, governmental, or spiritual. We all understand this principle, but few it seems, are consistent in applying it in the religious scene.
When we compare the New Testament church of Christ with the religions and denominations of men, we find that there is a stark contrast! Every denomination/religion was begun by men, well-meaning intentions notwithstanding. Thus, they exist without God's approval and blessing. Jesus said "And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Jesus built only one church, which He will save in the end. This we know because of what Paul wrote in the letter to the Ephesians. "For the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ also is the head of the church, [being] himself the savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). We also can conclude that this church and body are the same from this same epistle. Read what Paul also wrote to these people: "and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22,23). Since Jesus will save but one church, why will men continue to be part of man-made religions?
Again, we hear that we are to "join" the "faith of our choice." But the Bible clearly teaches that there is but "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). If there is but one faith that God recognizes, why bother with the "faiths" that men invent? Every religious person who associates with the religions of men have missed out on what God had provided for them. The Bible teaches that when one is saved or becomes a Christian (the two terms are the same), the Lord does something special with that person. Please read: "Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved" (Acts 2:47).
Closely associated with the above two thoughts is the matter of what we are called in religion. We never read of churches being called by denominational names in the Bible, so why would anyone desire to be part of that now? Why not just be happy to be what God says will glorify Him? Hear Peter who wrote "but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name" (1 Peter 4:16). Let us simply be Christians as God has directed and not be part of man-made religion.
Men are all the time writing and re-writing their doctrines and methods and creeds and manuals and confessions and catechisms. The Bible remains the same. We can and must always rely upon only "thus saith the Lord" in all that we do for the Master and in His name. We can have confidence in what Jesus said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35). Friends, let us abide by the Bible and the Bible only. Then and only then shall we have peace and unity, even as Jesus prayed (John 17).
Thankfully many are asking, "What is Bible authority? Where does it begin, where does it end? How does God authorize?" Perhaps you are one yourself. All of these questions are involved in and answered by the science of Biblical interpretation called hermeneutics. The terms "authority" and "authorize" both stem from the word "author". An author is an originator. Hence, it is incorrect to speak of Bible writers as authors. They are not! Rather, they are inspired writers, having been directed word for word what they would write to convey God's message to us. God is the author of His Book, not man. Therefore, for one to have authority, he must have power and direction over what he has authored. Only God has power and direction over mankind, and over His message for all men, the Bible. He is our author, our originator. In Paul's sermon to those of Athens he said, "for in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
What does the Bible teach about the authority of the author? Let's look at three verses from the book of Hebrews. In 2:10 we learn that Christ is the author of salvation; in 5:9 we see that Christ is the source (or author) of eternal salvation; and in 12:2 we find that Christ is the author and perfecter of faith. Therefore, God's authority for us begins where He speaks and ends where He stops speaking. Does silence have authority? Yes! But not as some may think. There are degrees of silent authority. There is permissive authority and prohibitive authority. Permissive authority is the realm of expedience; and prohibitive authority is in the realm of restriction. All of God's authority is found in His Book, the Bible. A thing is expedient only if it involves obedience to a command. Thus, it cannot add to what God has commanded. God is very particular about men adding to His word. He forbids it! Thus, a thing is prohibited if it adds to what God has said to do, or if it adds to how God has said to do it.
All that we do in spiritual matters, we are to do by God's authority. Whether by direct command, such as Acts 17:30 which says "God commands all men everywhere to repent" or by example where a command is implied, such as Acts 20:7 where Christians assembled to break bread on the first day of the week. This is a basic hermeneutical principle of Bible interpretation, a subject vital to understanding God's word. Let us apply these principles in our reading and living by the Bible. We will come to better understanding, and agreement in things pertaining to salvation. This is God's desire.
Let us now deal with an example of restrictive silence from the New Testament. A very basic and general principle of restrictive silence is found in an explicit statement make by Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:6 when he said, "Do not go beyond the things that are written." The apostle John bound a similar restriction in 2 John 9, saying, "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son." We learn that we are not to go too far, and the limit is found in the things written. Let us never assume to have information or permission to do, or not do as we please outside the realm of "thus saith the Lord." It is usually wrong to ask "What's wrong with it?" It is always correct to ask "What's right with it?" This is the principle Paul implies in his question found in the book of Romans. "For what saith the scripture?" (Romans 4:3). If the Bible teaches it, let us believe and obey. If it does not so teach, let us not presume to go ahead with God's approval. This was David's plea in Psalm 19:13, "Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins." Anything presumptuous is acting without proper information or authority. To do so is a sin.
Sometimes people will consider a doctrine or an action that is not found within the Bible, and say, "Well, the Bible doesn't say we can't!" Yes, it does, but they do not know how to find such restrictive authority. A New Testament example is in order: the Hebrew writer shows us again the nature of restrictive silence in Hebrews 7:14, "For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests." Moses did not say that a priest MAY NOT come from Judah, he did not have to say "no priests shall come from Judah or Asher or Gad or Dan," for when God said that the Priests were to be from Levi, that eliminated or restricted everyone else. Thus we learn that when God stipulate or specifies any one thing, all other "options" are canceled. In fact, other actions would not really be options, but additions and presumptions. Man does not have permission nor authority to add to what God said, nor to take away from His instruction. To so do is to flirt with God's wrath. Let us never willfully do such a thing!
We hope that this article is of benefit in your understanding of the importance of Bible authority, and a little bit about "how" God authorizes. Thanks for reading. "The churches of Christ salute you!" (Romans 16:16).
-- Robin W. Haley --