"A" as in AUTHORITY

In order to understand this topic better, it will be very helpful to understand the problem. Imagine trying to run a football league with 32 teams, each with its own set of rules. Perhaps a few teams might use rule books which have rules which closely resemble each other. However, most teams are far apart in their versions, and some teams even use rules from a different sport, like soccer – after all, it is still “futbol.” You would say right away that it wouldn't work. There would be fights and arguments every Sunday.

 

But that's exactly the situation in the religious world today, except that by a recent estimate there are above 1500 different versions of Christianity, all using different “rule books” or “authorities” in addition to the Bible. Their books go by different names: The Methodist Discipline, Standard Baptist Manual, The Presbyterian Handbook and the like. The Catholics heavily use tradition, papal authority and catechisms. Latter Day Saints have gone far afield with their Book of Mormon. Akin to the football league, a few are close to the Bible, but they include some very major alterations to the Scripture. Most contain substantial disagreement and a few, like the Book of Mormon, are severe aberrations. We call these religious rule books “creeds” or “authorities.” They are like blueprints – no two churches built from them are alike. The result is severe division and a substantial negative impact on accomplishing the Lord's work.

But before any ground can be gained toward unity, we must first agree on authority before we can expect to agree on anything else. We will not even agree on the message in this monograph if we do not judge it by the same standard. To begin with, not everyone is of the opinion that religious unity is good for us or that it is what God wants. It is commonly thought that it is good that we have so many religions from which to choose. On what “authority” can anyone claim this view? Certainly not God's, as we shall see by looking into His word.

 

The Bible teaches unity, and unity only derived through the Scripture. Jesus, in His longest recorded prayer (the entirety of John 17), asked of His Father concerning the people of God “that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (verse 21). He adds for clarity in verse 23 the phrase “perfected in unity.” How are we to attain this unity? Earlier, in verse 17, He answers this: “Sanctify them in the truth: Your word is truth.” To sanctify is to make holy, to save. And this can only be accomplished by the “word of truth,” which is, of course, the Bible.

 

There is much teaching in the Bible about unity, and it is beyond the scope of this essay to bring it all to light. What we want to look at closely here is what the word of truth, which is the same as God's will, has to say about the authority or standard we should use to be sanctified. As a byproduct, we will also see what bearing it has on unity. We shall examine a representative sampling of Scriptures from the beginning until the very end of the Bible, citing the essence of each one in context, making some appropriate comment to help in understanding without stretching the interpretation (all stress is mine and citations are generally from the NASB).

 

MOSES

 

DEUT 4:2 “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it.” Moses commands strict obedience to follow the word of God to the letter. Can one be more explicit than that?

 

DEUT 12:32 “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” The identical principle resurfaces. No other authority is permitted.

 

JOSHUA

 

JOSHUA 1:7 “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand, or to the left.” No deviation permitted! This is God speaking to Joshua in His commission to him (Joshua1:1-9). Verse 8 adds emphasis: “do all that is written in it.” Joshua had no authority to change it in any way.

 

PSALMS

 

PSA 119:142 “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is truth.” There are 176 verses in this psalm and all but five deal with the word as “truth.” The Scriptures make it plain, the Old Testament and the New, that the truth is embodied in God's word, no other place.

 

PROVERBS

 

PRO 30:5,6 “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.” See 1 John 2:21: “...no lie is of the truth.” Again we have the admonition not to add. This is appropriate; there is more adding to the word than subtracting. Interestingly “truth” and “liar” are put into sharp contrast in this proverb. Notice how often the word or concept of truth shows up in this theme of “authority.”

 

JESUS

 

MATT 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father.” The context of v. 21 and v. 23 makes it plain that it is not enough to be a Christian and do good works; we must obey the will of God, which is found only in the word of truth. Behold! All Scripture is important, but this is easily one of the most important Scriptures to know in the entire Bible.

 

MATT 15:8,9 “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” This is Jesus speaking again about pious Christians and the error of following the precepts (authority) of men.

JOHN 8:31,32 “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The words “if” and “abide” are very important to the meaning here. “Abide” means to stay within, not to go beyond. This is perfectly in keeping with the foregoing Scriptures.

 

PAUL

 

I COR 4:6 “...that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written...” There were divisions in the church at Corinth. These words were intended for them (and us) to promote unity by abiding in the word.

 

GAL 1:6,9 The Galatians were “deserting” Christ for “a different gospel,” “which is really not another.” “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed” (Gal 1:8). There is only one gospel, the one received by man in the first century, and anyone who seeks to change it “is to be accursed.”

 

GAL 3:15 “Brethren, I speak in the manner of man...yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.” Here is the recurring theme not to “annul” (subtract) or “add” to it.

 

PHIL 3:16 “Let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.” This sanctions our use of the word “rule” – Paul used it.

 

II THESS 2:11-15 – the context here shows that if we do not have a “love of the truth,” God “will send a strong delusion, that we may believe a lie.”

 

II TIM 3:16,17 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” We need nothing else; no additions or subtractions. It is our only and complete authority.

 

JAMES

 

JAS 1:26 “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty...” The Bible claims to be perfect. Is it not an insult to God to alter it in any fashion?

 

PETER

 

II PET 1:3 “...His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness...” If we have all we need, there is no call for anything else.

 

JOHN

 

I JOHN 4:1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

 

II JOHN 9:11 “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” We could underline every word of this – it's a powerful message, one we should see and hear.

 

REV 22:18,19 “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” What a way for the Bible to end! There are some who see this as only applying to the book of Revelation. That may be, but the truth is unchanged: NO TAMPERING WITH GOD'S WORD!

 

SUMMARY

 

Need we say more? How could the Lord make it plainer? Do not add, or subtract, or go beyond, abide within My “perfect” and “complete” word of truth. No human tampering with God's authority is permitted, with drastic results for doing so. We can agree and be united in one church if we would only follow and obey His authority and that only. Unless and until we can get the “other party” to agree and accept God's authority, there is little prospect of agreeing on anything. Reasoning together about matters of faith should become secondary, and our primary objective should be to seek agreement on what authority we should use as our standard.

 

Perhaps some personal testimony would be helpful. I was converted fairly easily. When I began to ask questions of the person who taught me, the first one was “what do you believe in?” Instead of talking about Jesus or the plan of salvation or other matters of faith, the answer was “We believe in following the New Testament to the letter.” Ah, a statement of the authority he used in his religious beliefs rather than the beliefs themselves. It was the best possible answer he could have given me, and it was “downhill” from there.

 

3 May 2011

Annapolis, MD