The Christian and Authority
Authority is one of those words that, depending on the situation and the people involved, can be a good thing or a bad thing. If you are on the interstate driving, you are generally authorized to drive between 50-70 mph depending on the speed limit. That is in place in order to preserve life and prevent grave consequences. And in that case, it can be a good thing. On the other hand, if you were to break the speed limit, you could possibly get in an accident and hurt someone or yourself or get pulled over and get a citation. And in that case, it’s a bad thing. Maybe we don’t think about the word itself much, but consider this: the reason the way everything functions in our societies, in our business, schools, governments and in the world, is because of authority. If you were to take authority out of the picture, there would be total chaos. Total disorder. That is true of governments, businesses, schools and religion. And so it is appropriate and necessary that we ask: As Christians, where do we get our authority from? Why do we do things the way we do? Are there specific reasons for the things we practice on a regular basis or do we just feel like doing them because it seems okay to do?
The biblical account begins by assuming the existence of an Almighty God who created the world from nothing. No matter how smart we are or how hard we try, we will never be able to fathom the meaning of the word “nothing.” Since God established the heavens and the earth and all that lives in it, He has supreme power and authority to tell us how we ought to live. It is true that as we observe different churches and different religious institutions, that they all generally seem to have a common belief in God and they proclaim that to be true. Yet it is hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that so many churches exist because each one has its own opinions on how they ought to function. They all practice something different no matter how similar they may be. Thus, the essential question is whether or not these churches have the authority to do what they do. Where do they get it from?
First of all we must note that man-made authority cannot function when it comes to the worship of God. Worship was created by God Himself for Himself and thus our thoughts, feelings, traditions and ideas have no place in religion. In other words, God knows more about how we should worship Him than we can even begin to imagine. If our practices are decided based on majority rule and answering to ourselves, we have essentially created idols which seek to serve our own desires and comforts and God approves of no such thing (cf. Matt. 15:7-9). As a result, the only appropriate consultant we have that guides us to the proper means through which we obtain our authority today is God’s word. The bible is the means in which God speaks to us and He conveys His eternal will for everything pertaining to life and godliness.
So, with this in mind what does the bible say our authority is? For many people, it’s the Law of Moses. It is without a doubt the truth that the Old Law was God’s covenant established with Israel and that it was a binding law in which the people were to serve and worship God throughout all their generations. However, for us to say today that the Law of Moses is still binding would necessitate evidence showing that but the bible does not point us to that. Passages such as Gal. 3:1-27; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:13-17 and Heb. 8-10 make it abundantly clear that the Old Law was never intended by God to be the ultimate authority forever. The Old Law functioned to bring men to the authority that would ultimately guide us for the rest of time until the ages of eternity to come and that would be none other than Christ.
The Law of Moses was always intended to lead men to Christ because in Him is the fullness which fills all in all. He preached, ministered and healed with a vision towards something new (Mk. 2:21-22). That something new was the New Covenant which the prophets of old spoke about (Jer. 31:31-34) and which Jesus established with the shedding of His blood. The fact that Jesus, an innocent sinless man, gave His life willingly for all man and that He rose from the dead never to die again, demonstrates the supreme power He has over all realms including our lives and how we ought to live and worship Him. Jesus has all authority in Heaven and on Earth and as such the New Covenant which He Himself instituted is the only means by which we can derive our practices, beliefs and standards. If it does not match up with the teachings of Jesus then we are making a mistake.
Now, in this New Covenant, authority is established in three particular ways. The first is via a command or precept. Commands are most always understood to be given by someone who holds power and has the ability to deliver consequences if that command is not followed. Jesus commands that all men repent and be baptized or else we won’t be saved (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38). That’s pretty authoritative and we must do this or face the consequences. The second way authority is established is via an approved example under the New Covenant. A great example of this is the disciples coming together to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). As such we are to follow this example every Sunday when we come together to worship God. If we don’t do this we run the risk of standing before the throne of God unrighteous.
Finally, authority is established via necessary inference. This refers to the way we often communicate with one another. Because we already have commands and approved examples, we can fill in the gaps and thus make necessary inferences. An example of this would be baptizing people in the ocean, rivers, streams etc. It doesn’t matter what body of water one is baptized in as long as they are baptized for the forgiveness of sins. As Christians, we need to always ensure we know what we are doing and why we are doing it. Jesus is our Master and we follow Him.