Spiritual Authority

Whether we actively consider it or not, authority is a very important part of our existence as human beings. Throughout time people have always recognized that there must be some person or entity that maintains power and regulates everyday existence. That person or entity is thus vested with authority, or power.

Since America, at least in theory, is a representative republic– two-thirds of the government is directly chosen by election by the people to represent them– many feel that they are the ones who have the authority. The great amount of liberty that exists in America also provides legitimacy to this idea. On account of these things, along with inherited cultural traditions, Americans often have difficulty respecting authority and submitting themselves to authority.

While at least the pretense of a representative republic may exist in the political sphere, we must recognize that no such thing is true in the spiritual arena. The Bible makes it very clear who has all authority in heaven and on earth: Jesus the Christ (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:36).

The Bible reveals that God the Father, who as the Creator has all authority over His creation (cf. Genesis 1, Romans 9:20-21), gave this authority over heaven and earth to Jesus after His resurrection and ascension (cf. Philippians 2:9-11). Jesus obtained this authority because He glorified the Father an d learned obedience through the things that He suffered, being made high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 4:15, 5:5-10).

If we recognize that Jesus is indeed Lord and Christ– in fact, the Lord of lords and King of kings (Acts 2:36, Revelation 19:16)– our obligation should be evident: we must serve Him and do His will (Luke 17:5-10, Romans 6:16-22). The Bible teaches us that everything we do in word or deed should be done “in the name of,” that is, by the authority of, the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17). The Bible also makes clear that those who do not serve Him and do His will shall be condemned eternally to the misery of Hell (Romans 2:5-10, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). It is critical, therefore, for us to make sure that everything we do is according to the will of God in Jesus Christ!

But how do we go about establishing that kind of authority? How can we know whether what we are doing is really by Jesus’ authority? Some people believe that Jesus directly communicates to them what they should do. Others believe that God entrusted a religious organization and its officials with that responsibility. Many look to the New Testament and the teachings of the Apostles alone to establish justification for faith and practice. Which of these, if any, is appropriate?

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 makes it difficult to believe that Jesus directly communicates to anyone today; even if He did, it would be according to what was already revealed (Galatians 1:6-9, 1 John 4:1). You will search the New Testament and early Christian history in vain to find any idea or example of God investing any religious organization with the ability to determine faith and practice.

Instead, the Bible makes it quite clear that while on earth, Jesus invested the twelve Apostles with authority. They would bind and loose on earth what had already been bound and loosed in heaven (cf. Matthew 16:19, 18:18). God would send the Spirit to the Apostles to remind them all things that Jesus taught them and to establish the will of God for mankind in the new covenant He made with them through Jesus the Christ (cf. John 14:26, 16:7-13; Hebrews 9). The New Testament records that the Spirit descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), and from that point onward they preached the good news of Jesus living, dying for the sin of the world, being raised from the dead in power, and ruling from heaven (cf. Acts 2:16-36, etc.).

From that point on, disciples of Jesus Christ devoted themselves to the Apostles’ doctrines (Acts 2:42). The Apostles taught many things recorded for us in the New Testament, and we can devote ourselves to those teachings (cf. Hebrews 2:2-4, 2 Peter 3:1-2). There is no indication that the authority vested in the Apostles was ever vested in any man or organization: instead, Jesus maintains all authority, and He has set forth His will for us in the Scriptures. Therefore, if we seek to serve God according to His will, to be able to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus and to be saved, we will seek to establish authority for our words and deeds in the Bible, declared sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible will provide us authority for our actions either by direct command, approved example, or necessary inference. Everything we do ought to be justified by an appeal to Biblical precedent or a justified Biblical liberty. Anything that cannot be so proven ought not be done!

What about you? Do you, and/or the church with which you associate, do all things according to Jesus’ authority? Can you show us from the Bible all things that you do? If not, by what authority are you doing the things that you do? Let us all serve Jesus the Lord according to His will as revealed in the Bible!


9 thoughts on “Spiritual Authority

  1. Ethan –

    All denominations can cite chapter and verse for most everything they practice – even those practices which differ from the church of Christ denomination (sorry, I see coC as another denomination, despite protestations to the contrary!). The problem is simply this: the Bible can be (and is) interpreted a variety of ways, even on doctrinal matters. The coC makes several matters of opinion, out to be matters of faith (e.g., instrumental music, marriage-divorce-remarriage, etc.) which alienates them from Christians in other denominations, some to the extent that the coC is considered a “cult” by many. You guys don’t have a corner on the truth, but your claims say you do. The church of Christ denomination is NOT the “one true church” – yet many coC claim just this. Spiritual authority comes from the Bible, yes – but the different interpretations on the things that are matters of opinion are the reason for the divisions among Christians. The things that are the “essentials” of the faith – the Triune nature of God, the person and work of Christ, the fact that man is a sinner in need of forgiveness/salvation, and salvation by the grace of God through Jesus Christ – these things we all agree on. Seems to me the coC sees the NT as “law” – and it shows in the legalistic way they act towards those who don’t believe exactly as they do on every little point of doctrine (MDR comes to mind).

    Do I consider those in the coC, brothers in Christ? I guess I’d have to say it all depends on their outlook. If they emphatically claim to being the “one true church” and that there are no Christians outside the coC fellowship, then I don’t think I could. But if they agree that Christ’s church is scattered amongst all denominations, I’d say yes.

    Maybe what i say doesn’t make sense to you, but that’s OK. The stand of most coC don’t make any sense to me – biblically or otherwise!

    1. That there are multiple interpretations is obvious. That some must be wrong also should be evident. The question involves what we must “get right”– as you say, “the essentials”– and what condemns on account of being wrong.

      On what basis do you define “the essentials” as “the Triune nature of God, the person and work of Christ, the fact that man is a sinner in need of forgiveness/salvation, and salvation by the grace of God through Jesus Christ”? On the one hand, on what basis are those who disagree with any of these “essentials” condemned? If one can believe falsely about God and that is sufficient to condemn, by what authority do you declare that these– and these alone– are “the essentials,” especially in light of Paul’s very strong words in Galatians about matters of following various Jewish festivals and practices that, by all accounts, would be considered as matters of “non-essentials” in the list you provided? That is the problem with modern ecumenism– there is no Biblical basis for the list of “essentials” provided, and a very strong case can be made that there are more “essentials” as demonstrated by the Apostle Paul in Galatians.

      Marriage, divorce, and remarriage is a great example. If it is indeed true that many are loosing where God has not loosed, and justifying relationships that in the sight of God are really adulterous, are not such persons advocating for adultery? And what does God say about people who advocate such things in 1 Timothy 6 and in many other passages?

  2. So our salvation is contintent on a “proper” understanding of marriage, divorce and remarriage? Funny, I thought it was simply by the grace of God through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

    Ethan, you’re a very intelligent young man, as I’ve witnessed many times in your writings. But you’re also a very mis-led young man if you think the church of Christ denomination is the “one true church” to the exclusion of all others.

    And just because there are several interpretations of various doctrines doesn’t necessarily mean that one is “right” and all others are “wrong” – there are shades of gray in Scripture on those things not essential to one’s salvation. Therein lie the differences.

    1. Michael, are you suggesting that a person who promotes a doctrine wherein individuals are justified in adulterous relationships is someone that the Lord accepts in that condition?

      We cannot truly have “faith in Jesus’ sacrifice” if we are not willing to submit our understanding of the way things are to His. To declare that adulterous relationships are justifiable is to spit on that cross.

      You’ve avoided the question, and I can understand why. Is our salvation dependent on a proper understanding of the Trinitarian nature of God? If so, why, especially if salvation only is, as you say, based on the “grace of God through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us”?

  3. And you’ have avoided answering the charge of the church of Christ denomination’s claim to be the “one true church!”

    Yes, salvation is based (to an extent) on a basic understanding of the Trinitarian nature of God. Not that one must completely comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity. But if one denies the divinity of Jesus (that He is God), then he does not have the Jesus of the Bible – hence, he has no salvation. The Mormon cult is a good example of this, as are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Neither group holds to the biblical Jesus, therefore they are lost because their trust is put in “another Jesus.” To put it succintly, anyone who denies that Jesus is God, and/or that the Holy Spirit is God, denies the true God of the Bible and is therefore without salvation.

    As for your accusation that I promote “a doctrine wherein individuals are justified in adulterous relationships” – that is completely false. There are no biblical grounds to say, as coC’ers do, that the relationship of a second marriage is continuously adulterous! Your view on the marriage-divorce-remarriage issue are without sound exegetical foundation. Furthermore, one’s views on the subject have absolutely no bearing on one’s salvation! We agree that divorce is not the ideal; in fact, we agree that God hates divorce, as Scripture says. But the fact of the matter is, FORGIVENESS IS POSSIBLE FOR ALL WHO REPENT, and forgiveness for the sin of divorce is no exception. I know firsthand – I have been through it!

    The problem with those of you in the “ultra-conservative” church of Christ (sorry for the label, but it’s the only way I can describe it), is that you think that everyone HAS to believe exactly like you do on every little minute point of doctrine; and that if anyone differs oh so slightly, then he is condemned to hell. And why do you think that? Because you believe you have a corner on the truth – in fact, you believe that no one else has the “whole truth” of the word of God but you alone! “(I don’t mean you personally, but the coC in general).

    Like I said before, you strike me as an intelligent young man. I am very surprised that you seem so closed-minded to other points of view on those matters which are inconsequential to one’s salvation.

    1. Does adultery stop being adultery because you’re sorry for it? If it was adultery previously, repentance and baptism doesn’t stop it from continuing to be adultery, any more than a life of thievery stops being thievery because one repents and is baptized. There is no sound exegetical foundation for assuming that marriages and divorces before conversion don’t count, yes indeed.

      No one denies that God can forgive people for committing adultery, but where’s the idea presented that God forgives people when they keep committing that adultery without repentance?

      Who gets to define “matters which are inconsequential to one’s salvation”? I would suggest that whether one is committing adultery without repentance or is not is a matter very consequential to one’s salvation (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21), for instance.

      Paul, in Galatians, makes it clear that perversions of the Gospel are intolerable (Galatians 1:6-9). He included within this the binding of circumcision and Jewish festivals. False teachers are universally decried and condemned, especially as they justify immorality (1 Timothy 6, 2 Peter 2, Jude, etc.). So, as you and I both seem to agree, doctrine does matter. And doctrine matters a lot more than ecumenists today want to admit.

      I don’t know many who believe that there must be agreement on every “little minute point of doctrine,” or that “anyone differs oh so slightly” they are automatically condemned. God does the saving and condemning, not me (James 4:12), but His standard is clear. Advancement of false teachings leading to immorality condemns in 1 Timothy 6 and 2 Peter 2. Practicing and/or promoting the types of immorality described in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Galatians 5:19-21 condemns. We will all stand or fall before our Master.

  4. Let’s just say you and I don’t agree on the adultery thing. You see a second marriage as a constant state of adultery – I do not. I see no biblical grounds for thinking so. Whether or not we agree on the coC view of MDR makes no difference to our salvation. It does not save or condemn us. Only Christ’s sacrifice does that. I have accepted that free gift offered to me by Christ – I am saved, and I am sure of my salvation. I am free from sin’s hold, and I am free of the legalism I see in the coC system. As I see it, you, my friend, are still in bondage to the very legalism you espouse.

    1. That Christ’s sacrifice is what allows for salvation is not in doubt. Nevertheless, that sacrifice will not be efficacious for everyone, not even all believers (Matthew 7:21-23). How can we declare that Jesus is Lord if we do not respect what He says and we are not seeking to do the will of the Father?

      Why do you declare it to be legalism to take seriously what the Lord has said about doctrine and practice? I grant that there is plenty of legalism out there where there is no spirit of mercy or compassion when mercy and compassion are deserved, but what happens when it’s not mercy or compassion that are really deserved but a need for repentance? Peter looked with compassion on the man born lame in the Temple but not on Ananias and Sapphira. Paul healed many but spoke strongly against Bar-Jesus. And then there’s Jesus Himself, who had compassion on many but had none for those who refused to repent.

      There’s a middle way between Pharisaism and antinomianism. That’s the strait I’m trying to pilot.

  5. The reason I see your theology as “legalism” is that you seem to want to DO all the “right things” to insure your standing in Christ. That entails everything being done, as you believe, by “command, example, or necessary inference” – a hermeneutical method foreign to those outside the church of Christ denomination (you’ll continue to excuse me for using the “d” word!). I asked one of my seminary professors about this (he teaches hermeneutics) and he has never heard of it in all the years he has taught/read/studied biblical interpretation. The CENI method does not allow for any kind of freedom in practice – in other words, rather than the Scriptures being used as guidelines for our practices in the Church, the coC see the Scriptures as dictating every little practice and/or belief. Where is the freedom in that??

    The CENI method – and the coC – insist on conformity, not unity. And in this, there is no difference between the coC and the cults. Conformity is NOT unity. Christian unity is found only in Christ Jesus, not in everyone doing/believing exactly alike on all points of doctrine.

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