It was an organizational meeting for youth league baseball. Everyone referred to the effort as “Little League.” As the meeting progressed, several dads were proposing their own ideas as to how the league should be organized and the rules of play. After a lengthy discussion, one sage father said, ‘Fellas, you can do whatever you want, but if you don’t go by the handbook, you can’t call it Little League baseball.’ As I recollect from my hearing of this account, his statement settled the matter once and for all.
The closing line of Judges gives us a similar account, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25, cf 17:6).
Whether it be youth league sports, a spelling bee, or traffic laws, everyone recognizes the need for objective authority. Yet, for some reason, when it comes to the worship and service of the God of heaven, there is a disconnect and even a denial that objective authority even exists!
In any study of this type, a defining of terms is certainly in order. Concerning “authority,” I will confine myself to two definitions from the Oxford Dictionary online (Oxforddictionaries.com). By “authority,” we mean “The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience,” or, “The right to act in a specified way, delegated from one person or organization to another.”
The Bible is clear in its teaching that God is source of all authority, religious and otherwise. Consider the following Bible texts and teachings:
God is the source and authority of all life, as He created all things: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:11). God holds our breath in His hand (Daniel 5:23), for “He gives to all life, breath, and all things’ (Acts 17:25).
None of these things were created without the Lord Jesus Himself, for “all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). “For by Him (Jesus – TC) all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:18).
Recognizing the Lord Jesus Christ’s inclusion and involvement in Creation is crucial in reaching a proper understanding of the subject at hand, for right before His ascension and return to heaven, Jesus said, “All authority is given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). And in Colossians 3:17, we are commanded, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
To speak or act in the name of the Lord Jesus is to do so by His authority. Think back to the good old days of television when the police were always “the good guys.” Do you remember hearing a policeman yelling to a criminal as he was running, “Stop in the name of the law!”? What was he really saying? He was claiming the authority of the law to demand that the suspect stop.
So it is when we function in the realm of religion. Let’s go back to our original definitions of authority. As having all authority, Jesus has “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.” This is also why Jesus said in John 12:48, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him–the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” Finally, in John 5:22, Jesus said that God the Father had committed all judgment to Him.
Because all authority has been given to Jesus, our second definition of authority becomes equally important. It is only through the authority of the Bible that we are granted “the right to act in a specified way,” as it is through the Bible and it alone that this right is delegated.
I well remember a conversation I had with a friend who was serving as a deacon in one of the Baptist churches in our community. He recounted expressing his concern in a deacons’ meeting of how it appeared that, “instead of praying and asking the Lord to guide us, we just decide what we want to do, then go ahead and do it, and then ask the Lord to bless it after we start doing it.”
In a much larger sense, this is where the religious world at large has gone horribly wrong. Rather than asking, “Does the Bible permit us to do this?”, all sorts of other questions, wrong questions, are asked first. Questions like, “Will this appeal to the unchurched?”, or “Will this help us get more members or increase our income?” or “Will this keep us from losing our young people?”. No thought whatsoever is given to whether or not the Bible authorizes an action, only questions of pragmatism.
Long story short–There is no way for us to know what is well-pleasing to God in matters of worship and service other than what He has revealed to us in the Bible! David offered the following prayer to God, “Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:13). Any time we act without Divine authority, we commit the sin of presumption, for we presume the Lord will be happy with what we are doing, even though we have no biblical authority to substantiate our feelings.
I cannot help but wonder if David wrote Psalm 19 after the incident involving Uzzah as recorded in 2 Samuel 6. Rather than seeking the will of God concerning the transport of the Ark of God, which could have been easily known from reading Numbers 4:4-15, David presumed to put it on an ox cart (2 Sam 6:1-3). According to the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 13, David perpetrated his error with the approval of all the leaders and the people of Israel (1 Chr 13:1-4). And what a grand parade it was! With David and the host of people leading the way, playing their instruments and singing with all their might (1 Chr 13:8)! But this parade would end in tragedy. Along the way, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah, with the very best of intentions, put his hand on the ark to steady it. This error resulted in his immediate death (2 Sam 6:6-7). Still ignorant of God’s word, David cried, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” and refused to move the ark any further (2 Sam 6:9-10). Later, in 1 Chronicles 15, David learns of the Divinely authorized means to move the ark (vv 1-2).
Speaking of his earlier sin, David said, “the Lord broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order” (1 Chr 15:13).
Let us pause here and ask a question, “How important was the need for religious authority in this incident with Uzzah?” For Uzzah, it was a matter of life and death!
Today, the matter of religious authority is a matter far more important than life or death; it is a matter of eternal life or eternal damnation!
The Bible is the inspired word of God. It provides man with all things necessary in matters of doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Moreover, it completely furnishes God’s people to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Peter wrote that God’s word provides man with all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Jude informed his audience that the word of God had been delivered to the saints once and for all (Jude 3).
There is no continuing revelation today because there is no need for it. The Bible is all we need. By it we are given the right to act in specified ways. To act in any other way is to leave the authority of the Scriptures and, by extension, to leave the authority of God.
The way of continuing revelation is fraught with error and danger. Those who claim “God spoke to me” lack the requisite powers to substantiate their claims (cf Mark 16:17-20; Hebrews 2:1-4).
Those who presume to rewrite God’s word through their creed books, catechisms, and conventions, (and I am thinking of the upcoming Methodist General Convention in particular), do so without the slightest hint of Divine authority and in direct opposition to Divine decree (Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19). God’s word does not change over time, neither does it change with societal views of morality and sin.
The need for religious authority is real and immeasurably important. Among the closing words of Revelation are these: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Rev 22:14).
Friend, your relationship with God and your eternal salvation depend on your faith in and adherence to religious authority. Where do you stand?