You’re not the boss of me! How many times I must have said that to my brother and sister. They were bigger and older. They knew it and I knew it. But they were not in authority over me unless that authority came from someone I knew to be in control – mum or dad. Even as an adult I still have that same rebellious attitude. I know who has the authority to govern the highways and who has the authority to settle legal disputes. I know who has the authority to give me a day off or increase my pay. But who has the authority to tell me what to believe about spiritual matters?
I have from time to time turned to religious authorities on matters of biblical interpretation or certain denominational doctrines. Ministers and pastors and priests are recognized as religious authorities. It has been my experience that most cannot or will not answer even the simplest of questions on why a church does this or that or why we believe one thing and not another. Often these authorities put the responsibility on higher authorities but it is never God or Christ. It is usually some body of men and women who have been given
authority by some institutional body of men and women. This, frankly, I have found frustrating. After all, most of the things I wonder about come to my mind because I have already read something in the Bible that my church does not follow or believe in or recognize.
It is a weighty decision for anyone to take a religious responsibility to teach or preach. They become recognized authorities and people rest their beliefs and their decisions in life on these authorities, often without question and many times without care. But all too often these teachers pride themselves in this recognition; quietly reveling in their superior position. Some of the very best preachers and teachers I have heard are those who know well they are no better than the next man and no greater authority than the accuracy of their understanding of the Bible. Let’s face it, if the Bible is not the final authority in matters Christian, then we are of all people most to be pitied. If we serve and sing and worship and work all for the glory of a man or woman who is in authority but who is ignorant of God’s will, what do we profit except the preacher’s retirement program? If my authority in matters religious rests on the frailty of men, I fear for my soul. So should you!
So I have made it my task to study the book and to know it well. I can listen to any sermon or read any book on theology and anything that peaks my interests I can validate by going to the Bible. When I was younger I started the arduous journey of reading the Bible. But even as a kid I found that my church was doing things that I could find no authority for in the Bible. The preacher wore robes. Jesus denounced the outward show of piety. I was an acolyte in the church; a junior function responsible for lighting the candles at the beginning of the worship service. I could not find authority for this practice in the Bible. We took communion but only 4 times a year. Who made this decision? Every once in a while a baby was baptized with a sprinkle of water. God-parents made a pledge to look after the spiritual development of the child. This was a practice foreign to the Bible. Who made it up? While many of the practices in Christian religiosity do no real harm to the fundamental integrity of revealed truths, some appear to be a direct and deliberate attack on what has been Divinely ordained.
I showed up each Sunday with the family and went through the motions of religious life in my youth. We never had to crack a Bible. In my downtime, I read the Bible when not playing soccer or camping with the Boy Scouts. I found many of the things we did in the church were things done in the Old Testament. Men dressed in robes. Candles were burned as in the temple. A choir was assembled from the rest of the worship attendees. Water was sprinkled here and there. Prayers were long and repetitious and monetary collections were mandated. In the Gospels, I found our Savior antagonizing the religious authorities. He frowned on displays of religious piety. He was insulted that
worship was so closely associated with the making of money. He was dismayed that the law was elevated to the disadvantage of the poor but it was weakened where the rich were concerned. Additional legislation was instigated to work around certain laws deemed too restrictive. Jesus attributed the religious hypocrisy to the teachers of the law; the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus did not feel good about religious leadership and discouraged the use of separatist titles like Rabbi and Father.
Adopting Christ’s standards made my view of ministers and pastors a suspicious one, as many of the traits that Jesus despised in people are often intrinsic to the official position held by these men and women. It was hard not to look for these traits and in many ways made it easy to be critical of self-promoted preachers and teachers of Christianity.
In the course of time, the Bible became both a private education and an exhausting challenge to finding spiritual contentment. Methodists were not spiritual enough but Catholics were too artificial in their display of religious piety. Baptists were too religiously fanatical and poor on solid doctrinal fundamentals. Mormons were delightfully easy to converse with but their departure from biblical authority led them into polytheism, polygamy, and salvation by mandated works. Each church did contribute to a better understanding of the scriptures. The Catholic teachings explained why a creed had been formulated but also made the scriptural reproof of rote incantations more clearly understood. The development of the papacy, monasticism and the numerous additions to Christian fundamentals like purgatory, indulgences, and limbo made apostolic admonitions resound with the truth. The Mormons got baptism right; practicing immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins. In addition, the Baptists seemed to understand the joy of grace that imparts no impurity to those who follow the Christ. Most of these churches controlled marriages and even dictated what foods or drinks were acceptable to take. These all added to a better understanding of the things that had been written by those who were left to this task within the generation after Jesus’ ascension. For much of my study of denominational doctrines, I found a surprising amount of departure from the sacred texts and an adoption of novel ideas not advocated either in writing or by the tradition of the early disciples of Christ. This exposure made clear the teachings and warnings of the Bible expressly relevant to my education as just as then, so was it now that, “‘These people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”… See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ… Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (Matt. 15:8-10, Col. 2:8, 1 Tim. 4:1-3).
In the Old Testament, the authority of leadership, of temple worship, of the priesthood activities and the religious practices of the chosen people resided in the writings of Moses and of the prophets. By writing down the words of God, God authorized the religious affairs of the people.
“Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your sons after you forever, for you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 12:27-29
It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes… Deuteronomy 17:18-20
and do not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. Deuteronomy 28:14
“If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the Lord your God…Deuteronomy 28:57-59
You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. Deuteronomy 4:1-3
But He (Jesus) answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:3-5
This held true even among the brethren of the New Testament who held their writings to be sacred text.
Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might
learn not to go beyond the things which are written; that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other. 1 Corinthians 4:5-7
If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 14:36-38
For this cause I write these things while absent, that I may not when present deal sharply, according to the authority which the Lord gave me for building up, and not for casting down. 2 Corinthians 13:9-11
If it is safe to assume, “… that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue; whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in that world by lust (2 Peter 1:2-4) then we have, “… the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the
day-star arise in your hearts…” (2 Peter 1:18-20), then we can rely solely on the Bible for all things spiritual. If God has said all that he is going to say concerning this salvation and His plan of redemption, “… we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Hebrews 2:1-4. What is left is a faith that is revealed through the writings of those last prophets and apostles of our Lord. So complete was this faith revealed that Jude “… found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 1:2-4.
The conclusion of the matter is that what we have is the Word of God and a salvation that enters eternity providing we take hold of that life. The philosophies, additions, subtractions, changes, and distortions of what was meant to be once for all, the authorized basis for all things spiritual should be understood and ignored so the simple purity of biblical teachings is protected. It is not the church that gives the word but the word that instructs the church. If the Bible is the only authority for things spiritual then that Word needs to be rightly discerned. All other religious persuasions need to be rejected as
the teachings of men; opinion and not sacred.
By whose authority do you do these things? If the answer to such a question is not found written in the Bible, then our spiritual foundation is a myth and human tradition. Of what value are the vain imaginations of men in gaining eternal life? It may sound extremist to extol the Bible as the final authority in matters spiritual but if it is true that God put forward his human life to gain our justification and sanctification then this matter is not small.