Does Having Bible Authority Matter?

Can we use mechanical instruments of music to worship God and edify one another?

Can a church rent/own an assembly place?

Can a church host a potluck?

Can a church buy a first aid kit?

Should it be churches or Christians that provide benevolence and welfare to the community?

Is it okay to take the Lord’s Supper on Monday?

Is it okay to have a “make-up” serving of the Lord’s Supper in an evening assembly?

Do you ever begin to think that we are majoring in minors and nitpicking about issues when we start asking questions about Bible authority? It seems that some churches are free to work on big issues because they don’t worry about authority, they just do what seems right to them?

In a moment of frank honesty, I admit that I worry about this sometimes. Sometimes I do think about the fact that I’m in a daily life and death struggle to overcome sin. I know people that are daily struggling to quit taking drugs, drinking alcohol, committing adultery, practicing homosexuality. I know some people that don’t even seem to be trying to quit gossiping, slandering, lying, coveting or whatever sins they view as small and insignificant. With all these personal and individual struggles going on, does it really make sense to spend time worrying about whether or not it is scriptural for a congregation to allow weddings in their meeting place?

However, every time I start travelling down that road, I can’t help but remember that Jesus believed it was important to act based on a higher authority than Himself. In John 8:28, Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” In John 5:30, He said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus did nothing on His own authority. Jesus’ judgment was just not because most people agreed with His judgment, not because He had good judgment, but because He was seeking the Father’s will and not His own.

In John 12:49, Jesus said, “I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment.” Jesus refused to speak on His own authority but relied on the commandments He had been given by God. Further, in John 5:19, Jesus said, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” Jesus did not simply rely on what He wanted to do, He looked to the example of His Father and acted based on that.

No matter how frustrated I get with some of the discussions we have about New Testament authority, I can’t help but come back to the fact that Jesus believed it was important to act based on a higher authority. If God the Son in the flesh refused to act without authority, why should I think I can?

Am I worried that sometimes I get involved in straining out gnats and swallowing camels? Yes, I do. I certainly think we should recognize that not every issue carries equal weight with the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40). I think there are perhaps some disagreements we can simply continue to study together without making them tests of fellowship, even though I’m not completely sure where to draw the line on that. However, I also can’t help but notice that when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for straining out gnats and swallowing camels, He didn’t tell them to quit straining out the gnats; He told them to quit swallowing camels (cf. Matthew 23:23-24).

I’m certain there is a need for balance and proper prioritizing. As I said above, I’m not always sure exactly where the right balance is. However, I am sure we shouldn’t go to extremes. We shouldn’t act as if every little question has the same weight and importance on our soul. At the same time, we shouldn’t travel to the opposite extreme by believing whatever we do doesn’t matter.

Jesus believed a higher authority mattered. We need to believe the same.


Be Clear When Teaching on Bible Authority

Some times the things we do with the best intentions still cause problems. For instance, just the other day, I came into the dining room to find the dinner dishes on the table and no one else was there. I decided to clean up. I scraped all the food on the plates into the trash, rinsed the dishes, loaded the dishwasher, and went on my merry way. A few moments later, I heard Marita call from the dining room, “Hey, where’s the rest of my supper?” Oops. The fact is, sometimes even what we do with good intentions can cause some problems.

This is true with teaching the Bible also. There are times when we have the best of intentions as we try to teach, explain, or illustrate some Biblical principle. However, sometimes even our best intentions cause problems. This is why we need to be careful regarding how we teach. Consider an example.

We are extremely concerned about sticking with the Bible and following the pattern it establishes. We read II Timothy 3:16-17 and learn that a work is good only if the scriptures provide equipping for it. In order to convey this idea, we have sometimes said things like, “We can only do what they did in the New Testament.” The problem is that statement just isn’t true.

We can only do what the New Testament authorized. However, that is not the same thing as only doing what they did. Because of that kind of statement many people today are constantly saying we do all kinds of things that aren’t in the New Testament—Bible classes, song leaders, song books, buildings, etc. They then conclude that while we say we need authority, we actually practice whatever we want. We get upset and try to correct that, but we rarely realize our own statements caused the misunderstanding.

We need to be clear when we teach. We are not limited by the example of the early Christians. We can do things they did not do in the New Testament. Their scriptural example is merely one means by which we find authority and equipping to act. For example, the church’s job is to uphold the truth (I Timothy 3:15). As far as I’m aware, we never see the churches of the New Testament have a set of Bible classes in which they divide up the congregation and have small group studies. However, when we have done that, we are doing nothing more than teaching the truth to a group of people. No, we don’t find Bible classes in the New Testament. However, we do find equipping for Bible classes in the New Testament.

We need to measure our speech, be clear, and make correction when our intentions cause problems. We need to quit leaving the impression that we are only allowed to do what is specifically exemplified in the New Testament. Rather, we are looking for authority from the New Testament and that authority can come in multiple ways. No, that won’t cause everyone to suddenly agree that we need New Testament authority to act. However, at least we won’t be contributing to their misunderstanding.

Communication is tough work and we’ll always make mistakes. However, let’s work hard at improving our teaching by being as clear and accurate as possible.