Who has the authority in religious matters? Who is authorized to create, change, and enforce religious doctrine? This is one of the greatest problems in religious matters, and looking to the wrong authority results in religious division and rebellion against God.
Just what is authority? We can easily recognize that “author” is the root of this word. The “author” is the source. Not everybody is the “source” of true authority. In religious matters, Jesus claims to hold “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). If Jesus has all authority, that doesn’t leave source authority in the hands of any human being.
Jesus is the source authority! He is the author – or source – of our salvation (Hebrews 5:9). Anyone who endeavors to create doctrine or change Bible teaching is doing so outside the authority of God.
When Jesus ascended into heaven following his resurrection, he delegated authority to certain men – his apostles. The apostles appointed men called elders in each church. The elders were also called bishops, pastors, presbyters, and overseers. All of these terms refer to the same office. Their work is to oversee the affairs of the Lord’s church. They have authority in the church. However, their authority is delegated authority – it is not source authority! They have no authority to create new doctrines, nor do they have authority to change any of the teachings of Jesus.
Where should we look today to find what God has authorized? God has left us a book – the Holy Bible. This book contains the final and complete will of God. The Bible is inspired (God-breathed) and is sufficient to provide us with every spiritual need (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Bible authority is God’s authority. We do not need human authorities, and anyone who sets himself up as such an authority is in rebellion against God’s authority.
Some great slogans will help us keep the proper perspective concerning true authority:
“Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”
“Let us call Bible things by Bible names, and do Bible things in Bible ways.”
“In matters of faith, unity. In matters of opinion, liberty. In all things, charity.”
Bible authority comes to us in the following ways:
Direct command (example: “repent and be baptized” – Acts 2:38).
Approved example (example: the disciples met on the first day of the week to break bread – Acts 20:7).
Necessary inference (example: “go into all the world” implies a means of going – Mark 1615).
Expedient (an aid which does not change the command – example: use of a song book does not change the command to sing – Ephesians 5:19).
Larry Nixon, M.Min.