The Authority
of the church
by Rod Rutherford
A standard of authority is necessary in every aspect rf life. In fact, if there were no standards by
which things are measured, civilization could not exist. All would be confusion and chaos! The
constitution of the United States is the basic standard of authority in our land. Parents are the
authorities in the home. They regulate the behavior of their children. Principals and teachers
are the authorities in the schools. On the job, most of us have a boss, foreman, or supervisor
who is the authority in that particular area of work. The United States Government has a
Bureau of Weights and Measures in Washington, B.C. It is the function of this bureau to insure
that there is but one set of standards for weights and measures used in businesses across
the land. Because of this, we know that a gallon of gasoline purchased in Michigan will be
exactly the same amount as a gallon of gasoline purchased in Florida. A yard of cloth
purchased in Texas will be the same size exactly as a yard of cloth purchased in California.

It is easy for us to see the need of a standard in our nation, homes, schools, and businesses.
It is simply a matter of common sense. However, when it comes to religion, far too many of us
do not use the common sense which characterizes us in the everyday affairs of life.

The religious world is sadly divided. The Bible clearly teaches that "There is one body, and
one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Why then is there so much religious confusion? Why are there so many different
denominations with differing doctrines? Is it not because there is no single standard of
authority upon which all agree and by which all teachings and practices are measured?

What shall be our authority in religion? Let us examine the commonly held standards of
authority to see if we can arrive at one standard which all can accept. Unless and until all
accept one standard of authority, there will never he the unity for which our Lord prayed (John


Many people have no higher motive for their religious practices than their simple likes and
dislikes. A woman once told me that the reason she went along with the practice of
instrumental music in the church in which she held membership was because she "liked it."
We all have different likes and dislikes. If we follow our personal preferences in religion, the
result will be utter chaos. David followed his wishes in moving the ark of the covenant from
Gibeah to Jerusalem. As a result, a man died (II Samuel 6:1-11; I Chronicles 13:15). David
followed his will, not God's.


Many people have their feelings as the standard by which they determine religious practices. If
it feels good to them, they think it must be alright. This is very subjective. One person's
feelings may differ greatly from another person's. Which will we accept as a standard? Upon
what basis will we make our decisions? Not only does one person's feelings differ from those
of another but one's own feelings change from time to time. Surely, we can see that feelings
can never constitute a standard by which all can be agreed in religion. Jacob was deceived by
his sons into thinking that Joseph was dead. He felt Joseph was dead and mourned for him.
Yet Joseph was alive and well in the land of Egypt (Genesis 37:31-35). Feelings are very
deceptive and therefore can never be acceptable as a standard of authority in religion
(Proverbs 14:12).


God has created us as rational beings. We each have the ability to think for ourselves and
make decisions. Could this perhaps be a standard upon which all could unite? Certainly, we
should approach God as reasonable human beings for it is obvious from the design in the
universe that our God is a God of order. However, we must accept the fact that man's ability to
think is limited. The prophet Jeremiah said; "O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in
himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).

Man, unaided, can know there is a God by seeing the evidence of his creation (Romans 1:19-
20). Man cannot, however, learn God's will for him by his unaided reason (I Corinthians 1:18-
29). When each one does that which he thinks, the sad condition of ancient Israel is repeated:
"In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes"
(Judges 21:25).


Many people simply follow the religion of their parents. Their authority for what they believe and
practice is simply, "It was good enough for my parents, so it is good enough for me." Some
refuse to accept anything in religion different from the teaching of their parents for they feel
they are being disloyal to their parents if they do. Perhaps they may even feel that somehow
they are condemning their parents by accepting a belief which is different from their parents'

The Bible teaches that each person is responsible for his own sins. "The soul that sinneth, it
shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the
iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness
of the wicked shall be upon him" (Ezekiel 18:20). Paul reminds us that each will individually be
judged for his own life, actions, and decisions: "So then everyone of us shall give account of
himself to God" (Romans 14:12). Since this is so, the beliefs of one's parents do not
constitute an acceptable standard of authority.


Many people take as their standard in religion that which everyone else does, or at least, that
which the majority does. If one were consistent in such an approach, he would have to change
his religion every time he moved. In some areas of the world, he would be a Moslem — in
other areas, a Hindu, Buddhist, or Shintoist. In the United States, he would have to become a
Mormon if he lived in Utah but a Southern Baptist if he lived in Georgia

When one reads the Bible, he becomes aware of the fact that God's faithful people in any age
have been a minority. In the days of the Great Flood, only eight souls were saved. The majority
perished (I Peter 3:20-21). Jesus said: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and
broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because
strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it"
(Matthew 7:13-14). Moses warned: "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil" (Exodus 23:2).
Therefore, we cannot accept majority rule as a safe standard of authority in religion.


Some other people take the voice of their spiritual leaders as their authority. If their priest,
pastor, or preacher says it, they accept it without question. They may feel that since their
spiritual leader has a "special call from God" or perhaps because he possesses a Doctor of
Divinity degree or simply because he is a good man, that they can safely follow what he says
in the area of religion. The spiritual leader then becomes the authority. But preachers, priests,
and pastors often disagree. They teach contradictory things to one anther. How then can we
know which one is right?

The Bible also warns us that spiritual leaders can err. There are "false prophets" who are
"wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29,30). We are to put teachers to the test (I
John 4:1-2). If we follow those who are false teachers, we will be lost along with them
(Matthew 15:13-14). Therefore, our spiritual leaders, no matter how devout or learned, cannot
be acceptable as our standard of authority for they are weak, fallible humans who are just as
subject to err as we.


What then shall be our authority? Personal likes and dislikes, feelings, and human reasoning
can never provide a standard upon which all can be united for such are subjective. Parents,
majority rule, or spiritual leaders cannot provide a standard of authority for they are subject to
error because they are human.

There is only one infallible source and standard of authority, Jesus Christ, the only begotten,
virgin born Son of God. The writer of the book of Hebrews says: "God, who at sundry times and
in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days
spoken unto us by his Son..." (Hebrews l:l-2a). Before ascending back to Heaven, the Christ
said: "All power (authority— ASV) is given unto me in Heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18).
Jesus sent His Holy Spirit upon his apostles to guide them into all truth (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:
13). The New Testament is the result of the Holy Spirit revealing all truth to Christ's chosen
men. It is inspired of God and provides everything we need to know, do, and be to serve God
acceptably in this life and make Heaven our eternal home (II Peter 1:3; II Timothy 3:16-17). But
it, we will be judged at the Last Day (John 12:48).

Let us accept the New Testament, God's Word, as our only standard of faith and practice. It is
from God. Therefore it is not subject to the fleeting feelings, limited understandings, or
fallibility of human beings. It is an objective standard by which all teachings can he measured.
It was given by the inspiration of God (I Corinthians 2:10-13; I Thessalonians 2:13; II Peter 1:
21). In it, God has provided for us all things which pertain to life and Godliness (II Peter 1:3). It
is the only standard upon which all believers can unite! Only by following the Bible, God's
Word, can we have eternal salvation!