Our Authority Is The Word

By Dan Gatlin

Jesus said, “And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 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. For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak” (Jn. 12:47-49). Since we are to be judged by the words of Jesus, we must follow everything that He tells us to do. If we should add to or subtract from His words, we will give an account on the day of judgment.

Before His ascension, Jesus instructed His disciples to teach “them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). In Jn. 16:13, Jesus told the disciples that they would be guided “into all truth.” This guidance would come from the Holy Spirit and, as such, would come from the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:10). We will be judged by the words of Jesus, but also by the rest of the inspired writers of the New Testament.

Yet some supposed followers of Jesus use a standard different from that which He authorized. Consider the following.

Other men. This was apparently the problem in Corinth, where some of the brethren became followers of those who baptized them. “Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name” (1 Cor. 1:12-15). Two points should be noted. First, only those who said “I am of Christ” were correct. Those who followed men were in error, as Christ is our only authority. Second, Paul is not condemning those who preached the gospel to the Corinthians, they simply did their duty. “For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:4-7). Paul’s question “ . . . . are you not carnal?” tells us that the blame was to be laid at the feet of the Corinthians, not those who preached to them. Regardless of who baptizes us, we are disciples of Christ.
“Preacheritis” is still found among God’s people today. On occasion we hear some misguided brother say, “Well, brother so-and-so says . . . .” Of course, when we appeal to our favorite preacher to settle a matter, all we’ve really done is identify ourselves as carnal (1 Cor. 3:1). The problem with this kind of appeal is that preachers can be wrong. No preacher will mediate for us on the day of judgment, only Christ occupies that position (1 Tim. 2:5). Our duty is to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

Appeal to what other churches do. This is similar to the previous point except that instead of appealing to one man (a preacher), we appeal to another group of Christians (a local church). What another church practices or believes on a particular point is not our standard of authority. Many churches of Christ today find themselves in various stages of apostasy. What would happen to our “home congregation” if we emulated an apostate church?
About two-thirds of the New Testament is corrective. Individuals and congregations had ideas, attitudes, or practices that were simply incorrect. The churches of Galatia were easily persuaded to follow a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6-7; 3:1ff), and Paul corrected them for it. Five of the seven churches of Asia needed to repent. If we appeal to another church’s practice for what we do, we may find our lampstand removed (Rev. 2:5).

“Restoration theology.” In the 1950 Harding College Lectures, Earl West wrote the following. “How many times is it true that people go back to Alexander Campbell, to Thomas Campbell, or other great pioneer preachers and say, now this is what he believed on a certain point, so it is what we should believe today. Anyone that takes that attitude, whether he means to do it or not, is simply taking the authority away from the sacred scriptures. Thomas Campbell was not an authority on anything, nor was Alexander Campbell or Barton Stone. While you and I should take the attitude that we can learn from these men, nevertheless, it ought not to be our interest to try to look to them with the idea that ‘this is what so and so said, therefore it is true’” (page 30). There is an element within liberal churches that believed that the Campbells had arrived at complete truth. They study and quote “restoration documents” as if they are studying scripture. While a study of history can be interesting and somewhat enlightening, it won’t help anyone get to heaven. Only an understanding of God’s word will do that (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23; 2 Pet. 1:19).

Feelings. Ask the average person if they feel saved and they are likely to answer yes. It matters not if they’re Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. Feelings can deceive because they are not objective. Paul in recounting his life in Judaism said, “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). He told the Sanhedrin, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). He felt no guilt in persecuting the church, but thought he was offering service to God. When Christ appeared to him, he learned that his feelings and conscience were misplaced.

The only objective standard of truth is the word. “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (Jms. 1:21)