The Authority of God
To state tht there is division and confusion among the professed believers in Christ today is to state the obvious. Indeed, this is a matter which reflective minds have wrestled with for the past three centuries or more. In this day and age, there are countless religious denominations wearing different names, teaching contradictory doctrines, with different forms of worship and discordant plans of salvation.
Yet, they all claim to recognize the same God, maintain that they believe the same Bible and declare the Lordship of the same Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, the situation among those who claim to be Christians today parallels one of the most backward periods in Jewish history: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jdgs. 21:25). It is sad indeed!
Now, how do we account for this deplorable state of affairs? In our considered view, many reasons could be adduced but all of these would boil down to one basic fact: lack of recognition and respect for the Authority of God. Our proposition in this study, therefore, is to define authority and establish the need of it. Moreover, we intend to give answer to that old question raised by Pharaoh, king of Egypt: “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” (Ex. 5:2). We shall also attempt to demonstrate the fact that God has delegated all authority to Jesus Christ and finally discuss how we can establish the authority of God today.
What Is Authority?
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, authority has to do with the “right or power to command, enforce laws, exact obedience…” The Pattern Of Authority by Bernard Ramm defines authority as “that right of power to command action or compliance or to determine belief or custom, expecting obedience from those under authority.” The often quoted Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W.E. Vine says, “Exosia denotes authority, power of authority, right to exercise power (Matt. 9:6; 21:23; 2 Cor. 10:8). Power of rule or government, the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by othes.” Generally, when we ask for the authority for practicing a thing or teaching a doctrine, we are asking for the right or power to do that particular thing.
The Need For Authority:
The need for authority is recognized in every realm of human activity — the home, business, school, community, Army and so on. It is generally recognized that someone must have the legal or rightful power to rule and command and maintain law and order. The only alternative to this is anarchy. Certainly, in our religious obligation, there is need for authority. As it has been pointed out earlier, it is instructive to note that one of the most confusing and backward periods of Jewish history was when there was no king and every one was doing what seemed right to him. Furthermore, the need for lawful authority is amply demonstrated in the encounter between the Jewish chief priests and elders, on the one hand, and our Lord Jesus Christ, on the other. These chief priests and elders confronted Jesus while He was teaching in the temple: they said “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority? The Lord Jesus acquiesced in the reasonableness and legitimacy of their questions by His willingness to respond, albeit, in the process, He exposed their inconsistency and hypocrisy. He asked them, the baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” (Matt.21:23-27). This encounter reveals these important facts:
“By what authority…?” shows the need for authority for all that we teach and practice.
“Who gave You this authority?” elicits the fact that authority must come from a rightful source.
“The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” demonstrates the truth that religiously there are just two basic sources of authority. That is, authority either comes from heaven or from men. “From heaven” in this context simply means that which comes from God. For instance, when the prodigal son acknowledged that he had sinned against heaven (Lk.15:18), he was obviously employing a figure of speech called metonymy where one thing stands for another and here, “heaven” is a reference to God Who is in heaven (Matt. 6:9).
“BY WHAT AUTHORITY DOES’T THOU THESE THINGS?” As has been pointed out earlier, this question underscores the essentiality of have a “thus saith the Lord” for all our teachings and practices. For example, the acceptability of Abel’s sacrifice in contradistinction to the rejection of Cain’s is an eloquent testimony to the fact that when we act without divine authority, our worship is vain along with all other things that we may do without “a thus saith the Lord for such” (Gen. 4:1-7;Heb. 11:4; Rom. 10:17; Matt. 15:8,9). Nadab and Abihu, in their attempt to burn incense, “offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not” (Lev. 10:1,2). Certainly, it was the sacerdotal prerogative of Nadab and Abihu to burn incense, being sons of Aaron (Ex. 28:1). Besides, burning of incense was right and pleasing to God under the Mosaic system (Ex. 30:1-10). But what went wrong here? The fire used by Nadab and Abihu was referred to as “strange fire” which God did not command them to use! In other words, they had not authority for the kind of fire tht they used. The law of God has stipulated the kind of fire they were to use in burning incense (Lev. 16:12). The unfortunate incident, along with several others in the Bible, illustrates the need to stay within the ambit of God’s law in everything we teach and practice.
“WHO GAVE YOU THIS AUTHORITY?”
This emphasizes the fact that authority must derive from the rightful source. To do anything with authority that is less than the lawful type is as good as having no authority at all. By the right of creation and possession, all authority inheres in God. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein” (Psa. 24:1; 1 Cor. 10:26). When Pharaoh, king of Egypt, asked contemptuously, “who is the Lord that I should obey Him?” We need to tell him and people of the same mindset with him that this Lord God is the One Who holds the breath of everyone in His hand and owns all the ways of human beings (Dan. 5: 23). It is in Him we derive our existence (Acts 17:28). He declares, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, there is no God besides Me…I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create calamity … I, the Lord, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right” (Isa. 45:5-7,19). Obviously, then, God Almighty is the Ultimate Source of authority.
God Has Delegated All Authority To His Son Jesus Christ:
The Bible clearly teaches that God, Who is the ultimate source of authority, has delegated this authority to Jesus Christ. In Jno. 12:49,50, Christ says: “For I have not spoken on My Own authority; but the Father Who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me so I speak.” The Hebrew writer affirms that: “God, Who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds” (Heb. 1:1,2).
At His ascension, Jesus Christ declared: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). This is in accordance with the words of the prophets (Dan. 7:13,14). The only Person Who is exempted from the ambit of Christ’s authority is God Himself Who gave all things to Him (1 Cor. 15: 27,28). Jesus Christ, on the other hand, has delegated all authority to His chosen apostles to whom He gave the Holy Spirit to teach, remind and guide them in the great task He has committed to them (Jno. 17:18; 14:26; 16:13). In this way, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to act as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5: 20). As official representatives of Christ, what they bind on earth will have been bound in heaven and what they loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven (Matt. 18:18). To reject their teaching is tantamount to rejecting Christ Himself (Jno. 13:20).
The Authority Of God Is Now In The Word Of God:
The evidence is overwhelming that the chosen apostles have committed the words which the Holy Spirit has given to them into writing (Jno. 17:8; 1 Cor. 2:10-13; 4:6; 14:37; Eph. 3:1-5). These writings are encapsulated in the New Testament Scriptures, the law of Christ (Heb. 10:5-9; 1 Cor. 9:21). The completeness and finality of these Scriptures are underlined in 2 Pet. 1:3; 3 Tim. 3: 16,17 and Jude 3). It should be noted that “once for all” as found in Jude 3, means one time for all time (complete Heb. 9:27, 28.
“From Heaven Or From Men?”
Our rightful source of authority today should not be the teachings of men (Matt. 15:8,9). We should note that any teaching or practice which we cannot find in the Word of God must of necessity be of men and to that extent renders our worship vain or useless. Moreover, our source of authority today is not the teachings and practices of the Old Testament. Even though it was God Who the old law through Moses to the children of Israel, the Jews (Lev. 27:30-34), it must be noted that it was to last provisionally until the coming of Christ (Gal. 3:25). To read the Old Testament with a view to obeying its provisions is not only to fall from the grace of Christ (Gal. 5:4), but it is also tantamount to spiritual blindness (2 Cor. 3:14). To attempt to keep the two testaments is spiritual adultery (Rom. 7:1,4-6). No one could be justified by the Law of Moses (Acts 13: 38,39).
In view of this, therefore, to go to the Old Testament to justify one’s whims and caprices on instruments of music, dancing, payment and receiving of tithes, celebration of harvest or the feast of Passover or Pentecost, polygamy and so on, is an exercise conceived in deceit and born in hypocrisy and sin.
By Sunday Ayandare in Words Of Life, Vol. 20, No. 2, April/June , 2010