By What Authority?
Introduction to the Scripture:
If you were to visit a representative of every religious group, you would find that they are all have practices that are distinctive to themselves. If you were to ask each one why they held to a particular practice, they must look to either 1) the Bible, 2) a normative (binding) tradition, or 3) expedient practice.
Those practices which are Biblical alone occupy the place of law. Traditions that have become normative or binding, which are beyond or below the Bible’s law should be discarded. Expedient practices which are not in conflict with the Bible and help the church to flourish must be held in liberty as matters of opinion.
Jesus gives 2 key questions to help us sort through the question of authority in Matthew 21:23-27. 1) Is it from Heaven? Or 2) is it from men? This lesson will point out principles which help us to distinguish between what is necessary, what is an optional expedient, and what must be discarded.
Discussion of the Scripture:
“They discussed it among themselves, saying, ‘If we say from heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?'”(Matthew 21:25). Commands which are from Heaven (God) must be believed and obeyed. Belief and obedience are inseparable. John wrote “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath if God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV).
In order to please God, we must obey him. The Bible presents this principle repeatedly so it can be clear. Jesus said, “All authority has been given unto me…Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This shows us their is an uninterrupted chain of command to which we will be held accountable (Revelation 20:12-15).
These commands are important for our personal salvation, worship, and life. Paul said, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). Paul also said, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Paul also told Timothy “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Therefore there is a body of doctrine which cannot be altered or ignored. Those who desire to be Christians must submit to and apply these commandments. Why would anyone who wants to be a Christian not also desire to submit to Christ’s commands?
The chief priests and elders said, “But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet” (Matthew 21:26). The implication in their response is that if John’s baptism (or any other practice) was only from human origin then it is not obligatory. This concept leads us to two questions: 1) does the practice violate a specific command or principle found in Scripture? 2) Does the practice simply facilitate the cause of Christ?. A perfect example is seen in Joshua 22
In Joshua 22:10-34, we see the record of the Eastern tribes’ altar of witness. In 22:10 we are told that the Eastern tribes built a large altar in order to teach their children about their heritage as God’s children (22:24-29). The altar was not an innovation in worship (22:29, 16-23). Therefore, the altar was built simply to facilitate God’s people in keeping God’s commands. Modern equivalents would be: English translations, song books, church buildings, Christian schools, and publishers.
On the other hand, we also see that the Israelites also had a tremendous respect for the limitations of God’s commands place on His people. They had a history of faithfulness (22:1-3); a charge to faithfulness (22:5); and an incredible commitment to faithfulness (22:16-23).
God’s New Testament people also have regulations which cannot be broken. There is a system of faith ordained by God (Jude 3; 2 Timothy 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; Hebrews 9:9). There is a predetermined method fir becoming a Christian (Acts 2:37-38). This predetermined Christian system delivered to us by God includes singing praises to our God (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), giving to our God (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15), praying to our God (1 Timothy 2), preaching for our God 2 Timothy 4:1-4), and Sharing the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
Invitation from the Scripture:
Is your life in harmony with God’s Word? Are you living within the boundaries of His commands? Are you making the most of the opportunities God blesses you with?