Authority In Matters of Religion – Part 1

Matthew 21:23-27


23Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” 24But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: 25“The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26“But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.


A study of what is authorized, and unauthorized for man to practice in matters of religion, may seem so complicated as to be beyond comprehension. But, authority is really a quite simple matter. Adults and children alike understand and practice the principles of authority every day. 


If you went to the butcher and asked for a pound of beef, you would be quite upset if the butcher decided to give you half a pound, and even more so if he charged you for two pounds.  A sign on a restroom door which reads “Men” or “Women,” leaves no question as to who is authorized to enter the room.


When children meet in a yard or a park to play a game as: baseball, football, or other,  they must follow the standard of rules and regulations for the game being played; otherwise, they are not playing that particular game.


 We depend upon “standards of authority” for about  everything we do in life.  Authority is needed in the home, school, business, and the nation. If we are going to have any kind of order in our lives, we must have some standard of authority to follow. The same is true in regard to religion. ““By what authority are You doing these things?”  the chief priests and elders asked Jesus.


What causes us to practice what we do in spiritual matters? What guides or directs us in the choices we make regarding our worship?  How do we determine what is right or wrong, or what may and may not be done?


This study is of utmost importance. In reality, understanding and obeying Biblical authority is at the heart of every religious matter. In order to establish the right or wrong of anything practiced, we must first establish what constitutes authority in religion.  “Authority” ( in the Greek: ) is defined  by Vines Expository Dictionary as “the power of authority; right to exercise power,  permission or right to do something 


 Divine authority, then, would be described as God’s superiority, based on His Deity and Sovereignty, which gives Him the right to command and make final judgments, regarding what man will do and not do in matters of religion.


 We learn that one of the most confusing and backward times in Israel’s history was a time. When God’s people had no respect for His standard of authority. In Judges 21:25, the Scripture says,


 “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes”


This is the exact reason for much  of the religious division in today’s world.  Multitudes of religious groups are simply doing what is right in their own eyes. We live in a world where many people, like the ancient Jews, are content to establish their own rules of righteousness. Listen to the apostle Paul from Romans 10:1-3:


1Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God..


This is unfortunate in the religious world today because the Bible says Christians should “speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor.1:10),  We are to “walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Phil. 3:16).   And furthermore states we are to abide only in the doctrine of Christ  2 John 9-11


9Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds..


Without a standard, there can be no right or wrong, no unity,  only confusion and chaos.


Where do we get our authority or permission to do what we do in religion? There are two, and only two, sources of authority in religion, human or Divine:  Man has proven, from the beginning of time, that he needs the instructions of God to direct his life. When man hearkens to any other source, the inevitable end is sin (1 John 3:4).


The first three chapters of Genesis record the beginning of God’s relationship with man: Creation - Prohibition - Transgression. The digression of man from uprightness to shame is seen as we move past their innocent state into  temptation, deception, transgression and guilt that marks their souls  Gen. 2 and 3).


The result of ignoring God’s authority always brings the same result: SIN. In Jeremiah 44:15-23 we read of the rebellion of Judah against the “word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord” (Jer. 44:16).


Refusing to hearken unto God, they chose their own sources of authority. Jeremiah wrote of man’s need of God’s instructions:


“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).


The words of Isaiah explain further why man is in need of Divine guidance: Isa. 55:8-9


For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your  thoughts 


The wise man advised against man following his own path:


“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12; Prov. 16:25).


Man must have direction from God in order to know and obey Him.  Jesus tells us  “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John  8:32  “Thy word is truth.” John 17:17 .

And these unforgettable words John 12:48 “48He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day


There is a great need for us to understand what His words require of us.  The Bible is inspired, authoritative, reasonable and understandable. Since we can read and understand (Eph. 3:1-11), then we must  


But what do the Scriptures say to me?  Is every word of the Bible authoritative in nature? Am I responsible for following everything in the Bible?   This leads to the question at hand—how does God authorize? Has God given us a method whereby we can determine what He has authorized?


1ST- Direct Statements.... The Bible authorizes by direct statements or commands. Allow me to illustrate a direct statement in     Acts 17:30 there is instruction regarding the necessity of Repentance ... hear it.....


30And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:


In Acts 2:38, Bible authority teaches that repentance and baptism are both necessary in order for one to obtain the remission of sins. In Hebrews 10:25, we are taught that we ought not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.  And in Colossians 3:9, we are taught that it is wrong to lie. In each of these cases, the direct statement is used to deliver God’s authority.


But direct statements are not the only way that God authorizes man to act or not act.  God uses APPROVED EXAMPLES also to instruct us as to what is acceptable or authorized. The phrase “approved examples” is used because there are examples in the Bible of sinful people and evil activities that are not approved examples. 


The word “example,” by definition, means: “ A person, action or thing,  taken as a model to be copied or avoided by others; a method or a pattern or model.”  This is mentioned to point out that an approved example is intended to be followed, and imitated. The very fact that an example is given confirms the authority of the act,  and is binding. So, when does the Bible account of an action constitute an example?


At this point allow me explain the sense in which I using the phrase   “approved and binding examples ”   I have in mind that  some things are binding in the sense that they must be done these are demanded; there is nothing optional


Some examples are optional in the sense that they may be done (these are authorized; they may be done, but they may be left undone).  For example, I am commanded to observe the Lord’s Supper    1 Cor. 11:24-25.


I am instructed by a direct statement and by example to observe it on the first day of every week, Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2. There is no option here. I am authorized  by statement and example. 


I am further commanded to give “as I have been prospered.” 1 Cor. 16:1-2


1Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2Upon the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and store up as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.


The collection was to be made every Lord’s day, everyone was to contribute, and they were to give as God had prospered them....  This is a command and must be followed . I must not fall short of giving as I have been prospered.


But, in 2 Cor 8:1-5 I am taught by example that I may exceed giving as I have prospered.  The Macedonian brethren gave “beyond their power.”


3For according to their power, I bear witness, yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, 4beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints:


Did Paul refer to the brethren at Macedonia as an example for the brethren at Corinth?  No! Does it teach that I must upon every Lord’s day give beyond my power? Or, does it teach that I may give beyond my power? How does the example “fit in” with the command?... ...


Whether an “example” is binding in the sense that it must be done, or in the sense that it may be done has to be determined by due consideration of the totality of the Bible teaching on the point at hand.


In regard to the Lord’s Supper, we are taught in several passages the significance of the first day of the week. We are commanded to observe the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:24-25). We are shown that the Lord’s supper was observed on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). We are not shown that it was ever observed on any other day of the week, therefore, there is no authority by example of such a practice.


The Bible teaches by direct statement, commands, by approved examples, but it teaches also by inferences....


 An inference is a conclusion which results from what has been implied by the facts of the circumstance; an irresistible, indisputable conclusion that must be drawn.


To speak of “necessary inference” is unnecessary. If it is an inference, it is necessary. Any conclusion drawn from the facts of the circumstance that is not necessary is an assumption.


When a teaching or action is mandatory based on the Biblical information at hand, without being specifically stated, then that teaching or action is a matter of implication.  Let’s note a few examples.  Compare Mark 16:16 and your baptism.


16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.


Where do you find your name in this text? Is it the case that you and I are authorized, and therefore commanded, by God to be baptized in order to be saved? How can we know this without applying the principles of implication?


Did Paul repent prior to his baptism? The Scriptures are clear that repentance precedes baptism into Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). But, where is the explicit statement which states that Paul repented? The fact is, God uses implications often in authorization.


There is a sacred command to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26-30).


26And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28“For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” 30And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.


The Sunday assembly was for the purpose of observing the communion (Acts 20:7). The Lord’s day meeting was a weekly affair (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). The inference from the facts of the circumstance is, the early church observed the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week.


 Conclusion our only hope of standing approved of God on that great day is to respect His authority in obedience of faith (Heb. 5:8-9; Tit. 2:11-14).   May God help each of us to recognize the importance of Bible authority, to understand the basic principle of Colossians 3:17:


“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”


 Paul’s charge, that in Christian work and worship we must do only what  is authorized by the Word of God, must be the practice and plea of all who desire a home in heaven.


 Let us determine to follow the instruction of Peter: 1 Peter 4:11


If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God


 Let us think, speak and live according to the authority of God’s Word so as to glorify God in all that we do.   Our attitude should never be:  Where did God say ‘Don’t do that’  But rather ‘Where Does God authorize what I am doing?’


Let us remember: 2 Peter 1:3


He... “hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him”


And the words of our Master — Matthew 4:4

 It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God



Ron Cope Minister churches of Christ


phone:  (678)617-9658