For the past two hundred years, the fundamental difference between churches of Christ and the denominations about us is the way we view the authority of the Scriptures. There are many other differences, but they all arise out of this one. If one is to have a clear concept of the Christian religion, he must first have a proper understanding of the authority of the Scriptures. To err on this point paves the way for a multitude of other errors. But to have a proper understanding of the authority of the Scriptures gurantees a safe course in one's Christian life.
What, then, should be our attitude toward the Scriptures? Since the time of the Campbells and Stone preaching in the early 1800's, that was never a problem for churches of Christ. But today there are some preachers in the Lord's church who don't really believe in the authority of the Scriptures for our culture today. The claim is made that certain passages of Scripture do not apply to us today, "For our culture is different."
The Scriptures Are The Word Of God: -- Let us look, then, to the authority of the Scriptures. First, the Scriptures are the Words of God, not man. What Peter wrote of the Old Testament prophecies is basically true with all of the Scriptures: "For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spoke from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21) This is affirmed by the words of Jesus, "I spoke not from Myself; but the Father that sent Me, He hath given Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life eternal: the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hathe said unto Me, so I speak" (Jno. 12:49,50). This idea is echoed by the apostle Paul, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
Some have difficulty in understanding what "inspiration" really means. But the Scriptures explain it very well. Jesus promised the apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them, "And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth" (Jno. 14:16,17). He further defined that promise: "He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth Me; and he that rejecteth Me rejecteth Him that sent Me...for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in that very hour what ye ought to say" (Lk. 10:16; 12:12).
The apostles were not left to their own devices to "discover" the Will of God. Jesus told them, "But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you" (Jno. 14:26). Just how this worked is revealed by the apostle Paul, "For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words" (1 Cor. 2:11-13). The result is clearly stated by Paul: "And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the Word of the message, even the Word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God, which also worketh in you that believe" (1 Thes. 2:13).
The Scriptures Are Perfect (Complete): -- The Scriptures contain all that God intended for us to know of all things spiritual. There was a time when this could not have been said, during the Old Testament age, for instance, when the Scriptures were being written. God gave those Scriptures, "It is precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little" (Isa. 28:10). When the Old Testament writing was completed, Jesus came and continued to unfold the Father's Will. He brought new revelation. He again told the apostles, "I have yet many things to say unto you" (Jno. 16:12). But then He added, "Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth: for He shall not speak from Himself; but what things soever He shall hear, these shall He speak: and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come" (vs. 13). Now, notice that carefully: "He (the Holy Spirit) shall guide you into all the truth." Not "some of the truth," not even "most of the truth" -- but "all of the truth."
The fact that the Scriptures are "perfect" or "complete" shows just how fallacious are the claims made by the "latter day revelations" of such people as Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Judge Rutherford, Ellen G. White, Mohammed, etc. They claim that God has given new revelation throught them. If so, it is not part of "the truth" for the apostles were guided into all the truth. And God granted to us "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3). Any "latter day revelation" cannot pertain to life and godliness. And these kinds of claims are not limited to "others," either. We even have the ridiculous claim of a preacher in the Lord's church that God revealed to him that his congregation should accept instrumental music in worship, when the Word of the Lord provides no authority for it at all.
To Whom Shall We Go For Authority?: -- Various answers have been given it this question, and those answers determine what a person is, religiously. Catholics accept the authority of "the church" as defined by the pope. On the other hand, Protestants have long contended that the Bible is our authority. Some rely on their own conscience for authority. But, as the Bible says, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death"(Prov. 14:12). Some set their parents up as their authority, and their religion becomes a matter of tradition and not of faith. Jesus said, "Ye have made void the Word of God because of your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people honoreth Me with their lips; But their heart is far from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:6-9).
Many denominations subscribe to creeds and articles of faith drawn up by the councils of men. Loyalty to that creed is pledged when one becomes a member of that denomination. But after Jesus arose from the dead, He said, "All authority hath been given unto Me, both in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18). This settles the question of authority, for anyone who believes in Jesus. That leaves no authority for the pope, for latter day revelation, for the church, nor for you nor me. God said of Jesus, "Hear ye Him" (Matt. 17:5). In order to settle any question about religious matters, we must go to Christ, find His Will on the matter and do it. If He does not teach it, it is not authorized.
How Christ Speaks To Us Today: -- The apostle Paul wrote, "We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ" (2 Cor. 5:20). An ambassador is one who speaks for his king. In His prayer to the Father, Jesus said of the apostles, "I manifested Thy name unto the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me; and they have kept My Word. Now they know that all things whatsoever Thou hast given Me are from Thee: for the words which Thou gavest Me I have given unto them; and they received them, and knew of a truth that Thou didst send Me" (Jno. 17:6-8). Thus, the words of the apostles are, in reality, the Words of Christ.
The apostles spoke, and wrote, the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ for our instruction: "Every Scripture is inspired of God and is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16,17). When we read the Scriptures, we are reading the Word of God and of Jesus Christ. That is just what the apostle Paul wrote, "When ye received from us the Word of the message, even the Word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God" (1 Thes. 2:13).
When any controversy arises, the question in the mind of the honest inquirer has to be: "What do the Scriptures say?" The recognition of this principle is what causes us to emphasize: "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11). And from that has come the saying among churches of Christ, "We speak where the Scriptures speak and are silent where the Scriptures are silent." The establishing of the authority of the Scriptures shows the fallacy of all human creeds. If and when men realize this truth, a great step wil have been taken toward understanding and restoring New Testament Christianity.
The Power Of The Scriptures: -- Probably the tendency of many of those in denominations to minimize the written Word of God by seeking for "additional guidance" is because of a failure to realize the power of that Word. And now we have some in the church of Christ that are reverting to the same denominational concepts! The Scriptures are designed to guide men from earth to heaven. To seek some other sources of God's Will is to accuse God of not being able to do what He wished to do. Paul insists that the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16). And Peter writes, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the Word of God, which liveth and abideth...And this is the Word of the gospel which was preached unto you" (1 Pet. 1:22-25).
The Bible is "the Word of God" (1 Thes. 2:13), and that Word has all the power needed to take us from this world to heaven. That Word produces FAITH (Rom. 10:17). Note that the Scriptures say, "These are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in His name" (Jno. 20:31). That Word brings SALVATION. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God...Faith cometh by hearing, hearing by the Word of Christ" (Rom. 5:1; 10:17). That Word also produces LIFE. "These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even to you that believe" (1 Jno. 5:13).
The apostle John warns, "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God" (2 Jno. 9) Again, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 Jno. 4:1). But how do we check up on such teachers? "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mand, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
The Scriptures can cleanse and sanctify (Jno. 5:30; 17:17) those who believe and obey it. It provides for us "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3). Jesus also said, "The Words that I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life" (Jno. 6:63). The only authority in religion is God, as He speaks in His Word. "Hear ye Him" (Matt. 17:5).
By Clem Thurman in Gospel Minutes, Vol. 56, No. 45, Nov. 9, 2007.
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