The Apostle Paul made a plea for unity to the church at Corinth “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1Corinthians 1:10) We know that unity can and does exist in the Lord’s church. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul states; “4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” This is accomplished only by accepting the Authority of the scripture. We have “unity of the Spirit v.3” if we follow the pattern of the New Testament.
Disunity or division comes when men add to the pattern, or subtract from the pattern. There is a lack of respect for the authority of the scriptures today in men who have created 1000’s of differing churches, with differing names which in itself is division.
The purpose then in this article is to focus on the Word of God as the only true authority and bring to light practices of men which usurp and interfere with the true standard of Authority, His Word. Four points will be made in this issue: (1) All Authority belongs to Christ. (2) God’s Word Must be obeyed. (3) Five false standards which cause division. (4) The Word of the Lord is clear to all who accept its entire message.
(1) All Authority belongs to Christ
It is most important that we come to terms and agree that we do not have authority to make changes to God’s plan and purpose for His Church. The only way to accomplish this is by the scriptures themselves. Jesus said: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) When you read this notice He said ALL authority, which leaves nothing out. Men therefore do not have any authority over the scriptures. The Authority of Christ’s Word is revealed in the New Testament “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” (1Corinthians 14:37) What is written is commanded, not by man, but by the Lord.
We live in the “last days”, and God has said “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 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;” (Hebrews 1:1-2) We are to listen to and obey Him, via His Word.
That word was penned and the completed revelation was given to man in its final form, not to be changed but followed. “…contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) and “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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2Timothy 3:16&17)
(2) God’s Word Must be obeyed
John said, “Whoever 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.” (2John 9) To abide in the doctrine means to accept the teaching of Christ. Consider what God has said about those who do not abide, by adding to or subtracting from His teaching. In Deuteronomy 4:2 we can see how important it is to understand that God means what He says and says what He means. “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Therefore when men add to or subtract from His teachings in any way they are creating a different way, not God’s way. Paul said it this way, “…there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:7-8) Perverting the gospel of Christ comes from a Greek word: metastrephó, which means to turn, change or corrupt. Addition and subtraction causes one to be accursed of God. Consider some examples found in the Bible:
Nadab and Abihu did not obey the authority of God and offered strange fire, different from the commandment, and they were killed for their sin. (Leviticus 10:1-2)
Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden because they eat of the fruit which God commanded them not to eat. (Gen 2:16&17). In the third chapter of Genesis verse 3 we know that Eve knew what God had said “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.” But she listened to another who spoke a different word, a perverted word, saying, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5) The one who spoke a different gospel, Satan and men today do the same things when they teach and follow other ways. Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden (Gen 3:23) and in the same way those today who obey another, in place of God will be kept out of the kingdom.
(3) Five false standards which cause division
(A) Your Conscience is a poor source for authority
We have all heard the phrase, “let your conscience be your guide.” Sadly many people today, when it comes to religious matters they do just that, following their own conscience instead of God’s Word. But our conscience unlike God’s word can be flawed. We understand what is right and wrong according to how we were taught. A member of a street gang will robe you and beat you, then attend the church of his choice, believing that is ok because that is how he was taught. If what we are taught comes from a source other than the Word of God, then we can be led astray by it. Solomon said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) Even Paul who wrote most of the New Testament letters, was once misguided by his conscience. “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (Acts 26:9) Paul changed when he started to follow the right way.
(B) Men’s wisdom is a poor source of authority
Jesus said when, “the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14) Sadly men can be wrong, but “the word of the Lord is always right” (Psalms 33:4) In Isaiah 53:6 we read, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…” and so true this statement. Men can be wrong and if we follow men, then we too will be wrong. If we want to know we are right, we must as individuals learn and obey the word of the Lord, which is right. Paul’s advice, “…your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1Cor 2:5) We all know that God is God and man is not, therefore God’s ways are not man’s ways. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9) We must be obedient to the wisdom of God not man. “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1Cor 1:21) Jeremiah said, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” (Jer 10:23) To follow God and not man is to eliminate all denominational teachings and follow only His Word.
(C)The Majority is a poor source for authority
Throughout history majority has been wrong. In the days of Noah, Noah preach to the majority who thought they were right and he was wrong. The result, “…a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.” (1Peter 3:20) He said, “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples;” (Deut 7:7) We can read this as taught by Jesus who said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt 7:13&14) We don’t need the majority, we just need God, He is sufficient and those who obey him, though the few, have always been victorious, because He is.
(D) Our parents (tradition) are not always a good source of authority
Paul was caught up in error, seeking even to destroy Christ Church because he adhered to the teachings of his fathers. He wrote, “…I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Gal 1:13-14) It is easy to follow tradition, but tradition is the quickest way to destruction. We trust the ones who raised us, that is natural, but when we read with our own eyes the word of the Lord, and His word differs from theirs, then we must choose who we will follow? “if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) I cannot count the number of times I have been called evil for just reading certain scriptures at the table of one who had this Joshua 24:15 plague on the wall. The most devastating is when a parent because of tradition handed down through generations teaches error in all sincerity and love, but the bottom line comes when one hears the gospel of Christ either by a preacher or by reading the Bible and then learns it is different from the family tradition. Now you must choose, is it evil to serve God’s word, or your parent’s tradition? To this Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37) We must love our parents and respect them, but realize that being Christian is a personal one on one relationship with God. Families don’t “get saved” people do. You must decide for yourself who it is you are following.
(e) The Old Testament Law of Moses is not a standard for authority
Paul said, “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Gal 3:23-25) We are no longer under the tutor, the Law of Moses. In many places the New Testament teaches that “7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord.” (Heb 8:7-9) Clearly there is a new way, and the old has served its purpose and has been taken out of the way. Paul said this very thing in his letter to the Colossians: “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Col 2:14) In Galatians 3 Paul speaks of the Seed which is Christ (Gal 3:16) and in verse 19 he says, “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” “TILL” the “Seed” should come, and He has. The Old Testament served TILL the SEED came. Because Jesus came, and He die we are under a New Dispensation, the New Testament is now in force. “For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.” (Heb 9:16-17) For this very reason Christians do not keep the Sabbath, burn-incense, sacrifice animals or hold to any other commanded made under the Law of Moses. We learn from the Old Testament lessons of morality, and the nature of God and man. We benefit from it in many ways as Paul states, “…things were written before were written for our learning…” (Rom 15:4) and in 1Corinthians 10:11 he wrote: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition…” We learn from the Holy inspired word of God, but we are not bound by the Old Testament Law in any way. James said, “…whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) Paul said, “…I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law” (Gal 5:3) If we keep any one part of the old law we must keep it all, that means the practice of circumcision.
(4) The Word of the Lord can be understood by all who accept it
Being able to understand God’s word is a command from God. “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph 5:17) and a promise that “…when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.” (Eph 3:4) Many teach that the Bible cannot be understood, yet God says it can be, and we must know, who is right? The truth is we can understand. It takes work on our part but with diligence (2Tim 2:15) we all will know the truth (John 8:32) that is able to save us. What is this truth that sets us free – God’s Word (John 17:17) and if His Word is what sets us free and sanctifies, then ask yourself, why would the Father who “…desires that all men are saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim 2:4) make it impossible for you to understand? The honest answer is He made it so anyone who wants to know the truth will. The reason so many believe the teaching that the Bible cannot be understood, is because they listen to teachers who say that. Read it, believe every word, and you’ll know it and understand.
God’s Word is the final authority for man today, remember, it was once for all delivered to the saints, therefore content earnestly for the faith (Jude 3), that faith which only comes by the hearing the Word. (Romans 10:17) Now trust the Word and obey it and you will be free indeed.