Bible Authority, Practically Viewed
Bible authority is a subject today about which there
appears to be very little knowledge in general and not much interest. The devil
has succeeded it appears in convincing the masses that to be aware and sensitive
to the teaching of the Bible and possessing a book, chapter, and verse for all
religiously believed and practiced is legalism and to be negatively viewed.
Jesus' Lordship, however, demands and entails certain matters that require man's
acquiescence and obedience, all the teaching regarding salvation by grace and
faith only to the contrary, notwithstanding (cp. Luke 6: 46; Matthew 28: 18, 7:
21-29; Hebrews 5: 8, 9; 2 John 9-11, Col. 3: 17). Appreciate the fact that
these verses and many others teach Jesus possesses all authority, must be
obeyed, His authority is articulated in and through his teaching; and all that
is religiously performed, must be done in "Jesus' name" (cp. 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17).
There are a number of movements that have greatly affected large masses of people and shaped circumstances that would dictate the future, either for the better or worse. A Dark Age in our history was when Catholicism reigned. Catholicism personified the great falling away prophesied in scripture (2 Thes. 2: 1-12; I Tim. 4: 1-3). During a period of about one thousand years, the Catholic Church enjoyed unchallenged domination (Ad 590-1517). However the Renaissance encouraged people to think for themselves (AD 1350-1650). The Renaissance served as impetus, in part, for the great European Reformation Movement (Ad 1517-1648). As a result of people thinking, they began to realize all the atrocities and scripture perversions of Catholicism. Hence, men such as Martin Luther (Germany), John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli (Switzerland) led the way toward the attempted reform of the Catholic Church.
One with whom I debated the "new hermeneutic" on a large Internet list consisting of many preachers said the following:
"Any and all religious activities or beliefs are
permissible and to be viewed as authorized unless they are specifically
forbidden in the Bible" (slight paraphrase, dm).
Another mental giant of the Reformation time frame was Ulrich Zwingli.
"Ulrich Zwingli's insistence that the Bible, not the church, was the source of Christian truth made him a major force in the Protestant Reformation that swept Europe in the 16th century. Born to a village bailiff, Zwingli studied in Basel, Bern and Vienna before becoming a Roman Catholic priest…In 1522, he proclaimed the Bible, not Catholic hierarchy and tradition, to be the sole source of Christian authority, and he persuaded civic leaders and the churches of Zurich that things not prescribed in the Bible had no place in the church's life. In 1524, pictures, statues and relics were removed from the city's churches -- reforms more radical than those of his German contemporary, Martin Luther" (Who2?, Website).
Ulrich Zurich came to the following conclusion:
"Christians may not believe or practice any religious act unless the scriptures literally and positively teach such" (slight paraphrase, dm).
In order to verify a model, we must put it to a test. Consider a list of doctrinal and moral particulars from Luther's view: 1. Sprinkling/pouring, 2. Church funded missionary orders, 3. Infant "baptism," 4. Gambling, 5. Mechanical music in worship, 6. Modern dance. In practice, where would Martin Luther stand regarding these specific matters, using his rule that if a matter is not expressly forbidden, it must be allowed? Since specifics such as sprinkling/pouring for baptism, gambling, and the modern dance are not by name prohibited and forbidden, Luther would have had to say these things were permissible (such accounts for Luther's "ambivalence" regarding infant baptism, etc.).
Let us now put to the same test the model relative to Bible authority Zwingli introduced. Consider a list from Zwingli's view and how his rule would effect it: 1. Building owned by church, 2. Preach on radio or use PowerPoint, 3. A treasury for general church expense, 4. Bible class arrangement, 5. Lord's Supper every Lord's Day, 6. A song leader in the assembly (we shall presently look in more detail at some of these matters). Suffice us to say that consistency of logic would have forced Zwingli into condemning these particulars because they are not literally and by word
mentioned in the scriptures.
Both Luther and Zwingli, I submit, used flawed logic. Both Luther and Zwingli were simplistic and exclusive, regarding functional nuances of Bible authority as seen in the scriptures. Consider an area that Luther and Zwingli never appeared to have considered in their dialectic procedure:
The area of approved examples as being intended to teach and authorize. Appreciate that approved examples are not involved in either Luthers (all not expressly forbidden, allowed) or Zwingli's model (must be expressly authorized). The following areas also demonstrate the matter of implicit teaching (teaching that is not in so many words, but logically established). First, Paul wrote:
"9: Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.. 17: Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample" (Phili. 4; 3).
The Lord's Supper serves as an example that is approved and also provides instances of implicit, authoritative teaching (Matt. 26: 26-29; Acts 20: 7). It is evident from the example observed in Matthew 26 and related texts that unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine are the elements or symbols, if you will, to be used in the Lord's Supper. It is also apparent that since the Lord's Supper constituted a Lord's Day worship act in which the early Christians regularly partook, it is to be observed every Lord's Day (Acts 2: 42). Hence, the example recorded in Acts 20: 7:
"7: And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight" (Acts 20).
We learn from the scriptures that the local church entity provided the collective means for preaching the gospel, having structure and corporate organization, treasury, and oversight (Phili. 1: 1; I Cor. 16: 1, 2). We have the example of Paul receiving financial support from a church(es) (Phili. 4: 15ff.). This example has no endemically limiting feature, but is obviously meant to universally serve for guidance for Christians. Since the example is the local church preaching the gospel, other organizations are excluded, even privately funded orders. These examples are, moreover, supported by the express teaching of the church being the, "...pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3: 15, see addendum).
The area of necessary inference as being intended to teach and authorize. Jesus used the dialectic process of necessary inference (implicit teaching) to extract and teach truth. Consider one such case:
"31: But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 32: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. 33: And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine" (Matt. 22).
The Sadducees were materialists in that they believed and taught there was no life after the grave. Jesus refuted their belief in His inferential statement. Notice what Jesus' said. God is presently the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. With this, the Sadducees would basically concur. Then notice what Jesus injected: "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been physically dead for centuries when Jesus spoke these words; yet, God was their God and since He is not the God of the dead but of the living, the inferred conclusion is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive (continued to live in the next world). Did Jesus explicitly teach life after death in this instance? No, He did not. However, by implicit teaching or necessary inference, Jesus effectively taught life after death. The models of both Luther and Zwingli could not have captured the precious truth Jesus presented.
I have said on occasion that Matthew 3: 16 says that Jesus entered the water to be baptized. Some have countered, "The verse does not say, 'Jesus entered the water!'" The truth is Matthew 3: 16 does not explicitly or in so many words say Jesus entered the water. However, since Matthew 3: 16 says that Jesus, "...went straightway out of the water," the verse implicitly teaches Jesus did, in fact, enter the water because one must enter in order to exit. Matthew 3: 16 also says that, "...he was baptized," hence, implying that Jesus entered the water since baptism is immersion in water (cp. John 3: 23; Rom. 6: 4ff.). We may necessarily infer that infants are excluded from the command to be baptized because only penitent believers are to be baptized, those who have sins to be forgiven (Mark 16: 16; Acts 2: 38). Luther's model hindered him from arriving at this implicit truth.
The area of expedients as being intended to teach and authorize. An expedient is something that expedites or helps execute an authorized act. The teaching to assemble justifies a place in which to meet (Heb. 10: 25). I say this because a meeting place, be it an individual's living quarters, rented building, or building owned by the church expedites assembling. A baptistry in the building is authorized due to it assisting in the command to baptize. Song books and a song leader are authorized because they help to implement the act of singing (Eph. 5: 19). It must be understood, though, that an expedient is not a different act. For instance, the command is to sing, each one plucking the strings of his spiritual heart (Eph. 5: 19). To play on a physical device such as a piano is to introduce another act, for which there is no Bible authority in this dispensation (the mechanical instruments of the Hebrew scriptures were types and figures of the spiritual instrument, the human heart).
Command, approved example, and necessary inference observed in teaching and providing authority. A serious problem arose in the early church that had the potential of destroying Christianity. This issue involved whether or not Gentile converts had to be "...circumcised and keep the Law of Moses" (Acts 15: 1-5). Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to learn of the extent of this teaching and to challenge such requirements. How did they approach this matter and establish a thus-saith-the-Lord? (Cp. I Cor. 14: 37). Peter, Paul and Barnabas, and James are observed using the dialectic process involving command (Acts 15: 19, 20); approved example (Acts 15: 7-9); and necessary inference (Acts 15: 12, 8). These men were Spirit led and thus exemplify how we arrive at Bible authority.
In many debates involving Bible authority, I have pressed my disputant for their means of arriving at authority, those who condemn command, approve example, and necessary inference (those who will even admit on some level that Bible authority is required). Remember what one opponent said:
"(1) Is it Scriptural?, (2) Is it NON-Scriptural?, or (3) Is it ANTI-Scriptural? (and then a sub-question, if it passes the previous tests: Is it Beneficial?)."
The above on the surface sounds good and may actually contribute to arriving at the Lord's will. However, when put into practice, it lacks full practicality and the means of exploring what is taught.
Luther and Zwingli failed to see how examples, necessary inference, and the matter of expedients play a major role in establishing Bible authority. Luther and Zwingli were great men in many respects and labored under the shackles of oppressive Roman Catholicism. Just to break with the teaching that the Church (Catholic) constituted the authority and that authority resides in the scriptures constituted a giant leap in thinking and theology. Their limited methodology would allow matters not allowed by scripture (Luther, infant baptism); and condemn other practices that would be allowed (meeting place, etc., in case of Zwingli). Command, approved example, and necessary inference is observed in the scriptures as the means of arriving at that which is authorized and has stood the test of time. It is admitted that there are other areas of biblical exploration, such as who is the speaker, in what circumstance or milieu was he speaking, those addressed, etc. I believe it is evident that most of those deprecating command, approved example, and necessary inference either lack as did Luther and Zwingli a full understanding of practical Bible authority or they are part of the campaign to obviate and exclude the need of possessing Bible authority (cp. Matt. 7: 21-29). We close our study with Peter and Paul's timeless words, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God...," "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Pet. 4: 11; I Thes. 5: 21).
Addendum: An example does not have to possess "confirming plain teaching" to be binding. If the example is free of any cultural, temporary, or endemic element, thus showing its limited application and binding force, and is congruous with the general tenor of the teaching of the scriptures, it is binding. The position that, "...there must be an accompanying command in order to bind an example" is somewhat like the logic of Luther and Zwingli, flawed. Some examples may contain general truth and contextual only truth. We may extract the general truths, but when we attempt to bind contextual only matters, we create an anachronism. For instance, the covering of I Corinthians 11: 3-16 contains general, applicable teaching relative to headship. The context pertained to prophets and prophetesses and the meaning of the artificial head covering in their culture. To use the example to learn universal truth relative to headship and masculinity versus femininity is correct, but to bind on all women today an artificial head covering is to abuse the example and bind limited aspects of the circumstance at Corinth (there are no prophets and/or prophetesses today, as such miraculous gifts have ceased, I Cor. 13: 8-10).
Some are also contending that a command stands along, but necessary inference must be considered as a secondary means, to both command and approved example (they say approved example is secondary to command). Hence, they have developed a system of gradation. Such thinking, though, cannot be established and is missing firm biblical support. For instance, approved example in Acts 15 is not observed as being inferior to command and necessary inference is not observed as being presented as subservient to both command and approved example. Also, I might inject, we do not have to possess all three methods at work in order for a given matter to have Bible authority and thus be authoritatively presented, as some have erroneously taught (cp. Matt. 22: 32).