Why is there so much division and confusion today in the religious world — so many different doctrines and so many religious groups? One reason is that so many have never been taught, or at least have never learned, the importance of Bible authority. Some may acknowledge that we are to be guided by the Bible, but when all is said and done, they really only pay “lip service” to Bible authority. When man is not following the same standard (God’s Word), division and confusion is a certainty.
All authority rests in three areas. There is internal human authority, external human authority, and divine authority. It is clear that God intends for us to be governed by divine authority (Col. 3:17, I Thess. 2:13). Divine authority originates with God, is centered in Christ, and is recorded and revealed in the Bible. Yet, many are governed by external and/or internal human authority. These are incorrect standards, and they need to be exposed as such. Consider some external and internal sources of human authority commonly used today.
Many have followed their “feelings” as a guide in religion. As long as there is the feeling that they are saved, they are satisfied. If one begins to question them about their salvation, one touches a tender spot because their feelings are often “sacred.” They may say as they pat their chest, “I would not give up this feeling which I have in my heart for all of the Bibles in the world.” Many people would rather die trusting their feelings instead of making a candid and honest investigation of their salvation in view of what the Bible says.
In secular matters, we know that our feelings can deceive us. For example, we may feel that something is true and later learn that it is not. Also, a person may think that he is in good health just prior to the time that he suddenly dies.
Consider two biblical examples. Jacob, in Genesis 37, was deceived into thinking that his son, Joseph, was dead. Jacob mourned as if Joseph had actually died. He might have said with complete sincerity, “I know how I feel.” Saul, later known as Paul, felt that it was his duty to persecute Christians. Later he said (Acts 26:9), “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” Paul was laboring under a delusion. The fact that he felt that he was doing right did not make his actions right.
There are various Old Testament passages which show the futility of trusting our feelings as a guide for what is right and wrong in serving God. Jeremiah 10:23 says, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” Jeremiah 17:9 teaches, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” One cannot depend on his own heart to lead him in the right way. Finally, Proverbs 28:28 says, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.” It is certainly foolish for one to trust his feelings concerning his salvation.
Consider religious people (such as the Jews and Muslims) who do not believe that Christ is the son of God. Are they saved? They, no doubt, feel that they are. Yet in John 8:24 Jesus said, “... for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” These people may feel that they are saved, but that does not mean that they are. If feelings are not evidence of salvation for Jews and Muslims, then they are not evidence of salvation for Methodists, Baptists, and Pentecostals.
How can we have assurance about salvation or anything else that we might believe? (Our feelings can be fickle— one day we might believe one thing; another day we might believe something else.) God’s Word gives us assurance. It is our safe and steady standard. I John 5:13 says, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” John also wrote (2:3), “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” It does not matter how we “feel” about our salvation. God’s Word is that which is important in this matter. Can we determine from the Scriptures that we have obeyed the Lord? It does not matter how we feel; what matters is what God says. “Feelings” are produced by evidence; they are not the evidence of salvation.
Others use their conscience as their standard of authority. They might say, “Just let your conscience be your guide.” This, however, cannot be a correct standard as it is possible for a person to have a good conscience and yet be in sin. Some can steal and kill with a good conscience.
Consider the case of Paul. Paul, previous to his conversion, was a persecutor of Christians. We are told that during this time he had a good conscience. In Acts 23:1, he said, “…I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” As we noted earlier, according to Acts 26:9, he said, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” Paul was following his conscience, but he was wrong.
If “conscience alone” is the correct standard, then there are as many standards as there are people. A conscience may be programmed incorrectly, and thus a person could have a good conscience and still be in sin. Surely, the conscience, by itself, is not a correct standard of authority. A conscience must be properly programmed according to God’s Word.
How Much “Good” That Something Does
Some people try and justify a practice by how much good is being done. If they are asked for the authority for a certain practice that their church is involved in, they respond by citing the good that is being accomplished. This view is basically saying that the “ends justifies the means.” They look at the good that they think is being accomplished and assume that since “good” has been achieved, God must approve of what they have done to achieve this good. This view attributes to God the feelings that man has about matters, rather than looking to God’s Word as the authority.
Consider a few Old Testament events. Saul, a king of Israel, was to utterly destroy the Amalekites (I Sam. 15). Saul did not do this; instead he spared their king (Agag) and the best of the animals. When questioned by Samuel, Saul said, “for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice unto the Lord they God.” Samuel rebuked him and told him that to obey is better than sacrifice (22). Saul was saying that the ends justifies the means — that it was proper to disobey if good resulted. Saul was wrong and was not justified in his disobedience no matter how much “good” was said to be accomplished. Another example concerns Uzzah (II Sam. 6). The ark of the covenant was being transported upon an ox cart during the reign of David. To begin with, the ark was not being transported correctly. Then, when the ark arrived at Nachon’s threshing floor, the ark oxen shook the ark, and it was in danger of falling. Uzzah touched the ark to steady it, which was a violation of God’s command. He was immediately killed by God. Uzzah might have contended that his steadying the ark prevented it from crashing to the ground and that good would come because of his disobedience. Uzzah was wrong, however, for touching the ark; he paid for it with his life; the ends did not justify the means.
Instead of trying to justify a practice by pointing out the good that it does, we need to turn to a “thus saith the Lord.”
Belief of Parents
There are others whose parents are their sources of authority in religious matters. These will not accept the truth on certain subjects because their parents did not believe that way. Surely this is a wrong source of authority. We must always honor our parents; however, it is possible that they may have been wrong in their beliefs and practices. We must not reject truth simply because it is contrary to what our parents believed. Matthew 10:37 says, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me . . . .”
Some people use the concept of the majority as a standard of right and wrong in religious matters. They feel that if a majority of the people are practicing a particular idea, then it cannot be wrong. They might say, “Why, there are millions in the religious group that I am a part of,” or “there are many who believe as I believe.” Does the fact that a majority believes a certain thing make it right? Is it correct to use the majority as our source of authority or to believe a certain way simply because so many others do?
It should be obvious that the majority is not to be our standard of authority because, if it is, truth would change as we change locations. The beliefs of the majority about a certain matter may be different in the South than they are in the North. Also, the views of the majority may vary from country to country. Some countries, for example, consist of populations of people who do not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If a person uses the majority as his standard, it would seem that he would need to change his belief every time that he changed locations when the majority of the people in the new location believed differently than the majority in his old location. Taking the entire world into consideration, most religious people do not profess “Christianity.”
Consider a few Bible principles. Exodus 23:2 warns, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil….” Also, Matthew 7:13-14 shows the great mistake of this standard as it says, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” In some situations, there is safety in numbers. However, this concept is not correct in spiritual matters. We must not use the majority as our source of authority.
Great and Wise Men
Denominational people often quote a religious leader or scholar to prove their point. They might then say, “Are you smarter than this person?” Sometimes innovations are brought into the church and are defended on the basis that some respected preacher from the past believed that the practice was Scriptural. There is nothing wrong in examining the teaching and reasoning of various scholars on some subject, and then comparing their logic to what the Scriptures say. We can learn from other people. Yet, we cannot use such people as our authority. God’s Word is our authority, and we are to stand in the wisdom of God (I Cor. 2:5). Even Peter practiced error, stood condemned, and was opposed “to the face” by Paul (Gal. 2:11-21).
It is important to understand that teachers and scholars, although knowledgeable, can be wrong. Pick almost any issue and knowledgeable people can be found on both sides. We must not allow someone to lead us astray. God’s Word, not a mere human being, is to be our authority.
What Is to Be Our Authority?
What then is to be our authority? Our authority is to be God’s Word. It is not to be these external and internal sources of human authority which are listed above. The Bible is to be our guide; it is to be our source of authority.
II Timothy 3:16-17 says, “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.” II John 9 says that we must abide in the “doctrine of Christ.”
We must accept the Bible and the Bible only as our source of authority. These human standards will lead us astray.