NOTES ON AUTHORITY

By Dub McClish

Vol. 106, No. 05

A necessary question is, What is Scriptural authority? Sometimes people who ask this mean, where is this or that specifically mentioned in the Bible as approved of God?

The truth is some things are authorized by the New Testament that are not specifically named. This brings up the subject of the two kinds of authorization found in the New Testament.

First: specific authorization is a given practice named with God’s approval. Many examples can be cited, such as going into all the world with the gospel (Mark 16:16), assembling each first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7), and baptizing people in the name of Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).

Second: authorization permitting the use of arrangements not specifically mentioned in the Bible. For example automobiles are not mentioned in Mark 16:16, but are authorized in obeying the command to go into all the world with the Gospel? A plate is not mentioned for serving the bread of the Lord’s supper, but is it allowable?

For a thing to be generally authorized there must be behind it the implementing of some specific command. A thing resting upon generic authority must not conflict with any other precept of Scripture. Using a car to preach the Gospel is scriptural, but one may not steal a car in order to preach the gospel.

Building a church building rests upon generic authority and not specific authority. The command to assemble (Heb. 10:25) implies a place to assemble, whether borrowed, rented, or purchased.

Many things about a church building fall in the realm of generic authority. Restrooms, water fountains, carpet on the floor, padding on the pews, ceiling fans and other things fall into this category.

The use to which property of a local church can be put is in this realm. Who is to decide such matters? The obvious answer is the elders. Elders have oversight of every optional part of the work and activity of the local congregation (Heb. 13:17).

Elder’s authority does not extend to releasing what Christ has bound or binding what He has released (Matt. 16:19-20). The Lord has made all the spiritual law men need (2 Tim. 2:15), and He has left it with us in His “perfect law of liberty” to implement his teaching.

Elders, like every child of God, must protect against false teachers, and keep the church faithful to the law of Christ (Acts 20:28-30). Elders have oversight of the policy and programs of the local church. They determine what will be done in matters of generic authority.

Electricity and plumbing in the building; eating a meal on the church premises; whether one or more gospel meetings per year; whether to have a lecture- ship every year and what subjects to study, and the speakers; whether to publish a book and audio and video tapes with which to preserve the messages for further reflection and wider distribution all fall into this category—all are matters of general authority, but authority nonetheless.

The specific authority for a lectureship, publication of a book, and tape recordings of the messages are found in the command to preach the Gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:16). If such lectureships have solid authority, and if the reproduction of the messages by print and tape rests upon solid authority, then it must follow that distribution of said materials also rests upon solid authority.

If it is right to produce such materials for the Gospel on church property, is it right to sell such, for a fair price, on the same property?

The same general authority authorizing a church building, water, electricity, and gas, authorize the making and distribution of sound Gospel materials for the information of saints. Is the church supporting private business when the plumbing fails, and the plumber makes repairs for which the church pays? A plumber is not expected to clean out the sewer lines for nothing!

Some think a thing is all right as long as it is small, but when it is big it is wrong. Question: how big is big, and by whose judgment? Such a person is a law maker for God!

Another point relating to littleness/bigness. Neither size nor quantity has anything to do with the rightness or wrongness of a matter of judgment. If it is not wrong for an eldership to decide to install a refrigerated drinking fountain in the church building, then it is not wrong to install a refrigerator in a church building. The size of the thing has nothing to do with it! If it is wrong for people to eat bread and fish in the church building, then it is wrong for the church to install a drinking fountain. Conversely, if it is right to install a drinking fountain, it is right to eat bread and fish (or even chicken) in the church building.