Historical Abuses of Authority (11)
Editor's Note: This article is the eleventh in a series of articles dealing with the subject of Bible authority. The articles are short, as they first were printed in the local bulletin I edit. Feel free to reprint them if you find them helpful. However, credit must be given to Billy W. Moore's class book A Study of Authority, as the articles follow closely the material found in that good book.)
In the past 2,000 years, since the church was established on the first Pentecost following our Lord's resurrection, there have been many apostasies. In every case, widespread apostasy has occurred because of either a lack of respect for, or misunderstanding of Bible authority. This we will demonstrate momentarily. Therefore, the principles of authority we have been establishing in this series of articles need to be instilled in each generation to avoid similar departures both presently and in the future.
The Apostate Church
Soon after the church was established men began to seek innovations in congregational government, work and worship. There was a gradual change in thinking regarding the concept of authority. The attitude of the apostles and first century Christians was, "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God..." (cf. 1 Peter 4:11). But, as the years progressed, the concept that tradition should be viewed as equally authoritative as scripture gradually developed.
Today, the Catholic church has expressed this principle absolutely:
Cathechism of the Catholic church (95)
Such a view coincided with pattern changes in the nature and work of our Lord's church. For example, churches were at one time satisfied with the Bible pattern of a plurality of elders in every congregation, and church autonomy (cf. Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). However, a gradual departure from that biblical pattern has resulted in the ecclesiastical structure presently seen in the Catholic church.
Similar departures from Biblical patterns have resulted in unscriptural worship, the adoption of pagan days, and man-made doctrines such as the veneration of Mary, purgatory, celibacy, etc. These things are from man, not God, and are condemned in principle by passages such as Matthew 15:9, "And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."
Much is made of the reformation efforts of men such as Luther, Zwingli and Calvin in the 1500's. However, these efforts, designed to reform the Catholic church, fell far short of a return to Bible authority for religious beliefs and practices.
Denominational creeds replaced church tradition, but both were substituted for Bible doctrine. Humanly devised theologies were embraced rather than plain Bible teaching, and many of the conventions and innovations of Catholicism were retained in the Protestant denominations.
In the United States in the early 1800's some became disillusioned by such human innovation. A movement began to return to the Bible and the Bible alone for religious authority. Men began to again respect Peter's admonition, "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God..." We owe our heritage as Christians in this country, at least in part, to these efforts.
However, it was not long before men again began to depart from the word of God. In his book, (published in 1951) Doctrine and Thought of the Disciples of Christ, Howard Short concisely states the attitude of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which is the final product of this apostasy. "Some (Christians, SC) were determined that the Bible contained every work of information and inspiration which the church could ever need:
We dealt with this principle "What is not prohibited is permitted" in our article The Silence of Scripture. Such a wrong attitude toward the Bible has not only led to "societies and organs" but in the 51 years since Short wrote his little book, the addition of women as preachers, a rejection of the inspiration of the scriptures by many of their preachers, and an full fledged embracing of the ecumenical movement in America.
Each apostasy had as its core a rejection of the authority of God's word. Had there been a fidelity to the principles established in the New Testament, such innovations and changes would not have occurred. This is an important lesson to us today. Brethren, unless we understand the nature of biblical authority and apply it to all aspects of our lives, we are in danger of suffering the same fate.