One of the fundamental questions we in churches of Christ are sometimes asked is: “Why do you place such emphasis on the need for Bible authority?” Or, to put it another way, “Why do you insist on a ‘book, chapter and verse’ for everything in religion?”
It’s true that this is a distinguishing characteristic of the Lord’s church. Unlike the denominations, which tend to justify their practices by their own church history or creeds, churches of Christ seek to justify what they say and do by direct appeals to the word of God, the Bible. Why is this?
Evidently, this is a strange concept to many people, even very religious people. Many of our religious friends find it odd that we do not imitate, or at least approve of customs and traditional practices in their churches, which they consider to be a given. Mechanical instruments of music in worship, for example, are widely accepted these days, to the point where many consider it strange to even question them. When a Christian hesitates about using them, saying there is no biblical authority for them in the worship, the religious world scratches its head.
Why are you stressing the need for Bible authority? Don’t we have the right to change it up to suit our current preferences? Shouldn’t we improve upon the ancient pattern found in the Bible? Isn’t there room for innovation and progression as we try to keep pace with the culture, and remain relevant to the younger generation? These are good questions, and they deserve thoughtful answers. Is there really a need to give a “thus saith the Lord” for everything we do and teach in the church?
The same questions are being asked in the current political context. Can’t we change the Constitution? Why are we frozen in time with a document written over 200 years ago? Why does it require more than a simple majority to change it?* But the debate is even more important here in the church, where the standard is the word of God himself, and the consequences are of an eternal nature.
So, the reason we contend for Bible authority for all we say and do in religion is that God’s word requires it. “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” (Col. 3:17). Nothing can be done or said “in the name of” Jesus which he has not authorized. It is impossible to do something “in the name of the Lord” for which there is no word from the Lord. That’s why Christians have figured out that this matter of Bible authority is very, very important. And very serious.
We are going to be judged in “the last day” not by what the “church fathers” taught, or what was written in the prayer book or the denominational manual, or what we were taught where we grew up, but by the word of God. Jesus said, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day,” (Jn. 12:48). The standard for what is right and wrong is the word of God. It’s not a matter of changing or amending it to suit our desires. In fact such changes are expressly forbidden in the document itself, (cf. Rev. 22:18-19; Prov. 30:6; etc.).
If I truly recognize that absolutely everything I say and do must be authorized by the word of God, I am going to get very serious about learning how the Bible does that. I will want to know more about 1) direct statements, 2) approved examples, 3) implications and 4) expediency. I am going to be cautious about enlarging upon these well-recognized principles of deriving authority. I will probably become very uncomfortable when someone minimizes them, or suggests that they are unnecessary, or that I am being “legalistic” when I recognize them.
Being content with God’s word on any matter says a lot about our attitude. It speaks of humility and obedience. It indicates spiritual maturity. It recognizes that there is something seriously wrong with “going onward, and abiding not in the teaching of Christ,” (2 Jn. 9). Minimizing or making light of the need for Bible authority is a dangerous practice. Its predecessors are all condemned strongly on the pages of the Bible. People like Nadab and Abihu, who offered unauthorized worship to God, do not fare well before him. Certainly, we would not want to be found in such company, (see Lev. 10:1ff). To quote our Lord, “If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them,” (Jn. 13:17).
*Note: The U.S. Constitution can only be amended upon a “super-majority” 2/3 vote of both houses of the Congress or the state legislatures.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.