Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Where Do We Get Our Authority?

Where do we, as Christians, get our authority? Do we need some kind of authority? There are those who would claim that we do. In Matthew 16:13-19 Jesus talks of a power of binding and loosing. This promise is given, not based on Peter's office or ordination, but on his confession of faith. Therefore, those who have the faith of Peter have the authority of Peter. This accords with John 1:12, which says that those who receive Jesus by believing on His name have the authority (literally, in the Greek) to become the sons of God. Later, in Matthew 18 Jesus is speaking to His disciples (Matthew 18:1), those who have learned from Him, on the subject of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17). In this context He repeats the promise of binding and loosing to all disciples (Matthew 18:18). He then tells them that what they agree on will be done (Matthew 18:19,20). This has been used of prayer and may have an application there, but in context it speaks of church discipline, doing the work of the church. I would therefore conclude that when Jesus' disciples, those who believe in Him, agree together, they have the authority to do the work of the church.

Later Jesus, speaking after the resurrection to the eleven disciples (note, they are not called apostles, referring to their office), commissions them to make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them what Christ commanded (Matthew 28:16-20). They are not told they have authority but that Christ has all authority and they can do these things based on their relationship with Him. This fits with the truth that Christ is the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5) and He has authority as our Great High Priest (Hebrews 5:4-6). We have a significance based on even being known as Christ's disciples (Matthew 10:40-42). But nowhere in the New Testament is it stated that there is an authority given by a mechanical succession of ordination. Nor is there any New Testament ordinance where we  are told its validity depends on who it was performed by. Jesus rebukes His disciples for trying to hinder a man who was not following them (Luke 9:49,50). When Jesus is asked where He got His authority, rather than explaining, He ultimately refuses to even answer (Matthew 21:23-27). This is hardly the response we would expect if this were the crucial question for establishing someone's validity.

But I am convinced that those who deny apostolic succession can still fall into this mindset. We can start to believe that something is true or required just because it is passed down to us. But this is not affirmed by Scripture (Matthew 15:7-9). Now I do not want to diminish the value of the great teachers of the past. But these need to be believed because of their understanding of the Word of God and sound reasoning. God's work in the world is not based on mere mechanical succession, but on faith in the Son of God.

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