Law is defined as "the binding custom or practice in a community;" "rules of conduct enforced by a controlling authority;" and "the whole body of rules relating to one subject." Any or all of these definitions are applicable in the religious realm. It is generally understood that God has imposed some kind of a law upon men today. There is confusion as to who has authority from God to make such laws, and exactly what the laws are.
We do know that the law-maker is single, for James said that there is but one lawgiver who is able to save and destroy. (James 4:12) That lawgiver must of necessity be Christ, for the law we read of is the law of Christ. Let us notice the proof of the statement. James speaks of the perfect law of liberty. (James 1:25, 2.12) He states that the law shall judge us. However, I know that the words which Jesus speaks shall judge us. (John 12:48) Since there cannot be two standards of judgment, I conclude that the words of Jesus are the same as "the law of liberty." Paul speaks of the "law of faith." (Romans 3:27) Yet the faith of the New Testament is faith in Christ (Gal. 3:26), hence it must be the law of faith in Christ, therefore Christ's law. Paul makes mention of "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" which makes one free from "the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:2)
But anyone can make a law; however, only a law made by one with authority is a binding law, an actual law. In religion men make what they designate as law, but without the authority to do so. Jesus' law cannot be binding unless Jesus has the authority to make laws. Truly law is the expression of authority. Jesus impressed men as one who had authority. (Matt. 7:29) Jesus claimed authority for himself. (Matthew 28:18) Paul states that Jesus' name has been exalted above every name, and that he has been made head over all things to the church. (Phil. 2:8-11, Eph. 1:20-23) Therefore, Paul believes in the authority of Christ.
Having established that the law which governs us is the law of Christ, and that Christ has authority to make such a law, we ask ourselves how that law is made known to us. Unless there is some method of delivering the law to the people, we are unable to know how to obey the law, it is still a mystery to us, and God would be unjust to judge us by it. It is at this point that we see the part which the apostles of Christ played in the scheme of redemption. They revealed the law to man. Jesus told the apostles that they would be his witnesses. (Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8) He told them that what they would bind on earth would have been bound in heaven and what they loosed on earth would have been loosed in heaven. (Matt. 16:19; 18:18) (The fact that the verb in these texts are perfect passive, "shall have been bound," rather than future passive, "shall be bound," as our versions translate, eliminates any idea that the apostles had legislative authority.) Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all the truth, recall to their minds all that he had said to them, teach them all things. (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13) When the apostles wrote, they concurred with what the Lord had foretold. Paul said he "hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.... committed unto us the word of reconciliation.... we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." (2 Cor. 5:18-20) We conclude that the apostles had no authority to make laws whatsoever. They had only the authority to reveal the law of Christ as inspired by the Holy Spirit, Listen to the words of Paul in Eph. 3:3-5: "By revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in a few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which is other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit ...." Thus it was the peculiar work of the apostles to reveal the law of Christ. Jude (verse 3) tells us that the work was finished. When it was finished, the work of the apostles was finished, thus the earthly apostolic office ceased. It is important to understand the work of the apostles, and that their office by its very nature could not he perpetual, for it is at this point that Roman Catholicism finds its basis. Catholics contend that the apostolic office continues, for although the work of revelation has been completed, the work of teaching, preaching, and overseeing must go on until the end of time. Since, they argue, the apostles also taught, preached, and (as did Peter, 1 Pet. 5:1) oversaw, that phase of the apostolic office must continue. They fail to distinguish the work of teaching, preaching, and overseeing (which do not require inspiration) from the work of revealing. Teaching, etc., does not need apostolicity to continue. There are many assumptions to be overcome before the doctrine of church legislative authority can be established. We must assume that teaching, etc., is a distinct apostolic work, that this teaching carries with it authority (first assuming that the apostles had legislative authority), and we must assume that bishops inherit that office and authority. The Catholic Church is founded upon the theory of apostolic succession, but the whole theory is a heap of unwarranted and unproveable assumptions.
The apostles have revealed the law of Christ to us, and they have done it by means of a written word, the written New Testament, Paul said, "I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ." (Eph. 3:3b-4) Peter declared that "his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue." (2 Pet 1:3) That knowledge comes by the written word, as Paul states in Ephesians. We further learn that the grace of God is written: "....I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand." (1 Pet. 5:12) "And this (that which Peter was writing) is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." (1 Pet. 1:25b) "All scripture is given by inspiration of God....that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:16a-17) "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." (John 20:31) That which is written is the mystery, the knowledge of Christ, the grace of God, the gospel, that which makes man perfect and equips him for every good work, that which produces belief. It is truly the law.
But what part does the church play? If Christ is the one lawgiver, and his law is completely revealed in the written New Testament which the Holy Spirit, working through the apostles, has provided us, then there is no opportunity for law-making on the part of the church, by its elders or preachers. The purpose of the church is to manifest God's wisdom. (Eph. 3:10) This can be done by teaching or demonstration, that is, the teaching applied and lived by members of the church. It does not involve creating additional laws. Glory is to be given to God in the church. (Eph. 3:21) Some brethren misunderstand and think that the church is to get the glory. The church is to show complete subjection to Christ, its head, in all things, as the wife does to her husband. (Eph. 5:23-30) How may a wife show subjection to her husband? I know of only one way, by obeying him. Thus the church obeys Christ in all things. The church obeys his law, does not make new ones. When a congregation of people create new laws, make "official interpretations" of portions of Christ's law, or teach or practice that which is not a part of Christ's law, the church is thereby transgressing the law of Christ, and committing sin. (1 John 3:4) The church is thereby going beyond the doctrine of Christ, an," forsaking God. (2 John 9) The church is thereby preaching another gospel than that which the apostles delivered, and should rightly be accursed. (Gal. 1:8-9) In teaching, practicing, and binding matters which are foreign to Christ's law, a congregation places itself in a similar position to Catholicism, that of ecclesiastical legislation. At least the Catholics assume the right to do so. Brethren who so act are not only violating the law of Christ, but doing that which they otherwise teach they cannot do!
On the other hand, when a congregation of the Lord's people adheres strictly to the pattern of sound words (2 Tim, 1:13) which are found within the law of Christ, not adding or diminishing, can that congregation be rightly accused of law-making? Or can it be accused of lawbreaking? Indeed that church is doing the work for which it was created by Christ, that of showing proper subjection to him by perfect obedience to his law. That church is keeping, not making law!
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