Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 10, 1963
NUMBER 35, PAGE 1,8a

What Is Your! Standard Of Authority?

H. Osby Weaver

Having emphasized the necessity of a proper division of the word of God and having learned that the old law has been "blotted out, abolished, and nailed to the cross," we are ready for a consideration of the question, "What should be our standard of authority in matters religious?"

In view of the lawlessness which is evident on every hand to say that we are living in an age which is not very noted for its reverence for authority, is to state the obvious.

While Jesus taught in the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, "By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority?" — Matthew 21:23. This was a proper question if it had been honestly asked. Now, as never before in the history of the world, do people need to ask in regard to religion, "By what authority doest thou these things?

In turning the question back to those who ask it, Jesus was not discouraging investigation. In fact, the word of God lays down this rule: "Prove all things and hold fast to that which is good" — I Thessalonians 5:21. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world" — I John 4:1. The church at Ephesus was commended for "trying" those imposters who claimed to be apostles and rejecting them when their claims were found to be false. The Lord's question was designed to help them see the two sources of authority for all that is believed, taught, and practiced. Jesus replied, "I also will ask you due question, which if ye tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or from men?" Thus the line is drawn. Who authorized what you believe and practice in religion? Is it from heaven or from men? What is your standard of authority?

The late W. L. Oliphant listed some of the standards to which people make their appeal and so adequately discussed the errors involved in such, that we here give his treatise on this theme:

The Need Of Authority

While it is true that we should not accept as authority all that claims to be such, it is equally true that we must have standards and authorities in all the activities of life. Without them, chaos and anarchy reign supreme. Describing one of the most critical periods in the history of the Jews, a prophet of God said: "Every man became a law unto himself. There can be no system, no unity, no harmony, no co-operation, without a recognition of authority.

Every nation has some form of government. Those who do not recognize authority of government are not good citizens. Governmental authority may declare a thing to be wrong, which is not within itself wrong. For instance, there is no principle of right involved in which side of the street I drive my car on. But suppose half of the citizens of this city should decide to drive on the right hand side of the street, while the other half insist on driving on the left hand side. Our traffic fatality list — although it is already a disgraceful one — would become much more disgraceful. Traffic would be jammed, commerce would be greatly hindered, and all of us would be crying for some solution to the problem. The solution would be found in our recognition of the right of the city government to prescribe rules by which we shall drive. Harmony prevails in our use of the city streets when we all recognize the authority behind our traffic regulations, and faithfully comply with these regulations. It would not be possible for the affairs of government to be properly executed if our citizens refused to recognize governmental authority.

Business and trade demand a monetary standard. If each citizen had the right to coin money and establish its value, there would be no way to determine the value of the dollar.

How can the question be settled regarding the standards of weights and measures? We must all appeal to a recognized authority.

Suppose each man regarded his own watch as the standard with reference to time, and men could not agree on an acceptable standard. It would be practically impossible for us to carry on business or social relations with each other.

Imagine a group of people playing a game, in which there is no authority; there are no rules, no regulations and no standards. The game could not proceed. Imagine a group trying to play a game while each player recognizes a different authority; each plays by a set of rules differing from those used by every other player. There must be an unanimous recognition of a single authority. All must play by the same rules.

My friends, I ask you to look at the confused state of religion in this country. What is the trouble? We are falling to heed the admonition of the apostle Paul: That we "All walk by the same rule." (Philippians 3:16).

When you remember that there are, in these United States, several hundred religious denominations, each one recognizing and appealing to a different standard, it is easy to see why we have religious confusion.

Before this confusion can be cleared up, before unity and harmony can prevail in religion, we must all agree on a single authority which we are all willing to accept as supreme in religion. But what is that authority? What should be regarded as the supreme authority in religious matters? Upon what authority can all professed Christians agree?

Feelings As Authority

There are those who regard their feelings as authority. Have not all of us met that man (or woman) who said something like this: "I know I am saved because of the way I feel. I know when I was converted. I experienced the most grand and glorious feeling in all my experience. I have the evidence of my salvation in my own heart." Now, it is true that when one believes he has been saved, he feels good. Our emotions play a large part in our lives. But can one trust his feelings as an authority in religion? I think not.

Our feelings are affected by what we believe, regardless of whether that which we believe is true or false. When Joseph's brothers reported to their father that Joseph was dead, the father believed their report. He became sad, and went about for years in mourning. While in fact, Joseph was not dead, but was faring well in Egypt. The fact of Joseph's success in Egypt had no effect on Jacob's feelings. Believing that his son was dead, he was as sorrowful as if he had actually been dead.

I was once in a group of people who were intensely interested in the election of a certain candidate to a political office. It was election night, and the returns from the various voting precincts were coming in. The vote was close. First, it was reported that our candidate had been elected. Everybody in our group was happy. The men threw their hats in the air and yelled shouts of victory. Songs of victory were sung. But while we were in the very midst of our merrymaking, another report indicated that our candidate had been defeated. Our feelings changed immediately. Disappointment was registered in every countenance. Finally, all of the returns were in, and our man was elected. Again, our crowd felt jubilant. Our feelings varied, according to the information we had. A falsehood, when believed, will produce as joyous feeling as will truth. Our feelings are not a reliable authority in religion. I should not want to rest so important a matter as my soul's salvation and my relation to God on such a variable and insecure foundation. (Proverbs 28:26 ) says, "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool." If one has no higher evidence of his salvation than the way he feels, the wise man Solomon said he was a fool for relying upon it.)

Conscience As A Guide

"Let your conscience be your guide," is the decision of some on the question of what authority shall control us in religious matters. If the individual conscience is our religious standard, we have as many standards as there are individuals. On this basis, how can we hope to have the unity for which Jesus prayed and which the Holy Spirit commands? (See John 17:20-23; I Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 3:16.)

Many heathen are conscientious In their religion. Are they right? While Paul rejected Christ and persecuted Christians, he "lived in all good conscience." (Acts 23:1.) Did that make his course right?

I am not advocating a disregard for conscience. It is wrong to do that which we cannot do conscientiously. But it is not the function of conscience to determine what is truth. My conscience merely attempts to enforce that which I believe to be truth. Conscience is a creature of education. If my information is false, my conscience will have a false standard.

The Religion Of My Forefathers

There are many who accept the faith of their ancestors as their standard in religion. How many people have you known who were members of this or that church merely because their parents belonged to it? If we are to take the religion of our ancestors as our standard, we shall probably all be heathen — if we go back far enough. But we cannot accept this as a standard since our ancestors, themselves, differed in religion. Each person has two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, sixteen great great grandparents, thirty-two great great great grandparents, sixty-four great great great great grandparents, and 126 great great great great great grandparents. Thus, traced back six generations, each of us has 126 ancestors. Do you suppose these 126 all agreed? Of course not! Then, which one are you going to follow? The great Apostle Paul followed some of his ancestors, and found that he had to change. While he persecuted Christians, he followed the religion of his ancestors. Hear him: "And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." (Galatians 1:14.) But when Paul found that the religion of his fathers was wrong, he left it.

The Verdict Of The Majority

But, some one is ready to say: "I am willing to follow the thought of the majority in religious matters. What most of the people believe must be right." May I ask, "What do you mean by the majority — the majority where?" If you mean the majority of the people in the world, then you will have to be a heathen. If you mean the majority in our nation, you will not be religious at all. Only about ten out of every twenty-five people in the United States profess any religion. If you mean a majority in the state, you would be a Mormon in Utah. If you mean you will follow the majority in the city or community in which you live, you will have to change religion almost every time you move. If you should be stranded on some island inhabited by cannibals, you would become a man-eater!

In Old Testament times God commanded: "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil." Jesus taught that, on the question of whether they are traveling the road to life or the road to death, the majority is wrong. (Matthew 7:13.)

— Dallas, Texas