Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 15, 1963
NUMBER 15, PAGE 1,12b

A Study Of Generic Authority - (No: I)

Forrest Darrell Moyer

The question of authority in religion is the most fundamental of all questions. In Christianity, it is the supreme question. It is legitimate to ask, "By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things? (Mark 11:28) There have been extreme positions advocated in the realm of authority. Some say, "We do many things for which there is no authority." In the practice of the church, this is a liberal extreme. Then there are others who demand specific authority for each practice of the church. This is a radical extreme. I am advocating no "middle of the road" position, but I am simply advocating truth on this question.

I. Four Basic Considerations

Brother Norton Dye suggested to me recently that the following four considerations must be given in reference to authority.

1. Everything authorized for us religiously is in the New Testament. (2 Tim. 3:18, 17; 2 Pet. 1:3, et. al.) This is another way of saying that we can do nothing religiously that is not authorized in the doctrine of Christ. Unless we recognize this basic principle, there can never be unity in Bible matters. If we are set on doing things not in the Bible, then there will always be chaos and confusion religiously.

2. There is more to each verse than we see at first. This is simply saying that some things are taught which are not stated precisely. We have always used the example in Matt. 3:18 which says that Jesus came up out of the water. But there is more to the teaching than that. It teaches that He went down into the water although it does not say that He did. Hence, we are made aware of the necessity of study on every scripture in the New Testament.

3. When God commands, Christians must obey every command. This is demanded by the whole of the Bible. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying that God did not specify every phase of how to obey the commands.

4. God's teaching, whether to the individual or to the body (church), authorizes everything necessary or expedient to that obedience. The command to be baptized authorizes sufficient water in which to be baptized. The command to sing authorizes the words and music of a song.

By careful consideration of these four thoughts, I believe that we can realize that generic authority definitely has its place in the religion of the New Testament. God expects us to use common sense in handling aright His word.

II. Two Kinds Of Authority — General And Specific Some Definitions Are In Order Just Here:

General: "pertaining to, affecting, or applicable to, each and all of a class kind, or order; as, a general law....not limited to a precise import or application; not specific."

Specific: "precisely formulated or restricted; specifying; explicit; as a specific statement."

Expedient: "That which is conducive to some end or result," thus, that which makes possible obedience to the command in a way that is decent and in order and which does not violate God's order.

Therefore, general authority includes each and all of the class, kind, or order under consideration, although not precisely stated. It includes the ways and means of obeying the command (understanding that these ways and means do not in any way violate the order given by the Lord. For example, we could not try to justify another institution than the church on the grounds that is a means of doing the work of the church. The church is the only institution authorized to do its work. A discussion of ways and means must then be limited to the ways and means of the church's doing its work — not the ways and means of another institution's doing it.) Specific authority excludes everything except that which is precisely stated. When God specifies bread and fruit of the vine, that eliminates every other element on the Lord's table. When music is the class under consideration, sing is specific and excludes all other kinds of music When sing is the class under consideration, it includes the things necessary to obedience to the command.

III. Some Applications

For generations faithful brethren have pointed out that had God told Noah to build the ark of wood he could have used pine, oak, gopher, or whatever he desired. This would have been general authority in regard to wood. But God specified gopher and this excluded the other kinds — others were not authorized. Had God told Israel to offer an animal in the pass-over, they could have chosen the animal to offer. God specified the lamb and no other was authorized. If God had commanded music for us today, we could use vocal, instrumental, or a combination of the two. But God specified; He said sing. There is, therefore, an absence of authority for another element of music such as an instrument. When God, by example, gave us bread and fruit of the vine for the Lord's table, these specifics eliminate meat and ice cream. Likewise, when the Lord specified the local church as His organization, this indicates that this is precisely what He wanted. Since He did not authorize any other institution, all others are without scriptural authority. When the Lord designated, by example, the first day of the week as the day of the Lord's supper, we understand that all of us ought to understand them without any trouble.

It seems that problems arise more often in the realm of general authority. Thus, in our next article we plan to discuss general authority and the expedients of fulfilling God's will.

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