Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 14, 1957
NUMBER 28, PAGE 1,10-11b

Modern Problems Confronting The Church -- No. V

J. P. Lusby, Amarillo, Texas

Autonomous means "independent in government; self-governing; also, without outside control." (Webster). It has to do with independency, self-rule and freedom.

Each church is autonomous. When several churches place their money under one "eldership" to spend for them, transferring this much of their responsibility, they suffer a corresponding loss of autonomy.

Some have denied this on the ground that it is all on a voluntary basis, and a feeder church can stop sending to the Sponsoring Church whenever it so decides. Church autonomy is assured by the ability to quit, they tell us. But giving to the Missionary Society is on a voluntary basis, and the contributing churches could stop giving. The loss of autonomy exists in the thing done, not in the ability to quit. Voluntary action and the ability to quit do not render the subject guiltless in the moral sphere. Why should anyone imagine such to be the case in religion? Because a man voluntarily lies and can voluntarily quit lying any time he sees fit does not mean he is not guilty of lying and God will not hold him responsible. Because one voluntarily steals, gets drunk, or commits murder does not mean he is not guilty of sin simply because he can quit when he takes a notion. Neither does the ability of the feeder churches to stop "feeding the Sponsoring Church militate against the forfeiture of church autonomy. Voluntary participation in that which is unlawful intensifies one's guilt; and in the realm of religion makes it a case of spiritual suicide.


The popular demand of the day is: "Show me the law against it!" Some think there must be a positive prohibition before there can be an overt transgression. Such people should consider the case of Nadab and Abihu, Lev. 10:1-11.

"Sin is the transgression of the law." 1 Jno. 3:4. To transgress means to go beyond limits. Trans means across, over, beyond. Gress means to step or go. Hence, to step out of bounds, to go beyond the law, is transgression.

Digression means to turn aside or swerve from, to deviate. Retrogression means to go backward, to recede, to descend from a better to a worse state. Progression is very good if kept within divine boundaries but if we become so progressive that we step across the boundary, it ceases to be progression and becomes transgression. To illustrate, we are commanded to sing. We may develop and improve our talent in singing; but to do something more is transgression. To play is to add another element to the worship. It is not progression, but a transgression of the law.

"But, where does the Bible say, 'thou shalt not' fiddle?" I repeat, it is not the presence of a positive prohibition that makes the instrument sinful, it is the absence of a divine command authorizing it. Anything that goes beyond the law, whether in doctrine, worship, work or organization, is transgression. Apostolic writings are "the commandments of the Lord." 1 Cor. 14:37. The decrees of the apostles and elders were delivered "for to keep." Acts 16:4. More than this is transgression.

For churches to build and maintain human organizations through which to do their work is transgression; therefore, sinful. It is transgression because it is going beyond the law. The law does not authorize it. "Whosoever transgresseth (goeth onward), and abideth not in the doctrine (teaching) of Christ, hath not God." 2 Jno. 9.

This brings us to the third question in this series of articles:

What Is The Standard Of Authority?

The truth is many times obscured by extraneous matters. A lot of things going on today in the name of religion are but symptoms of an improper attitude toward the word of God. The issue today is not institutionalism, as such; it goes much deeper than that. It involves the realm of authority and the field of innovation. Shall we be limited in our religious activity by what God has said in his word or shall we bring into his service anything and everything he has not specifically forbidden? Here is the real issue. It is not over orphans, old folks, and other needy, but what organization did God authorize to do the work; the church, or some human organization Instrumental music was not the real issue before. It was simply the horse they rode out on. The fight was over the question of authority. The same was true with reference to the Missionary Society. The question was not, should the gospel be preached? The question was, what organization did God authorize to do it — the church or the society? It involved respect for divine authority and esteem for divine wisdom. The same is true as relates to present problems confronting the church.

We have mechanical movements among us today for which there are no New Testament mechanics. The horses today are too big for the New Testament harness. Pressure groups are formed and attempts are made to intimidate preachers in an effort to subordinate them and bring them under control. State-wide, nation-wide, world-wide organizations are formed "for the church." Propaganda is employed, pressure is applied. Submit or be ostracized, line up or shut up, knuckle under or bow out, is the order of the day.

The Gospel Press and the Herald of Truth are national organizations. The former purports to be a national advertising organization for the church. The latter is rapidly becoming the national radio voice of the church. They do not propose to speak for themselves, they presume to speak for the church. They use "the area of silence" as an excuse to do what they want to do, and they use the name of the church in doing it.

There must be a standard of authority, else every man's whim is his standard. He becomes a standard unto himself.

I heard a story somewhat as follows. In a meeting of denominational preachers a basis of unity was being sought. The Baptist preacher wanted the Methodist and Presbyterians to unite upon his Manual, but they wouldn't do that. The Baptist would not accept the Methodist Discipline. Neither the Baptists nor Methodists would subscribe to the Presbyterian Confession. Thus it went until finally all human creeds had been eliminated. There was a gospel preacher present. He then stood up with New Testament in hand and asked: "Will you accept this as your standard?" After a moment's silence, one of the denominational preachers made a motion that the meeting be adjourned.

That illustrates the attitude of some brethren today. They will advocate certain things, but when called upon for New Testament authority, with a wave of the hand they say it is just a matter of judgment, let us not discuss it; and they make a motion that the meeting be adjourned.

Denominationalism is creedism. It is Catholicism transposed. There are three classes of authority above the Bible in Catholicism. First and supreme is the pope; second is the ecumenical council; and third is tradition. In the development of Catholicism there was an elevation of one elder in a local congregation above his fellow elders. He became the presiding elder. His authority was enlarged until finally it took in a diocese. He became a diocesan bishop, a bishop over a group of bishops. He grew and grew until he became a metropolitan bishop. Finally, he acclaimed himself the universal bishop — the papa — the pope.

In the development of that thing there were representatives from all parts of the country that assembled at Rome. Emphasis was put upon one place, one church, one bishop. This gave Rome preeminence.

There is today an emphasis being put upon one place — Abilene; or Lubbock. And there are a few down in Tennessee that are vying for position and striving for authority. Well, that happened in the development of Catholicism too, and it finally boiled down to a struggle between two: Constantinople and Rome, and Rome won out. I don't know just where the headquarters will be located this time, several are striving for it, but the way some preachers act and the way some members talk one would think they expect it to be in Abilene, Texas, for they speak as if they believe that when they die they will go to A.C.C.! You can criticize the church and it disturbs them not at all. Speak against their alma mater, and it is time to move the preacher!

The emphasis today is on one place, one church, one group of bishops. There is a pilgrimage every year to A.C.C. from all quarters of the globe. To many it has become a mecca. Abilene, the meccan city; A.C.C., the holy shrine! The planning and plotting carried on down there might be a revelation. Verily, "history has been repeating itself ever since history has been repeating anything."

The elders of a church have no ecumenical rights — they can't speak or act for the whole church. Elders are not infallible. They are subject to mistakes, announcements that have been made to the contrary in some quarters notwithstanding. Yes, public announcements have been made in some churches that the decisions of the elders cannot be at fault, that the elders in their decisions cannot be wrong, for that many men could not make a mistake. It might be well to pose this question just here: What wisdom do men possess after being appointed elders that they did not possess before appointment? Were they subject to error and mistake before appointment? What mystical power preserves them from error after appointment? The decision of elders is subject to question. Yet there have been threats of withdrawal to members who would dare question the decision of some group of elders. We are closer to Rome than you might think.

The infallible council of Romanism appointed an infallible pope — and then died! That was its last act! A Catholic says he believes the pope is an infallible pope because the pope says he is an infallible pope! Shall we take warning?

The Authority Of Jesus Christ

The standard of authority is the gospel of Jesus Christ — the law of Christ. His authority is supreme. The authority attributed to him is the authority of God. There is "one Lord" — one Ruler, one Authority, one Sovereign. Eph. 4:5; 1 Cor. 8:5,6. His authority is absolute. All authority in heaven and earth is his. Matt. 28:18. It was given to him by God. Eph. 1:20-23; 1 Cor. 15:27. Angels bow before him. Heb. 1:6; Phil. 2:10,11; 1 Pet. 3:22. The heavenly host worship him. Rev. 5:8-14. His authority will continue as long as time. 1 Cor. 15:2428. Let us confess him, praise him, adore him, obey him and worship him. Let us submit to the mandates of the "King of kings and Lord of lords." To refuse his behest is to rebel. To rebel against his mandates is fatal.

On the mount of transfiguration Peter wanted to build three tabernacles. Matt. 17:4. Three tabernacles could only mean three authorities — three sources of authority. There is only one, that was two too many. "This is my beloved Son . . . hear ye him." There is no more authority than "all authority in heaven and earth." This is the authority that belongs unto the Son of God. To him we must bow, and to him we must hearken "in all things whatsoever he shall say unto" us. Acts 3:22,23. We cannot, therefore, afford to listen to anybody else in anything.

Apostolic Authority

Apostolic authority is the authority of Christ. He delegated it unto them. Had it not been for that they would have had no authority. "Keys," signifying authority, were given to an apostle. Matt. 16:19. The same authority was given to all the apostles. Matt. 18:18; Jno. 2:22,23. Christ said unto his apostles: "Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Matt. 19:28. The thrones here are apostolic thrones, thrones of authority. While there sitting they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel.

The twelve tribes represented the whole of Israel in the Old Testament. In this passage it is used metaphorically, denoting the whole of spiritual Israel in the New Testament — the church of the living God. "They are not all Israel, which are of Israel." Rom. 9:6-8. "And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God." Gal. 6:16. Both of these passages have reference to the church of Christ. They were, therefore, to rule over the twelve tribes of spiritual Israel or the church.

That rule was to be during the period of regeneration. "In the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory." He is sitting in the throne of his glory now. God "raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory." 1 Pet. 1:21; Lk. 24:46. Therefore, Christ had reference to the gospel dispensation. The "washing" of Tit. 3:5 belongs to the "regeneration" of Matt. 19:28 and refers to water baptism, Heb. 10:22. Hence, we are living in the period of regeneration, the gospel dispensation. And the apostles are now sitting on thrones judging — ruling in the church.

That Jerusalem Council

In Acts 15 we have the authority of the apostles demonstrated. Paul went up to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles at Jerusalem what he had already revealed to Paul at Antioch. They, the apostles, called the elders into their counsel. At the council of Jerusalem — c-o-u-n-c-i-l — the apostles called the elders into their counsel — c-o-u-n-s-e-l — and instructed them in the revelation of God. The revelation was made by the Holy Spirit to the apostles. If you think it was not, then why were the apostles chosen? Do you think God would reveal to the elders something he withheld from the apostles, and that the elders exercised authority over the apostles? The revelation was made unto the apostles, and they called the elders into their counsel and instructed them. James, an inspired apostle, speaking for all the apostles, said: "My sentence is . . ." American standard version: "My judgment is ..." It was an inspired decision of all the apostles, carrying all the force of a divine command. It was a judicial judgment, an apostolic sentence.

When Paul and Silas went on their preaching trip they delivered the apostolic decrees, the decrees ordained of the apostles and elders, "for to keep." Acts 16:4. They were commandments of the Lord, inspired fiats of Jehovah. 1 Cor. 14:37.

This brings us to a consideration of the subject, what the church is, which shall be dealt with in the next article.