Vol.XI No.XII Pg.4
February 1975

Authority -- A Tricky Word

Robert F. Turner

Twice this week we had phone calls asking for help in studying "authority" of elders. "Happenstance?" Maybe so, but there have been other conversations of the past year and frequent mention of articles which are supposed to advocate arbitrary elder rule. I havent seen such articles, but if we are headed for another of those "rounds" lets keep it cool.

I strongly recommend a rereading of an aborted debate between Harry Pickup, Jr. and the Roman Catholic priest, George H. Dunne; which began in the Gospel Guardian, Vol. 5, No. 28, (Nov. 19, 53), but had to be dropped after three articles each, because Catholic censors would not approve further material from Dunne. Mr. Dunne, a highly respected scholar, began by calling attention to an article which James R. Cope had written in PRECEPTOR (Sept. 52) on "Majorities and Manners." Bro. Cope sought to show the Bible place of scriptural overseers, rather than "majority rule" of churches; but Mr. Dunne based his arguments for the Pope and College of Bishops, on what he claimed were the logical ends of Copes arguments.

As Harry said, Cope can take care of himself; but our point is that often we teach the truth on a subject, but say it in such a way as to open the door for complete misunderstanding. We may speak of the "authority" of the bishops, meaning only the scriptural right of certain men to function in a certain capacity. But we may leave the impression that the decisions reached by such men are mandates from heaven. This is not the case. There is no more reason to believe elders are infallible in their judgments, than to believe each member of the Lords church is infallible in judgments he must make in carrying out his appointed functions.

Bro. Pickup put it well in reply to Dunnes use of MAT.16:19, etc. "Christ did not say: You apostles will bind on earth and then I will bind in heaven;...What he said was: You will bind and loose on earth what has been bound in heaven.'" He cites Robertsons Grammar etc. then tries to show the passages are periphrastic perfect tense. "May be translated shall have been (permanently) bound, etc. The permanently from the fact that Greek perfect contains the idea of completed action that remains completed". Divinity has never abdicated the throne to any man: apostle, elder, or even evangelist.

The work of oversight, leadership etc., is necessary, and is divinely appointed. Someone must have the role of quarterback, calling the plays and defining a "common mind" in order to collective action, and the Lord gave the qualifications to be looked for as we appoint such men (1TI.3:1-f; TIT.1:5-f). He ordered a plurality of overseers in each church (ACT.14:23; 1PE.5:1-4). But no scriptures indicate that their leading (judgments) become a part of "the faith". Saints should submit to their rule ("esteem them very highly in love for their works sake" 1TH.5:13, emph -). All saints are priests (1PE.2:5); "One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren" (MAT. 23:8). Elders have an authorized function, but "all authority" remains in Christ.