The mainstream doctrine of the church has always promoted the necessity of biblical authority. In fact, the churches of Christ seem to be known in the religious world for being so consumed in biblical authority that the church takes their teachings to the point of legalism, which by the definition of the denominational world is ‘all law, no love.’ On this point, the message of the church is simple, speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. God never meant for law and love to be mutually exclusive. To love God and mankind is to be obedient to the commands of God (John 14:15). To be obedient to the commands of God is to love God and mankind (John 15:10-14; 1 John 4:19-20). To live exclusively and completely by the authority of scripture, refusing to go beyond what is written, reveals the greatest love one can have for God and humanity. However, many in the religious world would disagree. False teachers claim that it is more loving to not make any judgments (contrary to the Word – John 7:24; 1 Cor. 6:2-5) and it is more loving to not bind anymore commands from God than a person wants to personally accept (contrary to the Word – James 2:10-11; Gal. 3:10). Consider the argument one individual makes against the church for their teachings on authority.
A once faithful gospel preacher, Kevin Pendergrass, wrote an article on Facebook entitled “Where Is Your Authority?” in which he justified the changes in modern worship by redefining authority believing the Church of Christ’s teaching on authority stifled God’s grace and mercy. He claimed there exist three problems within the hermeneutics (the art of biblical interpretation) of the church. The first problem, he wrote, “is the presupposition that a law has already been violated. This is a grave mistake. When you condemn someone for not having authority, you are assuming they are violating a law.” His article misapplied Romans 4:15b: “…for where no law is, there is no transgression.” He used this verse to advocate the proscription-by-silence principle. If the Bible doesn’t say we can’t then we can.
Romans 4:15 speaks of the law of God and sin in a general sense. If God had not established the law over man, then sin would have no power and there would be no sin. However, God established His law and therefore sin exists. God does not advocate with this verse the idea that if the law doesn’t directly mention the matter, then one can do what he/she wants in any way personally desired, and God will accept it. Pendergrass claims it is a grave mistake to condemn a person for not having authority because if there is no direct law on the matter then the person has not violated the law. However, the Law of Christ demands that a person must have authority in whatsoever he/she does “in word or deed” (Col. 3:17). If someone acts without authority, then the law has been broken because the law demands a Christian to act based on divine authority.
Pendergrass further stated in his article, “The second problem I found is that this misapplied view of authority is very abstract and undefined. When one begins with an abstract belief, then any practice can be ‘authorized’ or ‘unauthorized’ at one’s own subjective choosing.” Pendergrass used several illustrations of people who debate whether or not there is authority for ideas such as hand clapping, multiple cups in communion, etc. People have always debated whether certain actions are authoritative, but this fact does not mean that authority is undefined and abstract.
People disagree on what is truth, but truth is absolute, it is not abstract and undefined. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Liberals can’t redefine the truth because the majority cannot agree on what it is. The word of Christ is the truth, likewise, the word of Christ is the authority (Matt. 28:18). If the act is used and taught in the Bible as permissible and right, then the act is authorized. God creates no abstraction or ill-definition in authority. Just because people argue about authority does not make it undefined and abstract. One is right and the other wrong; it is that simple. Believers should never redefine authority just because people cannot agree on its usage.
Pendergrass continued, “The third problem is the division, ignorance and strife this belief has caused. Flippantly condemning others by pre-supposing that there is no authority for a practice has turned into a hobby for many preachers and has become the shallow answer for members …when they don’t really have an answer.” There has always existed division in the church, even with the first-century apostolic churches, but not even Pendergrass would accuse the apostles of misusing biblical hermeneutics because there was division within the churches that they planted. Just because a principle caused division does not mean that Christians should just give up and let everyone do what they want.
When Christians properly use biblical authority against a person who does not properly use biblical authority, there will be strife and division. However, if people redefine biblical authority to fit what everyone wants to include in worship, then mankind will create a worship separate from what God established. As long as opinionated people exist in the church, division will happen. The truthfulness of a doctrine should not be based on whether it creates division because no doctrine is without division.
No one should ever change the worship of God by redefining biblical authority just because there is no explicit command against it, or there is debate, or there is division (1 Cor. 16:13).