Every religious person in the world can explain what they believe, perhaps even a few might be able to answer why, but only the godly can provide authority! Authority comes in different ways for people. Some consider their priests to be the authority in salvation, others their pastors or parents or reverends or some other spiritual leader. Many might consider authority to derive from the majority, ‘the greatest good for the greatest number of people’ is right. What the majority decide represents authority! In a democratic society, such a mentality is common. The pragmatists would tell a person that what is right is what works best to the goal. “The ends justify the means” mentality presents righteousness as anything that provides a person with his/her goal, especially if that goal is selfless. The academic might consider authority to be empirical reality, those things that can be proven by observation and experimentation. It is not authoritative if it is not real, and it is not real if it cannot be proven by a scientific standard.
As any person can see authority manifests in a plethora of perspectives. Ultimately, there exists only one authority that stands above all, the judgment seat of God, to which all people must appear (2 Cor. 5:10). Jesus Christ is the ultimate spiritual leader and what He says trumps all other spiritual leaders (Matt. 28:18; Heb. 4:15)! God knows above all others what is the greatest good for the greatest number of people, and He has provided this “good” in the Bible (1 Tim. 2:3-4; John 1:1,14). Furthermore, nothing works better than the “perfect law of liberty” to the ultimate duty of humanity (James 1:25; Ecc. 12:13). God provides a lifetime of empirical data all around every person to His existence and ultimate authority (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1). Without the biblical reference to God’s approval, there can be no true authority (Col. 3:17)!
Last week, this series focused on how to address questions that the world may ask the Christian, specifically, “Why the church of Christ?” This week a new question comes into focus. Do Christians really need to give book, chapter, and verse for everything they believe and defend as righteous? Paul writes in Romans 10:17: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The Word of God stands as the foundation of the Christian faith, and if Christians are unfamiliar with the Word of God, how can they have a faith that is defensible (Phil. 1:17)? Without the ability to use the Word of God, the Christian removes the very essence of what makes him/her different (Micah 4:5). The Christian then becomes just like any other religious person walking around appealing and testifying to weak sources of authority.
When Paul traveled to Berea to preach the gospel, he was met with a group of people that were ready to receive the word Paul had prepared, but they also were ready to search the scriptures to make sure that what Paul said was the truth (Acts 17:11). Paul called the Bereans “noble” for such practices. What would have happened if Paul had gone to Berea to preach the gospel, but he had no ability to use scripture? How would the Bereans be able to check the scripture in order to determine if Paul was telling the truth?
Likewise, how can the people Christians teach and hope to persuade determine if they are teaching the whole truth if such Christians cannot use the scriptures? Peter writes, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God… that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11). If the servants of God are to show the praise and authority of God from that which they speak, then they must have the ability to speak by the Word of God. What good is telling someone how to be saved in salvation, if the declaration cannot be shown from scripture. A Christian cannot defend the truth by telling people, “Go ask my preacher/priest/pastor why I believe what I believe because I really don’t know why.” True Christians must study the Bible and know the Bible to show themselves approved from God (2 Tim. 2:15).
The American society has been conditioned to believe that one should swallow without question those clerics and religious leaders that have years of education, because how could people that have studied for so long be wrong, and it could be offensive and rude to question their knowledge of scripture. Followers of God have often been encouraged to question and expect that the Word of God be included in every doctrinal discussion. John writes, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Believers have the divine right to question and expect the words of God in any discussion pertaining to the doctrine of the Lord. It is not rude to question someone’s knowledge of scripture. In fact, a true friend as described by God is one that will sharpen and challenge his brother’s knowledge of scripture, that they may grow together in the faith, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17).
Christ commonly received questions from curious and sincere disciples hoping to grow in the knowledge that Christ brought to this world, and He frequently answered inquiries through scriptural responses (Mat. 15:1-8, Mark 7:1-6). If Christians are to uphold the biblical examples or authority and be set for the defense of the gospel, they should ALWAYS use scriptural references.