Authority in Religion

Is there a moral standard of right and wrong? If there is no standard higher than man’s, then our society is set for destruction. There is, however, a standard that claims to be divine in origin, a standard that comes from the Creator to his creation. That standard is the Bible. It is not just a man’s standard that prohibits murder, for even those who would oppose God’s word cry out about the atrocities of murder. If they reject the word of God as the standard, what right do they have to impose their standard on others? Without a standard of right and wrong, there is not right or wrong. There is simply preference.

We see and recognize the need for authority in the physical realm. In weights and measures, time, and distance, we have recognized standards. Without these standards, agreement would be impossible. If there is disagreement, by appealing to a particular standard, any and all differences in understanding can be settled. Also, the fact that we can all agree as to our understanding of these standards can be seen from an example in the sports world. 

In the Olympic Games, there are athletes competing from nations all over the world. There is one set of rules fro all of those athletes, coaches, and trainers, covering the particular sport as well as the permissible drugs/medications. We have seen that certain athletes have been disqualified for using banned substances. These various rules are printed in many different languages ,and yet everyone involved must understand those rules and understand them alike, regardless of their nationality.

Can we not see that this principle is just as true in religion? Do we not see that without a recognized standard in religious matters, there can be no agreement?By what standard is society going to oppose murder or settle the matter of whether or not same-sex marriages are right or wrong: Man’s or God’s? Is there a standard by which all religious matters can be resolved? If so, can there be agreement upon that standard? Upon what basis? This is why an understanding of authority in religion is so vital.

What does the Bible say about the need for authority in religious matters? This question is moot if your attitude toward the Bible is that it is not the inspired word of God. The first matter to be addressed is: What is your attitude toward the Bible? Do you view it as authoritative? Next, consider these matters: Do you believe the Bible can be understood and understood alike? If not, why not?

Remember the Olympic rules? Regardless of the various languages in which they may be printed, all nationalities can understand and follow them. If man’s correspondence is capable of being understood alike, why would such be impossible in a writing that originated with God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1.1-2; 2 Peter 1.20-21). 

Freedom from sin is dependent upon an understanding of God’s will. Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8.32). Jesus had stated earlier in John 6.45 that coming to the Father depended upon being taught properly. Jesus declared the Father’s will in his teachings (John 7.16-17). 

Hindrances to Understanding

If anyone could have explained the will of God clearly, would it not have been the Lord himself? Consider: Did Jesus convert everyone he taught? The obvious answer is no. Was it because he was a poor teacher? Why didn’t everyone believe on Jesus when he came into the world? Why do some people have “eyes to see, yet cannot see” and “ears to hear yet cannot hear?” The Bible records Jesus’ answer in John 3.17-21.

The Holy Spirit revealed through he apostle Paul other criteria for understanding truth. One must have the desire or love for truth rather than a love for evil (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2.10,12). There must be a desire to both understand and agree upon truth. The reason that people disagree on doctrines of the Bible is not because agreeing is impossible, but because they are unwilling to accept its doctrines as final and authoritative. It is a matter of submission to God’s wisdom.

In the text of Matthew 22.23-27, we find a conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day on the matter of authority. We learn two very important lessons from this text:

  1. The Need for Authority. The chief priests, scribes, and elders of the Jews recognized this, as evidenced by their first question: “By what authority are you doing these things?” They asked a second question: “Who gave you this authority?” This is evidence that authority must come from one who has the rightful power to grant it. The chief priests, scribes, and elders had not authorized Jesus, so they inquired about his authority and the source of it.
  2. The Proper Source of Authority. Jesus’ asks, “The Baptism of John, whence was it, from heaven or from men?” this shows the only two possible sources of authority: God or man. A failure to respect and agree upon God’s authority is why religious divisions exist. 

For these reasons, it is imperative that we understand the need for authority and the proper source of authority for what we believe and practice in religion.