Sunday, February 10, 2013

A look at Biblical Authority – Part 1 – Bounds to Human Authority

In this post I would like to look at a few points concerning authority in a biblical perspective. I would like to look at the Old and New Testament to get a full perspective of what is , because this is one area where the church especially in America has gone off balance in many ways. The laxity on one side is more than offset by a sort of Protestant ultramontanism on the other.  With this in mind I would like to look at some aspects of the Jewish government which will elucidate the proper Biblical perspective.

Human authority is never absolute

When Joshua received the leadership of Israel from Moses the people promised loyalty to him, saying, “And they answered Joshua, "All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.  Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous" (Josh. 1:16-18).  They accepted him as leader and were willing to count disobedience as treason, however they reminded him that it was God who was the true ruler and it was necessary that He be with him. God Himself reminded Joshua that even though he was a recipient of the promise of the land of Canaan and was to lead Israel into it, God was neither for him nor his adversaries, but for God, and if he desired victory he had to follow God’s orders (Josh. 5:13-15).

When King Saul gave order to kill the priests at Nob, not a single one of his soldiers moved. The execution only occurred when a sycophantic foreigner stood forth to do it (1 Samuel 22:16-18).  The idea of the divine right of kings as put forth by the Stuarts is entirely unbiblical, and history itself shows that God who pours contempt on princes does not always uphold monarchs, especially pompous, overbearing ones. The Israelite soldiers knew that an order from a superior did not absolve their conscience before God. The English Non-comformists had it exactly right when they petitioned the monarch stating that they were his loyal subjects in all lawful matters, but he had no authority to bind their conscience in religious matters.

Even with prophets the authority was never absolute. Elisha though a great prophet had no idea why the woman of Shunem was in distress until told because God had hidden it from him (2 Kings 4:25-37). Even a prophet is only enlightened as God gives light, we know in part and prophesy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). All men no matter how godly are dependent on God for true knowledge, the more godly the man the more he realizes this and does not move in presumption. God gives office, but proper use of office flows from grace and acknowledgement of dependence (Gal. 2:7-9).

Jeremiah’s own natural inclinations would have lead him to agree with Hananiah, but he tested the prophesy, laid it before the Lord and went away, until God spoke to him to give the true word (Jer. chapter 28). The opinion of a man of God is just that an opinion, it has no more authority than what can back it up. If the opinion is based on a sound reading of Scripture than it has all the authority of God’s Word, however, if it is based solely upon a man’s own reasonings than it has no more authority than those reasonings.  While God can and does speak through evil men at times, such as Balaam, Pharaoh Necho, and even Caiaphas, to follow such men in most of their speech would lead a person to hell. Authority always comes from God and ultimately only goes as far as it agrees with or at the least especially with secular authorities does not countermand Him.

Sometimes Samuel is used as an example of how a man of God can have absolute authority in what he speaks, but Scripture does not say that God did whatever Samuel said, but rather that God let none of his words fall to the ground (1 Sam. 3:19). God is and remains always over the prophet, it is only as they faithfully deliver what is right that He honors their words and brings them to pass. Prophecy comes not by the will of man (2 Pet. 1:20-21).    

The Apostle Paul was pleased with those who did not take what he taught on his own authority but compared his doctrine to the Scriptures (Acts 17:11-12). Every Christian is to try prophecies and every teaching and doctrine (1 Thess. 5:21). This is not possible if people are lead to accept authority without question, since to try not only implies examination against some standard, but also a rejection of that which does not conform.  

There is more that could be written on this subject, but I think this is sufficient to show that all human authority secular and religious has boundaries. In follow up posts I will look at some boundaries and also consequences of ignoring these boundaries.