How To Establish Scriptural Authority (1)

“When is a thing scripturally authorized? How do we establish Scriptural Authority” (Question asked during a lecture).
To a Christian, the Scripture is the basis by which he thinks, believes and acts. Through the Scripture God directs the life and practices of those people who truly serve Him. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 not only teaches that all Scripture is inspired of God but that it is also “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work.” Throughout the centuries Muslims have called the Christians “people of the book.” They are a people guided by the Book.

The authority of the Book is thus a crucial matter. How then can we tell whether a particular belief and practice is truly authorized by the Book? “How do we establish scriptural authority”?

(1) Authorized matter that is obligatory. An action or a belief is an authorized matter if a man or woman of God is obligated to do it— since it is a matter which must be done if one is to be well-pleasing to God. In other words, it is an obligatory matter, a matter of human obligation. This must always be obeyed; failing to obey it, man becomes a sinner, falls short of God’s glory and is condemned.

When the Lord, through His Bible, demands that a believer take a certain course of action, He also authorizes that man to undertake that action. Not only is the divine command an authorized matter, man’s action to fulfill that command is also an authorized matter.

When an action falls short of fulfilling the divine command, that action is a form of disobedience; it is therefore an unauthorized action. For example. God commanded Saul to destroy all Amalekites, both men and women, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass (1 Samuel 15:3). What did Saul do? “But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and of the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly” (1 Samuel 15:9). Saul’s failure to do what God had commanded cost him his crown and his soul.

God’s command is ALWAYS an authorized matter, from eternity to eternity, and man’s fulfillment of that divine command is always an authorized matter also. God had spoken to the patriarchs in old times, in which case what He commanded them was an authorized matter to them (Example: God’s command to Abraham to offer his son, Genesis 22:2). He had spoken to the people of Israel through Moses, their prophet and law-giver, in which case everything God commanded in the old covenant books was an authorized matter to these people (We have many examples of this beginning from the book of Exodus).

In the same way, what He has commanded to us through His Son is an authorized matter for us (Matthew 17:5), beginning from the four Gospels to the book of Revelation. For example, the command of baptism, together with faith, is an authorized matter, for Jesus says, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Based on our Greek studies, to baptize does not mean to sprinkle, or to pour, but to immerse. Thus, to sprinkle infants is wrong on two counts: (1) An infant is not a believer, and has no capacity to express his faith, and (2) he is just sprinkled, not immersed. (I have heard that when a priest asks the infant whether he believes or not, it is the sponsor, the so-called “godmother” or “godfather,” who answers, “Yes, I do.” This to me sounds stupid).

We have now shown that some authorized matters pertain only to a certain class of people to whom God had spoken (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). However, the prohibition on eating blood is of a different kind. I would say that it has been prohibited from eternity to eternity, from the patriarchal age to the Christian age (Genesis 9:4-6; Leviticus 17:10-14; Acts 15:19-20). Therefore, anyone today who eats or drinks the blood of bulls, of goats, of chickens, of snakes, of their enemies, is doing an abominable thing; and he who promotes this practice under the guise of being a missionary of the Lord’s church does not know his Bible. Furthermore, any Christian who defends this missionary’s teaching and practice is an accomplice to this man’s evil deed.

To a Jehovah’s Witness who objects to blood transfusion, I would say that “transfusing blood” and “eating or drinking blood” do not mean the same thing.

(2) Authorized matter that is optional. There is another class of authorized matter, authorized in the sense that God permits it, but it is not obligatory for any man to do it. It is an authorized optional matter. Under matters that are commanded, God has given man liberty, in which case man is free to choose among several acceptable courses of action, each of which is authorized by God. By this we mean that God permits or allows each of these courses of action, but these are also actions that may or may not be done, according to human discretion. Let me give some examples: In fulfilling the command to be baptized, any action that satisfies the meaning of baptism, that is, by immersion, is also authorized. We know that John baptized Jesus in some place in Judea (”wilderness of Judea,” Matthew 3:1), specifically in the river Jordan (Matthew 3:6). Must immersion be always done in the river Jordan? Not so, and we have an abundance of cases that speaks of baptism performed in other places (Acts 8:12-13; 8:36; 9:18). Therefore a baptism done in the river, in the sea, in the pool, in the drum filled to the brim, all fulfills the spirit and meaning of immersion. These are all authorized. Since these are also optional, one can do any of these and still act by the authority of God’s Word.

Partaking the Lord’s Supper is a command and an authorized matter. But to partake of this Supper is to partake both the bread that symbolizes the Lord’s body and the cup that symbolizes His blood. Partaking of the Supper in one kind (that is, the bread only) without the cup is not an option; partaking both is obligatory.

What are the authorized options? You may partake the Lord’s Supper in the evening, in the morning, in the afternoon, at noon, in a boat, under the shade of a mango tree, in a cave, on top of a hydroelectric turbine. When I was working with NAPOCOR in Binga Hydro-Electric Plant, up in the mountains north of Baguio City, I never had the opportunity of ALWAYS fellowshipping with the saints at 18 Rimando Road; I had to worship alone, study my Bible alone, partake of the Lord’s Supper alone, sing alone, and pray alone. In my prayers, I always asked the Lord to move me to a place closer to my family and to my brethren, whose fellowship I had been longing for. He answered my prayers: Two years later, I was reunited with my wife and my daughter, and I too became a teacher at Philippine Bible College. Now if someone questions my partaking of the Lord’s supper alone on top of an electric generator, wait till the day of judgment and listen to God’s verdict.

Those who insist that the Lord’s Supper must be eaten and drunk only in the evening capitalizes on the literal meaning of the word “supper.” But if he must be faithful in one aspect of this divine ordinance, he must be faithful to all: He is obligated to partake that Supper on a Thursday evening, in an upper room in Jerusalem, in the presence of the Lord Himself and of His twelve apostles. He must take weekly flights to Jerusalem to do that. You bet you could? I need to remind that objector too that he could eat his supper in the evening, in his house, but this is the Supper of the Lord that we are memorializing, not his! And we memorialize only a past happening.

Another illustration: I heard that Rizal was shot at the Luneta in the early morning of December 30th, 1896. I have yet to see anyone coming up from bed to attend a Rizal memorial day celebration at 5:00 a.m. of December 30. That same thing can also be said of America’s July 4th celebration. To memorialize does not mean to literalize!

What about correcting an error in the church? An authorized exhortation that relates to this matter is found in Galatians 6:1. “The spiritual” among them shall “restore” this brother who “has been overtaken in a fault” in the “spirit of meekness.” The question is: Do you consider yourself spiritual? You can affirm or deny it. Next question: Are all members of the Lord’s churches throughout the world your brothers? The answer is yes. Therefore, if you, who are spiritual, find anyone in these churches “overtaken in a fault,” will you do your job to restore him? Yes. I think you should (Galatians 6:1, “You who are spiritual SHOULD restore him in the spirit of gentleness,” RSV). To fulfill this authorized matter must also be your dream and mission in order to please your Maker. How will you do it? You can do it through emails, through phone, through an invitation, through a referral, such as what brother Wilson has done. Can you do it even without being invited? Yes, if you are available at a certain time and place and the need to exhort that erring brother arises. For example, I had the blessed opportunity to exhort a man whom brother Jun Arcilla had baptized a year ago in Pilar, Sorsogon, but who had stopped fellowshipping with the brethren on Sundays. He had not invited me, but he had not resented my coming; in fact he was happy that I had taught him other things that he needed to know.

An authorized matter includes both the command of God, and the way by which that command is fulfilled. Some authorized matters are commands from God, which man is obligated to do; other authorized matters are the options open to us as we strive to fulfill that command.

Next: Explicit and Implicit” Matters; Commands and Examples


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