“By What Authority Doest Thou These Things?” – Nana Yaw Aidoo

Nana Yaw Aidoo

Introduction

After the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on a donkey, He went into the temple, drove out the traders and then began to teach and heal. As He was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people, confronted Him and asked Him a question; “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” (Matt. 21:13). These people knew that for Jesus Christ to be involved in the religious acts in which He was involved in, He ought to have been authorized to do so. In response, Jesus Christ asked a question that shows that only two kinds of authority exist. He asked; “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?…” (Matt. 21:25). The two kinds of authority that exist were set forth in the words, “from heaven, or of men?” Anything we do in religion is either from heaven/God or of men. There is no middle ground.

We Need Authority for Everything Taught and Practiced in Religion

Just as Jesus Christ required authority to act in religious matters, we also ought to have authority for everything we practice and teach in matters divine. Paul wrote; “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Col. 3:17). By analyzing this text, we see that the word whatsoever means everything/anything. To try to take some things out of the word whatsoever is proof of either ignorance or dishonesty. Also, in word or deed means in teaching or practice. Furthermore, the phrase, in the name of the Lord Jesus means by the power or authority of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:7), who has been given “all authority…in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18 ASV).

To do a thing “in the name of the Lord Jesus” doesn’t mean we can select whatever suits us in religion and say, “I’m doing this in Jesus’ name.” To do something in Christ’s name means that He has first authorized it. No one can act “in the name of the State” unless the State authorities have authorized the person to so act. One might say he is acting in the name of the State, but unless the State has authorized him to act, his action is in vain (Brewer).

Once again, we need to realize that whatever we teach or practice in religion is either from God or of men. To do that which God has not authorized, is to remove ourselves from fellowship with God, as Adam and Eve learnt in the most forceful way, when they were banished from the Garden of Eden. When Adam was placed in the garden, he was told what to do and what not to do. He could eat of every tree in the garden except of that which was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The reason why Adam could not eat of that tree was because God said so. “Thus the principle was established in the very beginning that when God speaks, man must hear; when God commands, man must obey” (Early Arcenaux).

Bible Authority, Biblical Silence and Inherent Right or Wrong

However, after God has legislated on an issue, some still go ahead and do whatever pleases them. Bring their presumptuousness to their attention and two questions that are very popular with all innovationists would be asked. These are;

  1. Where does the Bible say we can’t do it or where is it explicitly forbidden?

  2. What is wrong with it?

This approach to law, whether constitutional or religious is the philosophy or approach called “Liberalism.” Liberalism is the philosophy of no standard. To the liberal, anything that the law does not specifically forbid is allowed and thus a free approach to law is advocated. We submit that this approach to divine law is eternally fatal and we propose to show the errors that inhere in the questions above by appealing to the record of Christ’s encounter with the Pharisees and the Scribes in Mark 7.

Contrary to what many people think, Mark 7 clearly proves that the Pharisees and Scribes were anything but strict keepers of the commandments of God. God commands and has always commanded strict and exact obedience to His word (cf. Josh. 1:7; Heb. 8:5; Rev. 22:18-19), something the Pharisees and the Scribes did not do. Rather, they were extremely zealous for human traditions that had been passed down to them, which they had elevated to the level of God’s law (Matt. 15:3, 6). In Mark 7, the human tradition they highlighted was the washing of hands. This was not a mere washing of hands but a washing of hands for religious reasons. These men had noticed that the disciples of Christ did not partake of this religious rite of the washing of hands (Mark 7:2, 5). They thus approached Jesus Christ over this issue and He responded in clear terms that showed that the Pharisees and Scribes were rather the ones sinning against God (Mark 7:6-23).

The first thing of note is that, there was nothing in the Law of Moses that explicitly forbade the Pharisees and the Scribes from washing hands for religious purposes. Absolutely nothing whatsoever! Where in the Old Testament did anyone read the commandment, “Thou shalt not wash thine hands for religious purposes?” However, even though they were involved in that which was not explicitly forbidden, Christ, by quoting from the Prophet Isaiah, said; “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7). By involving themselves in that which God had not authorized, there was a conflict between God’s Word and man’s tradition and thus they were sinning against God, yea worshipping in vain, even though what they were doing was not explicitly forbidden by God in the law. Apparently, they had forgotten the part of God’s Word which reads; “Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Prov. 30:5-6). By doing that which was unauthorized by God, they were committing the presumptuous sin of adding to God’s word.

The principle is thus affirmed; God’s silence or the silence of the Scriptures is prohibitive. When God has not spoken, to act is to sin. Even though God had not explicitly forbidden the religious rite of hand washing, His silence on it did not authorize the practice. They were worshipping God in vain not because God had explicitly forbidden the religious practice of hand washing (He clearly didn’t) but because God did not authorize it.

The Jews did what has been done repeatedly by professed followers of Christ; they introduced practices which were not authorized by the word of God. They became fixed customs. Then years or centuries later they began to contend that these practices were authorized by the word of God all the time. Men do not like to admit that their religious practices are without divine authority (Arcenaux).

Second, notice if you would that there is nothing wrong with the washing of hands. What is wrong with washing hands for any purpose? Would anyone contend that there is anything inherently wrong with it? Yet by bringing this harmless act into the worship of God, it was condemned in no uncertain terms by Jesus Christ as sinful. We are reminded of this proverb by the wise king of ancient Israel; “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). Therefore, the right question to ask in religious matters is not, “what is wrong with a said practice?” but rather, “where is the authority for the said practice?”

What About Matters of Expediency?

Some, who realize the truthfulness of this biblical teaching, seemingly in a bid to ease their consciences, then go ahead to brand everything and anything, a matter of expediency. Point out an error and they will quickly respond; “It is a matter of expediency.” By so doing, they suppose the issue is to be laid to rest. Apostates in the Lord’s church in times gone by, used this argument so-called, in their introduction of mechanical instruments of music into the worship of our Lord.

What then is an expedient? An expedient is simply that which aids. Of an expedient, which he called an aid, James Bales noted; “What is an aid?…It is a means of carrying out a command when the means have not been specified…. The aid expedites an act which is commanded, but does not authorize something which is unauthorized” (as cited by Dub McClish). In matters divine, expedients aid us in obeying lawful or authorized obligations. Paul wrote; “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Cor. 10:23). The apostle clearly shows that even though some things might be lawful, they cannot serve as expedients for the simple reason that they do not edify. However, before a thing can be said to be expedient, it must first of all be proven to be lawful and after it has been proven to be lawful, it must then be proven to be something that edifies. We see then that expedients must come within things that are lawful and thus, for something to be an expedient, its use must first of all be lawful or authorized. There can be no expedient unless there is first of all a lawful or an authorized obligation.

This principle is clearly seen in Genesis 6, when God commissioned Noah to build an ark. God gave the obligation to build and then specified materials and measurements to be employed. However, notice that God did not mention things like hammers, nails, saws, stones etc. These things are expedients since they aid in building. Thus, Noah could have employed these without sinning for the simple reason that they were authorized under the command or obligation to build. They qualified as expedients because there was first of all the obligation to build. The principle thus stated is this; for anything to qualify as an expedient, there must first of all be a lawful or authorized obligation to expedite. An expedient without an authorized obligation is no expedient at all but is a presumptuous addition to God’s word.

Can something be said to be an expedient when it introduces an additional element to what God has authorized and/or alters the authorized obligation? If a Jew who had been authorized to sacrifice a lamb used a pig in addition to or instead of a lamb, would he have been justified before God if he claimed the pig were merely an expedient? Would his action not have constituted an alteration of the authorized obligation, a substitution of God’s divine will? Pigs like lambs are also animals, or a different kind of animal, and so a pig in this instance would not qualify as an expedient. However, note that a knife in this illustration would qualify as an expedient because of the obligation to sacrifice a lamb. By using a knife, the worshipper still only sacrifices a lamb. Thus we see that the knife, even though not mentioned, would be authorized because there was first of all the obligation to sacrifice. Expedients are implied in their obligations and so the issue of biblical silence does not apply to expedients but only to obligatory matters or matters that God has legislated.

Some Examples to Illustrate the Bible’s Teaching on Expedients

Let us now apply the Bible’s teaching on expedients to some specific examples. We shall look specifically at church buildings, song books, musical instruments in worship and singing groups. From the foregoing, the most important question ought to be; what obligations do these things expedite?

First, concerning church buildings, we see that there is the obligation to assemble (Heb. 10:25), which necessarily requires a place to assemble. Church buildings obviously provide a place to assemble. Thus, we see that church buildings are authorized because there is first of all the obligation to assemble. When church buildings are used, all that would have happened is assembling.

Second, concerning song books, we see also that there is the obligation to sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) and to do so decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). Song books provide a means by which this obligation is met. Once again, we see that song books are authorized because there is first of all the lawful obligation to sing. When the song book is used alongside nothing else, all that would have happened is only singing.

Third, concerning mechanical musical instruments, the most important question obviously ought to be; what obligation does the mechanical musical instrument expedite? As far as music in Christian worship is concerned, God Almighty has authorized all who would worship Him in spirit and in truth to sing. (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:15). Thus, the answer to the question above cannot be “the obligation to sing” because we do not sing with musical instruments but with the lips (Heb. 13:15). Clearly, the obligation which would expedite a musical instrument in worship is the obligation to play or to make music. If there were such an obligation, then expediency in this case would be, the kind of mechanical instrument to use (if the kind were not specified), how many to use (if the number were not specified), when to use it (if the time to use it were not specified), etc. Verily, it ought to be obvious to the honest truth seeker that there is simply no authority for musical instruments in Christian worship assemblies. If God wanted men to utilize mechanical instruments of music in worship, why then did He say sing when He could have simply said play or make music? Would you order a chicken from a restaurant, if what you wanted was pork? Besides, vocal music and instrumental music are two different kinds of music and are akin to the lamb and the pig in the illustration above.

Finally, concerning singing groups, what obligation does the singing group expedite, when congregational singing has been specified (cf. Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)? The phrases, “speaking to yourselves” and “teaching and admonishing one another” indicate congregational singing. If congregational singing were not specified or authorized, then solos, singing groups and choirs would be expedients to the obligation to sing, so long as only vocal music is made. However, in addition to vocal music, God has legislated that anytime the church assembles (take note of this), that which should be done is congregational singing.

When in doubt, always remember this question; what obligation does this expedite? This is the litmus test as far as expedients are concerned.

Conclusion

All men everywhere including those in the Lord’s church who are predisposed to change (Prov. 24:21) would do well to learn the timeless and valuable principles from the conflict between Christ and the religious leaders of His day in Matthew 21 and in Mark 7. The principles restated are these;

  1. Whatever we do in religion is either from God or of men.

  2. We need authority for every single thing we practice and teach in religion.

  3. When God is silent on an issue, then that thing is prohibited or unauthorized.

  4. Simply because there is nothing wrong or inherently harmless with an act does not make that act authorized in worship to God.

If we would learn these principles and practice them from our hearts, then in addition to taking heed to ourselves by living holy and moral lives, we shall surely be saved by the grace of God (1 Tim. 4:16; Titus 1:2).

Footnote:

Brother Dub McClish in his manuscript, “Instrumental Music – Aid or Addition?” has masterfully treated the issue of expedients. The manuscript can be accessed at www.thescripturecache.com.

Works Cited:

1. Brewer, Jerry, (2018). Christianity: “The Religion of Reason,” The Gospel Preceptor, v.1 (no.2), Available: www.thegospelpreceptor.com

2. Arcenaux, Early, (1948). “Authority In Religion,” Retrieved from www.wordsfitlyspoken.org/bible_banner/v10/v10n11p12-15.html

3. McClish, Dub, (1995). “Instrumental Music – Aid or Addition?,” pp. 21, Available: www.thescripturecache.com

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