WHAY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES? (Part 1)

    Many people have often asked, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” That is a great question and one that is important to answer. To understand why requires a study of both history and the Bible. Today, we will look at the early history; next week we will look at the Restoration, then finally, more modern history. When it comes to the church’s history, there are many versions out there because it always depends on who is doing the writing! But, the facts are not difficult to find and Jesus is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13: 8). So, in reality, His church has never really changed since the day of its inception, as we can read in Acts chapter 2 and forward. But, a look at history tells us from where all these others came.
    Beginning in the days of the apostles, we see many autonomous congregations of the church of Christ being established (Acts 8-28; Romans 16:16), which were each lead by a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5:1). But even at that time, some were already exiting from the faith and starting their own “churches,” (3 John 9; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Revelation 2:6). This explains why that in the beginning of the second century, also called the Age of the Church Fathers (100 to 500 AD), apologists such as Irenaeus and Origen write that a new practice emerged where a single elder began to wield more influence and control over other congregations, outside of his own. In 325 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine made it official by convening the Council of Nicea, which decreed that certain “bishops” were to be given control over the various churches and elderships within their “districts.” In that decree, the Roman Catholic Church was born. This departure from the Scriptural model of leadership started what would later become an avalanche of denominationalism.
    From about 500 to 1500, also known as, The Dark Ages, the Roman Empire had completely disintegrated, but the Holy Roman Empire grew in importance and power. Pope Leo I was the first church leader to use the name Pontifex Maximus. But, several historians generally considered Gregory I to be the actual, first Pope. It was he who wrote a decree stating that Peter was the first “Pope” in Rome. Therefore, according to that, all authority for the church must reside in Rome. Gregory’s successor, Boniface III, later appointed himself as the first supreme leader of the church in 606 AD. The Dark Ages also produced a major division over whether the headquarters of the Catholic Church resided in Rome or Constantinople, musical instrument were introduced into worship, and unbiblical doctrines appeared such as indulgences for those who wanted to pay to have their sins forgiven. Fortunately, this period also produced John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English and Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, which made the Bible accessible to ordinary people for the first time in history.
    Such accessibility to the Bible prompted a German friar, named Martin Luther, to nail his “95 Thesis” (complaints) to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg in 1517. This ignited a movement called The Reformation (1500 to 1650). Many others also began studying the Bible on their own, like John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli and Conrad Grebel, who each rejected Catholic doctrine. This precipitated many to leave that church and start their own. The name Protestantappeared as more and more “protested” and resisted imperial edicts. The Roman Catholic Church responded with a Counter-Reformation at the Council of Trent. There, they rejected the accusations against them and affirmed their doctrine through the Catholic Catechism of 1566. This resulted in a bloody inquisition and many religious wars where thousands upon thousands lost their lives for the next several decades. The fighting finally subsided when the “Peace of Westphalia” was signed in 1648.
    Tired of so much conflict, many religious groups began seeking freedom to practice their own religion by migrating to the New World. Among those groups to arrive, even more divisions emerged as each attempted to follow their own interpretation of the Scriptures. This has continued until today, resulting in more than 40,000 different religious organizations! Each has their own creed, their own doctrine, and their own hierarchy of leadership. But, the New World also became fertile soil for the Restoration Movement (1790-1840). This became a crusade f rejecting all man-made creeds, doctrines, and religious institutions and simply returning to the Bible for all guidance pertaining to the church and religion. …. To be continued next week!


IDENTIFYING THE ONE TRUE CHURCH

     The fact that the church exists, naturally implies that it had to have begun somewhere, at some time, in some place, by someone having founded it. Yet, there are many religious groups claiming to be the one, true church, or true religion. How can there be so many claiming the same thing? Is it possible to have more than one? Everyone wants to think they belong to the right church, but, is it even possible to identify the right one? Friend, it is possible to identify it and there can only be one. We simply must ask a few questions and then look in the Bible for the answers. These are questions like, “Who established the church? Where and when did it begin? How many were established?” At that point, we can compare what we have discovered in the Bible to what the other religions claim. This is such an important matter, because according to the Scriptures, identifying the Lord’s true church is paramount to one’s salvation, (Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Timothy 2:10; Ephesians 5:30).
    Let’s begin our study by looking at specific things Jesus said about the church. As we mentioned last week, the first time we encounter the word “church” is in Matthew 16:18. “And I also tell you, that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18).
     The first thing that should stand out in our minds is Jesus used the word, “I” in reference to building the church. In simple terms, Jesus Christ Himself would build the church. It would not be some man-made institution, a sect, a cult, nor a continuation of the current religious system of the time (Judaism), but rather, a divine creation of His own doing. Jesus also had no connection to the religious sects of His day, nor did He establish any of them. This alone should tell us who the church belongs to, it belongs to Jesus (Ephesians 1:22,23). It is the church of Christ, which is a description of what it is, not necessarily a formal title (Romans 16:16). No church, or any religious system, that cites someone else as its founder, or head, can claim to be the true church of the Bible. That distinction belongs solely to Jesus. Yet, sadly, there is no denying that such religious institutions do exist today.
    The second thing we should notice is, Jesus said He “will build” the church – future tense. This implies it did not exist at the time He spoke those words. We can also infer from this statement His intentions did not include an extension of, or a supplementation to Judaism. It would be something entirely different (Luke 22:20; Colossians 2:14). But, that brings up another question, “Well then, when did He establish the church?” The answer is, again, found in the Bible. Read the following verses, Luke 24:47-49; Acts 1:8; and Acts 2:1-6, 37-41, 47; Acts 5:11, 8:1. Notice the day mentioned? Where did it take place? Then, both Acts 2:47 and 5:11 identify these new believers as “the church.” All of this is after the ascension of Jesus. So, did He still build His church, or did someone else? Jesus did because He said He would send the Helper/Comforter to help the disciples (John 14:16,26, 15:26, 16:7). Any religious body claiming to be the Lord’s church that didn’t start in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, is making a false claim.
    Thirdly, notice that the word “church” is singular? It is not plural. Jesus did not say, “my churches.” Instead, he said, “my church.” What does that teach us? It teaches the same thing Ephesians 4:4-6 teaches us – there is only one! Therefore, it is impossible for more than one to be accurate. If the Bible says there is only one, yet, multiple groups claim to be that one, with each still having distinct differences existing between them, then how is one to determine which is the correct church? Again, the answer is rather simple, measure it with the Bible! Read and investigate what the church of the Bible looks like, what they did, how they worshiped, when and where they met, what they called themselves, and who were the members. Then, compare those findings (the pattern, or model) with the various groups claiming to be the true church. If they don’t match up with exactly what is in the Bible, then how can they say they are the Lord’s church? They cannot.
    If one will take the time to study what the Bible says about the church, then it can certainly be unmistakably identified. If it can be identified with all certainty, then one can be certain they are in the right church – the one of which God approves. It is the true body of Christ (Colossians 1:18) of which the saved belong (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 5:30).


THE WORD “CHURCH”

   In this series of articles (which began June 9), we have been presenting some of the key principles in the spiritual formation of a Christian. We’ve addressed aspects of two main principles: the personal responsibility of Christian to grow spiritually and the infallibility of the Bible. A third principle every Christian should understand is how to identify the true church. With so much religious confusion in the world, a disciple can easily become confused and disoriented. So, how does one determine if he/she is in the right place? How can we be sure that the church we attend is adhering to the right doctrine? The articles in next few weeks are going to deal directly with these questions and more.
    Let’s begin by looking at the word “church” itself. The word “church” is found more than 100 times in the New Testament. Obviously it is a very important word if the inspired writers recorded it that often! But what does it mean? Is that the word they used? Where did our English word come from? The first time the word “church” appears in the New Testament is in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, …” The word used here in our English Bibles was translated from the Greek word “ekklesia.” Jesus didn’t actually say, “I will build my church.” He said, “I will build my ekklesia.” There’s quite a difference between what He actually said and what word the translators decided to use in the English versions they produced.
    The Greek word ekklesia means “a gathering or assembly, congregation, or community.” Many preachers like to point out that it is composed of two words, “ek” meaning “out of” and “klesia” meaning “to call.” Thus, they say, “Christians are the ‘called out’ as in being called out of the world.” While that may be applicable, the New Testament never uses the word in that manner, or context. Instead, it is always used in the sense of an assembly. Acts 19:32-41 is a great example of the word being used in its general sense, apart from the spiritual connotation. 1 Corinthians 14:23 also explains it well, “Therefore if the whole church [ekklesia] comes together in one place. So, what Jesus actually said implies that He was going to build a gathering, an assembly, or a community. This is a better way to understand what the word church truly means.
    Our English word “church” came from a derivative of an Old English word, “kirche,” (from German influences). Sometimes it was spelled, “circe, cirche, or chirche.” In fact, a man named John Wycliffe used it when he copied and published a translation of the Latin Vulgate (the Bible of the Catholic Church at the time) into the Middle English of his day (the language of Chaucer). In 1380, it became the very first Bible written in English. In it, he translated Matthew 16:18 in this way (in Old English style) “ … Y schal bilde my chirche, ….” He used the term chirche for ekklesia. That word means, “belonging to, or pertaining to God.” So, in that sense of the word, it would be correct to say the “church building” for it is, indeed, a building pertaining to God.
    That wasn’t always the case, however. One hundred and forty six years later, William Tyndale produced the first English translation to come directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts. His 1526 version was also the first English Bible mass-produced. His translation of Matthew 16:18 reads, “… I wyll bylde my congregacion …” (I will build my congregation). The Coverdale Bible of 1535, the Great Bible of 1539, and the Bishop’s Bible of 1568 followed suit and also all translated the word as “congregation.” It wasn’t until the Geneva Bible was published in 1560 that the use of “church” became the common term used among translators. The King James Version then solidified its use which has lasted until now in all English versions of the Bible.
    The word “church” is not a reference to a building, or even a place you go, as so many people typically use it. “Church,” as the New Testament uses the word, is the collection of disciples, or the assembly of the saints. Peter described it this way, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood,” (1 Peter 2:5). People are what make up the church. The building is just where the church meets (where they assemble). Do you see the difference in what Jesus actually said? He certainly wasn’t talking about a big, elaborate brick and mortar structure. He was talking about spiritual things. He was talking about His people, His disciples.


HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT APPLIES TO US?

    A child of God should always want to be pleasing to Him. What pleases God is keeping His commandments (1 John 3:22, 5:3; Matthew 7:21). But, how do we know exactly which commands to obey? How do we discern what applies to us today and what doesn’t? After all, yours or my name is not written in the pages of Scripture. The answer is this, we must use our reasoning and logic in order to identify God’s will for us. This is not difficult to do or understand. We simply must acknowledge three things: (1) Direct Commands, (2) New Testament Examples, (3) Necessary Inference. Let’s look at what this means.

DIRECT COMMANDS.

    “Do that!” or “Stop in the name of the law!” are a direct commands. They are imperative statements, which means something one is obligated to obey, perform, or expected to execute. We can easily understand this concept because we use imperatives in everyday communication. The same applies to the Bible.
    For example, read Acts 17:30. Who does God require to repent? Even though this passages does not mention our names specifically, you and I are included in the word “all”. This means that this passage is a direct command for us today. Another example is found in Matthew 5:44. Again, we read the words in the imperative mood, which means it is a command. Although Jesus was speaking to a particular crowd, it is a universal command that applies to all disciples. If you are a follower of Jesus, then this is for you and all believers, everywhere.

NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES.

    So, what are we supposed to do if there is no direct command for something? If a direct command cannot be identified, then we must look for examples to guide us. The Bible has many to observe. For example, there is no commandment regarding the day in which we must meet to worship God, but we have examples. What day is mentioned in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2? These passages tell us what the first disciples did. We can deduce that what they did was right and pleasing to God, therefore if we imitate that example, it is an acceptable practice for us that will be pleasing to Him.
    Now, we have added the words, “New Testament” to example. This is because we are living under the New Testament law, that is, the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Those are the only examples that apply directly to Christians. While the examples we have in the Old Testament may be educational and informative, they are not binding on us today. So, we do not employ the practices that they exhibit. (See our previous article on “Rightly Dividing the Word”)

NECESSARY INFERENCE.

    Inference means, “a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning.” We do this often, even on a daily basis. Here is an illustration of inference. Imagine that I have a coin. The coin is in my hand. I put my hand in my pocket. So, where is the coin now? Even though I did not say it directly, you were probably able to deduce that the coin is in my pocket because of the other information I gave you. We can do the same with the Bible.
    For example, in Acts 8:35 we read where “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached ____________” What does it say Phillip preached? Now, look at the very next verse. “As they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being ____________?’ (vs. 36). What can we infer, that is, logically deduce from the information given in this passage? We can conclude that baptism must have been a part of the preaching of Phillip. The subject of baptism is included in the preaching of the Gospel of Christ!
    Here is another one, John 8:32 says you shall know what? And, it shall do what? The inference here is that truth can be known and it will do something for us. This means we can, absolutely, know the will of God. But to understand it, sometimes we must put together all of the passages that speak about a particular subject (Psalm 119:160).
    These are good reference points for discerning what applies to us and what doesn’t. It’s important to know because according to 2 Peter 1:3, the Bible contains “all things that pertain to life and godliness”. I believe what 1 Corinthians 14:33 says about God could also be applied to His Word. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand the Bible! We must simply use it accurately, use our mental reasoning to draw sound conclusions, and consider all that Scripture says about a subject. God bless! – TS


YOU CAN UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE

    We live in a truly amazing time! When you consider all the advances in technology, such as the many digital applications we have available to us, it’s simply incredible. For example, we have phones that convert the sound of our voices into a series of ones and zeros, and then transmits them to another phone that converts those numbers back into sounds. How marvelous! Yet, the truth is humanity has been using the sum of numbers for thousands of years in order to accomplish specific tasks. We’re just doing it in a different way today.
    There is a spiritual application here, as well. It has to do with the question, “Why do people not understand the Bible, or think that it is too difficult to comprehend?” One of the main reasons is because many simply do not consider everything the Bible has to say on a particular subject. In other words, they don’t add everything up. They are not looking at the total sum of truth.
    This is such an important concept to understand! This lack of understanding has caused much confusion throughout the religious world. It has resulted in unbiblical doctrines, forms of organization, worship practices, and even differing plans of salvation. How is this even possible? It happens by picking and choosing verses instead of considering all that the Bible has to say about a subject.
    Read Psalm 119:160. However, don’t just read it in the version you always use. Not all versions say it in exactly the same way. Read it in other versions – especially the American Standard (ASV), English Standard (ESV), and the New American Standard (NASB). Notice the word they use, “the sum.” This is a word that has a few different meanings and is always dependent upon context. In this passage, the word “sum” makes the most sense. Literal Translations (like Youngs and LITV) render the word as “sum.” It means, “the total amount of something that exists.” Indeed, every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is true (Matthew 4:4; Titus 1:2). Since all He says is true, then we must be diligent in considering everything He says. Always compare other similar passages on a particular subject.
    This is not a difficult concept to grasp! Just like in math, we know how to use numbers. If we add 2 + 5, we know it does not equal 25. The answer is 7! Easy. Then why can’t we do the same with the Bible? Why do we make it so difficult? If God says one thing in a passage and then adds something else in another passage that pertains to the first, doesn’t it stand to reason that we should add them together? We cannot approach the Bible in just any form or manner. This implies we must investigate all of the things the Bible says so we’ll arrive at a correct understanding.
    What exactly does it mean “to use the Bible correctly”? First, there are many people who do not “rightly divide the Word” (2 Timothy 2:15) because they take passages out of context and do not consider all that the Bible teaches about the same subject in other places/passages. We must also always keep the context of a passage in mind. We must identify who is speaking, when he spoke, and to whom did he speak. To establish the correct interpretation, we must examine the customs and situations of that era. All of this will help us understand how the Bible applies to us.
    As an example, consider the three passages that speak about the Great Commission: Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, and Luke 24:46-48. Luke only mentions repentance. This passage does not mention anything about confession or baptism. Mark mentions belief and baptism. Is repentance unnecessary, since Mark does not mention it? Matthew does not mention belief nor repentance, only baptism. The truth is, all of these passages speak about the same subject. So then, belief, repentance, and baptism are all necessary in obedience. To understand this truth well, you must “add up” ALL of the passages! The Bible is not hard to understand …. as long as you don’t pick and choose!


WHY DO WE NEED THE OLD TESTAMENT?

    Last week we looked at “Rightly Dividing the Word.” We discussed some of the major differences between the Old and New Testaments. It was mentioned the Old Testament is sometimes called the “Law of Moses,” or, just “the Law,” and that Christians are no longer under that old law. This begs the question, “If we are no longer under the law and now under the New Covenant of Jesus (ie. the New Testament), then why do we have, or even need the Old Testament?” That’s an important question because there are some brethren who believe it isn’t necessary. There are many who have never read the Old Testament and some see no value in it at all. I’ve known people who have communicated to me that they don’t want to hear anything from the pulpit but the New Testament (obviously, I had been and still preach from the Old Testament). I’ve known others who flat out refuse the Old Testament. To be quite honest, I simply do not comprehend that type of thinking. It makes absolutely no sense to me! Allow me to explain.
    Look at what the apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Christians in Rome (fill in the blank), “For whatever things were written before were written for our __________ , that we through the __________ and __________ of the Scriptures might have _________.”(Romans 15:4). So, before the New Testament was even completed, we have here one of God’s divinely appointed, inspired writers explaining why the ancient Scriptures are important to our faith. Shouldn’t that be enough to convince anyone of the value of ALL of God’s Word? If not, then don’t forget to read what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Here, he clarifies that ALL Scripture is: (a) inspired by God, (b) it is useful, and (c) will make the faithful believer, “complete.” Again, notice the word “all.” These two verses are the best reasons why we need the Old Testament. So, if we have established the necessity of Scripture, then what is it about the Old Testament that Christians need today? We can answer that question with three easy-to-remember points: Reference, Redemption History, and Reflection.
Reference.
    While reading the New Testament, especially the Gospel accounts, there are numerous references to personalities, events, and teachings in the Old Testament. In fact, there are some 855 times it is referenced or cited in the New Testament! While opinions on this vary, it appears that all but 10 books of the Old Testament are quoted by New Testament writers. With that many references, it is certainly necessary to be able to review where the quote is located, who said it, and why. Not to mention, that the New Testament is full of words, concepts, and specifics that can only be explained by reading about them in the Old Law. Without it, it would be virtually impossible to understand a large portion of the New Testament.

Redemption History

    The reason for Jesus coming to earth, the need for salvation, and the purpose of heaven would be greatly obscured and quite confusing without the Old Testament writings! How would we know the history of mankind, the formation of the universe, the fall of man into sin, mankind’s tendency to reject God, and the loving plan of redemption that our Father unfurled over the centuries if we didn’t have them written down to read about and study? Read how Peter describes this in 1 Peter 1:10-12.

Reflection

    Even though we are Christians under the law of Christ, reading the Old Testament will cause one to reflect upon their own life. The examples of God’s faithful servants, of those not so faithful, the rebellious, and even His enemies are written down to help us reflect upon the nature of God, His love for His creation, and His sovereignty as Judge. It is written to help us contrast our own lives against those who triumphed or failed. To show us that God loves His creation, therefore, He loves you! It is written down so that, as the Psalmist put it, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You,”(Psalm 119:11) When you pray to God today, thank Him for His word! Then, show that thanks by putting it into YOUR heart!


RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD

    The Bible is not difficult to understand. Yet, there are many people who think that it is! Perhaps, one reason some have difficulty understanding the Bible is because it is not written like a novel. The books are not a single narrative arranged in chronological order. If one did not already know this, then it certainly could be confusing. Still, there is another point that seems to stand above others when it comes to misapprehension. It is the difference between the Old and New Testaments. Numerous Bible “scholars” have exhibited a deficiency in discerning the variances. It is this lack of knowledge that has been culprit to many misguided practices and false doctrines. Being able to distinguish the differences between the two testaments is absolute key to truly sound Bible knowledge.
    The apostle Paul wrote, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15 – KJV). The words, “rightly dividing” means, “to handle aright, or to teach the truth directly and correctly.” A diligent student of God’s Word should know that Scripture can be “divided” according to different methods. First of all, it is a library of discrete writings, totaling 66 books in two volumes – 39 in the first and 27 in the second. It has 1,189 chapters and 31,000 verses! Secondly, it has thematic divisions, such as, “books of law,” “history,” “poetry,” “prophecy,” and “letters.” Knowing such things helps one to handle the Scriptures more accurately by being able to locate specific teachings and properly identify the context of the writing.
    By far, the most important division of Scripture is that of the two covenants, or agreements. That’s what the word “testament” means. For example, Jesus said, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins,” (Matthew 26:28 – KJV). Here, Jesus is saying that He is instituting a “new agreement,” or covenant between God and man (compare the renderings of this verse in different versions such as the ESV, NKJV, and CEV to see the difference in words). It is because of this verse and others such as 2 Corinthians 3:6; Colossians 2:14; and Galatians 6:2 that the Bible is divided into two parts: the Old Testament, called “old” because it’s no longer in effect, and the New Testament, the current, binding agreement.
    Agreements, or covenants, between God and His creation can be seen throughout the Scriptures. For example, read Genesis 6:13-18. With whom did God establish a covenant? Later, in Genesis 15:18, we read where God made another covenant with someone else. What was his name? A third covenant was made with whom in Exodus 34:27? Each of these agreements were leading up to and pointing toward the covenant that Jesus would make at the Last Supper, the night before He was crucified. We might explain testament as a “new contract,” much like a will that someone puts into effect. In fact, the best explanation of what Jesus did is found in Hebrews 9:14-20. Here we see what is involved in a testament – there’s a mediator and a testator. According to Thayer’s Dictionary, a mediator is, “one who intervenes between two [parties], either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or form a compact, for ratifying a covenant.” A testator is the person who makes, or initiates the will. He is the one who decides who the beneficiaries shall be. The Bible teaches us that Jesus is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), and since He is the One who gave us the new covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25), that makes Him also the Testator.
   The conclusion can be summarized in this manner. There was an agreement, or covenant, that God made long ago with the Jews, through the father of their nation, Abraham. The Jews ratified and lived under this agreement through the the Law of Moses (Exodus 19:8). When Christ came into the world, He established a new agreement. When He died, this new agreement, or testament, was put into effect. This prompted the cancellation, or annulment of the first covenant. We are not Hebrews, nor can we (or anyone) use it as our law! It is the old covenant; we now have a new one. This is why we are called “New Testament Christians.” And as Christians, we must learn and know the will of God if we want to be assured of eternal life. If we don’t know how to rightly handle the word, then we can put our souls in jeopardy!
 
Next week, we will continue the discussion and answer the question, “Then, why do we need the Old Testament?”


THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE

    Last week we discussed the importance of authority. We established that it originated with God. He created the universe and all things of the world belong to Him, so it makes sense that He would be the one who makes the rules (Revelation 4:11). We do not have the right to alter the dictates of heaven regarding how to live in this world. He is the Owner, Builder, and Sustainer of this wonderful and marvelous creation (Psalm 95:3-5). Therefore, He has the authority to govern the affairs of man as He sees fit for He is all powerful; we, quite simply, are not.
    So, what do we mean by the word “authority”? One great example for illustrating the significance of the word is found in Matthew 8:9, where a Roman centurion said (fill in the blanks from your Bible), “For I also am a man __________ authority, having soldiers __________ me. And I say to this one, ‘______,’ and he ________; and to another, ‘________,’ and he ________; and to my servant, ‘______ ________,’ and he ________ it.” Notice here that authority involves the right to command others and it implies submission by the one receiving the command. The root of the word is “author”, which makes reference to a person who creates or gives existence to something. That is certainly an appropriate description for God!
    When Jesus was on the earth, He taught that all must conform to the will of God (Matthew 7:21-23). He did it through the authority of His spoken word. Through His preaching and teaching, He commanded that the people submit themselves to the sovereignty of heaven itself (Matthew 6:33). He had divine authority bestowed upon Him (Matthew 28:18). But, that was while Christ was living here on earth, does He still exercise that power today? Or, since Jesus is no longer with us in bodily form, who or what is our authority? To answer that question, let’s read what His apostles taught about the origin and authorship of their writings. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul says he neither received nor learned the Gospel through man. In Revelation 1:10-11, we see where the apostle John was instructed, “What you see, write in a book … ” He was receiving visions directly from the Spirit, the book did not originate with John. Simon Peter expresses rather clearly, “… that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Consider also what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 1:1-2.
    These verses, and many others like them, show us that which is written in the Bible are not mere words of mortal men, but rather, the divine words and will of the Father which the Holy Spirit revealed through inspiration. So, the answer is “yes,” Jesus is still exercising His authority since He is part of the Godhead, (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). The New Testament is the singular authoritative document of the Lord that we must observe and follow! The Lord has given us His written Word to guide us during His physical absence. It governs our actions and guides our steps.
    From all of this, we may conclude that there exists only one source of authority within the church, the body of Christ, and that is the Bible. How can we make such a claim? Please read these verse carefully: Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18-19; and 1 Peter 4:11. In addition and according to John 16:13, Jesus told the apostles that they would be guided into ALL truth. If the apostles were guided into all truth, then must we wait to receive some new revelation today? The answer is no and Peter confirms it by telling us, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,” (2 Peter 1:3). This is the very reason we often use the maxim, “Let us speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent”. It means that we must simply submit ourselves to God and His word. Nothing more! Since God is the Creator and gave all authority to Christ. His Word is the final authority! There is no other! Let’s pray that we all have the attitude that fosters placing the Bible at the center of all our spiritual decisions.


THE IMPORTANCE OF AUTHORITY

    In our modern society, there is so much confusion about what is right and wrong that it is hard to distinguish truth. To add more perplexity, there are some who have proclaimed themselves as the authority of such matters. But who or what made them the highest court of discernment? What are their credentials for assuming such a position? When it comes to matters of faith, there is just as much controversy because there are so many different points of view. A lot of it stems from worldly influences. So, how do we know what is correct? Who gets to determine what is right and wrong? In fact, does there even exist a supreme authority over all spiritual things? If so, is it the church, a creed book, a chieftain, a central office, or a council of scholars? In other words, who makes the rules? And where should we go for answers? These are important questions when dealing with religion, because one’s soul is at stake!
    Sadly, many who go looking for answers, wind up submitting to a chieftain, that is, some man posing as a supreme ruler over religious affairs. Others will consult creed books, confessions of faith, or church disciplines for guidance. Still others submit to the decisions of councils, synods, or conventions for matters of faith. The trouble with all of these is that they are based on human reasoning and emotions. If we simply compare each of these systems of authority with the other, we can easily identify glaring disagreements, discrepancies, and hypocrisies! This is because human wisdom cannot provide any kind of appropriate agreement in religious discussions when multiple mindsets are involved. As is evidenced in our current religious environment, division and disunity prevails. Instead, there must be a singular authority that supersedes all else to which can appeal or consult. Such a foundational authority can be found in the Bible, the Word of God.
    Read 1 Thessalonians 2:13, then John 17:17 and Psalm 119:160. The Bible tells us religious authority originated with the Creator, God (2 Timothy 3:16,17). Scripture, should and must be the center of all decisions concerning matters of faith and religion. Understanding the importance of a central authority in all religious affairs is such a critical concept for every soul on earth to grasp! Knowing the true standard of authority will influence one’s eternal destination. This is illustrated in the warning Jesus gave to His followers, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter,” (Matthew 7:21). Therefore, it is our responsibility to seek out and discern what the will of God is. Can His will be found among the decisions of a man, a group of men, or a creed book written by a man? I would think the answer should be obvious, “No! It cannot.” But apparently, as we have already illustrated, it is not that obvious for some.
    It saddens me to see how we so flippantly dismiss authority in our spiritual walk, but yet, we are capable of recognizing it in our secular lives. For example, when a police officer commands us to stop, we must do so; otherwise, we know we will suffer the consequences for our actions. The concept is not difficult to comprehend! Therefore, when it comes to religious issues, why doesn’t authority mean the same thing? The Bible tells us why. Perhaps, the apostle Paul explains it best in 2 Timothy 4:3. Certain people simply don’t want to adhere to an established, prescribed set of rules, no matter if it is of divine origin or not. They want what they want, period. But we should all contemplate the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18. Jesus received His authority from the Supreme Authority. It is God who sets the rules and guidelines. We have no right or reason to change His commands.


LEARNING TO FUNCTION WITHIN THE BODY

    Every Christian has a personal responsibility to grow and mature in the faith. An important element of spiritual growth has to do with how we conduct ourselves within the church, that is, the body of Christ. The Bible describes the church as a body, His body (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, we have been baptized into that body. This is how we become members of the church (Acts 2:47).
    In his letter to the brethren in Corinth, Paul uses the analogy of the human body for explaining how unity provides healthy functionality (12:12-31). This concept is not difficult for us to to understand. For example, we recognize that sophisticated machines function properly when all the parts work together, meaning, all of its components function in the way in which they were designed. If a part fails to do its job, then the machine breaks down, which can cause severe damage and stop it from working altogether. Our bodies function in the same way. Every part has its purpose, contributing to the overall performance. This is what Paul is emphasizing.
    Satan, on the other hand, wants to see the church fail. Because of this, division is a constant danger lurking among the membership. Disunity and conflict threaten the survival of the church and it can appear from many sources, such as the abuse of power, erroneous doctrine, or improper conduct. A glaring example of this is seen in the divisive nature of the church of Christ in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). This is why Paul was using the analogy of the human body in chapter 12! Learning how to function properly within the church requires one to have an attitude that constantly strives for unity.
    To help us better understand the importance of unity, read Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and consider the specific details Paul accentuates. You should be able to deduce that the body does not exist only to serve the eyes, for example. But when the eye is hurt, different parts of the body will help it so that it may become useful again. We understand the hand does not take from the body for its own use nor does any one member demand something from the body for its own benefit. Yet sadly, there are brethren in the church who do not understand this concept. Their perception of the church is to get all they can from the body, or that the body exists only to serve them. All they do is take away from the church; they never give of themselves (2 Corinthians 8:5). It is truly sad that some members of the Lord’s church behave as if they are the only reason the body exists. What a shame!
   There are three main points Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 12 that we should learn from the passage. First, there is only one body, not many. Second, the body consists of many members and each member has a special role in the body. Third, God united the human body, and He also united the church. With that in mind, what connection does this passage have to Ephesians 4:1-6?
    As Paul described so very well, each part of the body must do its own work to supplement the body, not strip from it! Just as the human body provides life to all its parts, so does the body of Christ. The disciple must submit himself to the authority of Christ and serve Him because of his love for Jesus. Therefore, we must never approach the Lord’s body with the purpose to obtain selfish gain. Instead, we should approach His body with a desire to give of ourselves. By doing so, we will receive the greater reward. As Jesus said to the rich young man: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21). He did not say: “Take what you want and do what you want”. Our Lord also prayed for unity among the disciples and that there would be no division among them (John 17:21). Let us all pray and strive for unity!