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Divine versus Human Authority in Religion

Should We Follow Man-Made Changes in Bible Teaching?


Human vs. Divine AuthorityWhat is the proper source or standard of authority in religion? Should we follow the Bible as the inspired revelation of the law of God, or should we follow man-made religious laws and rules to guide us in faith and worship? What about human tradition, church laws, decrees of councils, and creeds? May human wisdom change Divine law, or should we respect the silence of the Scriptures?

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Introduction:

All true religious authority comes ultimately from God through Jesus Christ.

God is Lord or Ruler of the universe.

Acts 17:24 – God made the world and everything in it since He is Lord of heaven and earth.

It follows that only God possesses the ultimate authority in the universe. Man’s power is limited. Only God possesses unlimited power.

(“Lord” means a person who has authority over others: a master, chief, or ruler. Matthew 11:25; Psalm 97:5; 136:3; 95:3; 97:9; 83:18; Joshua 3:11,13; Deuteronomy 10:17; Daniel 2:47; 1 Chronicles 29:11,12; Isaiah 33:22)

As God’s Divine Son, Jesus reveals God’s will for today.

Hebrews 1:1,2 – God speaks to us today through His Son through Him He made the worlds.

Matthew 28:18 – Jesus possesses “all authority in heaven and on earth.”

Ultimate religious authority resides in God, and that authority is exercised through the teachings of Jesus Christ.

(Ephesians 1:21-23; Luke 6:46; 4:32; Acts 3:22,23; 10:36; Revelation 17:14; 19:16; Romans 10:12; 9:5; Philippians 2:9-11; 3:20,21; Matthew 7:29; 17:5; John 3:31; 6:63,68; 12:48; 16:15; 17:2,10; Colossians 1:16; 3:16,17; 1 Timothy 6:3)

Divine authority is revealed in the Scriptures.

John 16:13 – Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth.

Ephesians 3:3-5; 1 Corinthians 14:37 – What Paul received by revelation, he wrote down to instruct others. So the things he wrote were the commands of Lord.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 – All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching and furnishing to all good works.

God has recorded His will in the Bible to guide our lives.

(2 Peter 1:20,21; 3:15,16; Luke 10:16; 1:1-4; Matthew 15:4; 22:29-32; 10:19,20; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Timothy 4:1,11; Galatians 1:11,12; 1 Corinthians 2:11-13; 4:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,12,17; John 20:30,31; 10:35; 1 John 1:1-4; Jude 3)

But what about religious practices, teachings, or organizations that are not included or that differ from what God has revealed in His will?

When a religious practice differs from what is found in God’s word, is that practice right or wrong? When God is “silent” or says nothing about a practice, does that silence give us consent to do the thing, or does it prohibit us from doing it?

This issue is fundamental because many modern religious practices are not revealed in the Bible. People often defend these acts, saying, “God nowhere said not to do it.” So, are practices acceptable as long as God nowhere expressly forbids them, or are they wrong simply because they are different from or not included in what He says to do in His service?

It is the purpose of this study to examine these questions. Consider these Bible principles:

The Bible Completely Reveals All God’s Will for Us.

Everything that God considers to be acceptable and approved is revealed in the gospel.

John 16:13 (14:26) – The Holy Spirit revealed all truth to the apostles. This is the truth that they wrote in the Scriptures.

Acts 20:20,27 – Paul preached the whole counsel of God, keeping back nothing that was profitable.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 – All good works are recorded in the Scriptures, so they are profitable to teach and instruct men in righteousness.

2 Peter 1:3; 1:12-15; 3:1,2 – In Peter’s lifetime, people received all things that pertain to life and godliness. He wrote his message so, even after he died, we could be reminded of the words of Jesus’ apostles and prophets.

James 1:25 – This word of truth is the perfect law of liberty.

The Bible does not claim to reveal all things that are not part of Divine truth, that do not pertain to godliness, or that are not part of good works or righteousness. But it does reveal all truth that is profitable. We need no further revelation because the Bible completely reveals all God’s will for man. It provides us with all that pleases God and leads to eternal salvation.

Consider the consequence of this for doctrines and practices not revealed in the Bible. Since the Bible contains all truth and all good works and everything that pertains to life, godliness, and righteousness, does it not follow that, that any practice not found there is not true, not a good work, and does not pertain to life or godliness? How then can we practice these things and expect to please God?

This should lead us to a useful conclusion about unrevealed practices. But God’s word deals even more directly with such practices. Consider:

(Matthew 28:20; Colossians 4:12; Jude 3; Hebrews 13:20,31; John 20:30,31; 1 John 1:1-4; 2:1-6)

Practices Not Included in God’s Revealed Word Are Unacceptable.

Consider the following principles:

A. The Principle of Ownership

Everything in the Universe, especially in the church, belongs to God.

Acts 17:24 – God made the world and everything in it since He is Lord of heaven and earth.

1 Chronicles 29:11,12 – Everything in heaven and earth belongs to God. He reigns over all.

Matthew 16:18 – The church, in particular, belongs to Jesus because He built it.

Acts 20:28 – He purchased it with His blood.

Ephesians 1:22,23; 5:23,24 – The church is His body. He is head over all things to the church, like a man is head over his wife. So, the church must submit to His will.

To practice things not authorized by God is to fail to honor our head and owner.

Does your neighbor have the right to use your house differently from what you have decided? Suppose he has a party in your house or drives off with your car without your permission.

Christ is the head of the church like your head has authority over your body. What would you think if your body started obeying the decisions made by another person’s head?

Suppose your wife bought a lawn tractor for several thousand dollars and gave it to the man next door. When you asked about it, suppose she said, “Well, he told me to do it.” Does another man have the right to tell your wife to do things you never agreed for her to do?

Note that you don’t have to tell every other man specifically not to try to tell your wife what to do and not to try to get your body to obey their head and not to try to use your possessions in ways other than what you have chosen. These things are wrong because they violate the principle of ownership and headship. No one can use your property without your permission.

Likewise, if we belong to God and if the church belongs to Jesus, what right do people have choosing to practice things different from what the owner has chosen? What right do men have making rules for the church or authorizing practices that God never authorized?

God does not have to specifically say not to do these things. All such things are wrong because they violate the principle of ownership. No one has the right to use God’s property in ways or for purposes for which He has not authorized.

(Colossians 1:18; 2:19-22; Psalm 95:3-5; 24:1,2; 50:10,12; Haggai 2:8; 1 Chron. 29:12,14)

B. The Principle of Wisdom

God’s wisdom is infinitely above that of man.

Isaiah 55:8,9 – God’s thoughts and ways are above ours and completely different from ours. We cannot possibly know God’s will about a matter unless He reveals it.

Jeremiah 10:23 – The way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Man is simply not wise enough to know how to live apart from God’s revelation.

This means we cannot possibly know God’s will unless He reveals it.

Often people will defend some religious practice because it “makes sense” to them. “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” But if our human wisdom accepts something, that proves nothing about whether or not God approves it.

Proverbs 14:12 – There is a way that seems right to man, but the end is death.

2 Corinthians 10:18 – Not he who commends himself is approved, but he whom the Lord commends. The fact that we approve a thing tells nothing about whether or not God approves it.

Knowing this, God completely revealed His will for us in the Bible, then He warned us not to follow human wisdom.

Isaiah 30:1,2 – When people devise plans and take counsel not according to God’s Spirit, they add sin to sin and practice rebellion.

Psalm 94:11,12 – The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile. Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O Lord, and teach out of Your law,

When we practice things different from what the Bible reveals, we follow fallible human wisdom instead of God’s infallible wisdom! Instead, we must practice only what is revealed.

(1 Corinthians 1:21-31; 2:4,5,10-13,16; Isaiah 40:13,14; 65:2; Jeremiah 8:9; 17:5; Psalms 81:12,13; Proverbs 28:26; 14:14; 16:2; 21:2; 20:24; Ezekiel 13:2,17; Matthew 11:25; Romans 11:33,34)

C. The Principle of Worship

Worship that pleases God must be directed by His truth.

John 4:23,24 – To please God, we must worship in spirit and in truth.

John 16:13 – And all truth is revealed in the gospel (as already discussed). (17:17)

Matthew 21:25 – But every religious practice is based either on God’s authority or else on man’s authority. If God did not originate a practice, then man must have invented it.

Since the gospel reveals all truth, then any practice that differs from the gospel must not be part of the truth but is human in origin and therefore vain.

Matthew 15:9,13,14 – Worship is vain (worthless) when based on precepts of human origin.

The purpose of worship is to please and glorify God. We honor and respect Him when we do what He says. If we do what men say to do, instead of what God says, then we are not showing respect for God and His will. Instead, we are showing respect for the men who invented the practice. So instead of pleasing God by our worship, we displease Him.

(1 Kings 12:32,33)

D. The Principle of Love

Love leads us to do what pleases the one whom we love.

Matthew 22:37 – Loving God is the most important command there is.

John 14:15 – But Biblical love requires keeping God’s commands. (1 John 5:3; 2 John 6)

Sometimes people think that, as long as they claim to love God, it doesn’t matter whether or not the things they do are in the Bible. But love leads us to seek to please the person we love, rather than pleasing ourselves.

To follow unauthorized practices is to show love for people, not for God.

People often defend their religious practices saying, “I think it’s beautiful,” “I like it,” or “We’re satisfied with it.” Such statements simply prove that people are pleasing themselves, not God. When we love God, we do what pleases Him, not what we want.

Luke 16:15 – What is highly esteemed by men is an abomination to God. The fact that we like a thing does not at all mean that God likes it.

Suppose a man wants a chainsaw, so he gives one to his wife for her birthday. Does that show love for the wife? No, it shows love for himself. Likewise, doing what we want in worship, when God never said to do it, is showing love for ourselves, not for God.

2 Timothy 4:2-4 – When men seek teaching that pleases their own desires, the result will be to turn away from the truth and follow fables. Instead, we must “preach the word.”

When we love God, we do only what He wants, regardless of what we want. But remember that we can’t know what He wants except as He has revealed it in the Bible, and the Bible completely reveals what God wants.

Rather than being an excuse for overlooking what the Bible says, love is actually a reason for doing only what the Bible says.

E. The Principle of Faith

Faith also requires that we do what pleases God.

Hebrews 11:6 – Without faith it is impossible to please God.

2 Corinthians 5:7 – We walk by faith, not by sight. Faith involves a way of “walking” (living); it must be demonstrated in action. (Cf. Galatians 2:20; 5:6; James 2:14-26; Hebrews chapter 11.)

Proper faith must be based on God’s word.

Romans 10:17 – Faith comes by hearing God’s word.

Some people think that, as long as they believe in God and claim to trust Him, He will accept what they do, whether or not it is in the Bible.

One man said He trusted God, so he was sure God would accept what he was about to do. When asked if he could find in the Bible where God approved the act, he said no, but he still felt sure God would accept it. What he was about to do was to commit suicide!

To follow man-made doctrines is to put our faith in man, instead of God.

Proverbs 3:5,6 – Trust in the Lord and don’t lean on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. True faith will teach us to do only what the Lord reveals.

Proverbs 28:26 – He who trusts in his own heart is a fool. To do what is not revealed in the Bible, is to trust in our own hearts and lean on our own understanding, rather than allowing God to direct us.

1 Corinthians 2:5 – Your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

It is impossible to practice anything by faith if it differs from the Bible. When people practice things they cannot find in the Bible, they place their trust in the people who invented those practices. To truly walk by faith requires us to do only what God has revealed.

(Jeremiah 17:5; Hosea 10:13)

F. The Principle of Authority

The Lordship of God requires us to do everything according to His authority.

Colossians 3:17 – All we do, in word or deed, should be done in Jesus’ name. To act in Jesus’ name means to follow His authority (Acts 4:7-10).

But we have seen that Jesus’ authority for today is completely revealed in the Bible. So, practices not included in Bible teaching cannot be done in Jesus’ name.

To do things that differ from what God said is to fail to follow His authority.

Galatians 1:8,9 – Any man is accursed if he preaches practices that differ from what inspired men taught in the gospel. That gospel completely reveals all good works God wants us to do. If a practice is not included in the gospel, then, for us to say it is acceptable, would be to preach a different gospel.

1 Timothy 1:3 – Instead of justifying doctrines that differ from the gospel, we must charge men to “teach no other doctrine.” (Titus 2:14)

2 John 9 – Whoever goes beyond and does not abide in Jesus’ teaching, does not have God. To have God we must abide in Jesus’ teaching. But all Jesus’ teaching is revealed in the gospel. So when we practice things we cannot find in Jesus’ teaching, we separate ourselves from Him.

When we study a practice, we should not ask, “Where does God say not to do this?” Instead we should ask “Where does God’s word authorize this act?”

Although the Bible does expressly forbid some acts, God never intended for His word to be a catalog that specifically itemizes all the things He does not want us to do. Had He done that, the Bible would have been so huge we could never digest it. Instead, God tells us what He does want us to do. Then He tells us that other things are unacceptable.

Jeremiah 7:23,24 – God accused His people of not obeying what He said, but walking in their own counsels and the dictates of their own hearts. God’s people must obey His voice and walk in the ways He has commanded. Then it will be well with us.

Psalm 81:12,13 – So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels. Oh, that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!

When we practice what we cannot find in God’s word, we walk in the counsel of our own hearts. We fail to honor God as our owner, we fail to honor Jesus as head of the church, we fail to truly love and trust God, we fail to worship God in truth, and we fail to respect the wisdom and authority of God.

When an act cannot be found in God’s will for us, then God’s true people will refuse to participate in it. They will practice only what they find authorized in God’s word.

(Revelation 22:18,19; Cf. Numbers 24:13; Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; 29:19; 1 Kings 12:26-33; 1 Chronicles 15:13; Proverbs 30:5,6; 14:14; Isaiah 24:5; Jeremiah 3:17; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; 18:12; 23:16,17,21,26,32; 26:2; Ezekiel 13:2,17; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Romans 10:1-3; Colossians 2:8,22; 1 Timothy 6:3,4; 2 Timothy 1:13; Hebrews 13:9; 1 Peter 4:11)

Some Applications (General and Specific Authority)

We have learned that, in order to please God, we must do only what is included in His instructions. Our practices must fit the definition and fall within the meaning of what He teaches.

However, we should not conclude that an act must be expressly named or specifically mentioned in order to be authorized. Some people conclude that any act is acceptable unless it is expressly, specifically forbidden. Others conclude the act is wrong unless it is expressly, specifically mentioned. Neither view harmonizes with what we have learned.

A statement of the principle of general and specific authority

When God wants man to do a thing in a particular way, He instructs us by choosing words that are specific or narrow (limited, precise, restricted, detailed, exclusive) in their meaning.

He has told us not to practice things that do not fit the meaning of His instructions. So, when He wants a thing done in a particular way, He words His instructions in such a way as to leave us no choice. If we then do things differently, outside the limits of the meaning of the terms He uses, we displease Him. In this sense, God does not have to specifically say “not to” do certain acts. He just specifies what He wants, and anything different from that is unacceptable.

Note that this principle will determine what constitutes an acceptable aid or tool. Any action, including an aid or tool, must fit the meaning of God’s instructions. If what we do differs from the meaning of God’s instructions, then the act is not an aid but an unauthorized change.

When God wants to leave men free to choose from several alternative ways of doing a thing, He instructs us by choosing words that are more general or broad (inclusive, comprehensive, all-encompassing) in their meaning.

We are still restricted to doing only what fits the meaning of what He said, but in this case there are various ways of doing what fits the instruction. We can then use our own wisdom to choose from any course of action that fits the meaning of what God said to do. Any such choice that we make would be acceptable because we would still be doing what God said.

Note that, in this case, God does not have to spell out all the details of what we should do. He simply instructs us in general terms; then any action – including the use of tools or aids – is authorized, so long as it fits the meaning or definition of the instructions given.

We will illustrate these principles with examples.

A. Bible Applications that Demonstrate the Need for Bible Authority

Some Bible events or teachings illustrate the principles we are studying. They show that certain acts or ideas would be wrong simply because they were different from, or were not part of, what God said. But other acts would be acceptable when they fit general instructions.

Noah making an ark of gopher wood – Genesis 6:14

God told Noah to make an ark of gopher wood. Metal, pine, walnut, etc., do not fit the definition of gopher wood. They constitute different kinds of materials. God did not expressly say not to use them, but they would have been wrong because He said “gopher wood” and was silent about metal, pine, etc.

Had God wanted to leave Noah free to use any kind of material of his choice, He could simply have said to make an ark, and specified no material at all. Then Noah could have chosen any kind of material. But when God specified the material, Noah was left with no other choice.

On the other hand, God said to “make” an ark, but there are many things a person can do that would fit the definition of making an ark. He might use a hammer and saw, an ox cart to carry the wood, etc., as tools to “aid” the work. None of these things are specifically mentioned, but they would have been acceptable because, Noah would still be just making an ark.

Naaman dipping in the Jordan – 2 Kings 5:10-14

Elisha told Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan and his leprosy would be cured. The instruction specifically stated what action to do, what river to use, and how many times to dip. But Naaman wanted to do something else: have Elisha wave his hand over him or dip in some other river (the Abanah or the Pharpar in Syria).

Elisha did not say “not to” dip in the Abanah or Pharpar, but would that have been doing what God said or doing something different? Likewise, it would have been disobedience to dip a different number of times. Had God wanted to leave Naaman free in these matters, he could have simply said to dip in water. Then Naaman could have dipped in any body of water any number of times. But God’s instructions left no choice but to dip seven times in Jordan.

But the instruction was general in the sense that God had not said where in the Jordan to dip: northern Jordan or southern Jordan? Or what if the servant helped put him under? What would Naaman be doing? Dipping in the Jordan. That would be a legitimate aid, because it fit the instructions God gave.

Nadab and Abihu offering incense – Leviticus 10:1-3

Nadab and Abihu were Old Testament priests who offered incense. But they used “profane” fire (“strange fire” – ASV; “unauthorized fire” – ESV) that God had not commanded them to use. So, God destroyed them.

Note that God had not said “not to” use the fire they used. The problem was that they used fire different from what God said. They did what God had not commanded or authorized them to do.

Some today might justify such an act by saying the fire was just an “aid” to offering the incense. But God disagreed. The fire was not just an aid but different fire from what God specified.

(The passage does not give enough information for me to give a good example of acceptable alternatives they might have had: perhaps how much fire they used?)

The temple as a house of prayer— John 2:13-16

Jesus cleansed the temple twice. The first time He said not to make His Father’s house “a house of merchandise” (NKJV, ASV), “a place of business” – NASB, “a house of trade” – ESV, “a marketplace” (NRSV). The second time He quoted Scripture saying it should be a house of prayer (Matthew 21:12,13).

Note that, in the first cleansing (in John 2), Jesus said nothing about thievery. He objected simply because doing business for profit (“merchandise”) did not fit the intent of the temple. Jesus argued from the “silence of the Scriptures.” He did not cite Scripture that expressly forbade doing business for profit in the temple. But He concluded that such would not fit the authorized spiritual purpose of the temple.

This is exactly the reasoning we use to oppose local churches today operating money-making businesses or providing entertainment, recreation, etc. Such acts do not fit (are not included in) the spiritual purpose God has stated for His church. So they should be rejected from the work of local churches.

On the other hand, Jesus’ statement is general as regards how long the prayers should be. The length would not matter (so long as it was otherwise Scriptural). But activities that did not constitute authorized worship were eliminated.

Jesus at God’s right hand – Hebrews 1:5,13

Comparing Jesus to angels, the writer asks what angel God ever told to sit as His Son at His right hand. The fact God said that to His Son Jesus, but did not say it to an angel, constitutes sufficient proof that it is not true of any angel!

God did not have to say the angels would not sit at His right hand. When He specified that Jesus would sit at His right hand and mentioned no angel, that eliminated the angels. (The same reasoning would eliminate any man or anyone but Jesus sitting at God’s right hand.)

(The passage does not give enough information to discuss what might be authorized alternatives. How close did He have to sit?)

Priests of the tribe of Levi – Hebrews 7:11-14

The Old Testament predicted Jesus would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek (verse 17). But that could not happen under the Old Testament law, because the law said priests were of the tribe of Levi, and Jesus was a descendant of David of the tribe of Judah. The Law of Moses said “nothing” about priests from the tribe of Judah. So, the only way Jesus could be priest would if there was a change of the law (verse 12).

This argument is also based on “silence of the Scriptures.” God said priests would be of the tribe of Levi, but said “nothing” about the tribe of Judah (verse 14). So, people of the tribe of Judah could not be priests under the law.

Some people today might think, “Where does it say priests can’t be of the tribe of Judah?” But the Hebrew writer did not so reason. The law designated the tribe of Levi and said nothing about tribe of Judah. That was enough to prove tribe of Judah did not fit.

Notice, however, that this was true under what Moses said (verse 14). The New Testament has no such restriction, so Jesus could be priest when the law changed to the New Testament.

Marriage joining one man and one woman – Matthew 19:3-6

Jesus was asked about the grounds for divorce. He said that His teaching would differ from Moses’ teaching and would agree with God’s original marriage law. According to that law God joined two people – one man and one woman – as one flesh. Therefore, divorce is wrong.

This is an argument from the silence of Scripture. God joined the two but nowhere permitted breaking the bond or being joined to a third party. The conclusion is that divorce is forbidden (though Jesus allowed an exception when one spouse violates the one-flesh covenant by having the sexual union with someone else – verse 9).

Note that God’s marriage law nowhere specifically said not to get divorced. It simply said “the man is joined to his wife and the two become one” and nowhere authorized divorce. That was enough to prove that undoing the bond would be wrong.

The same reasoning would show that the sexual union is wrong outside of marriage, before marriage, with several wives, or with someone of the same sex. True, these are all expressly forbidden in other passages, but the reasoning Jesus used here is an additional valid proof. All of these practices differ from what God said at creation and no passage elsewhere authorizes them, therefore they are all wrong.

On the other hand, where do we get authority for a preacher to perform the ceremony? Even though no passage specifically mentions preachers performing weddings, what does he do? He joins a man and woman in marriage, as God authorized. So, a preacher would be an authorized “aid” to a wedding.

(Other examples: Jeroboam and an unauthorized feast – 1 Kings 12:32,33; Lazarus coming forth vs. all the dead coming forth – John 11:43 cf. John 5:28,29; Gehazi and Naaman’s gift – 2 Kings 5:16,20-27; Simon and the laying on of hands – Acts 8:14-22; Jesus coming in His Father’s name – John 5:43; Galatians 3:16?)

B. Modern Applications of the Need for Bible Authority

We have examined how these principles of authority were applied by faithful Bible teachers. This is not something made up by modern preachers. Let us now apply the principles to some modern practices.

Going and preaching the gospel – Mark 16:15,16

Jesus said to go preach the gospel to every creature. If we preach man-made doctrines, we are not preaching the gospel. Therefore, to preach them is unacceptable.

On the other hand, there are many ways a person might “go” into all the world. He might walk or use an “aid,” such as riding a donkey, car, chariot, plane, etc. These things may not be specifically mentioned, but they would be acceptable because they fit the definition of what is stated: “go,” preach the gospel.

Likewise, there are many ways a person could preach the gospel. He might speak directly to a group of people, write them a letter, divide them up into small groups (classes). Or he might use an “aid,” such as radio or TV, blackboard, projector, or Internet.

All such would be acceptable, though not specifically mentioned, because they fit the meaning of what God said to do. When doing them, we are simply doing what God said: preach the gospel.

Baptism – Romans 6:4; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38

God said people should be “buried” in baptism. Sprinkling and pouring do not constitute burial. They do not fit the definition. If God did not care what action was involved, He could have simply said, “Put water on people,” or “Make them wet.” But when He said to bury them, and nowhere said to sprinkle or pour, then sprinkling and pouring must be wrong.

Likewise, before they can be baptized, people must hear the gospel, believe it, and repent of sins. Babies and animals cannot do these things, so to baptize them would be different from what God said. God may not have expressly said not to baptize babies or animals, but to do so would be wrong because it would not fit the meaning of God’s instructions.

Suppose someone says, “I think it would be beautiful to dip a rose in water and sprinkle the water for baptism.” Would the rose be a legitimate “aid” to baptism? No, the rose might be an aid to sprinkling; but baptism is a burial, and sprinkling does not fit. So the rose is not a true aid to baptism.

On the other hand, you can bury someone in water in a river, lake, or man-made baptistery. No matter which you use, you are doing what God said. You are burying people in baptism. So the river, baptistery, etc., are all authorized aids to baptism.

The collection – 1 Corinthians 16:1,2

God said the church should obtain funds by taking up a collection on the first day of the week, and each person gives according to his prosperity. Nowhere did He say for churches to have rummage sales, bake sales, or to operate businesses for profit to make money. To do these would be to do something different from what He said.

Likewise, to take up collections on some other day of the week would be different from what He said. He did not expressly say not to do these things, but when He said to take up collections on the first day, and He never said to do these other things, then we can know that to do them would displease Him.

On the other hand, God mentioned no particular time on the first day of the week. So whether we do it morning, afternoon, or evening would not matter, as long as it was the first day of the week.

Suppose, someone says, “Let’s start a grocery store to help the church raise money.” A store may be an aid for operating a business, but operating a business is different from taking a collection. So a store is not an authorized aid to taking a collection.

On the other hand, we might use any kind of container to take up a collection: hat, basket, tabletop. Any of these would be legitimate aids, because we are still doing what God said: taking up a collection.

The Lord’s Supper – Matthew 26:26-29; Acts 20:7

Jesus said to use bread and fruit of the vine in the Lord’s supper. Inspired example shows that the church did this on the first day of the week, the same day on which they had the collection. To have the supper on some other day of the week would be to do different from what Jesus said.

Likewise, if we added hamburger and Coke, they would be additions, not “aids” to the Lord’s Supper. That would displease Him as surely as would making the ark of metal or sprinkling for baptism.

On the other hand, like with the collection, God has not specified any particular kind of container, nor any particular time on the first day for the Lord’s supper. The container(s) would be legitimate aids, and the time of day would not matter, because we would still be doing what God said: eating the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine on the first day of the week.

Music in worship – Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16

God said to “sing” psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart. Every New Testament passage that mentions music in worship says to “sing.” Nowhere does the gospel say to play instruments. To play instruments then, would fall outside the meaning of what God said to do. God does not have to expressly forbid them. The fact that He expressly said to sing, but nowhere says to play instruments, shows they are displeasing.

Suppose someone says, “The piano is just an aid to the singing.” No, a piano is an aid to playing, but playing is a different kind of music from singing, just like pine is different from gopher wood in the ark, and hamburger is different from bread on the Lord’s supper. The piano is unauthorized because when we use it, we are doing something different from what God said to do.

On the other hand, where do we get authority for a songbook or singing various parts (soprano, alto, etc.)? What are we doing with these? We are singing and making melody in our hearts, exactly like said. The songbook is a legitimate aid.

(Lots of other examples: 1 Timothy 2:5 – other mediator)

General and Specific Authority

Instruction

Unauthorized

Authorized

Make ark of gopher wood
(Gen. 6:14)

Metal
Pine, walnut

Hammer and saw
Pegs and glue

Go preach the gospel
(Mark 16:15)

Human
Doctrine

Walk, ride
Speak, write, TV

Believe, repent
Buried in baptism
(Acts 2:36-38; Rom. 6:4)

Baby, animal
Sprinkle, pour

River, lake
Baptistery

Collection on first day
(1 Cor. 16:1,2)

Sale, business
Week day

Container
Time of day

Bread, fruit of the vine
First day
(Matt. 26:26ff; Acts 20:7)

Milk and lamb
Week day

Containers
Time of day

Sing
(Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)

Piano, organ

Songbook, parts

Conclusion

When we understand the Bible principles, we realize that many religious practices are wrong even though they are not expressly forbidden. On the other hand, many practices are right even though they are not expressly mentioned.

An act does not need to be specifically forbidden to be wrong, nor must it be specifically mentioned to be acceptable. Whether a practice is right or wrong, and whether or not a tool is a legitimate aid, is determined by whether it falls inside or outside the meaning of the terms God uses to instruct us regarding His will.

So, we have no right to do in religion just whatever we want to do or what we think is good, apart from Scripture. God determines what He wants done, then He reveals it in His word. He determines how broad or narrow He wants His will to be in any matter, then He chooses terms that reveal to us by their meaning what we are to do. If we love Him, have faith in Him, and really respect His authority, we will do what He said and only what He said.

Have you done what He tells you to do to be forgiven of sins? Are you living faithfully?

Note: We have many other articles on our web site related to this topic. If you would like to have further information, please note the links below.

(C) Copyright 2002, 2008, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale.  Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.

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Topics for further Bible study

The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
The Claims of the Bible
Tradition as Religious Authority
False Teaching & Religious Error
Is One Interpretation as Good as Another?
Emotions in Authority and Worship
The Inspiration of the Bible
Can We Understand the Bible?
Does the End Justify the Means?
Authority of Teaching of Apostles & Paul
Are Bible Examples Binding Authority?
Necessary Inference/Conclusions as Authority

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