Authority in Religion
What or who is the standard of authority in religion? This lesson considers seven religious standards of authority that men use today, but we will see that only one of them is the true standard!

There is a standard of authority in every aspect of life. In the United States, the Constitution is the basic standard of authority. In the home, parents are the standard of authority. They regulate the behavior of their children (or at least they're supposed to). In the schools, principals and teachers are the authorities. On the job, most of us have a boss, foreman, or supervisor who is the authority in that particular area of work. The US government has a Bureau of Weights and Measures in Washington, D.C. They insure that there is only one set of standards for weights and measures used in businesses across the land. Because these standards have been established and are universally used in America, we know that a gallon of gasoline purchased in Michigan will have exactly the same volume as a gallon of gasoline purchased in Florida. A yard of cloth purchased in Texas will be exactly the same size as a yard of cloth purchased in California. Why? Because there is an absolute standard of authority that has been established and is recognized by all. These standards cannot be changed!

What do you think the world would be like if there were no absolute standards by which things were measured or regulated? I believe it would be a place of confusion and chaos (even more so than it is already)! I hope you can clearly see the need for standards in our nation, homes, schools, and businesses. It is simply a matter of common sense that such is necessary. However, when it comes to religion, far too many of us do not use the same common sense that we use in the everyday affairs of life. Friends, there is an absolute standard of authority in religion that has been established and cannot be changed. However, I am sorry to say that this standard is not recognized or used by everyone!

The Bible clearly teaches that "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:4-6). The Bible says there is to be religious unity (cf. I Cor. 1:10; John 17:21)! There is to be one body and one faith! But, tragically, the religious world is divided. There is so much religious confusion today. Why? Why are there so many different denominations with differing doctrines? I'll tell you why: Religious people are not using the same standard of authority! Until religious folks all start using the same standard to measure their teachings and practices, there will always be religious confusion.

Our primary purpose in this lesson will be to answer one question: WHAT OR WHO IS THE STANDARD OF AUTHORITY IN RELIGION TODAY? Let us examine some commonly held standards of authority to see if we can answer this question.

One standard of authority that some use in religion is PERSONAL PREFERENCES.

Many people have no higher motive for their religious practices than their simple likes and dislikes. Of course, everyone has different personal preferences, so whose are we going to accept as a standard? If we simply follow our own personal preferences in religion, the result will be utter chaos (I'd be doing one thing, you'd be doing something else, and everyone else would be doing their own thing too). I'm reminded of the time when David followed his own wishes in moving the ark of the covenant from Gibeah to Jerusalem. As a result, a man died (II Sam. 6:1-11). David followed his own will, not God's. Personal preferences must not be our standard of authority in religion!

A second standard of authority that some use in religion is FEELINGS.

Many people use their feelings as the standard by which they determine religious practices. If it feels right to them, they think it must be acceptable to God. This is very subjective. One person's feelings may differ greatly from another person's. Whose feelings will we accept as a standard? Upon what basis will we make our decisions? Not only do one person's feelings differ from those of another, but one's own feelings change from time to time. Surely we can see that feelings can never constitute a standard by which all can be united in religion. Think about the apostle Paul. He said he lived in all good conscience before God even when he was persecuting the church (Acts 23:1)! He felt that what he was doing was right, but it wasn't! Jacob was deceived by his sons into thinking that Joseph was dead. He felt that Joseph was dead and he mourned for him. But, Joseph was alive and well in the land of Egypt (Gen. 37:31-35). Feelings can be deceptive and should not be used as an absolute standard of authority in religion. Consider some words of wisdom from the Old Testament on this matter. Proverbs 14:12 - "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." Jeremiah 10:23 - "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps." Feelings must not be our standard of authority in religion!

A third standard of authority that some use in religion is FAMILY.

Many people simply follow the religion of their parents. Their authority for what they believe and practice is simply: "It was good enough for my parents (or grandparents), so it's good enough for me." Some refuse to accept anything in religion that differs from the teaching of their parents because they feel they are being disloyal otherwise. Friends, it is important to understand that each person is responsible for his or her own decisions. Ezekiel 18:20 - "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself." Paul reminds us, in Romans 14:12, that we will all be individually judged for our own actions and decisions - "So then everyone of us shall give account of himself before God." We will not be judged by God with our parents! It should be recognized by all that parents (like all human beings) are sometimes wrong. What if your parents were in error religiously and you followed them? You would be in error also! Simply because one's parents believed a certain way does not mean that they were right! This too is a subjective standard! Family must not be our standard of authority in religion!

A fourth standard of authority that some use in religion is MAJORITY RULE.

Some adopt that which everyone else is doing as their standard of authority in religion. If one were consistent in such an approach, he would have to change his religion every time he moved in order to go along with the majority of "religious" people! In some areas of the world, he would be a Muslim. In other areas, he would be a Hindu, Buddhist, or Shintoist. In the United States on a state level, he would have to become a Mormon if he lived in Utah, a Catholic if he lived in New York, but a Southern Baptist if he lived in Georgia! When one reads the Bible, he becomes aware of the fact that God's faithful people in any age have always been a minority. In the days of the great flood, only eight souls were saved. The majority perished (cf. I Pet. 3:20,21)! Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:13,14). Moses warned in Exodus 23:2 - "You shall not follow a multitude to do evil." Majority rule must not be our standard of authority in religion!

A fifth standard of authority that some use in religion is RELIGIOUS LEADERS.

Some people take the voice of their spiritual leaders as their authority. If their priest, pastor, or preacher says it, they accept it without question. They may feel that since their spiritual leader has a "special call from God," or possesses a Doctor of Divinity degree, or simply seems to be a good man, then they can safely follow what he says in the area of religion. What is the problem with this standard of authority? Preachers, priests, and pastors often disagree! Their teachings differ and often contradict one another. How then can we know which one is right? The Bible also warns us that spiritual leaders can make errors. There are "false prophets" who are "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29,30). We are to put teachers to the test (I John 4:1,2). If we follow those who are false teachers, we will be lost along with them (Matt. 15:13,14). Therefore, spiritual leaders (including myself), no matter how devout or learned, cannot be acceptable as the standard of authority for they are weak, fallible humans who are just as subject to be mistaken as anyone else. Religious leaders must not be our standard of authority in religion!

A sixth standard of authority that some use in religion is MAN-MADE TRADITIONS.

Some religious folks have always acted or believed a certain way, and they intend to keep it that way for the sake of tradition. Jesus talked about this type of thinking on several occasions, and His comments were not favorable. In Matthew 15, Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for following traditions that caused them to violate God's commandments. Jesus declared very clearly that those who teach the traditions of men as doctrines from God worship vainly. Think about it: if the traditions Jesus spoke of were not an acceptable standard of authority, why would any tradition today be authoritative either? The traditions of men must not be our standard of authority in religion!

Friends, I could sum up everything I've said thus far by simply saying this: Man is not, and never will be, the standard of authority in religion! So, what should our authority be in religion? If it is not our personal likes and dislikes, our feelings, or our parents, then what is it? If it is not our spiritual leaders, the will of the majority, or human traditions, then what is it? What is our standard of authority in religion? The answer is Jesus Christ!

JESUS CHRIST, the only begotten, virgin-born Son of God, is the only infallible source and standard of authority in religion!

All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on Earth (Matt. 28:18)! Thus, whatever Jesus authorizes in religion is the standard! Whatever He decides in religion is what must guide us! We must humbly submit to His authority in all matters! But, how can one know what Jesus has authorized today in religion? That is a question that we will endeavor to answer in our next two weekly features. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.