Doctrine of Authority - RR272G13
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Let us worship God. Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. O come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, for He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of His hand. Let us pray. O Lord our God, we give thanks unto Thee for the freedom with which Thou hast blessed us in the years past. Give us grace and mercy and strength, that we might pass on to those to come a like heritage; that we might cleanse this land of ungodliness, that we might again be a free people in Jesus Christ. Bless us through Thy Word and by Thy Spirit, and make us strong in Thee to the destroying of the things that are against Thee in the establishing of Thy kingdom from pole to pole. Bless us to this purpose in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our scripture is from the Gospel according to Matthew, the 15th chapter, verses 1 through 9. Our subject: authority, primary and secondary—authority, primary and secondary. Matthew 15:1-9. “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders, for they wash not their hands when they eat. But He answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother: and, he that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, it is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by Me; and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandment of men.” [00:03:05]
The word “authority” has been in disrepute for many, many generations. This should not surprise us. Man, having rebelled against God’s authority, is certainly going to rebel authority in any human sphere. He will not be inclined to respect man’s, having rejected God’s authority. A couple of centuries ago, the liberal Anglican Bishop Hoadly said, and I quote, “Authority is the greatest and more irreconcilable enemy to truth and argument that this world ever furnished. All the sophistry, all the color of plausibility, all the artifice and cunning of the subtlest disputer in the world made be laid open and turned to the advantage of that very truth, which they are designed to hide; but against authority, there was no defense.” What we must say is that Hoadly had reference not to true authority, but to man’s authoritarianism. Men have authoritarian pretension; that is a part of man’s sin, to be as God.
Now in the history of the church, the question of authority has never been a simple one. Two extremes have played to the church, and we have touched on these before. First, there has been the insistence on the authentication of God’s Word and authority by the church. The church says, “We are the authenticating institution.” The danger in this is the tendency to exalt the church into a central position. Our Lord refers to this problem of humanistic authoritarianism in the Sermon on the Mount, when He speaks, concerning false swearing, and says that they are not to swear by heaven, or earth, the temple, or anything else. This, He says, is false swearing: “Thou shalt not forswear thyself; ye shall not swear falsely.” But He does not condemn legitimate oaths. He says, “Perform unto the Lord thine oaths.” What He is saying is that when men swear by the temple, or by anything other than God, they are placing a man-evaluated authority above God; so that if we swear by any other thing than God, we have given something on the human scene greater authority. But God is greater than Jerusalem, the temple, and heaven and earth. Nothing can be above God to validate His self-authenticating word. [00:06:46]
Then, second, as we have also seen, we have had an...
Then, second, as we have also seen, we have had an insistence on authentication by religious experience. This is similar to authentication by the church, in that there is an implicit humanism in both; but authentication is not in man, nor in an institution, but from God, Himself. We can say that both these positions have a measure of truth, but not as authentication or verification, but as acts of submission. Paul in Romans 1:18-23, speaks about God’s authority, when he says that the things of God, visible and invisible, are known to all men. They don’t need any authentication. But what is the problem? Men hold the truth, or literally hold back, hold down; suppress the truth in unrighteousness, in injustice. The truth is inescapable; and man, the sinner, spends all his time, according to Paul in Romans 1:18-23, trying to sit on the truth and keep it from welling up in his being, and witnessing to God. Now, secondary authorities are very real. They are God-ordained, and they are important; but when secondary authorities—whether it be in the form of the church, the state, the family, or anything else—gain too much authority, then you have a false center in society, which begins to warp man and society. Then, too, authority begins to break down, because the ultimate source is not given priority. There is no lack of authoritarianism in our world today of the humanistic sort, whether in this country or in the Soviet Union, but it is destroying true authority. [00:09:18]
Now, our Lord dealt with this problem very, very realistical...
Now, our Lord dealt with this problem very, very realistically; and in our text, Matthew 15:1-9, He deals with the traditions of the elders, which had become governing and binding. And our Lord calls this “transgression.” It is a transgression, He says, of the commandment of God. It goes hand in hand with vain worship. It puts man at a distance from God; and its purpose is to nullify God’s Law, not to support it. This concept of tradition is a very old one. In Israel, you had the rabbis declaring that tradition was the oral teaching from Moses given to Israel when he came down from the mount, so that you had the written word and the oral word. In the Catholic church, you also have a doctrine of tradition, the oral teachings of Christ and the apostles, with the Magisterium—the teaching authority of the church—as the custodian. Now Protestants normally do not use the word “tradition,” but they have developed their own concept of it. It is called, depending upon the communion, Presbyterian law, the Baptist way, Lutheranism, Congregationalism, or what have you. [00:11:13]
Every doctrine of tradition, technically, is subordinate...
Every doctrine of tradition, technically, is subordinate to scripture; but in practice, it is often the governing day by day power. And the result is you have throughout the history of the faith a conflict between the primary Word of God, the authority of God, and secondary words, or authorities of men. This is what Phariseeism was about. And this is why our Lord so thoroughly condemned Phariseeism. We would have to say that the Pharisees really were a superior group of people, intellectually and morally. There was probably no one in the world of their day, whether in Judea or outside of Judea, on a level with the Pharisees. As a matter of fact, some years ago, a definitive study was made by Finkelstein, a prominent Jewish scholar, of the Pharisees—two volume study. It was intended to defend the Pharisees against our Lord’s comments about them, and Finkelstein very definitely demonstrates the moral and intellectual superiority of the Pharisees. But he also does say very clearly that the Pharisees held that the oral law, or tradition, was, in his own words, “equally authoritative with the written word”—equally authoritative! And when you recognize that with their oral tradition as they developed it, they often replaced the very word of God—held the words to be comparable to water; but their tradition, like wine, superior—you realize why our Lord condemned them. [00:13:43]
Pirkei Avot, the saying of the fathers, is one of the...
Pirkei Avot, the saying of the fathers, is one of the 63 tract tapes of the Mishnah. There is an edition of it by Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz, who was then Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. And he says very frankly in commenting on the sayings of the fathers, and I quote, “Tradition is the key word in the Jewish religious system.” Now, there’s no question that the sayings of the fathers often embody very sound insights into the faith; but there is no question, also, that they very often alter the faith, and give you an interpretation, which is made more binding than the very word of God. The crippling fact about tradition is that it makes appeal to authority much more difficult. The appeal to God’s Word is to what is written. The rise and appeal to modernism—Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant—has been, in part (in part, not entirely), due to the revolt against oppressive tradition that stifles a faith.
Now the reliance of secondary authorities on tradition is very serious, which is why our Lord had to attack it. He attacked the tradition of the elders in the name of the very word of God. He said, “You have made the word of God, the commandments of God, of none effect by your tradition. You have overturned the very intent of the Law by your interpretation of the Law, so that where the Law says honor thy father and thy mother, as you interpret it, you use it to dishonor your parents and gain religious credit for doing so.” So, He says, “Isaiah did prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoreth Me with their lips; but their heart is very far from Me. In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” [00:16:41]
The essence of a biblical faith is a continual reformation...
The essence of a biblical faith is a continual reformation in terms of God’s Word, in terms of Christ’s commission. And so, those areas of Christendom that have been most vital are those areas where people have regularly challenged on biblical grounds the authority of men, the traditions of the church; and have worked to create an ongoing developing faith in terms of God’s authority and word—one of the very interesting aspects of this fact in the history of the Church; and, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever made a study of it. In fact, I don’t think a single study could be made. It would have to be, first of all, extensive research into primary sources, and books written about one period after another, until the data is brought to light. But the truth of it, I think, was well summarized by one historian, Charles T. Wood, in his book, The Quest for Eternity: Medieval Manners and Morals. Now this is what he wrote: “Diverse in their origins as these movements for reform may have been, they displayed striking similarities, all of which shed light, both on the problems and mentality of the age. Nearly every monastery—note that— nearly every monastery, for example, owed its foundation or reformation, not to the zeal of monks, but rather to the interests and encouragement of some lay patron, such as Duke William VI of Aquitaine, who granted Cluny’s original charter. From the universality of this phenomenon, the extent to which the laity had succeeded in seizing control of the church is apparent.” Notice his comment: the universality of this phenomenon. No church history speaks of this, either with regard to the medieval church, or the church since then; but it is a fact: reform has usually come, because people in the pew have gotten fed up with the authoritarianism of the church. [00:19:57]
Moreover, the interesting thing is that whenever this...
Moreover, the interesting thing is that whenever this has taken place, the laymen have not sought to retain control. I submit that if this were studied, the indications are this has equally been true in the history of the university. The reform and the progress, whenever it has occurred in the life of the university, has come from outside pressures and demands. The same has been true of professional schools, so that the reforms there, too, have usually come from the outside. We could say, with little fear of contradiction, that the same has been true of civil government. Reforms in civil government have not come from those in power in the bureaucracy, but only from pressures, as people grow weary and indignant of the status quo. In fact, one could say that we are, in every area, in a worst state now, than in the past, because the lay element, until of late, has been quiet. Why? Because of the tyranny of experts; because of the widespread belief that specialists know it all; and, therefore, the thing to do is to leave it to the specialists, whether in church or state, or school or elsewhere. The arrogance of the specialist has been so great, that in recent years, we have had educators, for example, saying that no parent should ever attempt to help the child, because this would tamper with the educational process. Well, since they sold people that bill of goods, these experts—these specialists—have produced the highest rate of illiteracy in the history of the United States; and they are doing the same thing elsewhere. [00:22:37]
Now, this is what our Lord is talking about...
Now, this is what our Lord is talking about: the traditions of men, the traditions of an ongoing element, which is in control—the specialists, who feel that wisdom was born with them, as Job said; and no one else has a pipeline to God or the truth, except themselves. The simple fact is that human authorities tend to make of themselves idols. Pharisees, then and now are very prone to an idolatry which makes man his own god. Man is a sinner, and the redeemed are not free from sin; and we cannot overweight the human factor. Human authoritarianism is an enemy to God’s authority. God says, in the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and this very definitely includes us and our institutions. Our age is an age which is very much enamored of man, and of his authority. On television the other evening, I heard a snatch of a program on educational TV, which is an excellent medium for mis-education; and the whole point of this was: if you were dealing with delinquents, as you were dealing with unwed mothers and unwed fathers, the thing you had to do was to build up their self-esteem. And, of course, I have, on other occasions, heard that as you deal with criminals, you do the same things: you try to build up their self-esteem. Well, the essence of sin is that it has a root in idolatry: my will be done. And so, our experts today are going to cure delinquents by furthering this idolatry. [00:25:20]
Paul says of the ministers of Christ, ...
Paul says of the ministers of Christ, “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards, that a man be found faithful.” Wherever there is a human authority, there is accountability; and when human authorities forget the fact of accountability to God for every idle word, they go astray. I’m not particularly fond of Dante, but I think he had a sound insight when he peopled hell with authorities in church and state, who had made their word—their will—ultimate. At that point, his insight was sound. It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.
Let us pray. O Lord our God, Thy word is truth, and Thy word speaks to our every condition. Give us grace day by day to be faithful stewards in our calling, recognizing the absoluteness of Thy authority, Thy demands of us, and the necessity that we be found faithful. Bless us in Thy service. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Are there any questions now on our lesson? Yes? [00:27:37]
[Questioner] I don’t understand the connection here...
[Questioner] I don’t understand the connection here: “But ye say, whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, it is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited ….” I don’t understand the meaning of what’s the connection there.
[Rushdoony] Yes. It is a gift means: I’m dedicating this to the Lord’s work; I’m giving this to God, so that you’re being bounced, in favor of something more important. In other words, my parents are a nuisance, so I’m going to get rid of my responsibility to them; and I can give it to the temple. And that way, I have no problem, because nobody’s going to bother me, and I don’t have to worry about their illnesses and their needs, and so on. And I don’t have to take care of them in their home; or, worse, bring them into my own home. So, by dedicating it to God, you were supposed to be gaining greater merit, doing something that was far more worthwhile; and you were ridding yourself of a personal burden. So –
[Questioner] And creating a welfare state.
[Questioner] And creating a welfare state.
[Rushdoony] Yes. Right. So, our Lord was striking hard at this. On another occasion, He said, “If you go to the temple with a gift, and you remember that you have ought against any man, go take care of that. Don’t come to God until you’ve taken care of your day by day responsibilities that His Word imposes upon you. Don’t feel that you’re going to be acceptable, when you’re deliberately evading your responsibilities.” That’s the point.
Any other questions or comments? Yes?
[Questioner] Well, I think de Tocqueville talked about this, in a way, when he talked about a governing authority that seeks to assume all decisions for all individuals: a gentle (he said) authority, which nevertheless is firm; and which prevents individuals from making decisions for themselves; and in the end, prevents men from becoming what they should be. And, it seems to me, that fits with the growth of authority on the part of the government today, and the abandonment of personal responsibility and authority by individuals. [00:30:40]
[Rushdoony] Yes, very definitely...
[Rushdoony] Yes, very definitely. There’s going to be authority in the world, and if we don’t recognize God’s authority to us and our responsibility to God, we’re going to let experts and tyrants take over authority. And I believe this is being done, and we seem to be very, very content with it.
[Questioner] Well, there’s a lot of misery around, really. I don’t think there’s much contentment. There seems to be a sort of a permanent state of poorly suppressed rage. You see it in the way people drive, and the alacrity with which they get insulting and angry –
[Questioner] – at the slightest thing.
Any other questions or comments?
It is interesting—and just, by the way, observation—that the point that the historian Wood made, with regard to lay reform throughout the Middle Ages, is a scarcely known fact; which indicates that our historians, by and large, are not interested in anything which overthrows the experts and the authorities.
[Questioner] Well, historians worship winners.
[Rushdoony] But the fact that he used such strong language was what interested me in the text, because, as one reads, it becomes clear that this kind of thing did exist. But Wood says, it was nearly universal, so that throws a totally different light on Western history, and on church history.
[Questioner] The establishment couldn’t do it.
[Rushdoony] The establishment has rarely done it. Reform has been pushed on establishments: in church, state, education, and elsewhere.
[Questioner] Somebody made the comment, I don’t know who, that there was never a single legal reform in the history of England that came from the judges.
[Rushdoony, laughing] We can say the same is true in the United States, probably [laughs]. There’s been deterioration, rather than reform, for the most part.
Well, if there are no further questions or comments, let us bow our heads in prayer. O Lord our God, give us grace day by day to submit to Thy full and absolute authority, and to rejoice, therein; and to work under Thy word and government, and to bring all things into captivity to Jesus Christ. And now, go in peace. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost bless you and keep you, guide and protect you, this day and always. Amen. [00:34:29]