By What Authority - RR272E10
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Let us worship God. Our help is in the name of the Lord Who made heaven and earth. Thus saith the lofty One Who inhabited eternity, whose name is holy. I dwell in the high and holy place with Him also that is of a humble and contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite. If thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find Him if thou seek Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. Let us pray. O Lord our God, unto Whom all power, rule, and authority belongs, we come into Thy presence acknowledging, indeed, that we have gone astray; that the whole world is in rebellion against Thee, and needs Thy grace and Thy mercy, and Thy judgment. Use us, O Lord, in these troubled times, and empower us by Thy Word and by Thy Spirit, that we may set forth the claims of Thy kingdom, establish the guidelines of Thy justice or righteousness, and make paramount Thy Law and Thy word of truth into the hearts of all men. Bless us to this purpose. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our scripture is from Matthew, the 21st chapter, verses 23 through 27. And our subject: by what authority? We continue our studies in the doctrine of biblical authority. Matthew 21:23-27, “And when He was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto Him as He was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things, and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” [00:03:37]
The implications of this text for the doctrine of authority is sometimes bypassed by scholars, and the reason for doing so is that they say that the authority of Jesus is as that of God incarnate; and therefore, there is a difference between His authority, and that of the rest of us. However, this is an invalid statement, because our Lord faces the issue on the human level by raising the questions of John the Baptist’s authority; so that our Lord very definitely makes clear that he was not claiming any authority as he was teaching, other than that which scripture provided.
Now, the Greek word which is used here for authority is “exousia,” so that we have no particular special problem with the word. It is a word we’ve dealt with previously, “exousia”; so that authority here is exactly what we would think it to be. The question—by what authority?—is important. It is interesting that the question has been raised most in the Western churches, Protestant and Catholic, and that it has been a question which has repeatedly created problems; and disorders have arisen because of the question of authority. However, it is significant that precisely where this question has been raised again and again, the greatest vitality in Christendom has been shown: it has been in the Western churches. Obviously, therefore, it is an important question. [00:05:58]
Now, let us examine the nature of the problem of authority in terms of this question—by what authority?—historically, first of all. A good place to begin with is with St. Francis of Assisi. Before his death in 1226, Franciscan missions had reached England, France, Germany, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, and Palestine. Less than 20 years after his death, Franciscans had reached the court of a great mogul in India. The Franciscans had a missionary zeal, a dedication; and the ability of Francis, himself, was truly remarkable. On the other hand, there were many semi-heretical undercurrents present in Francis and his followers. With good reason, the Vatican looked on Francis with great misgivings, as did many other churchmen. The strict Franciscans, who came to be known after Francis’ death as Spiritual Franciscans, were strong adherents of the thinking of Abbot Joachim of Fiore. This was third-age thinking, very heretical. It has had a long and ugly history in Western thought. [00:08:00]
Also, Francis was, in essence, a communist
Also, Francis was, in essence, a communist. He believed the ideal state for Christians, who really took the faith seriously, was communism: to own no property. Armstrong tells us, and I quote, “When he found that a house had been built in which to hold a chapter meeting, he was so incensed that the brethren should be involved in holding property, that he clamored to the roof and began ripping off the tiles, only stopping when it was pointed out to him that the house did not belong to the friars.” Francis here harked back to an element in Greco-Roman culture. The Greco-Romans believed in a golden age in the past, a golden age which was propertyless; and therefore, this was the ideal state. And many of the philosophers and lawyers who came into the faith brought with them this Greco-Roman concept of the Golden Age, and of a propertyless ideal. They went to the Bible, and misused a few verses here and there to justify their Golden Age thinking. For example, one of the most powerful and influential bishops in the early church was, in the late third and early fourth century, St. Ambrose. Ambrose is a very prominent person. He was showing interest in the faith and attending a catechumen class. He had not even been baptized, nor set a date, or indicated as of yet he was ready to be baptized, when the bishop died. And both church and state moved to make this man, a very prominent Roman, bishop, because he was such a powerful force. And so, he was made bishop by acclimation; and then baptized and made bishop. [00:10:47]
Now, St. Ambrose was a very powerful thinker, powerful preacher, who simply assumed, in terms of his background, that communism was the ideal Christian state. That vein continued in the church. Many of the monastic orders, in particular, as well as prominent preachers, harked back to it. However, the popes were beginning to see that this was not scriptural—that there were serious problems with the whole concept. When Francis and Peter Waldo of Leon, founder of the Waldenseans, asked for approval of the Vatican, in 1179 Alexander III gave limited confirmation to the Poor Men of Lyon, who later became the Poor Catholics, an order within the church. In 1210, Innocent III did the same for the Franciscans. Both did this with misgivings. Both recognized, however, there were elements of faith and dedication here, which they could not condemn. Subsequently, the papacy did condemn the whole idea of communism; and the Spiritual Franciscans had to be condemned, totally. And the Franciscans who did not share that point of view, and who had really departed from Francis of Assisi, went their way, developing those approved ideas of Francis of Assisi. [00:13:03]
Now, I cite this as a problem case, and how it was
Now, I cite this as a problem case, and how it was dealt with. It is easy for us to be wise at a distance, seeing the beginning and the end; but we must remember that there are no perfect movements in history. God, alone, is perfect; and even when we are a part of God’s movement, we bring our sin and our fallibility into it. Moreover, we bring ourselves, an unfinished product. Very often, as we see someone whom we’ve known for a long time, and see the outcome, we’re horrified that we didn’t see it earlier; but no one, including ourselves, is a finished product. We either develop our implications to an epistemological self-consciousness, or at least one that others can spot; or we develop in terms of our consciousness as a Christian. Now, we are told by St. Paul in I Corinthians 4:5, “Judge nothing before the time.” We are to suspend our judgment. We are to give things an opportunity—the tares an opportunity to grow, before they are rooted out. Premature judgment can prevent many problems; but it also leads to sterility, because nothing is ventured. The churches, which are very strict and rigid in preventing anything from starting that might be suspect, are also the sterile churches. Suspended judgment, therefore—judging nothing before the time—can lead to serious problems, but it also allows for growth in both directions: tares and wheat, and then a time for judgment, because our Lord requires judgment. As we are very definitely told in John 7:24, “Judge righteous judgment;” and in Matthew 6:22, our Lord says, “By their fruits shall ye know them”; then you can judge them—and you have to; if you do not, then you are sinning, because God says, “look at their fruits: judge them.” It’s that simple. Time is thus a factor here. Judgment is a necessity. [00:16:20]
Now, there was enough in the position of St
Now, there was enough in the position of St. Francis of Assisi to give grounds for suppressing him and his work, before he ever began. There was also enough to give grounds for great rejoicing, in his joyful view of creation and redemption, and for bringing such a light to the faith. We really owe, by the way, a great deal of the joy of the Christmas season to Francis: he was the first one to build a crèche at Christmastime. Now, of course, we have had, in recent years, efforts to suppress what Francis began. A great deal of trouble could have been eliminated in the church, if Francis had been suppressed immediately; but a great deal of good would also have been eliminated, and the result would have been deadly.
Now, I cite Francis, because we have similar things today: the charismatic movement, for example. There is much there that we would disagree with; but there has also been such a tremendous vitality and a burst of power, God-given power, that we also must rejoice. It’s a young movement, a growing movement: judge nothing before the time. [00:18:21]
Now, I cite these examples, because they are related to the question: by what authority doest thou these things, and who gave thee this authority? Now, very definitely, the implication of that question was: authority is transmitted through given channels, and we—the Pharisees and Sadducees, the scribes—represent the God-ordained channels; and who are you to come from outside the institutional channels and teach with such authority? Now, very definitely, authority is transmitted through God-given channels: the family and the church, to cite but two. Their authority is very clearcut; but, while authority is transmitted by God through his ordained channels in history, it cannot be limited to these channels. All authority comes from God, and the essential test is the Triune God and his law-word. As Isaiah 8:20 declares, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” [00:20:31]
Now, one of the things we must remember, and churches
Now, one of the things we must remember, and churches must remember (and both church and state and every institution tends to forget), that every age is a trenchant one; and every institution and every church is in transition. We are not the terminal point of history. History did not begin in the Garden of Eden and end with us, or with our church, or our state, or with our particular institution, whatever it may be. We are but stepping stones to God’s future. Judge nothing before the time. By their fruits shall ye know them. Judge righteous judgment. We must live, move, and have our being in the Lord, in His future and in terms of it. We are, we are told, strangers and pilgrims on earth, governed by God’s promises, concerning the future. We seek that country whose builder and maker is God, His kingdom. We do this in terms of His law-word. The patriarchs did not seek the kingdom of God by abandoning the world, but by faithfulness to it, to God’s Word, to God’s kingdom: by its application to time and to the processes of time. We cannot bind God to institutional channels, nor can we despise those channels. It was a great evil on the part of the Pharisees and the leaders of the temple to come to Jesus and challenge His authority, when He was teaching in faithfulness to the every Word of God. But it is equally very wrong to challenge God-ordained authority. We have to see their authority and the limitations of their authority. They are not the ultimate, the absolute, authority. God and His Word, alone, have that power, that status. [00:23:43]
Moreover, we cannot bind God’s institutional channels
Moreover, we cannot bind God’s institutional channels, nor despise those channels; but we also must see that different channels, different institutions, have different levels of authority. The institution of the church has a very real authority; but we cannot ascribe to, say, clubs and lodges, any binding power upon us, whether that lodge be a Christian one, or a Masonic one: it cannot have a binding power on us comparable to that of the church, and certainly never comparable to God; but it so routine for organizations to attempt to bind men, as though they were God.
Then you have intermediate institutions, not on the same level as, say, family, church, and state: bar associations, medical and dental associations, unions of various sorts. How great is their authority? Well, today, they are these intermediate institutions in alliance with the state. They have forsaken their legitimate authority under God for an authority under the state; and, as a result, they are coercive in a way they have no right to be. And the sad fact is that the church is too often prone to approve of intermediate institutions and their legalized coercion. Godly authority goes out of institutions, as they align themselves with the state, and seek a coercive authority. [00:26:09]
When our Lord asked ...
When our Lord asked “by what authority do you do these things?” raised the question of John’s authority came to the heart of the matter. The established authorities had boxed out God’s authority, in favor of their exclusive representation of God. Jesus and John both lacked institutional certification and accreditation. They had never gone through the formal training that was required; and, therefore, they were denied validation. The leaders of religion in our Lord’s day said, concerning Him, “How knoweth this man letters”—meaning learning—“having never learned?”—that is, having never been instructed by us. Learning was equated with institutional validation: in other words, they believed in a closed shop in learning. The limitation of authority to institutional channels is a limitation on God.
Now, these institutions cannot be set aside, nor their importance denied. Let’s take universities: universities provide a routine, a discipline; if anything, it isn’t sufficiently so. We are in a period of a decline in discipline in every area. University graduate schools are not all that they should be; but also, we can recognize their necessity as means to a disciplined education and to specialized training; but we cannot limit learning to a university Ph.D. degree, or to any kind of doctorate. Very often, there is more learning and wisdom outside, rather than in the academic routine; but this not eliminate the validity of the academic routine. For all, except the occasional and exceptional person, it is a necessity. To give an illustration, I received a letter and enclosures yesterday from someone of very great brilliance, but also calculated stupidity, because he is an instant know-it-all. People like that need the disciplined curriculum. On the other hand, there are many like that who go through the disciplined curriculum of a university and a graduate school, and are no better for it. There’s no sure-fire cure for such folly; but, at least, the routine provides, for many, some kind of training which will knock off the rough edges, teach them something about the nature of authority, and of following a disciplined pattern. Most people lack the ability to master a discipline on their own. [00:30:54]
Now, this is true also in the church
Now, this is true also in the church. A seminary training, or some kind of required training for the clergy is a necessity; but it isn’t the only way God trains and prepares men for His services. And men can go through all the training, and come out as foolish as they began; but at least the training helps winnow out some of them. Authority is best gained by being under authority: the authority of God and of man. Thus, God can, and does, train men apart from institutions: He calls, and He empowers them. But whether it be an institutional training that a man has, or one which is separated from the formal routine, the basic question is always the same: by what authority doest thou these things, and who gave thee this authority? Is it of God, in essence? That’s the key question. Isaiah’s words, therefore, still stand: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
Let us pray. O Lord our God, give us grace day by day to be under thine authority and the authority of Thine ordained spheres; that we may, by our obedience and our recognition of Thy Word and its power, and of all that it has created, learn how to rule ourselves and to rule in our appointed place. Grant Lord that we be instrumental in moving Thy people in this world a step further under Thine authority in Thy kingdom. Bless us to this purpose. In Jesus’ name. Amen. [00:34:13]
Our announcements this morning
Our announcements this morning: I have two things to call to your attention. You may recall that I dealt sometime back with the fact that in Red China, families are now limited to one baby per family; and any woman having a second child are subjected to penalties, and the baby aborted or removed. The startling fact about that situation is that is has been, to a large extent, financed by the United States and the UN. Just recently Representative Smith, a Republican in New Jersey, fought to have this kind of thing cut out of the federal budget. They were able to get the amendment through. However, the liberals in Congress put through a provision which allows the International Development Agency (AID) to fund organizations, who then turn the money over to China’s population planners. The United Nation’s Fund for Population Activities, for example, will give $50 million to China’s population program over the next four years. One quarter of that money will come from the U.S.
Moreover, one man, Everstat, a visiting fellow at Harvard—the University Center for Population Studies—has said, and I quote, “Almost a quarter of the UNFPA’s request for Chinese population programs is American money. Failure to act against these grave and obvious human right abuses would expose America to some very serious charges, and those charges would be right.” Now, the rest of the money comes from other UN nations, but this is a sad fact. At the same time, it is interesting to note that, instead of meeting this issue head-on, InterVarsity Press, which is the campus ministry, which is supposedly evangelical—that is today, liberation theology-oriented—has, in a new book by Gareth Jones, come out strongly in favor of abortion rights; and Jones finds in his book that humanist is an illusive concept, very difficult to define. So, you’re in trouble now, since it’s very difficult to define whether any of us, including a fetus, are human. [00:37:52]
And this: we have a measure in the State Senate, introduced by Republican Ken Maddy of Fresno, which will eliminate prison terms as a necessity, and will make it possible for the judges to sentence people to confinement in their own homes. And Richardson has reported on this: “I can see it all now, the courtroom is tense with excitement; the defendant has been found guilty of burglary and assault with a deadly weapon. The judge leans forward and glares down at the defendant, and says, ‘Jones, you have been found guilty, and it my duty to impose sentence on you. Jones, go to your room!’ ‘Oh, Lordy, Judge, no; not that!’ the defendant screams. Jones then collapses in a sobbing heap on the courtroom floor. ‘Judge,’ the defendant’s lawyer shouts, as he explodes from his chair, ‘that’s cruel and inhuman. Everyone knows Jones doesn’t make his bed, and he rarely empties the ashtray. The floor is covered with candy wrappers, and his mommy refuses to tidy up after him. Besides, his room is all cluttered with car radios, stereos, and TV sets he’s found over the years. Can you find it within your heart to give him straight probation, instead of this awesome burden?’” Now, things are becoming ridiculous, and so bad that it’s hard to see what is going to happen, other than judgment, unless we turn this country around quickly; and even then, we’re going to go through the wringer.
Any questions now on our lesson? Yes?
[Questioner] The whole question of authority is intriguing, because technological developments—like, for instance, nuclear fission and many other breakthroughs, physical scientists—have accustomed the average man to accepting things that confound his common sense. And this leads, then, to a sort of a lack of certainty in individual intelligence. And it’s also reinforced by arguments that subjective judgments are invalid. Your personal opinion is not supposed to count. So what we have is a cognicenti, so to speak, that uses a language the average person cannot follow. And there’s probably more authoritarianism in the intellectual life of the modern man than there ever has been. [00:41:46]
[Rushdoony] Yes, I would emphatically agree with that
[Rushdoony] Yes, I would emphatically agree with that. What we had after World War II was a development—and I believe Daniel Bell at Harvard was a key figure in it—which culminated in a speech by John F. Kennedy, the gist of which was that we had reached a point in history when, instead of moral problems, we had technological problems which experts would take care of. Now, that kind of idea was sold very heavily, and has spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Well, of course, these technological problems—so called—are really very simple moral questions, but people have succumbed to this authoritarianism on the grounds that the moral question is, as you put it, a subjective matter and has no validity in the market place of opinions and ideas. This is what, today, is the offense of the fundamentalist movement: raising the moral question again. Jerry Falwell raised it very mildly, and all hell broke loose when he did, because this is the one question they don’t want raised anymore. Authoritarianism does require that we submit to the experts—the philosopher kings—and be simply slaves, while they run things, because supposedly everything is now a question for the experts, an opinion which goes back to Plato.
Any other questions or comments? If not, let us bow our heads in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, we thank Thee that Thy Word is truth; and Thy Word shall prevail, and Thy Word shall conquer the hearts of all men, and every tongue shall confess and every knee bow before Jesus Christ our Lord. In this confidence, our Father, we serve Thee, we rejoice in Thee, and we wait on Thee. 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. [00:45:00]