Has God Given Any Religion or Religious Leader More Authority Than His Word?
Many religions and religious leaders believe that their sacred authority is God given, consecrated and trumps the authority of the Bible. Some point to Matthew 16:18 (KJV) which states, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Was Peter the rock? The answer is given in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 (KJV) which described how Jesus Christ was present with the Jews as they wandered through the wilderness:
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ."
There are many references in the Word of God which indicate that Jesus is the rock spoken of in Matthew 16:18. The real confusion about the authority that religions and religious leaders claim comes from the next verse (Matthew 16:19): "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
The words that our Lord speaks in this verse creates an Apostolic Authority which many religions say was passed down to their church leaders and applies today. They use it to claim their right to authorize whatever Bible they use and accept whatever traditions or mandates they have as equal with scripture. However, Jesus is the rock and it is his authority that is referenced here. Jesus acts through his Apostles, they do not act in his stead or make decisions apart from His Will.
The Apostolic Authority spoken of in Matthew 16:19 was a dispensation for the original Apostles. It was not meant to be passed down to religious leaders or church members. Regardless of what the leaders of any particular religion or church may call themselves, there are no actual Apostles today. Therefore, the dispensation received by the original Apostles is not for today. It was a temporary dispensational power needed to help the early church get started. The same is true of certain special gifts also available to the Apostles and the disciples of Jesus. Like those gifts, it was not meant to be passed on to Christians living in later times. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (KJV) makes this clear:
"Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away."
Once the New Testament was complete, there was no longer a need for knowledge to be given out piecemeal or possessed by only a few who received it directly from God and shared it with everyone. That knowledge is now available in God's Word to anyone who seeks it. The Bible is a more sure word of prophecy. We no longer have to depend on having God's Word delivered to us by those with special spiritual gifts. This is all made very clear in 2 Peter 1:19-21 (KJV):
"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
There are religions that teach that they are responsible for giving the world the complete Bible. They make this claim because they believe that the writings that make up the Old and New Testaments were not to be considered the Word of God until they assembled them, approved them and authorized each book as part of their canon of scripture. The problem with this teaching is that the religions that make such claims were not even in existence when the books which make up the Old and New Testament were first used by the early church or accepted as divinely inspired.
No religion can create, inspire or authorize the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV) states:
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"
Jesus quoted from some of the Old Testament scriptures while he was on Earth. For this reason, we know that God gave these to us. Look at John 7:19 (KJV):
"Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? ..."
The Bible was already complete during the time of the early churches and was accepted as the divinely inspired Word of God. These early churches were gatherings of Christians that were made up of people converted from Judaism or Paganism by the work of the Apostles. We know the early churches already had the complete Bible because writings from as early as 100 A.D. mention the books of the Bible and refer to them as being divinely inspired.
The reason there are so many different Bibles or collections of books represented by individual religions as their Bible is because groups that came later (after the time of the early church) wanted to assemble their own canon of scripture. All of these religions did not even exist until after at least 150 A.D., and most well after that date. For them to claim that they gave the world the Bible is erroneous at best. What they gave the world was their own version (or perversion) of God's Word.
By creating their own Bible, these groups asserted and continued the false teaching that their church leader or leaders had God-given Apostolic Authority that was equal with scripture. They believe that the authority they claimed was so great that it allowed them to declare whether or not scripture was inspired, and whether or not a particular book or writing should be included in their canon of scripture. They also believed that same authority allowed to them to accept tradition, or religious proclamations, as equal with scripture.
The mistake of believing that Apostolic Authority was passed on to future generations has lead many religions to also claim that their church leader or leaders can interpret scripture as they see fit. We've already seen that scripture is not "of any private interpretation" making this teaching heretical. Christ is the rock spoken of in Matthew 16:18 and he is also the living Word of God as stated in John 1:1-5 (KJV):
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."
If Christ is the Word and the Word is of no private interpretation, religious leaders cannot come along today claiming Apostolic Authority and interpret scripture as they please. They also cannot claim any infallibility or authority equal to or above the Word of God. If that were true, they would have an infallibility or authority that would extend above that of Jesus Christ himself. They also cannot declare religious traditions or proclamations as equal to scripture because that would be adding to the Word of God. We are giving clear warnings against this practice in the Old and New Testaments:
"Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." - Deuteronomy 4:2 (KJV)
"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." - Revelation 22:18-19 (KJV)
Accepting tradition or non-Biblical religious proclamations or practices as equal with God's Word is nothing new. The Jews did it in the time of Jesus. He comments on this in Mark 7:6-9 (KJV):
"He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."
Are the religions and religious leaders that engage in these heretical practices really Christians? Matthew 7:20-23 (KJV) best describes that situation:
"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
God has a standard by which he expects Christians to behave. If someone has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, the fruit of their salvation will be to do the will of God. You cannot do His Will if you do not follow and obey His Word. Changing or adding to it is something that we know is wrong because God has made that fact abundantly clear. Those that take part in those kind of heretical practices cannot possibly be children of God.
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