Friday, May 13, 2011

Without Our Authorization

"Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them." (Acts 15.1-2b)

There's a dispute. Both sides view the issue as essential to the faith. How do they respond? Do they argue ad infinitum? Do they simply start separate congregations? Or do they decide that, since they can't agree, this particular issue must not be clear and should therefore not be considered essential to the faith?

"So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and presbyters about this question." (Acts 15.2b)

To settle the dispute they take the issue to the apostles and presbyters (who have been ordained by the apostles). The issue is discussed, with both sides being heard. A consensus is reached, and they decide to send a letter back to original location of the dispute to tell them what the ruling has been. The letter begins with this line:

"We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said." (Acts 15.24, emphasis added)

Whoever was teaching that Christians needed to be circumcised apparently had not been authorized by the apostles and presbyters to do so. That, of course, means that they needed the authorization, and that the apostles and presbyters were the ones who had the authority to give it to them.

But wait, why does a person need authorization from a "human" authority? Priesthood of all believers, we're all equal in Christ, the only authority is Scripture, I thought we only obey Jesus!

The NT Church was not a democracy, nor was the interpretation of Scripture given up as a free-for-all. The apostles were in charge, with authority which they received from Jesus, along with the presbyters who had been ordained by the apostles.

The Catholic Church's bishops, priests, and deacons have received authority passed down, person to person, from the apostles, who received it from Jesus. The structure witnessed to in Acts 15 is the same structure that is the Catholic Church. That's why the Church hierarchy can, as the apostles and presbyters did here in Acts 15, settle disputed matters in the Church. In its basic essence, it works the same way today as it did then.

My question to evangelicals out there is this: What camp are in you today, are you among those who are following the authority of the apostles and those they have ordained, or are you among those who have "went out from us without our authorization"? Or in other words, who has authorized the pastor of your church?

Your pastor was ordained by your denomination? So where did the higher-ups of your denomination get their authority? Most likely, your denomination was started ad hoc in the last 400 years, meaning that its authority didn't originate with the apostles 2000 years ago.

Your pastor was chosen by a vote of the congregation? Popularity doesn't equal God-given authority. The apostles were not picked by popular vote, they were sent by Jesus, the source of all authority. If a person who wants to lead a church gathers a group of people around them to affirm them, it doesn't give them any more authority to lead the Body of Christ than if those who were teaching that Christians must be circumcised had done the same.

Your pastor just simply started his own church and attracted his congregation by his preaching/charisma/leadership abilities? Then your pastor and your fellow congregants obviously disagree with the apostles in Acts 15 that authorization matters.

The only Church authority mentioned in the New Testament is that of Jesus passed down through the apostles. If your pastor has not received authorization from that line, then he or she in the same ecclesiastical position (though I'm sure not theological position) of those who were teaching that Christians must be circumcised and were condemned by the apostles.


  1. "Your pastor was chosen by a vote of the congregation? Popularity doesn't equal God-given authority. The apostles were not picked by popular vote, they were sent by Jesus, the source of all authority."

    True, but remember there's a long tradition of people being elected bishop by popular acclaim. Of course, those folks needed to be ordained into apostolic succession, but popular acclaim has played a major role.

  2. Hi Brantly! It's certainly been a while since our catholic study group with Dr. Wood. But without further ado

    1. Logistics matter. I don't think you can draw the analogy between the NT church and current day Roman Catholic ecclesiology because the church is no longer 10,000 world wide. There was a good chance that members of the Jerusalem counsel actually knew many of the church leaders in question, by name! Spiritual leadership is validated among members of the congregation by the physical touch. It's one of the reasons why I'm uncomfortable with mega-churches. The vast majority of Catholics worldwide will never meet/see the pope, or any of the high ranking leaders who determine scriptural interpretation etc. That strikes me as problematic.

    - Mike Kubinec

  3. I don't recall any example in the NT of the sheep hiring or firing their shepherds.

  4. Hey Mike,

    I'm not sure what logistics has to do with anything. The Catholic Church is able to offer definitive teaching today, so I'm not sure what the problem would be. Even if there is sometimes a problem, I'm not sure how a logistical problem somehow underminds God given authority.

    "Spiritual leadership is validated among members of the congregation by the physical touch"
    I have no idea what your talking about or where you're getting this. Besides, even if this principle is true, all Catholics worship at parishes headed up by priests, who are under a Bishop, so I'm not sure how Catholics wouldn't fulfill this anyway.

    I didn't draw an analogy between the NT Church and the Catholic Church, I said that they are the same Church.

  5. Maybe that physical touch is like the laying of hands over millennia that physically connects today's priests, bishops & deacons to the Apostles:

    "It is incumbent to obey the priests who are in the Church: those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father.

    St. Irenaeus, A.D. 180