THE AUTHORITY OF TRUTH
(We are the Pattern)
By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Baker City, OR. April 10,1988)
I. What is "Authority"?
First we must look at the term "Will"
Will is what God wants, what he desires of you and I according to his divine purpose, ("the good pleasure of his will"). God's authority would be his absolute right and power to enforce his will.
The word "Authority" is the ability, strength or power to rule, the right to enforce government. That is why Jesus said in Mat.28:18 "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." i.e. all authority. I've been given the authority to command my will and enforce it and take vengeance on those who do not obey the gospel.
So what we usually discuss and argue about with our religious neighbors is not whether God has authority or not, but what is his will for us that he enforces, and are we abiding by his will.
God's authority is not arbitrary. His will is not based on whim or needless and capricious commands as if there was nothing that it related to that was of any importance. His will is based upon the truth: the real circumstances and the true and accurate essence of things; our real circumstances as his creatures abiding on the earth and what our true relationship to God is. The truth about who he is and who we are and the truth about our real situation. So his will is based upon the facts, the true situation.
The truth is glorious and joyous; of necessity because God is glorious and good.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints that are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm in Christ: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and understanding, making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him [self] unto a dispensation of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, I say, in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will;
His will is not hard to do or to comply with, but he just wants us to live up to reality, not in ignorance and delusion. He wants us to live in the light according to the truth, the true situation.
That is why Jesus, by his authority, commanded the apostles to go and preach the good news to every creature. In the gospel is the manifestation of the truth.
Therefore seeing we have this ministry, even as we obtained mercy, we do not faint: but we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them.
This divine will of God's was revealed to his apostles by "the Spirit of his son" which was sent down from heaven.
I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but whatever things he shall hear, these will he speak: and he shall declare to you the things that are to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it to you. All things whatever the Father has are mine: therefore said I, that he takes of mine, and will declare it to you.
ALL the truth was revealed to them and they went out preaching the gospel. That is why Paul can refer to "the truth of the gospel". In the passage to follow we see a very interesting situation. We argue with people over the authority of God, and we usually appeal to what the apostles have written. But what happens when the two most prominent apostles disagree; to what do they appeal?
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. For before that certain came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Cephas before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, how compel you the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of law: because by the works of law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we sought to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ a minister of sin? May it never be. For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor. For I through law, died to law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me. I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through law, then Christ died for nothing."
Paul appeals to "the truth of the gospel", that Peter was not walking according to it. What does that mean? That you cannot treat Gentiles any differently than you treat Jews, because in reality - in truth, there is no difference. And you cannot seek to be justified by keeping a law because the truth came by Jesus Christ - in reality then, we are not governed by a legal system. The truth is that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ.
So that the law is become our trainer to bring us unto Christ, so that we might be justified by faith. But the faith having now come, we are no longer under a trainer. For you are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were immersed into Christ, did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for you all are one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.
This is the truth that needed to be obeyed.
O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified? This only would I learn from you. Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are you now perfected in the flesh?
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you are fallen away from grace. For we through the Spirit by faith eagerly expect the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you that you should not obey the truth? This persuasion is not of him that calls you.
The word of truth describes something objective. If words have meaning, then the words in the scriptures talk about something in an objective reality, something real.
(Truth) Word -------------------------------------> Objective Reality
The thing that makes us able to see the reality is Faith.
(Truth) Word --------------Faith ---------------> Objective Reality (DEED)
Truth is perceived by the hearing of faith - and then acted upon in a deed. "Let us not love in word only, but also in deed and in truth.
So, what was the authority and the will of God based upon, that Paul could appeal to it even in the face of another apostle of Christ? The truth. The Objective Reality of the real situation. We cannot determine, judge or even defend the authority within the will of God, unless we have an understanding of the truth. Discerning it from its basis in the reality of things in the heavenly realm, which are described to us in the word of God.
II. Let us now apply this to the church.
How do we go about determining the will of God for the structure, organization and function of the church? We have dealt with "the truth of the gospel", so now we will deal with "the truth of the church".
There is a church in truth.
The church was, from before the creation of the world, in the plan and will of God.
...making known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him [self] unto a dispensation of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in him, I say,
So the church is part of his will.
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the stewardship of the mystery which for ages has been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly realm, the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him.
The church was according to his eternal purpose and therefore has always been a part of the truth. This is that truth that was in a mystery and was not revealed to men until the New Covenant age.
...how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when you read, you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it has now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power.
The church had a form and structure in the mind of God from the very beginning. But it did not appear as real until the End or the last days of the house of Israel in the first century. But what was provided was a copy of the real thing in the Old Testament religion.
Now in the things which we are saying the chief point is this: We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is necessary that this high priest also have somewhat to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, seeing there are those who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses is warned of God when he is about to make the tabernacle: for, "See," says he, "that you make all things according to the pattern that was showed you in the mount."
This example and shadow of heavenly things was the O.T. Tabernacle and it portrayed in a typical way the true tabernacle, i.e. the heavenly, spiritual tabernacle, which is the church. Moses was to make the tabernacle according to this true and heavenly "type" that he saw in the mount.
...which is a figure (parable) for the time present; according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect,
It was necessary therefore that the copies of the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us:
For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect them that draw near.
So the O.T. Tabernacle was in figure, example and shadow, but the N.T. church is in truth, reality and is heavenly, i.e. spiritual, and built by God.
Therefore now, when we are seeking the will of God for the church, we must first of all come to an understanding of its divine mission and divinely ordained structure and organization. It is a living entity. We must have an understanding of it in truth, then we can see clearly what to do, and why they did things the way they did them in the first century.
Having an apostolically approved example of what they did then, is one thing - and it is a good thing; it is a description or picture of the truth. But to understand in truth why they thus acted, is something more. There have got to be principles behind what we find in the N.T. scriptures. They acted for reason.
The True church existed in reality, and she took her work and worship from the fundamental essence and nature of what she was in truth, that which God made her to be. It must be the same today. We can try to make our church look like the one in the N.T. scriptures - but to be that church is something more again.
The True church has a divine mission. That is her essence, that is what she is in truth. It is a heavenly mission - to save lost souls and edify them into a maturity in Christ, and see them safely to heaven. It is not an earthly mission - she is not a social club, feeding the world - but a heavenly mission, in truth (in accord with the truth).
The church's essence is seen in her organization. Knowing her essence we can understand her mission. You can tell what a tool is for by simply looking at its design and function.
Mission = Eph.4 (It is a spiritual mission.)
1. Apostles and Prophets (church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. 1Tim.3:15)
2. Evangelists (evangelism, to bring the good news to this dark world. Phil.2:15-16)
3. Pastors and Teachers (edification of the body by its individual members - saints)
Function = Phil.1:1 (It is an autonomous group)
1. Elders in every city (did its own work in its own charge in its own ability)
2. Deacons (under the oversight of elders - served their own members and took care of them)
3. Members (went everywhere and ceased not to preach and teach Jesus)
So the church's mission and function is according to the truth of her nature as a living , growing and active body, taking its direction from its only head - Jesus Christ.
When we understand why the church did what they did in the first century, we can see that it is based upon the nature of what the church is.
The church at one time was a spiritual people - humbly serving God, and were the church in truth. In process of time there came a falling away by certain carnal members in the church both liberal and conservative.
The carnal liberal members, forgetting the true nature of the church, began to be dissatisfied with its work and function and wanted something bigger and better and introduced programs and institutions to accomplish these things - but they did not consider or respect the church's true nature and mission (It is spiritual).
Those with spiritual understanding of the will of God for the church in truth, began teaching about the nature and mission of the church; its organization, mission and work (an appropriate reaction). But those they taught it to - and even now, they themselves being so caught-up in the fight, have forgotten the principles in truth from which their teaching is taken. Instead of combating the error by an appeal to the truth (as Paul did with Peter) they have rather codified a doctrinal system that they call a law, to preserve the outward observance of the scriptures. Many teach only the "What" without regard to the "Why".
In the heated rancor of the debate that ensued - biting and devouring each other - their spiritual life and understanding may have been completely consumed by one another, according to the plan of Satan to spiritually destroy both sides.
So to an extent, I think we have a remnant of a carnal church throughout the country. Carnal "liberal" congregations practicing worldly social agendas without regard to the nature of the church in truth, and carnal "conservative" congregations practicing a codified caricature of the true church in a legalized form, without regard to its true nature.
In the war there were few survivors - and the church has never been the same. But now there is a new generation growing up that did not go through that war. A lot have already bought into the hatred and carnal enmity. Some conservative brethren are teaching Law as if they are the ones, and wisdom will die with them and that there in not anything more that can be learned.
And on the "liberal" side, they have just continued to go on into a full blown worldly denomination doing what they think is best.
In the midst of these two there are some still reading their Bibles and growing spiritually and beginning to understand what the will of the Lord is. They are not only getting back to what the bible says, but they are understanding why is says what it says. They are getting back to their lives as Christians in truth, and back to the work and worship of the church in truth.
I think we have a unique opportunity for growth here in Boise - spiritual growth. We will have families of a "liberal" persuasion that will not have fellowship with us - not that we are doing anything wrong - but simply because the church will not provide them and their children enough social activity and entertainment to suit them, (something the church was never designed to do or given the charge to do).
We will also have families of a "conservative" persuasion who will not have fellowship with us - again, not that we are doing anything wrong - but because our congregation here in not legal enough to suit them, and the teachers and preacher do not toe the line of the "main-line Churches of Christ by constantly laying down the Law to us - but rather, they are operating under the premise that by building solid, positive Christian lives - the church will be prosperous spiritually because of it. But therein lies our opportunity.
I want to encourage you to unity. I figure that if we have both "liberals" and "main-line conservatives" who will not have fellowship with us - then we must be doing something right. The unity we can have is the only unity that can be had, and that is the unity of the spirit - the unity of the spirit is in the reality of the truth.
Let us not be worrying about whether we are liberal or conservative or what category people might assign us, but let us establish our work and worship upon the foundation of the true nature and essence of the church that we find in the scriptures - and putting our trust and confidence in God that with true hearts and with sincere motives - in the sight of God - let us be following what the Bible says, not just the words out of context, but following the meaning and principles upon which the first century Christians worshipped and lived.
Brethren, I am not an "Anti", because I believe what the Bible says, when it says that we are not under law. The New Covenant is not a legal system nor are the N.T. scriptures a legal document. "The Law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Just as we listen to Jesus now and not anymore to Moses, so in the church of Christ we operate according to the truth and not law. The authority of the N.T. scriptures is not a matter of law, but it is authority based in the fact that those scriptures are the revelation of the truth, and as such must be understood and followed and upheld.
Neither am I a "progressive liberal". I believe absolute truth is a static concept, albeit living and real. Truth does not evolve. It does not matter that we are in the 80's or the 90's or the 2000's etc. God does not modernize himself, nor does he modernize the fabric of reality, of which he is the principle and foundation. Truth does not change. The gospel has not changed, and the work that God gave the church to do has not changed - therefore the church has not changed or evolved, nor does she need to change - because the church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and truth does not change!
Have I been saying that we should not follow approved examples and necessary inferences? No. I have not been saying that. But in that regard, we need to understand that approved examples and necessary inferences are a means of interpreting scripture to arrive at the truth, and cannot take the place of an understanding of the principles and reasons why the scriptures say what they say.
When is a N.T, example binding? When you understand and apply the principles behind why they did what they did. The church in truth today is not a mindless knee jerk response to the "snap-shot" of the church in the first century that we see in the scriptures, but it is a living embodiment of the essence of that church; the present, vital, and active vessel in which the Spirit of God dwells and uses as his arm and agent in the world.
So I would say that a N.T. example is binding when it is an expression of the truth of the gospel, or an expression of the divine nature and essence of the church in truth.
When we go to the scriptures in search of the authority and the will of God, we cannot just stop at a surface picking of the examples of the N.T. church and try to turn that into the codes of some legal system that we are suppose to be under, and then make the churches conform to our legislation. But rather, each congregation must BE the church in truth - the real, living, active, true tabernacle that God pitched and not man; taking her authority from the truth of what she is in Jesus Christ, which the scriptures describe, and continuing in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, take her activity and work from the nature of her divine mission on this earth, (in other words "according to the truth").
~ Invitation ~