Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What's Your Authority?

In the blog world people argue from all different kinds of authority. For most people today, that authority is their own experience. For others, it is what they have heard famous people say. For still others, tradition (familial or societal) is the authority of choice. For many, reason is king.

Within evangelical blogdom, however, almost everyone agrees that the bible is their authority. That is something we can agree upon. However, when you begin reading many of the arguments, you realize that reason and tradition are often the real authority people are depending upon. The bible is often then used to support conclusions that were first made based upon tradition, reason, experience, etc.

This is one of the reasons I appreciate my friend Alan Knox so much. I don't always agree with his conclusions, but I am glad that he tries to begin with scripture, and then comes to conclusions based upon what the bible says. Even though Alan is a Southern Baptist, he is not tied down by Baptist tradition and heritage.

While I was attending seminary (SEBTS), we were constantly told how important the bible was, and how it needed to be our primary authority in all things. In this, the professors were correct. However, what was interesting was that when it came to their teaching on the church in general, and pastoral ministry in particular, it seemed to me that the bible often took a backseat to SBC tradition.

This is what often occurred. An assumption would be made based upon Baptist history, tradition, and heritage. This assumption was then supported by a few different biblical texts. For example, congregational rule within the church was taught as biblical, and then several texts were used to support this. Another example is believer's baptism. We were told that this was the only biblical method of the ordinance. This was then supported with scripture. A third example is the office of pastor (I like the term "elder" better, but that was rarely used on campus; some see it as "too Presbyterian," whatever that means). We were told what the pastor does, and this was supported by scripture.

The above process of "proof-texting" can be very dangerous. This is the case because almost any biblical text taken out of context can be used to support almost anything. For example, I could say that I like polygamy, and then I could find a verse or two that shows King David having several wives. This sounds crazy, but it is the same method often used by many of us (I sometimes make this mistake, too).

What, then, do we do to ensure that the bible is really our authority? On any issue, within or outside the church, we must simply ask, "What does the bible say about this?" Then we must search all of scripture to find the answer.

Let us beware making decisions based upon reason, experience, tradition, or the authority of famous people. Let us not pick and choose certain scriptures to support conclusions we have already come to based on the above faulty sources of authority.

It may be that the other sources of authority, such as reason and tradition, agree with the bible. That would be great. But what happens when they conflict? What do I do, as a Baptist, if I study scripture and come to the conclusion (I hope humbly) that Baptists might be wrong about congregational rule, believer's baptism, and/or the role of the pastor?

If the bible is my authority, I must follow scripture.


Aussie John said...


I am so glad to read your blog this morning. Thank you for what you have written.

Reading the respondents to Alan's and Steve's blogs in recent days has made my heart heavy as some have appealed to tradition, apostolic succession, subjectivism, etc., to support their beliefs or opinions.

I thank God for fellows such as yourself, Alan, and others, who stand on God's inspired word, which is THE ONLY basis on which to debate any spiritual issue.

God bless your efforts.

Eric said...

Aussie John,

Thank you for your very kind words. Alan has been a great friend and example to me.

I am really concerned in evangelicalism about the proof-texting we see. So many folks make a decision based on their desired outcome, and then find scripture to back it up. Many of these people actually seem to believe that they are being scriptural, when in fact they are yanking the biblical text way out of context.

I suppose this is a danger we all face. Many of Alan's blog posts have made me uncomfortable because I realize that at least some of my beliefs (not core doctrines, but tertiary things) are not correct. He has really challenged me to take into account all of scripture, and also make sure that I stay in context.

Thanks again, Eric

Aussie John said...


Even though I am almost twice his age, I, too have come to appreciate Alan, and am grateful for finding men such as he, who are prepared to take risks in thinking through matters of our precious faith, and to accept, and respond to challenges, on matters of doctrine and practice, thrown at him.

Most elders, of my acquaintance, remind me of tortoises, which, when challenged, withdraw their appendages into the safety of their shell, or respond defensively. We have congregations of people who believe what they have been told, but do not understand why they believe.

Eric said...


I'm afraid that elders who are paid are scared to admit they are wrong. They may be thinking that this would endanger their paycheck from the church. That sounds more negative than I mean for it to, but I do think this has something to do with it.