The Seat of Authority
The Baptist Standard
J. B. Gambrell, D.D., Editor
April 7, 1910.
There is not today throughout all the non-Catholic world a more distressing sign of decay than the lessening regard for authority in religion. With many, for divine authority, there has been substituted inward consciousness. As one of the most noted of the destructive critics has said that every man makes his own God, so in the same line of thinking, not quite so brazen but in the long run altogether as ruinous, we have a doctrine, widespread in some quarters, that every one makes his own standard. Of course, this standard will change according to moods and places, times and seasons, and the meaning of it is, that there is really no fixed standard, no authority to speak to us with the tone of command and certainty.
One of the most remarkable of recent books, "The Primitive Church and Primacy of Rome," by G. Bartoli, in the preface sets out the real strength of the true position in these words: "As a matter of fact I opposed that religious movement from the very beginning, and I did not conceal from Father Tyrrell my distrust of it. I knew for certain that it was bound to fail
because it lacked a sound foundation." Bartoli is here referring to the Italian and English Modernist movement, which means in short, keep up with the times and think as you please. Then he proceeds in these words, "On the one hand modernism rejects the New Testament as the sole foundation of Christianity; on the other hand it likewise discards the papacy as the support of the church. My faith, on the contrary, rests on the Bible and on the Bible alone; not the Bible of the extreme higher critics, but the Bible of those religious reformers and learned theologians, who, in the sixteenth century, revolted successfully against the Roman Church. Their faith is my faith, their belief is my belief."
Here is a man who has come to rest everything on a sound foundation. That there can be any such thing as unity, in churches or anywhere else in the sphere of religion, without some authority to settle and fix beliefs, is the merest dream. In the world today there are two great groups. One holds to the authority of the papacy, the other to the Word of God. There is not one particle of trustworthiness in any one as a religious leader who does not settle down to a standard of authority.
And what is a great deal more important than the simple acquiescence in authority is the grip of authority on the human soul. Where that is relaxed looseness will follow. The most disastrous
results in the world today have resulted not so much from a lack of acquiescence as to the proper standard of authority, but from a relaxing of the grip of authority on the consciences of people, and because what has just been said is true. The greatest single reform that can be wrought in Christendom today is the renewing of a proper sense of the divine authority communicated to us through the Holy Scriptures. It is of little use to argue with vast multitudes of people as to the right or wrong of this or that, considered from the standpoint of the Scriptures, because if it is made perfectly plain that this is wrong, and that is right, because the authority has no grip on the consciences these will go on and do just as they have done, live in open rebellion against the authority which they themselves admit.
Very briefly let us apply the foregoing observations in two separate directions. First of all, great multitudes of people among us believe that the Scriptures teach believer's baptism, and burial in water as baptism. Many of the greatest scholars in the world admit this openly. Uncounted thousands of people who read the Scriptures for themselves see it so written in the Scriptures, and yet because the authority to which they agree does not grip and control their consciences and lives they go on in their own way, living in open rebellion against the authority
of Jesus Christ. Sentiment, humanity, relationships, the Laodicean spirit, which deadens the spiritual sensibilities, float them along on the surface of time like dead fish in the stream. If every professor of religion had his conscience tightened to the point of obeying the authority that he himself admits, there would start at once a unifying movement in Christendom that would astonish the world.
Let us apply the same truth now in another direction. We are kept in ceaseless controversy among ourselves and with others concerning missions. Jangling voices disturb the harmony of the churches because there are people in the churches who have their own opinions about missions. One says, "I do not believe in foreign missions;" another doesn't believe in sending the gospel specifically to this nation or tribe; another will not object to missions provided the enterprise can be carried on in a very cheap way, and on and on it goes. There is a distinct word of authority on the subject of missions, "Disciple all nations; teach every creature," and there it is. Our troubles grow out of the fact that divine authority does not grip the consciences of men. We close this article with the statement already made, but repeat it to emphasize that statement: The most important reform that can possibly be carried forward in all Christendom today is a proper binding of the
consciences of the professors of religion to the divine authority of religion.
[From The Baptist Message, SSB/SBC, 1911, pp. 14-18. This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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