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    July 24, 1907

    “Authority of the Church?” The Medical Missionary, 16, 30, pp. 235, 236.



    THE great historian of the Reformation, writing of the famous protest from which comes the word Protestant—the protest of the Reformers that was made at Spires—says:—MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.1

    “This protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate; and the second, the arbitrary authority of the Church. Instead of these abuses, Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate; and the authority of the Word of God above the visible Church.”MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.2

    The first abuse in matters of faith, here mentioned—“the intrusion of the civil magistrate”—has been thoroughly discussed through all the subsequent times, so that the principle involved is generally well understood.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.3

    But the second abuse here mentioned—“the arbitrary authority of the Church”—has not been nearly so much discussed, is not nearly so well understood, and is far less recognized.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.4

    The reason for this difference in the discussion and the understanding of these two abuses is that, whereas all denominations, in turn and together, have always been ready to discuss and oppose the first of these abuses, no denomination, as such, has ever been willing to discuss the second abuse; because each denomination in turn, and all together, has always been ready to exercise and enjoy this very abuse. Therefore the discussion of this has always fallen to individual persons, who, in the very doing of it, were distinguished and denounced as “heretics, schismatics,” etc., ect. Then when the “heresy” had proved successful and had gained a standing—in short, had developed a denomination—it in turn fell into the same old train, and asserted and exercised arbitrary authority, instead of any longer discussing and disputing it.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.5

    It is therefore perfectly proper, and always timely, to discuss this great abuse in matters of faith,—the arbitrary authority of the Church; for no greater nor more lasting abuse has ever been inflicted upon the world.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.6

    In order to study this intelligently, let us first understand the terms:—MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.7

    The word “authority” is defined as “the right to command and to enforce obedience; the right to act by virtue of office, station, or relation.”MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.8

    The word “arbitrary” means “not regulated by fixed rule or law; subject to individual will or judgment; exercised according to one’s will or caprice.”MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.9

    The synonyms of the word “arbitrary” are: “Capricious, unlimited, irresponsible, uncontrolled, tyrannical, domineering, imperious, despotic, absolute in power.”MEDM July 24, 1907, page 235.10

    First as to authority itself: What “authority,” what “right to command and enforce obedience,” has the Church? Is the series of God’s commands left unfinished in his word, and has the Church “authority” to complete it? Is God’s revelation as in his Word incomplete, and has the Church “authority” to perfect it? (Revelation 22:18, 19.) In short, Is Christianity a religion of the Word of God, the Bible, only? Or is it a religion of the Bible and tradition? Is it of Christ alone or is it of Christ and the Church? That is to say, Is it of Christ or is it of the papacy?MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.1

    All of this is clearly and abundantly answered in the Scriptures. And in the answer the first item is that by the Lord Jesus himself the Church is positively forbidden any exercise of authority. Here are the words: “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercised dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you.” Matthew 20:25, 26.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.2

    Now when “authority” is “the right to command,” and when the Church is thus by Christ positively forbidden any exercise of authority, then it stands fixed plainly by the Word of God that the Church is forbidden by Christ all exercise of any right to command or to act by virtue of office, station, or relation.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.3

    The reason for this is equally plain: “It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.4

    The Church is not in the world to rule, but to minister: not to command but to serve: even as her divine Lord came into the world not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and this to the extent of giving his very life that men might be ransomed from the thralldom of sin.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.5

    It is not in the province of the Church to exercise authority “by virtue of any office, station, or relation;” because the office, station and relation of the Church is only that of servant.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.6

    It is never in the province of a servant to reign—so long as he is in the place and position of a servant. And the place and position of servant is exactly that of the children of God and disciples of Christ—who compose the Church—so long as they are in this world. Free, and freely chosen, service, loving service, it is true; but none the less it is service: “Ye have been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh: but by love serve one another.” “Through love be servants one to another.” R.V. Galatians 5:13.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.7

    It is not only utterly incongruous therefore, but actually mischievous, for a servant to assume to rule, to command,—to exercise authority. For of the “three things” on account of which “the earth is disquieted,” and of the “four which it can not bear,” the very first is “a servant when he reigneth.” (Proverbs 30:21, 22). And hasn’t the history of the Church from Diotrephes to this day, demonstrated this divine truth in most wearisome detail? For in all the history of the world what has more disquieted the earth, and what has been harder for it to bear, than the reign of the church, wherever and just to the extent that her reign has been asserted?MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.8

    Again, under the Word of God, there is no “fixed rule or law” for the exercise of authority either in or by the Church, nor is there any room for her to act by virtue of office, station, or relation, because in the Church of Christ all are equal; there are no masters, nor is there place for any. “Be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.... Neither be ye called Masters; for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12). Therefore, “who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.” Romans 14:4.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.9

    In the presence and under the Word of Christ, the one Commander, what authority has one Christian to command, or to legislate for, another? Absolutely none whatever. And when no one Christian has any authority whatever to command, or to legislate, for another, then what possible authority can any number of these have to command or legislate for another?MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.10

    Of Christ it is written, “Behold I have given Him for a witness to the people, a Leader and Commander to the people.” (Isaiah 55:4). Christ is “the Head of the Church, which is his body.” In the head, not in the the [sic.] body, is the place of intelligence, judgment, and will. It is in the Head, not in the body, which is the Church, where is the seat of authority, and it is the Head, not the body, who issues commands in the things of religion.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.11

    Again, Christ is “the mighty God,” the supreme king and the sole sovereign, in and to the Church, and in and over “all things to the Church.” On the other hand “the Church is subject unto Christ ... in all things.” (Ephesians 5:24). The Church, then, is subject, not sovereign. It is hers to obey, not to command: to obey Christ, not to command men.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.12

    By the plain word of Christ, then, as well as by the situation and relation of the Church itself, the Church is specifically forbidden to exercise authority,—forbidden to exercise any right to command. It therefore follows that any exercise of dominion, or of authority, by the Church, upon or over anybody, is in itself “arbitrary authority.” For, as we have seen, “arbitrary” is “not regulated by fixed rule or law; subject to individual will or judgment.” And when there is not only neither fixed rule nor law regulating the exercise of authority by the Church, but there is the positive prohibition of it, then any exercise of authority by the church is absolutely without any fixed rule or law from the Lord, and therefore can be only the assertion of authority by the will or caprice or at the instance of some individual or collection of individuals, and so is arbitrary only.MEDM July 24, 1907, page 246.13

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