The church is to be as Christ intended it to be. It is his body (Eph. 1:22-23). He is its head. The church is the organic manifestation of Christ’s character and purpose on earth as the human body expresses the personality of its owner. The authority which Christ placed in the apostles belongs to no other. The authority represented in the Bible does not provide for the perpetuation of the apostolic office. Church leaders who have professed to be successors of apostles have made of churches something different than that which the apostles made.
Revelation of all truth took place in the days of the apostles and nothing was left for councils to decide. Apostolic counsel in the New Testament thoroughly furnishes the church with the guidance it needs. Church councils are convened by authority other than apostolic, or biblical, or divine. What authority church councils and ecclesiastical bodies possess is assumed by men, not granted by God. The divinely ordained authority of the church is neither in supposed successors of apostles nor in hierarchical assemblies. There is no biblical warrant for such arrangements. To officially define orthodoxy and direct church convictions result in ecumenical, denominational and sectarian creeds. The creed is the authority of the body, which subscribes to it. While a creed may express Bible truth, it is produced by theologians, or hierarchy, or organization, and thus those who subscribe to it are accepting authority other than, or in addition to the Bible. Creeds are produced by men, amended by men, and are usually in contradiction with creeds written by other men and accepted by other bodies. They are not and cannot be on par with scripture given by the inspiration of God. The church you read about in the Bible has no authority, no creed but the inspired scripture we call the Bible. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).
When there is respect for the autonomy and independence of every local congregation as provided by apostolic authority in New Testament teaching, then there is less danger of believers in Christ being subjected to unscriptural, non-authoritative and anti-biblical doctrine, organization and function. In New Testament times no local congregation had authoritative preeminence over another, or over others. No action of a local congregation was authoritative over another. No local congregation was granted responsibility to represent the beliefs or work of the whole church. Each congregation had local rulerselders or bishops whose authority over people began and ended with the local congregation where they served. The authority under which these men served was Christ, whose authority was executed in the preaching and teaching of the apostles. Elders or bishops are not on par with apostles. Today such local elders serve under the authority of the same Word, the same Word in written form the authority of the church, the New Testament. The authority of elders in a local church is that of a steward (Tit 1:7). They take care of the local flock (1 Tim. 3:5), but they have no creed-making authority, no arbitrary lordship (1 Pet. 5: 1-5) they rule locally by steering the church with wise, biblically inspired counsel, looking after and overseeing God’s interests in Christ’s flock as outlined in the inspired scriptures. Their work as elders begins and ends with the spiritual and numerical affairs of the local flock.
The Authority the Church Has
The authority the church has is local. There is no scriptural organization for the whole church and the whole church cannot scripturally operate through a local church. So whatever authority the church has, it is local authority limited to the numerical and spiritual needs of the local membership. This is not to say it cannot financially support functions other than its local work, but this is to say it has authority only to those things pertaining to the local membership.
This authority is disciplinary (Mt. 18:17 ff; 1 Cor. 5; Rom. 16:17). It is authority to function (1 Cor. 16:3 f; Phil. 4:14-17). The local church acts as the Holy Spirit directs through the Bible. Thus the Holy Spirit speaks through the Bible, and not through the church. The church has no legislative authority.
The authority of God is in his revelation. God’s authority is revealed in Jesus Christ (Mt. 11:27), and loyalty to Christ is synonymous with loyalty to God (Jn 5:23). The authority of God through or in Christ is expressed by the apostles of Christ to whom the Lord gave a binding and loosing authority in the church (Mt. 16:19, 28:20 ff; Jn 13: 20; Luke 10: 16; 1 Jn 4: 16). The authority of the apostles in the church is expressed in terms of (1) keys (Mt. 16:18; 18:18, (2) thrones (Mt. 19:28), and (3) ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20 f; Eph. 6:20). With this authority the apostles gave (1) decrees (Acts 16: 4), (2) commands (2 Thess. 3:6, 10,12), and (3) examples (Phil. 4:9, 3:17 f; 1 Cor. 11:1).
God speaks and reveals through Christ (Heb. 1:1-2 ff; John 1:17; Mt. 11:27; John 5:26-21), who in turn executes his power through the apostles (Mt. 19:27-28 ff; Mt. 28:18-20; Mt. 16-17-19; Jn 20: 22-23; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; 1 Jn 4:6). These apostles were overshadowed, protected, convicted, and guided by the Holy Spirit in their expression of heaven’s will (Jn 14:16-17, 26; 16:7-15 f; Lk 24:49).
The work of the apostles was finished, completed, finalized and perfected and there exists a written record of their work, which is the authority of the church (2 Pet. 1:2-3 ff; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; Jude 3). This is to say that during the age of the apostles definite doctrinal standards and identifying features were set and written to which the church was then obligated and is obligated to subscribe (2 Jn 9 f; Acts 2:42).
The authority of Christ is deposited by the apostles in the New Testament scriptures. The New Testament is given by inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16 ff; Jn 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 14:37), is perfect and complete, therefore sufficient (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ff; 2 Pet. 1:3; Jude 3). The word of God is truth (Jn 17:17 f; 1 Thess. 2:13) and we are charged to build all things according to the pattern of truth (Heb. 8:2, 5 ff; Phil. 3:16-19; 4:9; 1 Cor. 4:16-17; 1 Thess. 4:17; Acts 2:42; 2 Tim. 1: 13). We must walk by faith, by faith in God’s word (2 Cor. 5:7 f; Rom. 10: 17), speaking “the same things” (1 Cor. 1: 10 f; 1 Pet. 4:11). We are forbidden to go beyond that which was written (1 Cor. 4:6 (ASV) f, Gal. 1:6-8).’
Lord’s Church vs Denominations
A major difference between the Lord’s church today and the denominations is in the area of authority. The Biblical congregation today independent of the controls and pressures of extra-congregational organization, detached from the creed and councils of men, owing allegiance to no ecclesiastical body,seeks to be simply a sound, autonomous and loyal church of Christ. The Bible serves as the charter, the by-laws, the creed, and the directive in every phase of congregational interest.