The Authority Issue

We live in a country with authority issues, and it’s not just a psychological or social problem. It’s also a spiritual issue. In fact, one could easily think of it as the most foundational of all theological problems, because everything else you believe theologically is subjected to and under the dictates of the authority issue.

Simply defined the authority issue is the question, who or what do you trust? What sources of information do you consider authoritative and what sources do you automatically distrust.

Who or what you choose to trust shapes everything else you think you know and choose to believe. Think about the current state of the press in America. Some people follow Fox News, and others believe CNBC. Some don’t trust either, but in all three cases, how they place their trust shapes their view of the world.

When one has not developed a capacity to choose the correct authorities to trust, they have all kinds of problems in life. Distrust the police and you have rioting in the streets. Trust into strangers and you will be stolen from. Theologically speaking putting trust in the wrong things has much the same results. Misplaced trust allows the devil to keep you spiritually angry, as well as to lie to you and steal from you.

Some people believe affirm that they trust God and believe they have settled the issue, but this decision only scratches the surface. Now you have to decide how God speaks to you. How God speaks, whether it is through a certain person, a church structure, or personal experience, then becomes the heart of your authority issue.

As a Baptist and Evangelical, my easy answer is that God speaks through the Bible. This would be a great answer, if people would only read it for themselves. Unfortunately most of us do not interact with Scripture independently, so the authority issue is not done. It continues with the question, who do we trust to interpret the Bible for us?

For some people it is a matter of trusting their pastor, or perhaps whoever is standing in their pulpit on a given Sunday. For others it is a favorite Bible teacher. For many it is anyone that agrees with a specific theological perspective. While all of these are not necessarily bad, they are likely to be the manner in which we get lazy with our theology, letting someone else think for us and decide for us what ideas to accept and reject. That is a lot of spiritual power and theological control to give away lightly.

We would better off to keep a constant eye on our own authority issue, so as to keep control of, and take personal responsibility for, what we believe.



Denominationalism can be a tricky topic. For some people it is a contest, who is best? For others it is a proof, if God existed wouldn’t He cause His people to agree on everything? For other people it is simply a point of confusion, why can’t we all just get along?

I believe these questions all miss the point. They take the realities of human nature and pretend it should fit their preferences. In my examples the preferences expressed in the question were competition, anarchy and homogeneity. But none of these reflect the nature of all of humanity at any moment.

I think of denominations rather simply. It is a group of churches of like faith and order that choose to cooperate together for the purpose of missions or other mutual causes. Denominations can be large or small. They can be governed any number of ways. And they can be good or bad.

A number of things can make a denomination bad. I believe if it has a single autocratic leader, its already bad. If you don’t understand why, just wait until the day you have a bad person in the position. Bad doctrine will certainly make a denomination bad. Lead people astray and you will pay a high price. Bad organization will make a bad denomination. Good intentions require good structure and great follow through. I am sure the list could go on.

But in regards to all these different denominations, let me make a few observations. If you think they are all fighting with one another, get over it. Yes, you can find people who are that way. You can even find entire denominations that are that way. But an honest accounting would come to the conclusion they are few. And except on those larger issues, you will find they are mostly limited to young or young at heart believers.

What about those larger issues though. Honestly, some issues are worth confronting. Not by fisticuffs, not by shouting matches, but by reasonable conversation. Remember I said bad doctrine could lead people astray? If astray means sending them to hell we really should try to intervene within appropriate limits. (Yes, I am saying not everyone who calls themselves a Christian will be recognized as such by God.) This world acts as if addressing their spiritual falsehoods is the greatest rudeness. I would think letting people walk into eternal hellfire without a word of warning was much ruder.

This by the way is the answer to the other objections. God allows us our differences of opinions. Removing them would be equivalent to removing our freedom, and therefore our humanity. He makes Himself available by the Word and Holy Spirit, by nature and prayer. So Christians seek Him and they don’t all have the same personalities, preferences or experiences. So even with the same revelations, they come to different conclusions. God is willing to live with that, so we should be too.

For believers this means they have a point of responsibility. When one believes Jesus is God’s Son and the Second Person of the Trinity you would rather fellowship with others who believe and teach the same. The same truth applies to a bunch of other doctrinal points. At some level you begin to say a doctrine is minor enough that it is not an essential test of fellowship. But to decide that no point of doctrine is important enough to break fellowship, is equivalent to saying you will not stand up for God in any way.


Mystery and Revelation

There is a place for mystery in theology. God is bigger than us by such a magnitude that we cannot expect to understand everything about Him. He is beyond our comprehension.

But information does not have to come from reason, it can also come from education. Much of what you know was taught to you, in addition to what you figured out. When it comes to God, He wants us to know Him, and therefore He reveals Himself to us.

When it comes to understanding God, we can be too intrigued by mystery. It becomes a romantic concept. It also makes a great excuse for not studying deeper or working harder to understand God. But I think this love affair with mystery is a mistake. God delights in revealing Himself to us, and a wisdom is found by the one who delights in studying to know more.

Furthermore, being intrigued by mystery can be dangerous. From Gnosticism forward to the latest person claiming to be the second coming of Christ, the devil has used the idea of mysteries known only to a select few, to seduce humanity away from the true knowledge of God. Anytime you hear someone speaking of a secret of the ages that God has revealed only to them, beware.

So while mysteries do exist, our love affair with mysteries should be made to submit to a love for the things of God. Study God’s word and find the answers to His mysteries there.


Hastening the End

I believe the world, as we know it, is temporary. God will wrap up this world and through a series of events, He will destroy this planet and will replace it with a new heaven and earth. The Bible gives a surprising amount of detail about these events. But in addition to what the Bible says, there are a multitude of things people have assumed about the end times.

In Matthew 24:14 (HCSB) Jesus said, “This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.” This of course is a passage intended to be about the end times. In recent years it has been common to discuss the word ‘nations’. The Greek word refers to people groups. A people group would be a population that share a common language, common culture, likely a common ethnicity and also have barriers preventing them from integrating with the groups around them. I believe these relatively new assertions are correct.

But one thing I don’t believe about this passage is that it indicates we can hasten the end, by doing a better job at missions and reaching every people group. I mention this because I hear it either implied or stated with increasing frequency that a part of the Christian’s responsibility is to usher in the end times as quickly as possible.

Take a good look at the verse. It only says all nations will have heard the gospel prior to the end. It doesn’t say this proclamation will allow or cause the end to come. It only says, “And then the end will come.” This is a statement of sequence, and while it implies the end will happen soon thereafter, it is not stated as a promise. Nor do the commands telling us to reach the world with the gospel make this connection.

So I believe the idea that we can hasten the end is a mistake. Jesus indicates no one knows the exact time except the Father. This means the Father has already chosen the time, but it also implies He did so in an independent manner, rather than timing it based upon human activity.