What is the meaning of authority? Why do preachers and Bible teachers use that term to defend what they do? We can find several descriptions in the scriptures themselves.
Matthew 8:5-10 shows that the Roman centurion understood what the word meant. Authority was understood to mean the one holding that power has a right to say what should be done and that “law” or direction should be followed absolutely and without deviation. The centurion noted this was what his authority meant, and he understood Jesus had such authority too. When Jesus says, “Go,” we should go, and when he says, “Come,” we should come.
In Numbers 9:15-23, the Israelites had learned the hard way what God’s authority meant. They would only move when the Lord told them to move and only stop when the Lord said to stop. They did not dare move on their own and say, “Lord, you didn’t tell us not to pick up camp and move.” They did not dare stop on their own and say, “Lord, you didn’t tell us not to stop and make our camp.”
There should be no doubt that man is under God’s authority. Several passages prove that point. Jeremiah 10:23 says, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps.” Jeremiah 42:3 says, “That the Lord thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do.” We also read in Colossians 3:17, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus . . .” In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said, “All power (authority) is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” We also find in John 8:28-29 that Jesus did nothing of himself but always those things that pleased the Father. Then we read in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 that we must live only for Christ and not for ourselves at all.
God’s word (the scriptures) must be our pattern in everything. Read carefully to see why. In Genesis 4:3-5; Romans 10:17 and Hebrews 11:4, we find that Abel submitted to God’s authority, and God accepted his worship. Romans 10:17, along with Hebrews 11:7, tell us that Noah built the ark according to everything that God had said, with no changes. We read in Exodus 25:9, 40; Numbers 8:4 and Hebrews 8:5 that Moses built the tabernacle exactly according to God’s pattern. Also in Joshua 22:26-29, we read that following the pattern of God’s word (in this case for the building of an altar) is what distinguishes God’s people. Finally, in 1 Chronicles 28:11-12 and 1 Chronicles 28:18-19 that King David was given an exact pattern for the temple, and Solomon followed it.
So what are some examples of unauthorized, unacceptable worship? Actually we should never ask, “What’s wrong with. . .?” Sincere Christians, seeking the will of their Creator will not ask such a question, because that defiant attitude reveals a heart not intending to do only the will of God. In Leviticus 10:1-2, Nadab and Abihu apparently didn’t even have the chance to ask, “What’s wrong with this kind of fire?” In 1 Samuel 13:8-14, would it have been a valid question for Saul to have said, “What’s wrong with my making the sacrifice?” Another example could be taken from 1 Kings 12:26-33. Could Jeroboam have legitimately asked, “What’s wrong with people from these other tribes being priests? What’s wrong with having a feast on the 15th day of the 8th month?” We may read the account in 1 Chronicles 13:1-14 and see that God did not bless them when they carried the ark on a cart and Uzza died. In Exodus 25:14-16 and Numbers 4:1-6, 15, King David didn’t say, “What’s wrong with a cart?” Note particularly that in 1 Chronicles 15:11-15, 26, the second time, they carried the ark according to God’s word and God blessed them.
The right question to ask should be, “Do we have God’s authority to do. . .?” We may easily find examples to prove that our claims do not matter. Matthew 7:21-23 shows that merely claiming to have authority doesn’t make it so. Colossians 3:17 shows us that we must truly have the Lord’s authority for everything we do (not just on Sunday and Wednesday). Every single thought needs to be obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5. For Christians, only the New Testament can give us our authority (Col. 2:14; Gal. 5:1-4; 6:2).
So how does the New Testament authorize acceptable worship? We can easily find explicit commands for every part of worship. Luke 22:19 is about taking the Lord’s Supper–“This do.” 1 Corinthians 16:2 is about our giving every first day of the week. 1 Timothy 2:8 is about praying. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 tell us how to sing. 2 Timothy 2:4 tells us about the preaching.
We also have many examples of these things being done. Acts 2:42 and 20:7, they were taking the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. In Luke 22:7 and Luke 22:15-20, we see they were using only unleavened bread and grape juice in the Lord’s Supper. Sorry, no coke with hamburgers or coffee and doughnuts to suit ourselves.
We have many scriptures where these commands were also implied. In Matthew 22:31 we have the application to each of us personally—even the commands concerning worship (and every other matter) are by implication. Jesus demonstrated this when he said, “unto you.” We have 1 Corinthians 16:2 plus Acts 20:7, where they taking the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week. Why? Obviously they were following Christ’s direction even if the command they understood from Christ’s teaching.
We have to understand that the silence of the scriptures is restrictive not permissive. We saw in Leviticus 10:1-2 that Nadab and Abihu offered a kind of fire God was silent about and they were killed immediately. We read in 1 Kings 12:31-33 and Hebrews 7:13-14 that only Aaron’s sons could be priests; God’s silence eliminated all others. In 1 Kings 12:31-33 and Leviticus 26 God’s silence restricted Israel’s feasts to only three exact times a year and only one place. By the same principle, God’s silence does not permit mechanical instruments of music, solo singing, choirs, burning incense, clapping, shouting, pledge cards, dramas, skits, etc., in our New Testament worship.
So what is the meaning of generic and specific authority (the difference between expedients and additions)? Generic commands authorize anything necessary (if not elsewhere prohibited) to expedite the command. In Genesis 6:14 we see that God’s command for Noah to “make an ark” was generic; particular kinds of tools (hammers, saws, etc.) were not mentioned but were authorized as necessary to expedite the command to build. In Mark 16:15 the command to “go and preach” is generic; how we go expedites the command and is not restricted. Therefore, going by car, train, bus, airplane or boat are all authorized generically. In Hebrews 10:25 the generic command for the church to assemble authorizes a place for all the saints to meet, even church buildings. We read in Matthew 28:19 that the generic command to baptize authorizes baptisteries or at least a body of water deep enough to immerse. The generic command to sing authorizes song leaders, songbooks, etc. as expedients. The generic command to partake of the Lord’s Supper authorizes a table, trays, individual cups, etc. The generic command to give authorizes a collection plate, basket or bag. The generic command to preach authorizes pulpits, microphones, etc.
Specific commands restrict the action and any changes would constitute unauthorized additions. For example in Genesis 6:14, Noah was told to “Make thee an ark of gopher wood”—a specific command. If God had only said, “Make thee an ark,” any type of material would have been expedient. If steel had been invented, Noah could have used it. If God had said, “Make thee an ark of wood,” the material would have been restricted to wood (by specific authority), but any type of wood would have been expedient. But we read that God specified gopher wood, which eliminated the use of any other material or kind of wood. In Numbers 8:14-19 God specified that the sons of Aaron were to be priests, which eliminated all others. We read in 2 Kings 5:10 that the command to Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times was specific. Joshua 6:2-5 lets us know the command to Israel in order for the walls of Jericho to fall was specific. Numbers 20:8, 11, we see that God’s command to speak to the rock was specific, and Moses’ hitting the rock was an unauthorized addition, even though God had told him to hit a rock on a previous occasion, (Exodus 17:5-6). We read in Exodus 25:14-16 and Numbers 4:1-6,15 that God’s commands about carrying the ark of the covenant were specific, and using a cart was an unauthorized addition (1 Chr. 13:1-14; 1 Chr. 15:11-15,26). Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 give a specific command for singing in the New Testament. If God had only said, “Make music,” any type of music (singing, humming, mechanical instruments) would be expedient. Or if God had only said, “Sing,” any type of singing (solos, duets, trios, quartets, choirs, or congregational singing) would be expedient. But God specified “to yourselves” (Eph. 5:19), and “one another” (Col. 3:16), which eliminates any other kind of singing in worship. Only congregational singing is authorized.