It is interesting to note the differences between the practices we are involved in and the practices of various denominations and churches. Many times the question is brought up why we do not do something that another church or denomination is doing. And there are differences that span from what are seemingly small things to the very great things between churches. There are differences in how the church treasury can be used, differences in belief about salvation, using mechanical instruments in worship, supporting social institutions such as orphanages, nursing homes, day care centers, schools and the such with the church treasury. There are differences in divorce and remarriage. Before we do anything in our worship and service to God we must ask a very important question. We must determine how we can know if a practice is something that we ought to do or not. But often we are considering the wrong question. Here are some of the things that we ask.
What Not To Ask
1. Do you really think God cares if we….
This is a common indicator that people want to use to determine if we should begin a certain practice or not. It is often phrased in the form of, “Do you really think God cares if we do such and such?” Let us look at an example of some people who may have asked the same question. Look at Leviticus 10:1-3. Here we have the story of Nadab and Abihu. They are to make their offering to the Lord using fire from a particular altar, the altar of burnt offering. Notice what happens, “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: “‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.'” Aaron remained silent.”
Now what is the problem? They used an unauthorized, unholy, or profane fire, something different that what God had asked. Now here is a scene that we would surely believe would not matter to God. I know that God said to take the fire from the altar of burnt offering, but it is easier to use the fire they used. Or maybe it was time saving or more affordable. What we do know is that it was not fire that God had asked for and God was displeased and killed them for their disobedience. We say, “I don’t think God cares, fire is fire.” God cared. We ask the wrong thing when we ask if we think that God cares, because we are not looking to God, but we are looking to what we think. We are worship God by our own wisdom and not God’s.
2. But what about _______? He/She says it is okay.
Another question we use to determine if we can do something or not in our worship to God is we rely on what others have said on it. Preacher so and so says it is okay. My friend says that we can. My family has always believed it was okay. At this church they do it! And it is an easy snare to fall into. Mister really important person says that we should. But notice what Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”
Now did Jesus say that all authority was given to what your friends say and so listen to them? Did Jesus say all authority has been given to your family to follow all the things you grew up doing in the church? Did he say all authority has been given to Mr. Really important person so do what he says? All authority is from God and no one else and so we are asking the wrong question again if we look to others to decide if a practice is lawful in the eyes of God or not. Too often we rely on other brethren, the reading of brethren magazines or scholarly works to determine if what we are doing is pleasing to God or not. But this is not where authority is. People can be wrong and will be wrong. We must look somewhere else.
3. But it is a good deed so it cannot be wrong.
This one is a very common reason we give to say that we can do a particular practice or not. How can something be wrong when it is such a good work? This argument is particularly used when we talk about using church funds for supporting orphan homes and other social institutions which help the down and out and those in need. And it is a good thing to support these things, no one is arguing that these things are not good works. But is this the question to ask: Is it a good deed? And if so then it is okay. Let us look and see 2 Samuel 6:3-7. “So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.”
Now what Uzzah was doing, was it a good deed? Is it not something you could see yourself justifying in your mind? I can. The oxen stumbled the ark of the covenant is about to fall over and so reach up to keep it from falling. But God’s law was to never touch the ark. Only the priests from the family of Kohath were allowed to touch the poles of the ark. But Uzzah had good intentions and it was a good deed. But it was not okay with the Lord and Uzzah died for his error. Asking if it is a good practice or a good deed is not the question we must ask.
4. But we have always done it this way/we have not done that before
Another argument used to support a practice is that we have always been doing something one way and so we will keep doing it that way. Or the opposite that we will not do something because we have never done it that way before. But neither of these things determines if it is a practice that is pleasing to God. Just because we have done something for the past month, year, decade, or century does not make an act any more right than anything else. And just because we have never done something before does not mean that the practice is wrong. These are not the questions to ask when we look out how we can do things that are pleasing to God.
Think about all the “new” things those Christians had to learn that they were not doing before. They had to treat Gentiles equally and not as unclean people. That was new. Did newness make it wrong? No, not treat people equally was wrong. Think about partaking of a Lord’s supper that was given by Jesus. That was new, was it wrong? No. I hope we see that doing something different and doing something new does not define if something is pleasing to God or not. So what is the right question?
The Right Question: by what authority are you doing these things?
Turn to Mark 11:28. Here we will see what the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders ask Jesus. “And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?” Here is the question that they ask Jesus, where is your authority for the things you are doing? Look at Jesus response in the next verse. “But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: the baptism of John-was it form heaven or from men? Answer me.”
We learn a lot from what Jesus does not say in this text. Jesus does not turn to the Pharisees and say I do not need authority for what I am doing. Jesus does not say, what a stupid question and that has no relevance whatsoever. Jesus’ response is to try to get these people to see that his authority was from God. Even further Jesus was trying to get them to see he is God and therefore had this authority dwelling in him. But the question they asked was valid. They understood that this is the question that we must ask before we do anything. All of our practices and all that we do in our service and worship to God must have authority from God. This what Nadab and Abihu missed by offered an authorized fire. They did not look for what God had asked them to do.
We must ask this question
Unfortunately we are often asking the wrong the questions when it comes to the things that we are doing for the Lord in our worship and service to him. We want to ask how we feel about it. We want to rely on what others say about a certain practice or issue. We want to say that it is a good work and so it cannot be wrong. We want to say that God does not really care if we do this or not. But these are the wrong questions. We need to get into our minds that we need to ask one question. Where is our authority for it? Did God authorizes us to participate in a particular practice or work? That is the question that we need to ask ourselves.
Problems From Not Asking This Question
1. Differences, divisions, and splits
This is one of the reasons why we have so many different churches and so many different denominations. People are not asking the right question. And by not asking the right question we have had problems in the area of using church funds for social things such as building hospitals and building orphanages. The question is not is it a good work. The question is not if we think God really cares or not. The question is do we have authority from God? But there is no authority from God for this. Divisions have occurred over whether it is okay for us to use mechanical instruments in our worship here. The question is not does it sound good. The question is not do you think God really cares. The question is not what others did in the past. The questions is do we have authority from God to do it? And we do not see this authority and we must not do it. Some will teach that we are saved at the point of when we believe in the Lord. The question is not what others say about it, your scholarly books, commentators, other preachers. The question is do we have authority from God. We do not have authority to say this for we see that salvation is at the point of obedience to the Lord when we are baptized (Acts 2:38).
2. The danger of ignoring this question
Do we see the danger that we are in if we do not ask this question? Do you see that we are standing on dangerous ground if we are not looking for authorization by God before we do something? Jesus said it quite plainly in Mark 7:6-9. “He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men–the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.” When we do not look to the authority of God, then what we are doing is vain and our heart is far from God. And with a heart far from God we are lost. In fact, Jesus says that we are rejecting the commandment of God.
The dangers are clear: we are led into error. When we stop asking this question, if what we are doing has authority from God then we are going to be led into error. Why? Because someone will come along with some practice or idea that sounds good and we will say that it sounds good or it is a good work. But it simply being a good work is not authority, as we saw by Uzzah.
We will accept false teaching. When we stop asking the question, where is the authority, then we will be led into accepting false teaching. Why? Because we will follow someone because of who they are and not because what they teach is sound or authorized from God. We will accept teaching because of the personality behind it, not because of the truth itself. We have been witness to it with very prominent people among the brethren. We cannot accept something just because an important person teaches it. These dangers are exactly what Jude was pointing to in Jude 8, “Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.” 2 Peter 2:9-10, “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.”
Punishment is reserved for those who reject authority. But we need to be careful of the other side of this coin. Not only does not looking for God’s authority lead us to error and accept false teaching, but it also paralyzes us to never do anything “new” or “different.” Look at the context of what Jesus was speaking about in Mark 7. The Pharisees found fault in Jesus and his disciples because they did not wash their hands according to the tradition of the elders. Was this washing of the hands somewhere commanded by God? No, this is was simply a tradition that had been handed down that is not found in the old covenant. But the Pharisees had made this a command of God and determined that Jesus disciples were in violation of God’s law for not doing it. And this very thing is happening today. We cannot allow traditions and expedients in our worship to become law where God has not made law.
1. We must teach the authority of God
Let us be sure that we keep our focus on what is central when we speak of worshipping the Lord, serving the Lord, and considering new works for the Lord. Is it authorized? Has specifically or generally given us the authority to do these things? We must always look for God’s authority in what we do, otherwise we might as well ignore God’s word and do it our way. But we are hypocrites if we do things our way. (Mark 7:6-9)
2. Soundness is doing only the things authorized by God
We can define soundness all sorts of different ways. But soundness is not doing what we have always done. That is not how to define it. Soundness is not defined as holding the traditions of men as the commands of God. In fact, Jesus said that was vain and laying aside the commands of God. Soundness is defined as doing what is authorized by God. When we do what God has told us to do and we are seeking his authority for everything that we undertake, then we know that we are acting as God has told us to and we have soundness to his word.
3. Searching the scriptures is the only way to find out what God has authorized
We cannot learn what God has instructed us to do if we are not seeking his will through the reading of the scriptures. We will not come to a knowledge of will by any other way. We will weaken ourselves and allow ourselves to be tossed by every wind of doctrine if we are studying the scriptures as the Bereans seeing if the things taught are the word of God. (Acts 17)
We need to follow what God has said and attend a congregation that seeks to follow God’s authority alone.