Theological Authority

I guess that some of the suggestions on which church I should or should not attend are based on the question of authority. Some Churches see the organizational structure as the source of authority, others look to tradition, others human experience, still others say “Scripture alone”. What is the source of Christian Faith and Practice?

John Wesley spoke of four authorities to consider: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. It is true that when these appeared to conflict, he gives priority to scripture, however in most cases he managed to harmonize scripture with these other sources.

Unfortunately, all of these sources fall short. People followed Jesus before there was a ecclesiastical system. The disciples could not fall back on tradition. Jewish scripture does not tell the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Christianity (including ecclesiastical authority) was established before the contents of the cannon were finalized, and if we rely on reason and experience, then our authority is human philosophy and not divine revelation.

I do hold that Scripture will be reliable, as it is what God spoke through the prophets (a reference to the Nicene Creed), however I do not feel that it can replace the Incarnation as divine revelation. Like Wesley, I recognize the importance of tradition, reason, and experience — though there are human, they are important. Without experience, we would never seek God. Without reason, we would not find a way to apply our faith to our daily life… and without tradition, we would lose all of historic Christianity including Christmas, Easter, the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of Jesus being both fully God and fully human, the nativity story, and indeed even the Holy Scriptures.

With Wesley, I wish to be informed by all of these things — however I must protest that they could not exist in the primitive church in a way that was unique to Christianity. The writers of scripture appealed to an authority greater than what they wrote. The makers of tradition created them in honor of a higher authority. The church officers did not claim any authority of their own, but appealed to a higher authority. I find myself seeking several secondary sources, but only one primary source, God, specifically as He showed himself to humanity through Jesus Christ.

The idea that God is the final authority is very important to me. The belief that Jesus as the divine Word of God is central to my faith. I am a Christmas, Easter, Pentecost Christian. I believe that Jesus came into the world, was raised from the dead, and did not abandon us — but God is still here with us. For me, scripture points us to Jesus and is not an end to itself. I love the Bible, in truth I love it too much to place it above God. I wish to live in the Power that the taught by the Holy Scriptures, and not a mere form of godliness that has lost its power. (c.f. 2 Timothy 3:5)


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