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Challenge To Spiritual Authority

There is no single matter which more urgently requires a clear perception by the Lord's people than the issue of spiritual authority. The range and immediacy of the challenges presented to the authority of biblical Christian faith are


The basis of that authority has already been spelled out in the opening month of our centenary year - the Inspired Word. For the believer in Christ whose desire is to follow Him, the heart and essence of everything is the Word incarnate, revealed by divine decree in the written word, and illuminated by the Lord the Spirit. Only a recorded revelation of God and by God, inerrant and all-authoritative, can meet and surmount the force and variety of the challenges presented to it in the world of the twentieth century. For this is ultimately where all the challenges to spiritual authority are targetted. The men "who turned the world upside down" did so with the great commission of Matthew 28:18-20 ringing in their ears - "all authority ... given unto Me ... go ye therefore and make disciples". Their conviction was unshakeable that their message was a divine revelation ~ph. 3:3-11; 1 Cor. 2:9-10); they were Spirit-taught and led (1 Cor. 2:13); they had the Word of God (1 Thes. 2:13); and that spelled TRUTH (2 Thes. 2:13).

We shall not attempt to reiterate further the fundamental principles on which the final authority of Scripture is securely based. Its application to the basis of Christian testimony has already been addressed in our May issue. Rather we shall turn briefly to identify the main areas of challenge which the twentieth century has seen develop apace in both subtlety and stridency.

The various challenges mounted against spiritual authority in the past century have changed more in emphasis than in essential nature. They always have been and always will be seen in one of two guises. The first is religious and the second secular. The first partakes of the adversary's earliest of all challenges, "Hath God said?"; the second either joins with the fool of the psalmist's lament and declares, "There is no God", or with equal arrogance, pronounces, "These be thy gods". The enemy of souls plays both cards with equal subtlety and malignity. The individual with some spiritual sensitivity will become the target of authority rejection in the religious sphere, while the carnal or naturally sceptical person falls easier prey to the secular distractions.

Challenges Religious

Consider the former kind of attack on spiritual authority. An earlier article in this series has referred to the inroads which liberal theology has made on sound doctrine in the century under review. It was influential about 100 years ago in the eclipse of a noble spiritual leader of one great Christian movement in Britain - Charles H. Spurgeon who grieved to his early death over the "Down-grade Controversy". Similar fatal departures from the fundamentals of the Faith took place in other countries, and this all coming from the poisoned spring of teachers who no longer owned full allegiance to an infallible Bible.

Remarkably enough, the Roman Catholic church, at least outwardly, showed greater and more consistent faithfulness to some Scripture-based truths which Protestant denominations began to question; such as the doctrines of the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus, and His Deity. Yet at the same time the spiritually aware observer realized that the supreme challenge to the spiritual authority of inspired Scripture from that quarter remained unchanged, namely the equal ranking of church teaching and tradition with biblical authority. True, subtle shifts of emphasis have been made to these issues over the past

century. It was in 1870 that the first Vatican Council re-affirmed the historical papal claim to absolute authority and infallibility, when the Pope, speaking ex cathedra, defined doctrine regarding faith or morals. The second Vatican Council (1962-5) placed a gloss of ecumenical accommodation on much teaching which has historically offended those of the reformed Protestant faith. This was under the benign paternalism of Pope John 23rd. In more recent years the present Pope John Paul II dispelled any illusions of real doctrinal change.

The challenge to the supreme spiritual' authority of the Word incarnate and written remains undiluted. The middle of the twentieth century saw the Immaculate Conception dogma of the virgin Mary (1854) compounded by that of her bodily assumption into heaven (1950). So the challenge progressively grows into contempt for the exclusive right of Holy Scripture to speak the mind and truth of God. The onward march during the last few decades of the subtle entanglement of much professing Protestant "Christianity" with Rome, springs from its loss of confidence in the Word of God.

While all this has been going on, a sinister resurgence of interest in eastern religions has rushed in to fill a large vacuum in the lives of many people. Space forbids extended comment but readers will be very familiar with the outcropping of various sects of Buddhism and Hinduism in what some have perceptively called our "post-Christian world". Perhaps Islam poses the most serious threat of all as it spreads among the multi-cultural western societies. At the same time a bewildering range of multifarious groups and sects spuriously claiming allegiance to Scripture, have swept many countries. These include the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and many others, about which more will be said in a subsequent article.

All of this is alarmingly familiar and poses an immeasurable threat and challenge before each disciple of Christ who cherishes his or her historic faith founded on the "impregnable rock" of Holy Scripture. Are the Lord's people alive to what is happening? Are they sensitive to the urgent need for earnest and importunate prayer; that our inner convictions on spiritual authority be daily reinforced and our outward witness be uncompromising and alert in the face of such challenges?

Challenges Secular

No less real are the challenges to spiritual authority presented by the world of secular things. There is the convinced and committed young Marxist "without God and without hope" in this world or the next, yet attracting admiration for his courage and self-denial. There is also the rationalist who has elevated human reason and wisdom to a high plane of

self-sufficiency, discarding on the way all absolute moral and ethical values. Then we have the masses whose spiritual senses have been fatally dulled by "the things that are in the world", its insistent, day by day blandishments or affluence. Again there are the millions unable to think about any spiritual values - or anything else except survival for the next famine-stricken or war-torn twenty four hours. Which ever of these it may be, the minds of multitudes of our fellow-men worldwide are being blinded lest "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" should dawn upon them. From the heart of a God of infinite love comes the cry "Look unto Me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else" (Is. 45:22): but this is being intercepted by sounds and voices which reject the final authority of that gracious appeal.

May the people of God reflect on this solemn situation which has developed alarmingly over the century we are considering; and deepen their exercise before God that His infinite mercy will increasingly prevail within His sovereign purposes, till Jesus comes. It will do so as those who are His own, treasure, defend and promulgate "that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered" (Rom. 6:17) - by the sole and absolute authority of the living Christ and His apostles in the Word.