Recent Posts
A good theologian once drew me a diagram of the progress of Christian doctrine and [more]
We began this series by making the claim that Pentecostalism has quietly (or not so [more]
Pentecostal worship places great emphasis on intensity. By intensity, they mean a strongly felt experience [more]
A polarized debate goes on between different stripes of Christians over the place of experience [more]
I am very pleased to announce that I have accepted a position with G3 Ministries  [more]

Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship 4: Christ’s Authority 2

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series

"Love for Christ & Scripture-Regulated Worship"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

The first post in this series introduced Scripture-Regulated Worship. The second post considered some important arguments for Scripture-Regulated Worship. The third post showed the ways the New Testament explains the authority of Christ in churches. To summarize my argument in that third installment, Jesus Christ sent delegates (apostles) to teach his churches his will for them as churches. This teaching is seen in several passages, especially the end of Matthew 28 and Ephesians 3:18-22. Paul teaches that the foundation of the church in what it believes and practices comes from the authoritative revelatory ministry of the apostles and prophets, Christ himself being the substance and stability of that foundation. A foundation is laid once and only once. It does not keep growing or building. Thus the foundational ministry of these men does not continue through some kind of apostolic succession or revelatory magisterium of the Church.I intend to advance this argument in today’s post, and then expand upon it.

It is not only important that we understand that the New Testament teaches that the apostles had a revelatory ministry, but also that Jesus told (or foretold) the apostles that they would have such a revelatory ministry. In the hours before he died, Christ told his disciples that the coming Holy Spirit would lead them into the truth of Christ. John 16:13-15: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. Some Christians apply these words to ordinary believers. The direct application of Christ’s words, however, is exclusively for the apostles. It shows that they will have a preeminent gift through the Holy Spirit to remember and know the doctrines of Christ as special revelation from God the Father. As we receive and believe their doctrine, we in turn are led into Christ’s truth, but to receive all the truth in this manner is only for New Testament apostles.

As Christ’s official delegates, apostles and prophets serve as the foundation of the church in this revelatory ministry. They guide the church’s faith and practice. This is especially true of the apostles, who were regarded as the primary office for transmitting Christ’s teachings. As we read the history of the church in the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts, we see the apostles preaching the gospel and setting up leaders in the churches, but we never see any establishment of a line of apostolic authority from one generation to another.[1] In fact, by the late stages of the apostolic era, we see this foundation as a solidified body of teaching. Paul calls this teaching the good deposit in 1 Tim 6:20 and tells Timothy to guard it. Jude calls it the faith once for all delivered for the saints (Jude 3).[2]

2. Christ’s Authority through the New Testament writings

This leads to further implication. The inspired writings of these men serve today as the foundations of Christ’s churches. This probably seems like a fairly straight-forward implication of the above, but it’s worth drawing out explicitly. Paul himself draws an direct parallel between the ministry of the Old Testament Scriptures and New Testament apostles and prophets in Ephesians 3:4-5. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. In context, the mystery that Paul refers to is that Gentiles who believe the gospel are members of Christ’s church in full standing with Jewish believers. Yet he references the Ephesians reading his letter (cf v 3), as he alludes to the revealed message in the holy writings of the sons of men in other generations. Consider another example: shortly before his death, the Apostle Peter himself wrote to the churches. He tells them why: it is so that, when he has departed his tent, or died, they would recall the truth (2 Pet 1:12, 15). His writings were the way his apostolic message was to be passed down.[3]

The Apostles expected churches to submit with universal obedience to their teachings, whether oral or written, as the Word of God and commandments of Christ. Consider 1 Thess 2:13, And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. Paul regarded his teaching to be God’s Word. In 1 Cor 14:37-38, Paul is much more severe with the Corinthian leaders who were allowing the women to teach in the churches: If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. Our legitimacy as a church is in part our submission to the authority of Christ in the teachings of his apostles. (This passage [and the argument as a whole] is itself sufficient to debunk so-called “Red Letter Christians.”)

3. New Testament Authority for Christian Churches

If we coalesce these truths, an important conclusion is drawn: The church must submit to the whole inspired Word of God, but it is the New Testament that governs the church’s faith and practice. This is a distinctively Baptist teaching, but it’s an important truth for conservatives as well.[4] Given the foundational role that Christ gave the apostles for the church in their teaching ministry, and given the New Testament is the inspired record of that teaching, it is the New Testament in particular that governs the church.

In Eph 2:19-22, Paul says that the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church. He’s explicitly speaking of Christ’s church (not that there is any other).[5] The church as a unique new entity, and not the nation of Israel, is clearly in view here. The church is a New Testament institution (see Eph 2:15). I believe that there is a big difference between Israel and the Church.[6] But even those who see more continuity between Israel and the Church should concede that, even if the church began in OT, the ministry of Jesus Christ has dramatically altered the organization and operation of the church. The church’s nature, mission, and order is divinely revealed in the New Testament. Consider the distinction laid out in the opening verses of Hebrews 1: Long ago … God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.[7] Put another way, the church is built upon the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone.[8]

Let me caution that this principle of universal obedience does not apply to everything we read in the New Testament. Some matters addressed there clearly pertain only to the given congregation or individuals addressed or that time period. Several generations ago, the American Baptist preacher William Williams put it most helpfully: “Whatever can be CLEARLY shown from Scripture, either by precept or example, to have been instituted by the apostles, and which cannot be shown to have had its origin in the temporary and peculiar circumstance of their time, is binding on us and for all time. Whatever can be shown to have had its origin in the peculiarities of that time, is not binding, the same peculiarities no longer existing. Upon this principle, deaconesses, a plurality of elders, and the ‘holy kiss,’ are omitted now.”[9] Don’t be distracted by the particulars of Williams’ list. His principle still stands. Our deacons probably don’t focus on delivering food to Greek speaking Jewish widows, as we see in Acts 6. When we read a permanent mandate from the apostles, we must obey. Often we look for two things: evidence of the practice and a clear command from the apostles. But, let me add this about first-century circumstances: the underlying principles often apply indirectly to our situation today. You may not greet with a holy kiss, but we had better have warm affection in our churches. The bottom line is that we must obey the apostles. Today, for us, this means obeying the commands of the New Testament.

[1] Allison, Roman Catholic Theology, 181.

[2] We find other allusions to the doctrine that apostles are the foundation of the church elsewhere. The foundation of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21:15 are the twelve apostles of the Lamb. In 1 Cor 12:28, Paul lists the different spiritual gifts the Spirit has given the church. Interestingly, he ranks them. What two spiritual gifts are first and second? And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles… The same pattern is in v 29. F. F. Bruce also ties 1 Cor 12 to Eph 2:20. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1984), 304.

[3] See Allison, Roman Catholic Theology, 183-84.

[4] Edward Hiscox has been very influential among American Baptists for his New Directory for Baptist Churches. He wrote this: “The New Testament is the constitution of Christianity, the charter of the Christian Church, the only authoritative code of ecclesiastical law, and the warrant and justification of all Christian institutions.” Edward Hiscox, New Directory for Baptist Churches (Judson Press, 1894); repr. Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1980), 11. For more on Baptists and the Regulative Principle, see Scott Aniol, “Form and Substance: Baptist Ecclesiology and the Regulative Principle,” Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry 15 (2018): 23–32.

[5] Paul refers to the church with those two metaphors in Eph2:19: fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. In v 16, Paul speaks of what Christ has done for Gentiles and Jews: that Christ might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. This one body also refers to the church.

[6] That is, I am a dispensationalist of the traditional variety.

[7] As Kevin Bauder has observed, “Only the New Testament tells us what the church is. Only the New Testament tells us what the church is supposed to be.” Baptist Distinctives, 20-21.

[8] This does not in any way mean that we reject the teaching of the Old Testament inspired by the Holy Spirit. I cannot stress this enough. On the contrary, we affirm the testimony of Paul: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17. The Old Testament teaches us who God is, who we are, who Christ is, the centrality of God’s glory, the exactness of God’s wrath, the richness of God’s grace, the character of a life of faith, the future glory of Christ and his people, and even the shape of right and wrong. Its teaching is absolutely authoritative as God’s Word. But when we want to know who we are and what we are to do, Baptists have gone to the New Testament. For examples from history to show that Baptists have held this, see Bauder, Baptist Distinctives, 20-24. Bauder cites not only the non-Baptist Ulrich Zwingli, but J. M. Carroll, Francis Wayland, W. H. H. Marsh, and B. H. Carroll.

[9] Apostolic Church Polity (1874), in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life: A Collection of Historic Baptist Documents (Sheridan Books, 2001), 537.



Series NavigationPreviousNext

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).