Summary: Who is in charge? To what authority have Christians appealed from day one?
6. The question of authority.
Who rules the church? We know that Jesus is the Head, and He gives leadership responsibilities to pastors and such. But how do they rule, by what authority? The breathed-out Word of God.
The early church continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). When apostles died, their replacements continued teaching what the apostles taught. It was just “known” that these men had spoken authoritatively from God, and combined with the teachings of the prophets of the Old Testament, the church to a greater or lesser degree in the centuries that followed placed the Bible at the forefront.
Slowly the Papal power, and the power of church Councils, added to extra-Biblical writings, challenged the authority of Scripture to the point eventually of hiding it altogether. It was this darkness that was addressed by the Reformers Luther, Calvin, and the rest.
To this day the Bible, again more or less, serves as the foundation of the Christian Church. But there is another piece of this puzzle that must be considered. The Bible is a spiritual book. It was given by the Spirit. It can therefore only be received by a spiritual people, filled with that same Spirit. To the extent that a person has received the Spirit of God, by that same measure he will receive the Word of God.
The Roman Catholic Church had believed through the worst of its days that the Bible is the Word of God. The Roman system held the Bible in high esteem. But the Reformers, restoring the actual words of Scripture to the hearts and minds of believers, suggested further that the Scripture must be communicated to a man’s heart, must change him from within.
By suggesting that the Bible had personal power in a man’s life, the Reformers were saying that the Bible had the ultimate say in the church. No Pope or Council or Tradition of men could ever be lifted above the pure words of Scripture communicated by the Spirit to the heart of man.
The basis for this thinking was in the Scripture itself, for example in 1 John 2:20, 24, 26-27.
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. 24 Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. 27 But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.
See also Paul’s understanding of this same concept:
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.