A Proposal For Unity Part 5: Authority and the Scriptures

August 20, 2007

The affairs of the Christian church are to be governed by the New Testament, with recognition being given to the fallibility of our understanding.

Thomas Campbell addressed this issue in his sixth, seventh, and eighth propositions

The scriptures teach in several ways: direct commands, approved examples, clearly stated principles, and implied principles. Our understanding of these teachings is affected by our fallible reasoning, our pre-existing misconceptions, our incomplete background knowledge, and sometimes by our past experiences and motives (consciously or unconsciously). While the scriptures themselves are infallible, our understanding of the scriptures is subject to error. No human is immune to these kinds of error. Those who believe they are immune may actually be the most susceptible.

No inferred principles of scripture can be bound upon an individual Christian who has not yet perceived and understood those principles for themselves. Otherwise, that Christian is being called to place his faith in the wisdom and truthfulness of man rather than God. Each Christian must keep his own conscience clear (Rom 14:23), and each will appear before God to give an account (Rom 14:10-12).

Some teachings are more clear and obvious than others. The clearest teachings carry the most obvious authority for the church. Those teachings that are more difficult to understand, or are less clear, or are understood with less certainty, should be approached with a corresponding degree of grace, mercy, and humility. We should never forget that our understanding is subject to error.

Certain teachings may seem clear to one honest, God-fearing person but unclear or even incorrect to another honest, God-fearing person. Inferred principles are inherently less clear than directly stated commands and principles. To assess the clarity of a teaching, do not merely think of how clear it seems to you. Also consider at how clear the teaching is to others. How has the teaching been regarded by various church leaders in the past? Do respected people in the past, or today, have different views on the teaching? If so, perhaps it is not such a clear teaching after all. Remember that no lines of fellowship may be drawn based on disputable matters (Rom 14:1).

So, here is proposal #5:

Proposal #5: The New Testament is the sole source of authority for the Christian church. Recognition must be given to the fallibility of our understanding as we apply the authority of the scriptures. So nothing may be bound on an individual Christian which they have not understood for themselves from the scriptures. And no disputable matter may be made a test of fellowship.


  1. “So nothing may be bound on an individual Christian which they have not understood for themselves from the scriptures.”This one is not so clear in application. What if the fellow in Corinth had said to Paul, “It isn’t clear to me at all that it is a sin for me to sleep with my father’s wife”? As ludicrous as that seems, we’ve all experienced some lesser variant of this with friends. Perhaps we’ve been the one unable to see something that is clear to just about everyone else.Either way, there are a couple of lines in some fuzzy grey area that one can cross. Crossing one line makes me arrogant and divisive. Crossing the other makes me unloving in that I’m allowing my friends to destroy themselves with sin.I know that’s pretty lame wording, so hopefully someone can figure out what I’m trying to say. 🙂

  2. Hi Mark,Good point. I think the scriptures take away any doubt about what to do in the situation in 1 Cor 5. I guess what I’m trying to say is related to the matters that are inferred from scripture, and not those that are explicitly stated.

  3. Alan,Excellent series brother.I pray for unity everyday.As a ministry I strive to be the peacemaker that he desires. The Bible is our olny authority.” Christians only, not the only Christians.” Didn’t someone important say that? 🙂

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