Edward W. H. Vick: Authority and Orthodoxy

by Edward W.H. Vick, retired professor and author of Philosophy for BelieversCreation: The Christian DoctrineFrom Inspiration to Understanding: Reading the Bible Seriously and Faithfully and more!

9781938434549The explanation of authority might sound like this.

(1) God has called and appointed the elders as custodians of the truth. God has ordained the leaders of the community and given to the group (committee, council) special guidance. This person , this group, those with these gifts, are given a special status so that their decisions, their pronouncements have authority i.e. are to be accepted as the true expression of doctrine. That means that it becomes the orthodox teaching of the particular community. When that acceptance takes place the teaching assumes a kind of fixity. The group may not originate the teaching, but endorse it, sometimes in face of alternatives, indeed sometimes because of the threat of what is considered to be heresy!

(2) God has granted certain gifts to one particular person to enable that person to function as teacher, leader or prophet.

It is to be noted that the existence of writings held to be authoritative may be taken for granted, may be presupposed. In that case the person or persons having authority will be expected to provide correct interpretations of such writings. Their interpretations will be taken as normative.

Illustrations can readily be found of binding authority, sometimes virtual infallibility, for such interpretations: for (1) Church councils, e.g. Nicaea, Chalcedon, framers of the Westminster Confession and of the Thirty-nine Articles, contemporary doctrinal committees,

For (2) also examples can readily be provided for outstanding individuals, e.g. Luther, Calvin, modern ‘prophets’.

In every case the authority of the proposed teaching depends upon acceptance within the particular community of the status of the proposing group or person. That is often assumed, taken without question. But the believer should understand the situation and look for a justifying explanation to make clear why such status is granted. However, before it can be explained, it has to be recognised.