After his resurrection, Jesus declared that ‘all authority is heaven and on earth’ had been given to him (Mt 28:18). As Christians, then, we confess that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Phil 2:9-11).
How does Christ exercise his authority in the church today? Four possible answers have been given:-
- The Roman Catholic answer is that Christ rules his church through the magisterium, the teaching of the Pope and his bishops both in the past and in the present.
- The liberal answer is that Christ rules his church through reason and conscience, enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
- The answer favoured by some Anglicans is that Christ rules his church by means of the ‘threefold cord’ of Scripture, tradition and reason. The work of Richard Hooker is often cited in this regard, although it must be noted that, unlike many of his followers, Hooker did not teach that these were three equal authorities, but rather that the authority of Scripture should take first place.
- The evangelical answer is that Christ rules his church through Scripture. We neglect neither tradition nor reason, for it would be foolish to ignore what God has said to and through others. It would equally foolish to spurn reason, which is a God-given faculty. But the authority of Scripture must be pre-eminent.
It is striking to note that all four groups claim the words of Jesus, recorded in Jn 16:12f, for themselves (“[The Holy Spirit] will guide you into all truth”). But the ‘you’ here does not mean us, but the apostles. In the passage just cited, the first two ‘yous’ undoubtedly refer to the apostles, and so the third and fourth ‘you’ must refer to them also.
See Stott, John, Evangelical Truth, p66-69.