A Question of Authority

Note: Some of this material first appeared as comments on Steven Davison’s blog post, Scripture–Picking and Choosing.

Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt. 18:18-20)

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12-14)

There are 22 incidents of the phrase “in my name” in the King James Bible. Possibly the most often quoted in-my-name passages come from the above texts. The first occurrence, and perhaps the least understood, is in Deut. 18:19, speaking about the prophet like Moses God is promising to raise up. Some of those probably are better understood as actually “in my name,” but many have to do with speaking or acting in the authority of God or the authority of Christ. The Deut. passage illustrates the change of meaning when one phrase or the other is used. I quote it here using “authority”.

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Moses], and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my [authority], I will require it of him. (Deut. 18:18-19)

Anyone can invoke the name of Jesus Christ or God, and many do in all manner of circumstances; some as a curse, others as the ending to a prayer. But usually such invokers do not speak with authority. To speak or to act in the authority of God or the authority of Christ implies prior arrangements and an existing relationship that makes such a thing possible. You can’t speak in the authority of the government without having that obligation conferred to you by some commission.

Consider the following questions concerning the above passages of scripture:

    • What would it mean to hear this prophet raised by God who speaks the words of God in God’s authority?
    • Why is it important to hear this prophet today?
    • How would our meetings or gatherings change if we gathered in the authority of Jesus Christ?
    • What is required in order to gather in Jesus’ authority?
    • Does merely getting together constitute/guarantee Jesus’ authority?
    • What would be required to request something from the Father in Jesus’ authority?

The Deut. 18 text is pivotal to understanding the work of Christ, and to understand the issue of authority. A brief glance at the background will show why.

At the mountain, in Deut. 5, the people heard the voice of God speaking from the cloud and saw the fire. They cried out, “Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die.” (Deut. 5:25) They requested that Moses be the intermediary between them and God. Even though God says they have spoken well, he does not leave them there. Moses tells them that God has humbled them and let them be hungry that they may know and understand that man “does not live by bread alone. But by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God shall man live.” (Deut. 8:3) This is the import of the prophet like Moses. The prophet, speaking with the authority of God, is the mediator of life. Jesus picks up on that theme in John 6:63 saying “The flesh profits nothing, the breath gives life. The words I speak/have spoken to you these are breath, these are life.” As there is no life without hearing the voice of this prophet raised up by God, so there is no speaking or acting in the authority of Christ without obeying that voice.

George Fox had a lot to say about the offices or actions of Christ Jesus as he is present in the midst of those gathered in his authority. Chief among these offices is the fulfillment of the prophet-like-Moses promise of Deut. 18. This understanding did not come out of thin air. When Fox had come to the end of all his resources and was on the point of despair, he received an opening that was central to his preparation for a life of ministry and was central to all that his ministry was about. He wrote in his journal:

But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do; then, Oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.’ When I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give him all the glory. For all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief, as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have preeminence, who enlightens, and gives grace, faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let it? This I knew experimentally. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing. For though I read the scriptures that spake of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not but by revelation, as he who hath the key did open, and as the Father of life drew me to his son by his spirit.” (Works of Fox, Vol. 1, p.74)

There are several things about this passage that are remarkable, but I only mention the following. First is identification of Christ Jesus as the one who can speak to Fox’s condition. There is no ambiguity about whom he is dealing with. Second is Fox’s growth in the “pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book, or writing…I knew him not but by revelation.” Third is a substantial portion of that “knowing by revelation” occurred as “the Father of life drew me to his son by his spirit.

Now, when Fox was preaching to people such as at Firbank Chapel, the principal component of his message was:

I declared God’s everlasting truth and word of life…directing all to the spirit of God in themselves; that they might be turned from the darkness to the light, and believe in it, that they might become the children of it, and might be turned from the power of satan unto God; and by the spirit of truth might be led into all truth, and sensibly understand the words of the prophets, of Christ, and of the apostles; and might all come to know Christ to be their teacher to instruct them, their counsellor to direct them, their shepherd to feed them, their bishop to oversee them, and their prophet to open divine mysteries to them; and might know their bodies to be prepared, sanctified, and made fit temples for God and Christ to dwell in. In the openings of the heavenly life, I opened unto them the prophets, and the figures and shadows, and directed them to Christ, the substance… (Works of Fox, Vol. 1, pp. 142-143)

In his Sermon XIV, Stephen Crisp stated:

How do we like that government, to be ruled by the devil, and to be led captive, and to be made to do his will, and to rebel against God that gave us our life, and breath, and being?…I hope we do none of us like it. It was so with me; and they that are under the tyrannical government of satan, have many cries and wishes in their souls, that they were freed and delivered from it, and brought under the government and obedience of Christ Jesus…

But may not some say, how shall this great work be wrought? For it is a great work, and we verily think that nothing but an Almighty Power can effect it. For there are many in this assembly have been trying to no purpose, and done what they could in their own strength, to deliver their own souls from death, and yet they find themselves in bondage still; nay, they have called in the help and assistance of those that they thought to be stronger than themselves, and all have failed, and they are yet weak and entangled, and they cannot find themselves at liberty to serve the Lord as they ought to do.

I am of this mind, that nothing but the Almighty Power of God can do it; and when you have come to my experience, to know this as I have done, then I hope you will seek after that, and you will see good reason for it; and you will then come to this profession, if the Lord puts not forth his Almighty Power, I must then perish, for there is no other power can deliver me. When you come to know this…you must wait for the revelation of that power that will take you off from all trust and confidence that you have ever had in any thing else:…

When a man or woman comes to this pass, that they have nothing to rely upon but the Lord, then they will meet together to wait upon the Lord: And this was the first ground or motive of our setting up meetings;…we should use them as poor desolate helpless people that are broken off from all their own confidence and trust, and have nothing to rely upon but the mercy and goodness of God; and if he pleaseth to reveal his power among us, we know that he is able to save us. (Scripture Truths Demonstrated, pp. 158, 159)

This was the foundation upon which the Quaker movement was built; a building solidly fitted and joined together in and by the revelation of Jesus Christ present among them fulfilling all his offices. When the early Friends gathered, two or three or hundreds, they knew they were gathered in Jesus’ authority because they experienced him in their midst performing his functions or offices among and within them.

When Fox spoke in Ulverston Chapel in 1652, much of what he had to say concerned this authority. Margaret Fell reported,

And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, ‘The scriptures were the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what as they spoke they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord:and said,Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; ‘but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light, and hast walked in the light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?&c. This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly, we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly; and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.’ (Works of Fox, Vol. I, p.50)

Today, many Liberal Quakers speak of “the Spirit,” but that “Spirit” does not lead to the son nor does it bring glory to Jesus Christ as the only one that can speak to the human condition. Evangelical Friends, and evangelicals in general, have a lot of words about Jesus Christ, but those words do not bring people to know God and Christ alone without the help of any man, book, or writing. They are not gathered in Christ’s authority to partake of his offices as he is present in the midst.

By acting and speaking without the authority of God and Jesus Christ, we prove ourselves to be thieves. But being thieves, we deny Jesus Christ and negate the gift of life, grace, faith, and power, which he would give us if we were not intent on stealing them.

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About Ellis Hein

I am a woodturner and the author of The Woodturner's Project Book. I have a life-long interest in the gospel preached by George Fox and the early Quakers. You can see some of my material on that subject at http://nffquaker.org/profiles/blog/list?user=1zw2th7nj9p89.
This entry was posted in in Jesus' authority, in Jesus' name, Understanding early Friends, Who Jesus is and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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