Sources of Authority

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, November 23, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Everyone has different people or things in their life that they consider to be an authority. Each source of authority can have little or a lot of weight in life, depending on how much we count on them to advise and inform our worldview.

The question is, how do we know what to believe? What authorities are true, and which are false? Every person has different sources of authority in their life, whether they realize it or not. Our sources of authority inform our worldview, and they determine your beliefs and actions.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have different sources of authority than those who do not follow Jesus. We should definitely see the triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as an authority. The Bible is also an authority. But what about your church congregation or denomination? Your pastor? Your family? Those traditional things that you do because you’ve always done them?

Today, I want to look at our sources of authority through the illustration of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is a way to picture what emphasis we place on each of the sources of authority in our lives. The four sides of this quadrilateral are Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. These four areas show us how we gain information about God, and how we know what to believe about Him.

This quadrilateral shows all of these sources as being even, but that’s not usually the case. Each person relies on each of these aspects in varying amounts. This is often, but not always, determined by a person’s upbringing.

For example, this is what my personal quadrilateral looks like:

As you read below about what each of these sides mean, ponder what your quadrilateral might look like.

The Bible, or the Holy Scriptures, are commonly considered to be the “norming norm” for Christians - the ultimate source of authority. There are many reasons for this, and you can read about some of them here. The Bible is an attempt to describe the unknowable God in human language. We need to constantly be looking at the context of any passage and its language for the best interpretation of it. Christians will always have diverse understandings of Scripture, but we need to remember that it’s ok to disagree on the parts of it that don’t matter for salvation.

Tradition here does not refer to tradition in the sense of always doing things the same way or doing the same things in a repeated pattern. Here, it refers to those who have gone before us - great church fathers like Augustine, Athanasius, Irenaeus, Martin Luther, John Wesley, etc. The word tradition has different meanings to Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Protestants. The Protestant Reformation in the 1500s brought the idea of tradition as spiritual baggage, as the focus was on Scripture Alone. But, if tradition is completely rejected, the church will be shaped solely according to personal desires. Tradition helps us put our beliefs in the proper perspective of the whole of history. However, there is also a danger any time tradition is too rigid that the moving of the Spirit cannot be seen.

Reason is our God-given ability to think through things in a logical manner. It is a necessary gift, and it is very much a part of who we are. Being created in God’s image gives us this ability to think for ourselves, however if reason goes too far, then it becomes rationalism and there’s no room left for accepting things on faith. It’s important to understand where the boundary is between reason and faith. We need to think logically and reasonably, but we also need to allow God’s Spirit room to help us grow.

The idea of experience is that we know and learn about God first though our personal experiences. These can be good or bad. For example, if you experienced a loving father growing up, then your idea of God as Father is a good one; but if you experienced an abusive or uncaring father growing up, then you’ll have a negative view of God as Father. The danger with experience is that it can result in heresy (anything outside of the accepted Scriptural tradition), and it can distort our beliefs of God if it becomes our primary source of authority. When we focus primarily on experience and reason, we may end up with relativism where we believe that my truth is the same as The Truth.

So, knowing all of this, what does your quadrilateral look like? Where do you place more or less authority? Consider what you allow to be an authority in your life, and where God may want you to place authority.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.