I was reading recently some of Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, because I seek to understand other theological traditions (in this case, Roman Catholic) from their own primary sources and best teachers.
In the section on the nature of the authority of the Pope, he states that the pope has immediate authority. “[The authority of the pope is] an immediate power, that is, the Pope can exercise his power, without the intervention of an intermediary, over the bishops and the faithful of the whole Church” (p. 286).
Of course I totally disagree with this in relation to the pope. However, it presents a very helpful analogy for understanding God’s authority.
In short, God has immediate authority over each of us. This means that his authority does not have to be received through any human intermediary, such as a pastor or elder in your church. He has direct authority over us.
In other words, you don’t have to wait for a pastor to tell you what the Bible says before you can do what the Bible says. If you read a command in the Bible, it is directly applicable to you — you have the responsibility (and, more than that, privilege) of obeying it completely independent of any human approval or consensus.
Further, if the Bible commands you to believe or do something that is different from what your pastor believes, teaches, or even tells you to do, you are to follow Scripture — not your pastor.
This understanding of God’s immediate authority is at the heart of the Protestant faith. It is what allows each of us to have a direct, personal, and individual relationship with God.
This is also why those who argue that the Scriptures are not clear in themselves to teach us what God requires of us are not only mistaken in their doctrine of Scripture; they are also interfering with our ability to have a direct relationship with God, apart from any human intermediary.
They are, in other words, essentially rejecting God’s direct and immediate authority over us. For since God speaks in the Scriptures, if the Scriptures are not clear on the main things but instead we need to let a human teaching authority tell us what they mean first, then we have just placed human thinking and tradition over God’s law. This is the exact thing Jesus tells us not to do (Matthew 15:1-9).