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By What Authority?
10 Claims on God’s Authority

by Charles J. Peterson

Matthew 21.23: And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?


Ever since Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, his resurrection, his appearance to his apostles and disciples, and his subsequent ascension into Heaven, Christians have made claims on God’s authority to act in his name.  Most Christians would agree that Jesus Christ, who in the beginning possessed and continues to possess the keys of priesthood authority on this earth, passed that authority on to his apostles, and that they held that authority while they ministered among God’s children on the earth.  But what happened after the martyrdom of the apostles?  Who held, and more relevant to us today, who holds that authority in these latter days?

At the outset, let’s explore the concept of authority, or the authority given by God and Jesus Christ to mankind to act and be recognized and rewarded by God for those acts.  Christians all want to go to heaven, live with God through the eternities, and receive the highest reward for living the truly Christian life.  How does the Christian attain this final reward?  Or in other words, who has the authority, recognized by God, to conduct God’s affairs on earth according to his will on behalf of his children?

What does it mean to have authority?   It means that God recognizes or accepts the acts (ordinances, sacraments, rituals, practices), thoughts, and desires of individuals and the acts (ordinances, sacraments, rituals, practices) of spiritual leaders on behalf of God’s followers. 

Peter puts it well when he says in I Peter 2:5, speaking of converts to the Church of Jesus Christ in the meridian of time:

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

What are these spiritual sacrifices?  They consist of the acts, behaviors, ordinances, sacraments, rituals, practices, and the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  These must be acceptable to God and Jesus Christ.  Any ordinance, sacrament, ritual, or practice that is not acceptable to God and Jesus Christ (or recognized by God and Jesus Christ) is at best meaningless, perhaps even detrimental, to the eternal salvation of the individual.

For example, I frequently climb a mountain near my home.  One morning I came to the summit of the mountain just as the sun was rising.  I noticed a couple standing on the top, facing the rising sun and chanting something that had a religious ring to it.  The question in my mind as I witnessed this ritual was: “Will God accept this chanting to the rising sun as a valid spiritual sacrifice, or is it just ritual created by man that will not help these people live with God once again?”

Ten Claims on God’s Authority

Ten claims on God's authority are extant in the Christian world today.  A claim on God’s authority is an assertion made by Christians that what they believe and what they practice will ultimately be recognized by God as sufficient spiritual sacrifice for receiving God’s greatest eternal reward, i.e., life with God in Heaven.

The following claims on God’s authority will be described with no attempt in this section to present any evidence of validity.

  1. Apostolic Succession

  2. Reformation

  3. Apostasy/Restoration

  4. Authority of the Bible

  5. Priesthood of All Believers

  6. Divine Direction

  7. Born Again/Saved by Grace through Faith

  8. Salvation of the “Good”

  9. Many Roads to Heaven

  10. Universalism

1.  Apostolic Succession

Most Christians would agree that Jesus Christ established his church during his earthly ministry.  He had the requisite authority or priesthood to save souls and to bring God’s children back to God’s presence, or to Heaven.  Most would agree that He passed this authority on to the apostles during the Meridian of Time. 

The apostolic succession claim asserts that the authority or priesthood was passed down through a succession of Church leaders from the time of the apostles to the present.  Consequently, the leaders of these churches carry the authority to act in God’s name to this day as part of this claim.  Thus, the sacraments, ordinances, and rituals they perform on behalf of their congregations are acceptable to God.  And individuals who partake of these ordinances and live according to the teachings of the Church’s leaders will take their places with God in heaven.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches make this claim, as do a few of the Protestant churches.

For further explanation of apostolic succession, refer to the following web page:

2.  Reformation

As part of the reformation claim, it is generally agreed that Christ had the authority and passed it on to the apostles.  The authority was then passed on to other leaders, but after a period of time the leaders took the Church off the correct path, while retaining the authority.  After a lengthy period of being off-track, reformers risked their lives and reputations to bring the Church back on track.  This led to the formation of new churches designed to correct the doctrinal and ritual detours of the Mother church, while still retaining the authority through the apostolic succession (called lineal authority) through the centuries.

Some of the Protestant denominations make the reformation claim.  In conjunction with some of the claims below (authority of the Bible, priesthood of all believers, born again/saved by grace through faith) the reformation brought the doctrine and spiritual sacrifices back in line with what God will accept, providing these churches with the authority to conduct God’s work on earth.

For a further explanation of this claim, refer to the following web page:

3.  Apostasy/Restoration

Those who espouse the apostasy/restoration claim acknowledge that Christ held the authority and passed it on to the apostles during his ministry.  When the apostles were martyred, the keys (the authority to delegate priesthood authority) to the authority or priesthood was not passed on to any other Church leaders.  It was lost.  Some time later heavenly messengers appeared to a prophet of God and restored the proper priesthood authority.  From that point on, the priesthood keys were passed on to a succession of individuals called prophets. 

Thus, ordinances and spiritual sacrifices performed by the prophet and his delegated agents are recognized and accepted by God.  And those individuals who follow the leadership of the prophet, partaking of the accepted ordinances and living according to the prophets’ teachings, will be given a place in heaven with God the Father.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) subscribes to the apostasy/restoration claim.

For further explanation of the apostasy/restoration claim, refer to the following web pages:,8672,1083-1,00.html

4.  Authority of the Bible

Those who make the authority of the Bible claim accept the fact that Jesus Christ held God’s authority during his earthly ministry and passed it on to his apostles.  These apostles and other disciples wrote as inspired by Christ himself and by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.  Consequently, their writings, known as the Holy Bible (including the writings of the Old Testament prophets), are the final word or final authority.  It follows then that any of God’s children who adhere to the teachings of the Bible will find their spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God and will be entitled to eternal salvation.

Many evangelical and Protestant churches and individuals today hold the claim that the Bible is the ultimate authority by which their members find acceptance with God.

For further explanation of authority of the Bible, refer to the following web pages:

5.  Priesthood of All Believers

According to those who espouse the priesthood of all believers claim on God’s authority, all who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior hold the priesthood.  They base their claim on basically two scriptures (among others) that address the issue of priesthood.

I Peter 2:5: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

I Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; ….”

See also Romans 12:1-8.

Assuming that these verses address every member of Christ's church during apostolic times, the claim is made that priesthood authority is vested in the individual church member.  Therefore no priestly class is required to perform intermediary sacraments on behalf of individuals.  Belief and faith are sufficient to reap God’s greatest rewards.

For further details on priesthood of all believers, check out the following web page:

6.  Divine Direction

Those who claim divine direction as their authority profess to have been spoken to by the Spirit or even spoken to by God (or Jesus Christ) himself.  They feel that God has directed them to start a ministry to help God’s children achieve the level of spirituality they need to be acceptable to God.  They may provide ordinances, sacraments, teachings, or rituals to others as directed by God and the Spirit.  Thus, because they were directed by God, their spiritual sacrifices on behalf of others are accepted by God.  As long as the spiritual leaders’ directions are followed, these followers’ sacrifices are acceptable to God and they are entitled to their heavenly reward.

No particular educational or denominational requirements are necessary since God has directed them in their spiritual missions.  Many non-denominational churches have had their roots established in an individual who claims such divine direction.

For further explanation of divine direction, check out the following web page: (from google cache)

7.  Born Again/Saved by Grace through Faith

Those who claim God’s authority through being born again or saved by faith in Jesus Christ believe that God accepts those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior.  Some believe that they must confess this belief or faith in Jesus Christ to a recognized spiritual leader.  And then God accepts their spiritual sacrifice.  Others believe that they must have God “speak to them” by the Spirit to convey the message that God accepts their spiritual sacrifice.  No earthly spiritual leader is necessary in this process.

Many in the evangelical movements of the world believe in this claim on God’s authority.  They may combine their claim on authority with the authority of the Bible, being born again or saved by faith, or priesthood of all believers, or divine direction.

For further explanation of born again/saved by grace through faith, refer to the following web page:

8.  Salvation of the “Good”

According to a survey published in 1996, the Barna Research Group1 found that 57% of people claiming Christian religious beliefs felt that all “good people” will go to heaven, no matter what religious affiliation they retain, and no matter what religious devotions they practice in their lives.  Therefore, if this claim is true, God accepts the “goodness” of people as sufficient spiritual sacrifice for being awarded their place in Heaven.

People who are good neighbors, good spouses and parents, kind to others, generous with their time and financial resources, contributors to their communities, and believers in God will once again live with him.  No particular religious membership or sacraments are required.

9.  Many Roads to Heaven

The many roads to heaven claim could be placed under the salvation of the good claim on God’s authority.  As long as a person is a practicing Christian, striving to live Christian principles, the person is guaranteed a place in Heaven no matter what denomination he belongs to.  God will accept the spiritual sacrifices of anybody who strives to live the Christian life, no matter what sacraments, rituals, or practices he believes and adheres to.  What really matters is what’s in the person’s heart.  God will accept a person in Heaven if he or she has the right intentions and practices Christian principles.

For further explanation of many roads to heaven, refer to the following web page:

10.  Universalism

Some people feel that God will eventually save all people no matter how faithful or unfaithful they are to Christian belief and practice.  They believe that all will pay for their sins in some way, but that after a purgatorial period, God will admit them into Heaven.  Thus, God accepts all his children into his presence once they have paid the price for their sins.  They have exhibited their spiritual sacrifices, even if in the hereafter.

The Unitarian Church believes this claim on God’s authority.

For a further explanation of universalism, refer to the following web page:

Priesthood Authority

Priesthood authority, according to each of these claims on God’s authority, is vested in the following individuals or combination of individuals:

  • God (and/or Jesus Christ)

  • Church leaders (prophets or other priesthood leaders)

  • The individual

God, and thus Jesus Christ, is the ultimate priesthood authority.  This authority is his alone and can be given to mankind only by him.  Thus, he is ultimately, and was originally, vested with the authority to raise his children to an eternal life with him.  In turn, He delegates priesthood authority to either church leaders or to individuals to act in his name in bringing about eternal life among his children.

The first four claims (apostolic succession, reformation, apostasy/restoration, and divine direction) require that God delegate priesthood authority to church leaders.  Vested with authority, these leaders provide ordinances, teachings, and rituals recognized and accepted by God to his other children on earth.  As long as God’s children under the direction of these leaders follow these leaders’ teachings, as given by revelation and through the scriptures and also follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, they are entitled to eternal life. 

The last six claims on God’s authority (authority of the Bible, born again/saved by grace through faith, priesthood of all believers, salvation of the “good,” many roads to heaven, and universalism) require that God has vested in the individual the authority to do something or be something that is acceptable to God for achieving eternal life.  No church leader, or earthly priesthood leader, is ultimately required for a person to attain God’s greatest reward.

Scriptural evidence for the Apostasy/Restoration Claim on God’s Authority

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that God has vested church leaders with the keys to the priesthood authority necessary to bring God’s children back into his presence.  These church leaders are called prophets.  The need for prophets is clearly stated by the prophet Amos (Amos 3:7):

Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.

And what is God’s secret?  It is the means by which the children of God may come back into the presence of God, including the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Thus, all that is required and accepted by God for entrance into his presence is given to the prophets.  These prophets, in turn, are given the responsibility to teach and provide the saving ordinances of the gospel to God’s children.

However, after the passing of the apostles from their earthly missions, no prophet existed on the earth to provide these saving ordinances and to teach the people how to conduct their lives in a manner acceptable to God.  Consequently, no priesthood authority acceptable to God existed on the earth from the time of the apostles’ deaths.  This apostasy was prophesied on many occasions in the New Testament.  (See Matt. 24:9-12, Acts 20:29-30, Gal. 1:6-9, 2 Thess. 2:1-11, 1 Tim. 4:1-3, 2 Tim. 1:15, 2 Tim. 3:1-5, 2 Tim. 4:2-4, 2 Pet. 2:1-3, Rev. 2, Rev. 3:14-17, Rev. 13:6-7)

With the loss of the priesthood authority from the earth, a restoration of priesthood authority in the latter days was required.  (See Isa. 2:2-3, Dan. 2:26-45, Mal. 3:1-3, Mal. 4:5-6, Matt. 24:14, Acts3:19-21, Eph. 1:10, Rev. 14:6-7)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims to the world that the priesthood authority has been restored to a prophet of God in these latter days.  In fact, the authority was restored by the very persons who held the keys to priesthood authority during and immediately after the mission of Jesus Christ, who ultimately holds these priesthood keys.

The Levitical Priesthood (see Heb. 7:11) or Aaronic Priesthood was restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829.  As contained in the book Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), chapter 13, John the Baptist, who held the keys to the Aaronic Priesthood, appeared to them and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them. 

Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.

Of this sacred and historic event, Oliver Cowdery wrote to his friend and fellow worker in the gospel, W.W. Phelps:

“The Lord who is rich in mercy and ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble, after we had called upon him in a fervent manner, aside from the abodes of men, condescended to manifest to us his will.  On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the gospel of repentance.  What joy!  what wonder!  what amazement!  While the world was racked and distracted—while millions were groping as the blind for the wall, and while all men were resting upon uncertainty, as a general mass, our eyes beheld—our ears heard.  As in the “blaze of day”; yes, more—above the glitter of the May sunbeam, which then shed its brilliancy over the face of nature!  Then his voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, ‘I am thy fellow-servant.’ dispelled every fear.  We listened, we gazed, we admired!  ‘Twas the voice of the angel from glory—‘twas a message from the Most High, and as we heard we rejoiced, while his love enkindled upon our souls, and we were rapt in the vision of the Almighty!  Where was room for doubt?  Nowhere; uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk, no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever.  But, dear brother, think further, think for a moment what joy filled our hearts and with what surprise we must have bowed, (for who could not have bowed the knee for such a blessing?) when we received under his hands the Holy Priesthood!”2

Shortly thereafter, Peter, James and John bestowed the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (see Heb, ch. 7).  The exact date is not known (after May 15, 1829 and before June 6, 1830), but Joseph refers to it in his history of the events that surrounded the restoration of the gospel as found in Joseph Smith—History 1:72:

The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, ….

Joseph Smith also speaks of this ordination in an epistle to the members of the church, as contained in D&C 128:20:

And again, what do we hear? …. The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!


Thus, after the long period of apostasy in which no priesthood authority existed on the earth, a prophet of God was given this priesthood and the keys to delegate priesthood authority to men on the earth once again.  The priesthood, the authority to act in God’s name, was once again restored to the earth.  This priesthood authority exists in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the keys to delegate the authority is held by God’s prophet on the earth today who is the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Consequently, the apostasy/restoration claim to God’s authority as espoused by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives its leader (the prophet, seer, and revelator, and President of the Church) the right to act in his name.  Thus, those who follow the prophet’s guidance (as given through revelation from God) and partake of the ordinances of the Church will find their spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God and will inherit eternal life in the presence of God. 

The difficult question arising from this discussion is: “How shall I know which claim on God’s authority is right?”  The scriptures tell us that spiritual knowledge can be gained only by spiritual means.  We could inundate you with scripture after scripture providing evidence of the apostasy and ultimate restoration of the Holy Priesthood in these latter days (see the scriptural citations above).  Some would call that Bible bashing.  But, in the end, anybody interested in the truth must gain truth through spiritual means.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, explains how spiritual knowledge is gained.  Speaking of the ultimate rewards due those who love the Lord he says in I Corinthians 2:9-14:

9. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11. For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Knowing which claim on God’s authority is the true claim can only be spiritually discerned.  And the spiritual means by which it is discerned is through the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, whose role it is to testify of the truth to God’s children on earth.

The process is best stated in the Book of Mormon.  Referring to the truthfulness of that book, the prophet Moroni wrote (Moroni 10:4-5):

4. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

5. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

You can know which of the above claims on God’s authority is valid by following Moroni’s description of the spiritual means for finding spiritual truth.  It takes study, real intent, faith, and prayer to receive a witness through the Holy Ghost to know the truth of the claims on God’s authority.

May you find the truth.


1  George Barna, Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators (Dallas, Word Publishing, 1996), p. 75.

2  Oliver Cowdery, Attachment to Joseph Smith—History, Pearl of Great Price, p. 59.