Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Standing By Sola Scriptura

I recently heard something that deeply disturbed me. A prominent Christian radio talk show host here in Southern California broadcast a show in which he described how an equally prominent philosopher had given a speech at the Evangelical Theological Society which, if the discussion by the talk show host is correct, appears to have said that Christians rely too much on the Bible. If this is indeed what was said, and if it is not saved by context, it is deeply disturbing. Christians do not rely too much on the Bible. If anything, all of the heresies, problems, and shortcomings of both the corporate and individual lives of Christians, and of the church, have come about because we have not immersed ourselves deeply enough in the Scriptures or understood precisely what God is really saying to us through them. Many human churches are still mired in the erroneous belief of sacramentalism—that God is saving us and sanctifying us through taking communion and our participation in other sacraments. This belief is nowhere supported in the Bible. It is a human tradition that seeks a magical solution to the problem of sin and relationship with God rather than accepting the solution clearly described in the Scriptures. This is not to say that we should not participate in the Eucharist. It is important for us to obey God through baptism and through remembering Him in Holy Communion and indeed to sanctify to God all areas of life and thought. While the sacraments have a role in our Christian life, they are not the origin of that life nor its primary means. The way we obtain salvation is by faith in Christ which is a gift of God through His grace. The way we obtain sanctification is by being touched and changed by Christ through the Bible itself as well as secondarily through all the ways in which He deals with us through general revelation.

The church is currently troubled at its very roots, not because it is overly embracing Scripture or because it is placing Scripture in an improper place, but rather because it is not paying attention to what the Scriptures actually say and imply about subjects like epistemology, reason, the nature of truth, universals, the nature of certainty, personal conduct, sexuality, civility, the balance between the individualism and community, human government and human law. Instead, the church is far too willing to succumb to its current cultural context and the fads, trends, and blindnesses of our own age. We have fallen prey to believing that there is an inevitability to our succumbing to the spirit of the age and to seeing all things through the lens of our own culture. For a Christian of our time to say that we are failing because we are paying too much attention to the Bible and making biblical teachings too central to our lives is like the citizens of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time, who on the eve of the Babylonian destruction of that city, insisted that they were worse off because they had recently stopped offering incense to the queen of Heaven.

How foolish we are! We mistake the errors we see in the church. The church is not listening to the full counsel of God in the Scripture. When the church takes verses out of context and overemphasizes them to justify an erroneous practice, this is not an over reliance on Scripture, but rather an under reliance on the whole of Scripture. When a church rejects the use of God’s revelation in general revelation, this is not an over reliance on Scripture but a failure to heed what the Scripture clearly teaches and implies. When we mistake the contents of general revelation and insist that it support ideas that are contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture, this too is not a wise avoiding of bibliolatry, but rather a forsaking of truth for error.

How good God’s Word really is! Inspiring dozens of writers over thousands of years, God has nevertheless communicated to us a systematic, coherent and compelling message. None of the other claims of revelation or philosophies or religious books of the rest of the world in any way approaches the Bible for meeting the needs of life, dealing with the data of life, explaining the system coherently and in a way that is both appealing and challenging cross culturally. The Bible speaks to the needs of those who philosophize as well as those who live by the rhythm and heartbeat of poetry. The Bible teaches us directly and in parables. It reveals history and metaphor. It reveals and it conceals. It uplifts and it convicts. Nothing else in human experience is like it.

It is also, clearly, the teaching of Scripture that the way all other claims of truth and revelation are to be tested is by what we already know God to have said and revealed through Scripture. Even in the garden, Adam and Eve would have avoided falling prey to the serpent if they had paid attention to what God really said instead of how the serpent reinterpreted and twisted God’s words. In the Pentateuch, the children of Israel were clearly instructed that when prophets brought them new ideas even if backed by miracles and successful predictions, they were not to be believed unless they were consistent with what God had already revealed to them. Prophets time and time again called Israel back to what had clearly been revealed to them in the Pentateuch and also prophesied of the suffering servant Messiah who was to come. Throughout the Gospels, the truth of Jesus’ ministry was explained not only through miraculous signs but by reference to the Old Testament and to the fulfillment of prophesies evidenced by Jesus. In the epistles, the full theological significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are clearly explained and laid forth with numerous references to the Old Testament Scriptures as verifying and supporting the testimony of the apostles. Peter describes to us how the writings of Paul are Scripture just as he recognizes that all Scripture is God-breathed coming to us by the moving of God’s Spirit. Then even in Revelation, an eschatological cartoon difficult for westerners to wrap their minds around in a sensible way, it is made clear that no one should add to or take away from the content of Christ’s revelation. Jesus is the Word of God, His final revelation as He incarnated Himself among us and met our need for an intercessor, a redeemer, and mediator. Yet mysteriously the primary way that God has revealed His Word to us is through the words of the Bible. Yet in our wrestling with archeologists and skeptics and philosophers, we too often succumb to judging the straightness of the plumb line by the line of the wall. It is of no use to evaluate truth by opinion. It is of no use to doubt the truth because it is complex or because it is simple. It must be explored and grasped rather than superseded. It would be tragic if after the Bible has become so accessible to us, so available and so explored by loving scholars, that we would now reject or at least minimize the document that should be the central guide to our beliefs and worldview. The opinions and systems of church magisteriums and university professors and theologians have been shown to be lacking again and again throughout church history. Only the Bible has continuously brought us back to God Himself and to His clear teachings.

I hope and pray that the church will react against this new attempt to substitute the traditions, teachings, and systems of men for God’s revelation in the Bible. We must stand with the Reformers for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and for the primacy of the teaching of the Word of God as the most important of all true sacraments.


Vance Esler said...

I wish I weren't so old. If I could choose to go into Law, I think I would like to attend your school. I really enjoy your analyses and insights.

thekingpin68 said...

The church is currently troubled at its very roots, not because it is overly embracing Scripture or because it is placing Scripture in an improper place, but rather because it is not paying attention to what the Scriptures actually say...

I agree Don and have discussed this topic in a recent related article as well (Social justice? Biblical wrong). If things go very bad here in Canada, I would rather be in a house church with leadership and believers that are willing to take Scripture and primary Biblical doctrines seriously than to fellowship in the context of church meetings with those persons, however well-meaning and nice that are attempting to speak for God in the 21st Century by muting or presenting a reinterpretation of the Bible.