We are quickly becoming a Biblically illiterate society
Americans both consider the Bible to be a divinely authored book and at the same time see the Bible as a book that fails to measure up to twenty-first century sensibilities. This issue is crucial for evangelicals. The authority of the Bible is the first and fundamental domino. If it falls, so falls the whole chain of beliefs.
43% of people who agreed that God is the author of Scripture also say that modern science discredits the claims of the Bible
Creation is a huge part of this
A 2014 survey by the Barna Group found
30% believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, has no errors but that some verses are meant to be symbolic
23% believe the Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally word for word
18% believe that it is just another book
15% believe it is the Inspired word of God but that it contains factual and historical errors
10% not inspired at all
Clearly there is an issue with the authority of the Bible not only in society at large, but more troublesome is that it is in the church
Thankfully this is not new - although we are going to find that this new challenge is a little different
It is important to note that Martin Luther did not set out initially to split the church but to reform it from within
After he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg his teachings came under attack from the Roman Catholic Church
In 1519 he traveled to Leipzig to debate with Johann Eck - a prominent Catholic apologist
It was during this debate that the ideal of Scriptural authority and the authority of the church came in to direct conflict
Eck accused Luther of espousing the teachings of John Hus
Luther tried to refuse this moniker because Hus had been condemned as a heretic 100 years prior
Luther reviewed what Hus had actually taught and realized that he was more like Hus and that Eck was correct
Eck challenged Luther as to whether he was the only person who had any knowledge
“I answer that God once spoke through the mouth of an ass. I will tell you straight what I think. I am a Christian theologian, and I am bound, not only to assert, but to defend the truth with my blood and death. I believe freely and will be a slave to the authority of no one, whether council, university or pope”
Luther was forced to choose - he chose Scripture
What Sola Scriptura was (and is) not
It doesn’t mean that other things cannot inform our theology - past theologians, commentaries, etc have value
What it does mean is that when we have to choose Scripture alone is our ultimate authority
What the Catholic Church teaches
The Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1992 says:
As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence
The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the magisterium of the Church, that is to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.
Today - the same view is espoused by the Jehovah’s Witnesses
“The Bible is an organizational book and belongs to the Christian congregation as an organization, not to individuals, regardless of how sincerely they may believe that they can interpret the Bible…the Bible cannot be properly understood without Jehovah’s visible organization in mind”
Interestingly enough this is the same view espoused by the Pharisees
It was not enough just to keep the laws given through Moses - they made it necessary to keep the “oral” traditions as well
And the Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered together around Him when they had come from Jerusalem,and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed.(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders;and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)And the Pharisees and the scribes *asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?”And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.“For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’;but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother;thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
The Pharisees were invalidating the Word of God by their traditions
A challenge to the authority of the Word of God
Calvin said this
“The difference between us and the papists (Catholics) is that they believe that the church cannot be the pillar of the truth unless she presides over the Word of God. We, on the other hand, assert that it is because she reverently subjects herself to the Word of God that the truth is preserved by her, and passed on to others by her hands.”
There was a confusion of the source of authority
Scripture is not like a treaty signed as an agreement between God and men
The Constitution of the United States has authority because the government ratified it and accepted it and then subjects itself to what it says
Scripture because it was written by God carries with it the authority of the author
This was taken even further to apply to the preaching of God’s Word
It is not the office of a pastor that gives him his authority. His authority comes from God’s Word.
The Second Helvetic Confession says this of the preaching of the Word of God
Wherefore when the Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.
Ulrich Zwingli said it this way “If he teaches you in accordance with the Word of God, it is not he that teaches you, but God who teaches him.” There is also a warning - “If he teaches you in accordance with his own thoughts and mind his teaching is false.”
For the reformers the preaching of God’s Word was to hear the voice of God
“Would to God that we would gradually train our hearts to believe that the preachers words are God’s Word” ~ Martin Luther
To be careful - this raises our view of preaching not of preachers...
2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 10:14; Psalm 119:105; Hebrews 1:1-2
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints,to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
As we have seen the major challenge to the authority of Scripture during the Reformation was tradition
That is not so today
Today it is experience - that we don’t need to read or subject ourselves to what Scripture says but simply follow our feelings, our expriences
Rob Bell in his recent book “What is the Bible” says this:
"The problem, of course, is that the folks who talk the most about the authority of the Bible also seem to talk the most about things like objective and absolute truth, truth that exists independent of relational realities."
So there is no absolute truth - the Bible is subject to your own individual interpretation of what it means
Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding California says:
“Those who feel safe because of their intellectual grasp of Scriptures enjoy a false sense of security. None of us has a full grasp of Scripture, but we all have the Holy Spirit. He is our common denominator who will always lead us into truth. But to follow Him, we must be willing to follow off the map - to go beyond what we know.”
There’s just enough truth in that statement to make it dangerous and seriously undermine the authority of Scripture.
We don’t have a FULL grasp of Scripture
We do all have the Holy Spirit
But that doesn’t mean we abandon the book and go off on our own to try and find the way
We need to continue to be a bastion of Scriptural authority and inerrancy - Scripture alone - in our church and personal lives
When challenges to our faith come we shouldn’t respond from church tradition, the latest social study or our own ideas but rather we should proudly proclaim “This is what the Bible says”....
The Bible is not just true; it is truer than anything else