Monday, February 23, 2015

Final Authority: Is The Bible Really Enough?

We believe that the Bible is the final authority
in all matters of faith, and practice.

That is an interesting statement. In one form or another, it appears in thousands of church statements of faith and doctrinal statements. It has been a foundational statement in every church in which I have been a member.

But that statement is a subtle, modern liberal attempt to limit the authority of scripture.  Even though many give tacit approval, the emphasis on Faith and Practice deliberately omits matters of science, sociology, sexuality, politics, etc.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a few men to rework our church's constitution. After considering that statement, we expanded it as follows:

His Word is the church’s supreme and only guide in all matters of membership, organization, purpose, faith, doctrine, order, ethics, morality, Christian living, and discipline.

I liked that.  For us, it was a declarative reminder that everything we did in our church should be established in and guided by the Word of God.  Unfortunately, that statement on authority was soon relegated to the back of a file drawer somewhere and was soon forgotten. 

The reformers stated it differently – Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). But is that really enough? Do we need more? Do we need tradition or new revelation or experiences?

I don’t know who Tim Staples is, but I recently came across an article, written by him, titled, According To Scripture. In it, he denies and attempts to refute sola Scriptura as a biblical teaching. In his opening paragraphs he states:
"If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!" That belief, commonly known as sola Scriptura, was a central component of all I believed as a Protestant. This bedrock Protestant teaching claims that Scripture alone is the sole rule of faith and morals for Christians. Diving deeper into its meaning to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism about twenty years ago, I found that there was no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors and no book I could read to get a better understanding of it.

What role does tradition play? How explicit does something have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? Does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How can we determine the canon using sola Scriptura? All these questions and more pointed to the central question: Where is sola Scriptura itself taught in the Bible?

Most Protestants find it in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The fact is that this passage (or any other) does not even hint at Scripture being the sole rule of faith. It says that Scripture is inspired and necessary—a rule of faith—but in no way does it teach that Scripture alone is all one needs to determine the truth about faith and morals in the Church. My attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism led me to conclude that sola Scriptura is unreasonable, unbiblical, and unworkable.

In his article, he continues to expand and defend that premise in detail if you care to read it.

Well, I am just a simple-minded, dumb, uneducated, and theologically challenged Christian but I trust in sola Scriptura, the written Word of God alone.  And I don’t have a problem defending that. I will try to be clear and succinct.

I fully agree with Tim Staples that II Tim 3:16-17 is not sufficient to prop up “sola Scriptura.” But that was not the Apostle's intent.  The real questions you need to answer are these - Do you believe that God means what He says and says what He means? Can You depend on Him for Truth? Do you believe His Word? If any of the answers are NO, then you are going to be really frustrated and messed up.

All of this settles, in my mind, on one very simple (or maybe one extremely profound and complicated) concept - Final Authority. God has spoken and His Word is the final authority. You can see that everywhere in Scripture when God speaks in absolute, unarguable, and authoritative terms like, “I Am the Lord,” “Thou shalt not,” and “The Word of the Lord came…”

In the garden, He said to Adam, “Do NOT eat of this tree or you will die."

That sounds straightforward and simple enough but then the serpent comes along and entices Eve into a discussion or dialogue about it. “Did God really say that? That doesn’t make logical sense. Surely He didn’t really mean that you would really die. The fruit looks so good and, after all, God created it; it can’t be that bad.”

Between the serpent and Eve, they reached a reasoned consensus based on their opinions but it wasn’t what God said.

Similarly, when He was tempted in the wilderness, Jesus spoke in the same authoritative manner. He didn’t attempt to argue or reason with Satan; He simply said, “It is written.”

There is a popular phrase that goes like this, “God said it; I believe it, and that settles it.”

I would submit to you that, frankly, it doesn’t really matter one bit whether or not I believe it. The fact is, God said it and that settles it. His Word is the final authority and He often doesn’t take the time to explain it or try to convince us about truth. He just declares it.

So how does that play out practically in our lives? Here are a few random thoughts and I am sure, if you really want to, you can think of many more.

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.”

That sounds pretty final. There is no other way. It really doesn’t matter if you think Him not to be fair or reasonable about that.

The Word of God declares, “There is none righteous; No, not one.” and “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

So it really makes no difference if some of us choose to believe that, somehow, there may be some exception to “All” by means of some kind of immaculate conception or ages of accountability or untainted innocence or primitive ignorance.  All means All.

On homosexuality, I have heard all kinds of arguments from people with different opinions about the same texts. But the Word of God is very clear; it is an abomination and a sin. Our opinions, objections, and arguments are irrelevant.

Is there a second chance after death? God’s Word says, “It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment.”

That fact doesn’t change simply because we all agree otherwise, by consensus, that there must be some kind of holding tank where we can be purged of our sins and prayed into heaven by our relatives.

I really don’t have a problem with God’s Word being the “final authority.” My problem is disobedience and rebelliousness. God is God; I’m not and, frankly, He doesn’t care how I feel about truth or whether I agree with Him. The bottom line is, “Thus saith the Lord.”

You would be surprised at how simple the answers are when we stop trying to wrap our hearts and our heads around tough theological, psychological, or emotional questions and simply listen to the final, authoritative Word of God.



Anonymous said...

My response to people who don't like what God says in his Word:

But who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? (Romans 9:20 TNIV)

If we don't like what he says, tough! Obey him!

Anonymous said...

If God's Word is not enough, then whose word is? This is the problem with the modern-day church - people's opinions and feelings, how they "feel" about things, and what they "feel" the Bible means to them personally - all these things have become more important than what the Bible actually says. People are making the same mistake Eve made when she felt comfortable with disobeying God's Word and following her own opinion.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Every time someone says God's Word isn't enough, you can bet your bottom dollar it is because they are intentionally rebelling against God is a substantial way.