Sunday, February 22, 2015

P11 Why the Bible alone is the basis for the Christian and the church

2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

For the past ten days we have labored to deal as practically, clearly and as comprehensively as possible with the question: "why the Bible?" Many readers may wonder why the length and effort. The prior posts we have looked at have dealt with the subject of "why the Bible" and could be summarized under the following three main headings:

1. Perilous times need the Bible

2. It is uniquely trustworthy because of its perfection, preservation and clarity

3. It demonstrates itself to be inspired by God through fulfilled prophecy

Such effort is worth the time and energy, since the battle for the Bible is never done. Today's post represents what is perhaps the "final turn" before heading down to the finish line of this series. Today we deal with issue of why it is that the Bible alone is the final authority for Christian living and the church.

How historically some people have equated or replaced scripture with other types of authority
Throughout the history of the church and the individual Christian life, the matter of authority is dealt with more often than we realize. The history of the church records how in some generations, other types of authority were elevated alongside the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, and even today, views church tradition as being on equal footing with the scripture. Eastern Orthodox Christianity will go as far to say that the Holy Spirit's living voice is realized through church history and appeal is made to the first seven ecumenical church councils along with the scripture. 

By the seventeenth century, many in Europe had been affected by the Enlightenment and thus enthroned reason alongside and eventually in place of the scriptures. By the eighteenth into the nineteenth centuries, experience came to be equated with the scriptures in terms of its ability to interpret truth. All of  this set the stage for the decline of the Bible's role in the Western world through the 20th and into the 21st centuries. 

Why the Christian and the church needs an ultimate, final authority
So is the Roman Catholic church and Eastern Orthodoxy correct in equating tradition as some type of "second divine stream" that reveals truth alongside the scriptures? What about those who enthrone reason, rather than scripture to the place of final authority? Certainly other people would bank on experience being the final arbiter of truth. Does tradition, experience and reason have a place in the church? Clearly these other forms of authority have their place, however they can be imperfect and are inadequate to deliver any sense of final authority. The logic we are driving at is that there can be only one authority that is without error, timeless and which has survived over 3,000 years unchanged - the Bible.

The uniqueness of the Bible's authority and the role it exercises in regulating and putting into perspective other types of authority is called by the Latin phrase: "sola scriptura" or "the Bible alone." The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 explains in the second half of its first article on the Bible: "Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation."

Jesus illustrates how tradition is secondary to the final authority of scripture
The truth of sola scriptura or "scripture as the final authority" is seen in how Jesus handles tradition. The scriptures being the final arbiter of all truth, with all other authorities playing second fiddle to the scripture, marks the Biblical model for authority in the church. Jesus warned about tradition being placed on equal footing or in place of the scriptures in Mark 7:8 "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." Matthew 15:6 records Jesus saying: "he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition." 

So with the above warnings about tradition, was Jesus totally against tradition? Clearly Jesus put tradition in its place as a valuable but secondary method of expressing one's faith in the Lord. For example, the Jews had developed a tradition within the Biblically revealed Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (compare Leviticus 23:33-44) of taking water out of the pool of Siloam, with the seventh day entailing the priests bringing a golden pitcher filled with water from that pool in a public ceremony. Such a tradition was used by the Jews to remind them of God's provision in their desert wanderings. Jesus utilized that background as window dressing in his statement in John 7:37-38 "Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” Though the tradition was used as window dressing, the core of Jesus' statement was an allusion to the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah 12; 44:3; 55:1 and 58:11. Clearly Jesus was governing His use of tradition by the ultimate authority of scripture. 

The apostles illustrate how experience is to be judged by the final authority of scripture
Oftentimes I will here people say that the reason they know something to be truth is because they "feel it". When we consider the events that transpired on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Apostle Peter had a very important role of explaining the events in light of scripture. Acts 2:14-16 records - "But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; 16 but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel." Notice how Peter subordinates experience and events under the authority and clarity of the scriptures. His application of Joel's prophecy was not arbitrary, but very strategic and in the context of the Spirit's arrival at Pentecost. Imagine if Peter had reversed the roles of experience and scripture? We would not only had read a chaotic scene with no definitive explanation, but the reader would not be able to link the life of the early church to the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven in Acts 1. 

Reason is to be judged by the authority of scripture
Sadly some Christians think reason and faith are at odds with one another. However in response to that misunderstanding, I say: do friends need to be reconciled? We are told after all to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength in Matthew 22:37. Reason is necessary in the process of discerning good and evil, a true mark of spiritual maturity. (Hebrews 5:14) Within the context of Hebrews 5 we hasten to add that such reason is only useful as it is informed by scripture (compare Hebrews 5:12-13). Paul reminds his readers to take every thought, reasoning process and idea that raises itself up against Christ and bring it into subjection to Christ's authority in the Word. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) 

Closing thoughts on why the Bible alone is the basis for the Christian and the church
Today we have aimed in this post to show biblically why the scripture alone is authoritative over other secondary authorities such as reason, experience and tradition. When we place other sources of authority in their proper use and perspective as being judged by scripture, we match the model set forth by Jesus and the Apostles. Two quotes about the Bible being the basis for the church and Christian life will close out today's post. Theologian Dr. Michael Horton writes in his Systematic Theology: "The Christian Faith - A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way", page 198 - "Because God alone saves, God alone teaches and rules our faith and practice. Because the church is the creation of the Word rather than vice versa, 'salvation belongs to the Lord!' (Jonah 2:9). The late pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Dr. James Montgomery Boice, notes about the necessity of God's Word being the final basis for the Christian and the church in his book: "Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace", page 85 - "That is, it is the very Word of God and therefore carries within it the authority and very power of God. Yes, and it is useful too. It is useful for 'teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work' (2 Timothy 3:17). That is exactly it. That is what we need. It is what everybody needs. And only the Word of God is sufficient for it."

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