Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Battle for the Bible

"Over the last several decades there has been a mighty battle with regard to the inspiration of scripture... A battle for the Bible! But there is only one problem. When you come to believe as a people that the Bible is inspired you have only fought half the battle because the question is not merely, "Is the Bible inspired?" The major question following that that must be answered: Is the Bible sufficient or do we have to bring in every so called social science and cultural study in order to know how to run a church? That is a major question." - Paul Washer

I heard Washer teach on this terrible departure from Scripture in his sermon, "Ten Indictments Against the Modern 'Church'" (*1). It resonated with what I've being seeing as I've talked with Christian brothers and sisters around the country (*2). Basically, it seems churches are tending more and more to "outsource" their teaching ministry. What I mean is: the Body of Christ is turning to the teachings of Freud, Plato, modern science and psychology before turning to the Bible (*3).

The result is preaching and doctrine that is conventional and unoffensive. Pastors focus relentlessly on you and your individual needs. Sermons address issues like "how to discipline your children, how to reach your professional goals, how to invest your money and reduce debt." Books like Joel Osteen's Your Best Life Now teach people "how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals." (*4)

Now, this isn't a new problem by any means (*5). But as we use Christ's model of discipleship, and essentially--ideally--the Church grows twelve times over in each generation, we just continue to pass on our bad habits to our disciples, and they to theirs.

What we have today is a group of people identifying themselves as "Christians" who have been taught to look for truth in all the same places the world looks for truth. Think about it: If we're unsatisfied with our income, we read books on how to be more successful in the workplace; if we're too impatient to go that route, we just take out a loan to purchase the things we want. Before we make any fashion purchases, we see what Cosmo has to say. If there's tension in our marriage, we pay a marriage counselor to teach us how to treat our spouses better.

The straight-forward, authoritative power of Scripture in our daily lives is practically obsolete. We keep our Bible around, of course, as a fashion accessory for Sunday mornings. But it surely doesn't dictate the decisions we make--not the little ones and certainly not the big ones. We leave serious stuff like that to the professionals.

Dear Church, when did the Word of God cease to be enough for us? In what year did it expire? Why must we supplement the teachings of the God of the universe with teachings of fallen man in order to satisfy our souls? This is not only dangerous because it opens a window for heresy, it's dangerous because it is a heresy to believe the Word of God is not complete.
Paul taught that the whole of Scripture is sufficient "to make you wise for salvation" (2 Tim 3.15-17) (*6). David had this same idea centuries before, and he describes the Word of the Lord as perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true and righteous (Ps 19.7-9). He says the Bible has the power to:
  • Revive the soul
  • Make the simple wise
  • Rejoice the heart
  • Enlighten the eyes
  • Endure forever (*7)
If these are the rewards of Scripture's authority in our lives, why are we searching elsewhere for anything? What else could we possibly want as we journey toward more of Christ?

My friends, the world has nothing to offer us! 
(Lev 18.3; Deut 12.30-31; Eze 20.32; Jn 3.20; Jn 14.17; Php 3.8)

My prayer is that we will bring Scripture back to the forefront of our teaching and discipleship of the Body of Christ. If God does hear from heaven and heal our land like we are praying so fervently... if He does bring in an enormous harvest... will we be prepared? Will we be firmly planted, ready to give an account for the hope that we have (1 Pet 3.15)? Will you be able to explain how Scripture teaches Gospel Truth (Acts 17.11)?

"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him,
'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
and you will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.'" (John 8.30,31)


Footnotes:

*1 - You can also read the text on Sermon Audio, here.

*2 - And I'm nowhere near the first to write about it. Mike Erre, in his book Death by Church, expands on this shift in thinking; Francis Chan describes it in Crazy Love; Pastors and worship leaders are constantly blogging and tweeting about it... To such extent that I feel this footnote is a bit unnecessary. It's everywhere. If you haven't noticed this yourself and want me to support my claim, please email me your address so I can move to your city and enjoy the same pure, unadulterated Christianity you enjoy.

*3 - This actually makes me question our definition of "The Church." Paul Washer argues that "the Church in America is doing wonderfully--walking in holiness; walking in sanctity. And when it stumbles, it quickly repents and comes back with even greater devotion and joy toward God! You say, 'Brother Paul, what world are you living in? That is not the Church in America!' Yes it is! The only problem is: you're calling something 'The Church' that's not the Church."

*4 - Publishers Weekly, 10/11/2004

*5 - It's been oft claimed that Christianity has jacked most of our holidays from paganism. While adopting holidays is nothing like adopting world-views, it seems such practices started as good intentions of providing "Christian Alternatives" to pagan rituals. Ultimately, the two cultures have merged to create a PagoChristian (Err--Hallmark?) dominated calendar. The same is happening today with our entire lifestyles.

*6 - Paul is certainly referring, at very least, to the Old Testament. But a closer look suggests he would make the same claims about the New Testament as well. Here's why I say that:
     If Paul was referencing only the Hebrew cannon, the inclusive/distributive word, πᾶσα, (pasa, "all") would be unnecessary; he would have used the definite article, ταῖς, (tais, plural of "the") like Jesus did whenever He referenced the Hebrew Scriptures. Why this peculiar use of pasa? Paul was trying to make it clear to Timothy that the Hebrew Scriptures and the new truth of the Gospel were both breathed out by God.
     Furthermore, Peter calls Paul's letters "Scripture" (and puts them on the same level as the Hebrew Bible!) in 2 Peter 3.16. Jude alludes to this same completeness of faith present in the epistles in Jude 3.

*7 - Some might take issue with the case for the sufficiency of Scripture being built based on what the Bible itself teaches (Petitio Principii). However, I believe every person faces a step somewhere in their Christian walk which must be taken by faith alone. For me, this "step of faith" occurs in my affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture.
     Inerrancy is the idea that everything the Bible teaches is true and free of error. It holds that Yahweh himself was the One who inspired the words penned by the authors. There are exactly zero misplaced or incorrect words in the original manuscripts, and because we also know a thing or two about the tedious perfectionism of the scribes in ancient Israel, we can further assume that there are very very few mistakes in the manuscripts we have today.
     This faith I have in the inerrancy of Scripture is not blind. There are three reasons I affirm inerrancy:
  • Christ treated the Old Testament as inspired.   
"Notice first that Jesus used the Word to defend His Sonship. The fiend said, "If Thou be the Son of God," and Jesus replied, "It is written." That was the only answer He needed to give. Jesus did not call to mind evidences to prove His Sonship. He did not even mention that voice out of the excellent glory that had said, "This is My beloved Son." No, but "It is written." - C.H. Spurgeon
  •  The whole of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) have proven to be historically accurate to such extent that one may safely trust the authenticity of all things to which it attests: things of history and of spiritual Truth.
"We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to a high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God..." - Westminster Confession
  • I am convinced by general revelation that nature testifies to a sovereign, omnipresent Creator. This sovereign, omnipresent Creator was present at the Counsel of Nicea, and intentionally ordained the canonization of the books we now consider Scripture, so as to reveal Himself by special revelation through His Word to His creation.
"For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." - Apostle Paul, (Ro 1.20)

8 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Stupid posting from a phone, forcing me to make all those typos.

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  3. I removed it cause I wanted to write it better. Here you go!

    I guess that my first question shall be; what do you do then with the rest of Jude, where he quotes the Book of Enoch as Scripture (vv. 14-15) and yet we do not consider Enoch to be such? Was he wrong or was what happened at Nicea wrong?

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  4. Correction: Jude doesn't call Enoch's prophecy "scripture." I don't really see an issue with him quoting extra-biblical texts. (Joshua 10.13 and 2 Samuel 1.18 also quote other books, but it is not an issue for inerrancy, much less Paul quoting Greek poets in Acts.) Extra-biblical texts and philosophies may very well be true, but I don't believe them to be necessary for salvation.

    He quotes Enoch 1.9 as a modern, cultural reference; the same way I like to quote John Piper and Paul Washer.

    I do find it curious, though, that he attributes the prophecy to the Enoch is Genesis, even though that Enoch evidently did not write the book of Enoch. That is odd, but it isn't a case against inerrancy. On explanation is that the common consensus of the day believed the Book of Enoch to have been written by the patriarch Enoch, and what we have is a case of "biblical accommodation" as we have in Joshua 10.13 when the Sun--not "the Earth"--stands still.

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  5. I don't think there's a problem with extra-biblical texts either.

    But I don't think that your assessment of Jude's treatment of Enoch is accurate (though, of course, mine might not be as well). He obviously lifts it up in some way by referring to his reference as prophecy (I don't see Paul doing that when he quotes the Greek's own poet and I have yet to hear you refer to any of Piper's or Washer's texts as such). Many of the early church leaders (including Tertullian, Origen, and Clement) felt that Jude's quotation of Enoch (and his earlier quotation from the Assumption of Moses) qualified both apocrypha as inspired.

    Regarding "biblical accommodation," this is such a strange argument especially when coupled with a omniscience God. He (or She) couldn't just say, "no, trust me, just write that the earth stood still, I'll explain later?" Or maybe God did and the author (or a scribe later on) decided to fix God's mistake.

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  6. I'll reduce my provocations down to one question that is probably most relevant to this blog: why should I trust the 300-year process by which the Scriptures were established? (Actually, I believe our current canon wasn't completely established until the Reformers further refined the Catholic canon that had existed in the church from the early centuries...but I digress.)

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  7. I should clarify...my sentiments are not in opposition to God's word. I am simply questioning our present understanding of what God's inspired Scriptures are, and how they came to be.

    Almost universally among Christians, I find that we choose to believe that there was a special spiritual phenomenon that occurred in the year 300 AD when spiritual early church fathers gathered together and applied systematic, God-inspired rules to establishing the canon.

    Not only is this far from the truth, I believe that it really misguides us in our belief about the inspiration of the Scriptures.

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  8. Sorry for my delayed response!


    David,

    I agree completely. There was no "magic" in the counsel of Nicea. It wasn't as if Moses, King David, the disciples and Paul got together and decided what to keep and what to reject (and even if those guys HAD been there, they still could have jacked it up!)

    However, the reason I affirm their work to be correct (or rather, precisely how God wanted it) is because I believe the Holy Spirit was in their midst, guiding their decisions, the same way He guided the decisions of Herod, Pilate and the Roman Soldiers to send Jesus to the cross (Acts 4.26-28), of Pharaoh (Ex 14.4), of Joseph's brothers (Gen 50.20), of Samson (Jdg 14.3-4), and even of false prophets (1 Kin 22.23).

    God knew the weight of the decisions made at Nicea. That the Church would keep that canon and cherish it as her highest prize. So, on the grounds of His omniscient omnipotence (say that 5x fast), I affirm the inerrancy of the Canon of Nicea and of the Reformers, in their respective ages.

    Warrior,

    David makes a great point about the "systematic, God-inspired rules" that the Counsel of Nicea adhered to. Scripture, if in fact inspired, ought to be able to stand up to fierce scrutiny. This is where other texts (Apocrypha, Koran, Book of Mormon) fall short. Logic is part of the Imago Dei, therefore we should approach our search for Truth with keen discernment, not blind faith.

    Even so, there is a choice involved. Logic leads us to one of two schools of thought regarding Scripture:

    1) By faith we believe ALL Scripture is inspired. The fathers of Christianity did their best to protect the integrity of the Word of God by labeling some writings "holy" and some not. Jesus, being totally sovereign over all things, has stood by His bride through the centuries, purifying her and guarding her against heresies and false prophets. To this end, He ensured that every word from Genesis through Revelation is perfect.

    or,

    2) We believe the Bible is an ancient text created by man. Some of it is faulty. Any of it may be incorrect. God may or may not be sovereign. Jesus may or may not be God. He might not have risen from the dead, we might not be offered salvation through His blood, He might not be Love, and He might be a "she." At that point, faith is lost and we are left with a self-made religion.

    As of yet I do not see a middle ground between these two, but perhaps I am mistaken.


    Soli Deo Gloria

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