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Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Problem of the Authority of Scripture

I've said more than once that the primary authority on matters of faith and practice for Christians is the Bible. I've said more than once that the Bible is the God-breathed Word, infallible and inerrant. These things make the Bible a pretty important book. Oh, maybe not "sacred" like the Moslem's Quran, but pretty important. So ... what's the problem?

We believe that the Bible is God's Word and authoritative for Christians. So why is it that Christians seem to be so biblically illiterate? It appears to be rampant in the church. I heard a discussion over the holidays about how Joseph was so much older than Mary and about how tough it must have been for the pregnant Mary to ride all the way to Bethlehem on a donkey and the obvious spiritual ramifications of these facts. Except, there are no such facts in Scripture. I've had good, church-going believers tell me that "Cleanliness is next to godliness" is in the Bible and "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." (Prov 13:24) is not. I used to use a joke to tell people that "God helps those who help themselves" is found in Hezekiah 6 until I realized that far too many didn't know that there was no book of Hezekiah in the Bible.

The problem, then, of the authority of Scripture is not with Scripture. It's with those who don't know their Bibles. It's with those who have decided to use it as prooftext of whatever their particular idea will be. And with a little work and, perhaps, a nice electronic concordance, that gets pretty easy. Want to tell people that the poor are special? Just give 'em Jesus's quote, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20) Never mind that this doesn't match the parallel account. Never mind that it doesn't even make sense from the perspective of the argument being made. It's in there, and you need to do what it says. Or a more obvious one. Did you know that the Bible itself claims "There is no God"? Yes, it does. Right there in Psalm 14:1. Sure, sure, it's yanked out of context, but, hey, it's in there! And you need to believe what the Bible says! Okay, two silly examples. The more common ones are far more insidious.

It's with those who don't know the Word. The author of Hebrews complained, "About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." (Heb 5:11-14) That's where we are today. We've largely forgotten "the basic principles of the oracles of God." We've become "unskilled in the word of righteousness" instead of having "powers of discernment trained by constant practice." It is no wonder that we, in the church -- with Bibles in hand -- are having trouble distinguishing good from evil. We've been sucked into the accumulation of teachers and passages that suit our desires (2 Tim 4:3) rather than a love of God's Word.

At this point there is a problem with the authority of Scripture. We don't recognize it because far too many of us don't know it. Oh, we know what we like. Keep those sermons short and pithy. Entertain us. Upbeat and all that. Nothing like a good guitar riff to get us praisin' God. And never, ever mention that passage that suggests a daily gathering with believers and devotion to teaching (Acts 2:42-47). Way too much work. We seem much happier to hand over our Bibles to unbelievers so they can beat us over the heads with them. I think we can get enough Bible if they put a brief text up on the overhead display on Sunday, don't you? Oh, that we would find believers who love God's Word like the psalmist did (Psa 119). But I'd guess that even a chapter is too much if it's Psalm 119. But, then, I'd guess that most Christians don't know that it's the longest chapter in the Bible ...

Can you imagine what Christians would be like if they put as much energy into knowing, understanding, and applying God's Word as they do in their television and other entertainment?


Alec said...

Hi Stan.

Many - and especially younger - Christians are Biblically illiterate because we are moving back into the dark ages.

In those times the Bible was a forbidden book. Spooky experiences defined the "faith" of those dark days, which for most people was nothing more than superstition, smells, bells and fearing the priests.

Today we have many "Bibles", but few are very good. Nobody really reads them every day. It's easier to trust our mini-Popes, the celebrity pastors. The new translations go in and out of favor like software versions on a laptop. Only uneducated fools believe that God has preserved the actual words.

Thank God for the uneducated fools.

Stan said...

It would, then, be a conflict of authorities, wouldn't it? We would hold that God, through His Word, is the authority and they would argue that other things -- "mini-Popes, the celebrity pastors", even Science and Reason -- are of higher authority. Until we can make God's Word align with the popular authority of the day, we'll just have to set that aside.