The Restoration of Respect For The Authority of the Bible
Bowling Green, Kentucky
While attending a state university, I took an introductory course in psychology. As the professor gave his first lecture, he said, "If there are any 'Bible thumpers' in this class, I would recommend that you drop the class." Later, I attended a graduate school at a seminary run by the Disciples of Christ. In a class on "Introduction to the New Testament," the professor said, "About the only thing historical in the gospel record of the life of Christ is 'Jesus died."' I frequently observe blatant disrespect for the Bible by the news media and in television situation comedies.
There is a need in America for us to restore a wholesome respect for the authority of the Bible in our lives. But some may ask, "Why should I have a respect for the Bible?"
The Bible Is A Revelation From God
There are basically two concepts which man can have of the Bible: (1) the Bible is a record of man's gropings to find God and (2) the Bible is a revelation from God to man. Those who view the Bible as a record of man's groping to find God have no qualms in disagreeing with the writings of Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, or Paul. Their thoughts and beliefs are just as worthwhile as are those of the biblical writers. They conceive of the New Testament description of the early church as the historical record of the beginnings of Christianity but think that man must ever work to improve the Christian religion. Others (2) believe that the Bible is a revelation of God's will to man. It contains the record of God's work to redeem man from sin, a revelation of the ethics which are acceptable to God, a revelation of the conditions for obtaining forgiveness of sins, and a pattern for congregational worship, work, organization, etc. (a blueprint for the church). To conceive of the church revealed in the Bible as a model to be improved upon is incompatible with the idea of a perfect revelation from God.
Each of us stands at this crossroads and makes a commitment to one of these concepts of the Bible. Those who view the Bible as a record of man's gropings for God commit themselves, not to following the details of the Bible, but to changing and reshaping Christianity to fit the age in which they live. Those who view the Bible as a divine revelation will commit themselves to following the pattern revealed in the Bible in every respect.
I contend that the Bible is an expression of the authority of God over man. As our Creator, God has supreme authority over us. "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:11). God has given all authority to Jesus (Matt. 28:18). "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing" (Rev. 5:12). The apostle Paul said that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:20-22).
The Scriptures clearly affirm that Jesus is the Lord over all things to man (cf. Acts 2:36). How does one learn the mind of Christ in order that he might submit to His authority?
Jesus revealed His will to mankind through the apostles and prophets of the first century. As Jesus prepared to depart from this world, He promised to give the apostles another Comforter, the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit would come, He "will guide you into all truth" (Jn. 16:13). In explaining the Spirit's work, Jesus said, "But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak" (Matt. 10: 19). Hence, the Holy Spirit came to the apostles, revealing to them the words of God.
At first, God's revelation to man through the apostles was oral. Later, this revelation was committed to writing. This written revelation was just as certainly the voice of God as what was spoken through them orally, as the following Scriptures indicate:
If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of God (1 Cor. 14:37).
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (1 Thess. 2:13).
He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit (1 Thess. 4:8).
He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me (Lk. 10:16; cf. Matt. 10:40; Jn. 13:20).
The same principle is seen in the usage of the Old Testament by the New Testament writers. The New Testament use of the Old Testament Scriptures reveals that the words of the Old Testament were the words of God (Mt. 1:22; 2:15; 22:31; 22:43). That which was spoken by the prophet was considered the word of God (cf. Heb. 3:7; 4:7).
The Holy Spirit did what the Lord sent Him to do. He guided the apostles into all truth. Through His work of revelation, the Lord has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:34) and has given us the inspired Scriptures which thoroughly furnish us unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:17). There is no spiritual blessing available to man but that which comes to us through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3) and is revealed to us in the Bible. Some men say that we need to exalt the Man and not the Book. However, everything we know about the Man is revealed to us in the Book; hence, one cannot exalt the Man without exalting the Book.
This word of God will be the standard of judgment in the last day (Jn. 12:48; Rev. 20:12). By it mankind will be judged.
Hence, the Bible, far from being a record of man's fallible searching and groping in an effort to find God, is a divine, infallible revelation of the will of God to man. It is man's most precious possession, for without it we do not know how to obtain forgiveness of sins and to inherit heaven when we die. In a world of constant flux and change, the Bible reveals to mankind how to live the best life on earth. We need to restore respect for the authority of Jesus as revealed in the Bible.
Disrespect Shown For The Bible
A different type of disrespect for the Bible is shown by various groups. Here are some who are showing disrespect for the authority of God expressed in the Bible.
1. Atheism. Atheists are generally working under the banner of "humanism" today. The Humanists "find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural" and, therefore, believe "that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species" (Humanist Manifesto H). Atheists blaspheme God and deny His word.
2. Modernism. Modernists deny the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Bible. There is wide divergence among modernists regarding how much of the Bible must be discarded. A group of scholars has recently been in conference to vote on which sayings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible are authentic. Some reject all of the miracles of the Bible; others reject all but a selected few. Some relegate the doctrine of the atonement to the outmoded past declaring that it is too bloody a religion for today's age. In the realm of ethics, modernists have accepted and promulgated "situation ethics," an ethical system in which every man becomes a law to himself. This shows a disrespect for the Bible.
3. Catholicism. Catholics profess to believe in the Bible and even claim that the Bible is a Catholic book. However, the Catholics subordinate the authority of God as revealed in the Bible to their church traditions and the ex cathedra word of the pope. One writes,
Christians agree that God's revelation is found in the Bible. Catholics claim, however, that the Bible is not the only source of God's teaching to man (Facts of the Faith, Monsignor J.D. Conway, p. 2).
In listing the other sources, Conway listed (1) the writings of the Church Fathers, (2) decrees and acts of the early church councils, (3) decisions of the popes, (4) their Creeds, (5) books of early prayers, ceremonies, and devotions, and (6) archaeological remains. Conway continued, "We believe that only the Church of Jesus Christ has the right and authority to collect, preserve, and teach the Bible. . . . The Church urges Catholics to read and study it, but she maintainings that we cannot take it as our only rule of faith, or read our own meanings into it. We need a teaching authority to interpret it" (Ibid, p. 10).
Hence, the Catholic Church shows a disrespect for the Bible by submitting the authority of the divinely revealed book to the fallible councils of men, church traditions, and ex cathedra statements of a pope.
4. Fundamental Protestants. Inasmuch as I have included many Protestants under "modernism," I want to show how those Protestants who claim to be Evangelical and Fundamentalist show a disrespect for the Bible. Here are some of the ways:
(a) They show a disrespect by their creeds. The creeds of the various denominations are rules of faith which have authority over the various denominations. These creeds exclude from the fellowship of the denomination everyone who is unwilling to subscribe to its tenets. If these creeds contain more than the Bible, they contain too much; if they contain less than the Bible, they do not contain enough; if they contain the same thing as the Bible, they are unnecessary. Surely no one would claim that uninspired men can produce a better statement of faith than the Lord God Himself. Hence, the creeds of men show a disrespect for the word of God.
(b) Their practices in religion show disrespect for the Bible. Their "clergy" wears titles which exalt them above the "laymen" in violation of Jesus' prohibition (Matt. 23:9). Their worship is changed and shaped according to the whims Of men, rather than the revelation of God. The Lord's supper is served once a year, once every six months, or once a month as men might decide which is best. Funds are raised through bake sales, rummage sales, Las Vegas nights, Bingo, or involvement in secular business as men might judge best. Congregational singing is replaced by choirs, professional singing groups, instrumental music, and anything else they might desire to chose. The work of the church varies according to what men might judge best, ranging from church supported hospitals, orphans homes, colleges and soup lines to recreational activities such as church softball leagues, trips to amusement parks, fellowship halls, church owned gymnasiums, etc. Such activities show disrespect for the authority of God as revealed in the Bible inasmuch as they undermine the concept that the church revealed in the Bible is a pattern for all men of all ages.
(c) Inner illumination shows a disrespect for the authority of God. Many Fundamentalist preachers believe that the Holy Spirit of God gives them revelation separate and apart from the word of God. Anytime such a person has a strong feeling about anything, his subjective feelings become the voice of God in his life. As these preachers are "led by the Spirit," they teach things contrary to the revelation of God in the Bible. They tell men to speak in tongues, be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and to seek the leadings of God outside of His revelation in the Bible. The doctrine of illumination of the Spirit undermines the authority of God in the Bible and shows a disrespect for the Bible.
5. Liberal brethren. Our liberal brethren and those in the Christian Church show a disrespect for the Bible in the things which they have introduced into the worship and work of the church. The Christian Church preachers have departed from the word of God, committing themselves to the principle that the "silence of the Bible authorizes." Hence, they have introduced instrumental music in worship, church supported missionary societies, recreational activities, celebration of unauthorized holy days, and many other things. Our liberal brethren are not far behind. They have perverted the work of the church by involving the church in various works of the social gospel, such as church supported colleges, hospitals, unwed mothers homes, homes for the aged, and orphan homes. They have also involved the church in various recreational activities ranging from "Family Life Centers" (gymnasiums) to "fellowship halls." They have distorted the organization of the church to funnel funds from thousands of churches through one centralized office in the sponsoring church arrangement. These practices of liberalism opened the floodgates for many other forms of apostasy and are moving the liberal churches of Christ into the mainstream of twentieth century Protestant denominationalism.
How To Restore Respect For The Authority of the Bible
How can men restore respect for the authority of the Bible? The answers are not so complex.
1. Atheism. The atheist must believe in God and accept the Bible as God's revelation to man.
2. Modernism. The modernist must accept the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Bible. He must accept the record of the Bible miracles, believe the doctrines taught in the Bible, and submit himself to the ethics demanded in the Bible.
3. Catholicism. The Catholic must dethrone the pope, councils, and Catholic tradition. Then, he must accept the Bible as the only revelation of God to man. He must accept the fact that he can read and understand it for himself (Eph. 3:3-5) and then commit himself to obeying it.
4. Fundamental Protestants. Those who already accept the inspiration of the Scriptures, miracles, and many fundamental doctrines of the Bible must elevate the Bible above their human opinions. " . . . it belongs to every individual and to every congregation of individuals to discard from their faith and their practice every thing that is not found written in the New Testament of the Lord and Savior, and to believe and practice whatever is their enjoined" (Christian Baptist, abridged ed., D.S. Burnet, editor, p. 133).
They must discard their human creeds and claims to special revelation from God (e.g., illumination of the Spirit), submitting themselves to the word of God.
5. Liberal brethren. Like the other denominations, the Christian Churches and liberal churches of Christ must be willing to discard from their faith and their practice everything that is not found written in the Bible. Giving lip service to the authority of the Scriptures while introducing many unauthorized items into the worship, work, and organization of the church is no different from what the denominations do who pay lip service to the Bible while clinging to their creeds. The authority of the Bible will be respected again when men are willing to make these commitments.
If we truly respect the Bible as the revelation of the mind of God to man, we will read and study it. We will believe it. We will obey it. We will preach it to others. So long as we leave the Bible on our coffee tables to collect dust, we need not preach to others about their need to restore respect for the authority of God as revealed in the Bible.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 11, pp. 322, 356-357