The 2015 Irish Biblical Reformation Conference was held on Saturday 7 November, at Edenmore Golf Club, Northern Ireland. The guest speaker was Pastor Geoff Thomas of Aberystwyth, who spoke on the theme, ‘The authority and sufficiency of God’s Word’.
In his first session, Geoff reminded us of the uniqueness of God’s Word, the Scriptures, in our salvation. He contrasted the Word with an independent conscience as a source of authority. Conscience apart from God’s Word is either too strict or too accommodating as a guide for sinners.
Martin Luther, as he answered for his beliefs at Worms, gives a clear example of how conscience should properly inform and subject itself to the objective authority of the Word. The Reformation principle is that the Word of God is the only rule to direct us how to enjoy and glorify God.
Roman Catholicism teaches that the magisterium (teaching authority of the church) is supreme, but the Christian life should be under the enlightenment and dominion of the Word. This is the only authority for the Christian’s beliefs or theology.
God has chosen to keep back certain things from our knowledge now, but his character and work, his relationship with us through Christ, and what the Christian life should look like, are matters on which Scripture speaks very clearly.
God’s truth is given, not just to inform our intellect, but to change us into the people God would have us be. We need to grow in our grasp of truth, in order to be useful in God’s service. We should, above all, know the great truths about our Saviour, Jesus Christ, in his person, work and offices.
The great doctrines, like justification and sanctification, should be central to our life and work as Christians. This is the great antidote to much that disrupts the church and Christian living today.
Geoff stated that Scripture has supreme authority in the realm of ethics, in our daily behaviour in our varied spheres of activity and duty. Properly understood, Scripture, in this area, clarifies for many believers what initially seems to be a problem of guidance, into an issue of obedience. The Ten Commandments have a ‘grand simplicity about them’.
And so issues like who we are to marry, sexual ethics, abortion, pacifism versus involvement in the defence of one’s country, etc., can be resolved by submitting to God’s Word, rather than by societal pressure or personal feelings. Our Lord commended faithfulness in little things as the measure of Christian growth and development.
The Word of God must control our worship. As churches we should ask, is our worship what God has commanded rather than what men desire? Is the presence of God and pleasing him what really enthuses us about worship?
Jesus has instituted two and only two sacraments. We need to be faithful in observing them. Similarly, Acts 2 reminds us of the four great marks of the early church: faithfulness to the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. Does our church life reflect this?
2 Timothy 4:2 challenges the churches to have preaching the Word as central in worship. God speaking to his people is surely the climax of worship. Singing too has a key place. Scripture is authoritative for fellowship. As we see the 3,000 in Acts 2 absorbed into the church, we see the four great marks of the church lived out and, specifically, we see fellowship grow.
Continued fellowship is governed by acceptance of the apostles’ doctrine. The great Solas of the Reformation were a rediscovery of sound doctrine as the basis for vital and true fellowship.
Then also, the Word of God is authoritative over the emotional life of the Christian. It should control ‘the affections’, as Jonathan Edwards put it. My feelings in reaction to God’s teachings and his providences must be disciplined to react correctly.
There is a subtle temptation to acknowledge God’s Word as authoritative for doctrine, worship and fellowship, yet divorce it from control over our inner life and feelings. Yet, Geoff reminded us that the fruit of the Spirit consists of such inner realities as ‘joy’ and ‘peace’.
Jesus rebuked care and worry in the Sermon on the Mount. ‘What moral right do you have to fear’, Jesus often challenged the disciples, ‘when I am with you?’ Paul learned to be ‘content’ in all situations.
Do churches recognise and celebrate these spiritual qualities as we should, as evidences and examples of disciplined obedience to Christ and his Word? These inner qualities are no more optional than belief in the deity of Christ or the sufficiency of his work.
The great comfort we have is that the same Spirit who inspired the Word is also with us, equipping and tenderly helping us, as we seek to obey God in all these areas.
Geoff began the second session — on the sufficiency of Scripture — by looking at Luke 16. Quoting Abraham’s declaration to the rich man in Luke 16:1, that ‘if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead’, he focused on the divinely mandated sufficiency of the Bible.
Geoff summarised the great themes of the Scripture that Abraham referred to as, ‘They have Moses and the prophets’. How much more of Scripture’s canon do we have today, who can also read the testimony of those who were ‘eyewitnesses to the majesty’!
The Scriptures are sufficient, Paul reminded Timothy, ‘for salvation’. The challenge to men and women today is, ‘Do we agree with Abraham and divine wisdom, or with the wisdom spoken by the rich man in hell?’
Jesus’ enemies conspired to remove divine testimony as to who Jesus truly is: so do many today. ‘Surely’ they argue, ‘we cannot expect men to be converted by the Bible alone?’
And so the addition of a multitude of other presumed ‘necessary helps’ are called on to induce conversions — the magisterium, church tradition, entertainment, Scripture yet only through the grid of the current ‘wisdom’ of the academy or ‘authentication’ by today’s ‘signs and wonders’. All such approaches are opposite to God’s wisdom.
Today, every time a Bible-preaching church meets, a real miracle takes place — God is present and speaks from his Word! And speaking, he does all that sinners need. He converts, challenges, sustains and comforts individuals and churches, through all life’s experiences.
The conference was a blessing to all who attended. Next year it looks forward to the ministry of Dr Fred Malone of First Baptist Church, Clinton Louisiana, who will speak on ‘Christ in all the Scriptures’.
Stephen Murphy is pastor of Dundalk Baptist Church, Louth, Ireland