Just Bible terms
by Don Fortner
Some 150 years ago a disillusioned Scottish Presbyterian named Alexander Campbell started a denomination called ‘the Church of Christ’. His stated purpose was commendable – to return the church to its New Testament simplicity. But he went astray. He taught his followers that all errors and divisions in the church arise from men using ‘enticing words of man’s wisdom’ to teach false doctrine. In doing so, of course, he totally misapplied Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 2.
Many defend erroneous doctrine just as Campbell did, insisting that we should say exactly what God says in the Bible – no more and no less. At first, that appears commendably pious. But is it proper, or even possible, for God’s servants to teach the Word of God using only the words found in Holy Scripture?
The obvious answer is ‘No, of course not’. In fact the very men who make such statements do not practise what they insist upon. If we speak (or write) only in the language of the Bible we are not preaching the Scriptures but merely reading them. It is the preacher’s responsibility to ‘preach the Word’ (2 Timothy 4:2), expounding the Scriptures and making full proof of his ministry by faithfully, honestly and truthfully declaring that which is revealed in the Book of God.
If we followed the policy of saying only what God says in the Bible, we could never use such terms as new birth, divine sovereignty, substitution, Trinity, triune God, total depravity, limited atonement, accomplished redemption, free grace, sovereign grace, grace alone, irresistible grace, divine purpose and perfect salvation. We could not make statements like, ‘Christ is a complete Saviour’ or ‘Jesus Christ is God’.
The list of forbidden words and phrases could be greatly extended; but these will suffice to show the folly of insisting that we say exactly what God says in the Bible, no more and no less.
Several years ago a local Campbellite preacher wrote an article in our local newspaper attacking something he had read in which I stated, ‘Salvation is by grace alone’. He wrote, ‘We agree that the Bible teaches that salvation is by grace, but the Bible nowhere states that salvation is by grace alone’.
He was exactly right. The Bible nowhere uses those precise words, but it universally teaches that precise doctrine. After pointing out that, ‘the Bible nowhere states that salvation is by grace alone’, he went on to declare that sinners are saved by baptism and good works – referring his readers to the exact words of Scripture!
Words express ideas
Those who piously insist that we say exactly what God says in the Bible, prove themselves hypocritical by not following the practice. They refer us to a word, phrase, or statement in the Bible, and then explain its meaning in words that totally contradict what God the Holy Spirit has stated in Holy Scripture.
Words are vehicles of communication. They express ideas. The ideas expressed by any use of words can only be determined by the context in which they are used.
In preaching the gospel we interpret the ideas (the doctrine) conveyed in a passage in the light of its immediate context and in the light of the whole Scripture – and declare that doctrine honestly in the language of the people we address.
When a man takes refuge in the pretence of using only the very words of Scripture, it is because he is either uncertain of the meaning of those words or because those words convey something he wishes to hide.
‘Holding fast the faithful Word’ as we have been taught by God the Holy Spirit, let every gospel preacher boldly and confidently expound exactly what God says in the Bible, no more and no less. But let him do so ‘by sound doctrine’, comparing scripture with scripture and using every verbal means at his disposal.
I say with Paul, to all who are responsible for proclaiming the gospel of Christ, ‘speak thou the things which become sound doctrine’ for the time has come when men ‘will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears’. Brethren, we are to ‘preach the Word’, not just read it.