Evangelicals can never remind themselves enough of the centrality – not just importance – of Scripture. The Bible is the only book in which God has spoken (Hebrews 1:1-2). In no other place are the ‘unsearchable riches’ of Jesus Christ displayed and salvation found.
The Scriptures are God’s self-revelation in a verbal form. They are in a category distinct from even the greatest doctrinal definitions by the most learned divines, or the most blessed sermons of the most anointed preachers.
Only in the Scriptures do we have the very words of God – ‘all Scripture is given by inspiration of God’ (2 Timothy 3:16). Every word is theopneustos – ‘God-breathed’. Is it because Evangelicals have lost their grip on this foundational truth that revival tarries in the Western world?
In the Bible God does not just give us good advice, or even the best advice, but his very ‘oracles’ (1 Peter 4:11). As John Newton so famously said, ‘This book speaks to my soul as only God can’. It is blindingly obvious really but how often we fail to appreciate it!
By contrast, consider this statement from a recent Catholic Catechism: ‘The Church … does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence’.
Few will find it hard to detect here a low view of Scripture – a view in which tradition has subtly replaced the Bible as the unique and final arbiter.
But are we as alert to its ‘evangelical’ equivalent? – that the authority of Scripture is a great truth so long as it does not actually govern the decisions that impact our lives! Like which church we worship at; how faithfully we attend its meetings; how we use our time, money and energy; and what radical life choices we make!
Here is a personal test for the reader on what the authority of Scripture means to you (however long-standing your Christian profession). Read again the Catholic Catechism sentence to yourself, this time replacing the bugbear word ‘Tradition’ by a phrase. Make that phrase: ‘what I feel led to do’. How does the sentence sound now? Or try ‘the views of the pastor/elders/presbytery/church’.
Now try ‘the teachings of C. H. Spurgeon’ or ‘The Doctor’ or ‘William Gadsby’ or ‘The Westminster Confession’ or ‘The 1689 Baptist Confession’ (the choice is yours; other names can be used if you prefer!).
How does it read now? Or put it this way. When you last made an important personal or church decision, was it really Scripture’s truths that guided you, or was the leading like one of the above adulterations?
Make no mistake: if our decision does not line up with the teaching of the Word of God, it is not of God – however warm the emotions or convincing the arguments that support it. On the other hand, if it is according to his Word, the Lord will honour it and you – however difficult the course you take and however long you have to wait for his ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’