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Igniting a Bible Study Reformation: Part 5

A Message by Steven Lawson

In this message, Dr. Steven Lawson explains why the church must never compromise her commitment to the inspired and inerrant Word of God, but rather remain firm in the face of all challenges.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Authority and Authorship

  2. article

    We Believe the Bible and You Do Not

  3. article

    The Soul of the Solas

Authority and Authorship

All of us at one time or another have had to face criticism for the things that we have done. Some criticisms we accept either because we deserve it or because of the esteem we give certain critics. Other criticisms we brush aside because they may come from an ill-informed source.

Whatever the case, we almost always make our evaluations based on the credibility of the speaker. And this is true not only when we are criticized, for we also, at times unconsciously, consider the source whenever we attempt to decide whether or not a particular piece of information is believable. Whether it is a textbook, a newspaper, or the Internet, the accuracy of the facts in question and their authority over us in making a decision is always dependent upon the source, or “author,” of the information.

How much more true is this of our relationship to Scripture and the eternal matters of which it speaks? Biblical authority is inseparable from biblical authorship. The Bible is our only infallible authority because it comes from an infallible source.

Today’s passage is one of many that tells us the Bible is the very Word of God. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 that all Scripture is “breathed out by God.” What we read on every page of the Bible are the very words spoken or “breathed out” by God Himself. The ultimate origin of Scripture is the Lord God Almighty.

This is not to deny the human authorship of Scripture. God did commission apostles and prophets to speak on His behalf (for example, see Jer. 1:5 and Rom. 1:1). He appointed servants and made use of their individual gifts and talents to write down His revelation. However, He did this in a way where the very words of these servants are also the very words of God. There is a one-to-one correlation between the words of the Bible and the words of God.

Because the Bible is the very Word of God we can expect it to be completely free from error (inerrant). And because it is the infallible, inerrant Word of the supreme authority over creation, Scripture is the sole infallible and supreme authority over us as well.

We Believe the Bible and You Do Not

Keith Mathison

Not too long ago, in an effort to get a better grasp of the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, I was reading the chapters on the sacraments in Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics, and I ran across this statement: “The difference between the Lutheran Church and the Reformed in the doctrine of Baptism is fully and adequately defined by saying that the former believes God’s Word regarding Baptism, the latter not” (vol. 3, p. 269).

Let that one sink in for just a moment. Here we have one of the most respected Lutheran systematic theologians of the last century saying that the difference between his church and the Reformed over baptism can be summed up as follows: “Lutherans believe the Bible, and the Reformed don’t.” It’s just that simple, right?

When I first read this, I was a bit taken aback. How could a theologian as brilliant as Pieper so casually ignore the role of interpretation on this point? Why could he not see that this is not a matter of disbelieving the Bible, but of disagreeing with the Lutheran interpretation of the Bible?

I recalled, however, that this kind of statement in regard to the sacraments goes back to the sixteenth-century debates between the Lutherans and the Reformed. In his debates with the Lutheran Joachim Westphal, John Calvin was almost driven to distraction by Westphal’s repeated claim that Jesus’ words “This is my body” allowed of no interpretation. One either believed them or one disbelieved them. In the historical context of the Lutheran-Reformed debates, then, Pieper’s statement is not terribly unusual.

If you are Reformed or Baptist, what is your immediate reaction to Pieper’s statement? Do you accept his claim that the only difference between you and the Lutherans on the subject of baptism is that Lutherans believe the Bible and you don’t? Or do you think that his statement is a poor excuse for an argument? Do you think it is a fair statement, or do you think it is somewhat self-serving?

Lest I be accused of picking on my Lutheran brothers, ask yourself this question now: “How many times have I seen my theological heroes use essentially the same kind of argument in different theological disputes?”

I don’t know about you, but as I reflect on it, I can recall numerous times when I’ve seen this “argument” in action in my own theological circles. When I was a dispensationalist, the common thought was that the difference between premillennialists and everyone else was fully and adequately defined by saying that premillennialists believed God’s Word regarding the millennium while amillennialists and postmillennialists did not. We believed what God said in Revelation 20. Amillennialists and postmillennialists did not believe what God said. Case closed.

When I was a Baptist, I regularly heard it said that Baptists believed God’s Word concerning believer’s baptism while others did not. As a Presbyterian, I’ve heard it said that Presbyterians believe God’s Word concerning the promises to the children of believers while the Baptists do not.

I’ve heard this line of argument used in disputes involving the Sabbath, the days of Genesis, theonomy, the gifts of the Spirit, church government, you name it. In every dispute over the meaning of some biblical text or theological point, it seems that someone eventually throws out some version of the line: “The simple fact of the matter is that we believe what God clearly says here and you don’t.” When both sides in a given debate do it, the result is particularly edifying.

Re-read the Lutheran quote in the first paragraph. Do you (assuming you are not Lutheran) find it persuasive when it is said of you that the only reason you do not accept the Lutheran understanding of baptism is because you do not believe God’s Word? Probably not. But we find that same kind of statement very assuring (and persuasive) when it is said in support of a doctrine or interpretation that we happen to agree with.

The problem with Pieper’s statement is that he does not allow for any conceptual distinction between the infallible and inerrant Word of God and his own fallible and potentially errant interpretation of that Word. Thus, to disagree with his interpretation is to disagree with God. But this is obviously false. Presbyterians and Baptists do not reject the Lutheran doctrine of baptism because they disbelieve God’s Word. They reject it because they think Lutherans have misinterpreted God’s Word.

The fact of the matter is that people who believe equally in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture sometimes disagree in their interpretation of some parts of that Scripture. We know God’s Word is not wrong, but we might be. God is infallible; we are not. We are not free from sin and ignorance yet. We still see through a glass darkly. In hermeneutical and theological disputes, we need to make an exegetical case, and we need to examine the case of those who disagree with us. It proves nothing to make the bare assertion: “We believe the Bible and you don’t.”

The Soul of the Solas

R.C. Sproul Jr.

It puzzles me deeply that so few are puzzled deeply by the paradox. We are so used to the befuddling language that we miss its befuddling nature. It ought to stop us in our tracks and arrest our attention, like those signs I see for Fifth Third Bank. Fifth Bank I could understand. Third Bank I could understand. I could understand them merging to become Fourth Bank. But Fifth Third Bank? What does that even mean?

In like manner, how is it that when our spiritual ancestors, our theological heroes, set out to tell us one thing, they ended up telling us five things? Suppose I had lived in a cave for the last five hundred years and then met someone who wanted to get me up to speed on the Reformation and what I should believe. What if they said: "There are five things. The first one is sola. . ."? Would I not have to say: "Stop right there. If there are five, how can even one of them be called sola?"

It does, of course, in the end make perfect sense. The alones are not alone because they are talking, in a manner of speaking, on different wavelengths. An infinite line is really infinite, but it doesn't cover everything. An infinite plane is, in a manner of speaking, even more infinite than an infinite line, but it doesn't cover everything. What sola Scriptura is seeking to keep out isn't grace, faith, Christ, or God's glory. It's trying to keep out unbiblical tradition. Grace alone doesn't exclude the Bible, faith, Christ, or the glory of God.

In a very real sense, though they spin on different axes, these five are one. The Bible alone is God's infallible revelation of His glory, which reveals His grace in Christ, which becomes ours through the gift of faith. God's grace is uniquely revealed in His Word, which reveals the work of Christ, which becomes ours by faith, all redounding to His glory. The solas are precise and potent affirmations of this truth—it's all about God. They remind us not just how we might have peace with God but that peace with God is not the full and final end of all things. They remind us that the story of the Bible isn't simply how we who are in dire straits can make it to safety and how nice God is to play such an important role in making that happen. Instead, they remind us that He is the end, and we are the means. The story is about Him and His glory more than us and our comfort.

Jesus makes much the same point in the Sermon on the Mount. He recognizes our weaknesses. We are self-centered, concerned with ourselves and what we perceive our needs to be. So, we worry about what we will eat and what we will wear. We fret about our provision and our status. What Jesus doesn't tell us, however, is: "Now, look, you have no need to worry about these things because you have someone on your side. Other people might need to worry, but you don't because my Father in heaven is for you. You can pursue these things with confidence, knowing that you have the supreme advantage of having the supreme being on your side."

What He tells us instead is surprising. He tells us to set aside our petty concerns and, depending on how you look at it, to set our minds on one or two things. He said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." Do we now have seven solas? Ought we to add the kingdom and His righteousness to the alones? By no means. These are all still together the one thing. There is an organic unity not only between the kingdom and the righteousness but between these two solas and the five solas of the Reformation. We are not failing to pursue the kingdom of God when we are seeking after His righteousness. We are not failing to pursue His righteousness when we are seeking after His kingdom. We are pursuing one thing— one way—to honor and serve our Maker and Redeemer by affirming our dependence on Him and His preeminence in all things.

The God we serve is one. As such, He calls us to follow one path. His commands are never and can never be pitted against each other. His wisdom is never and can never be pitted against itself. His grace is never and can never be pit ted against His character. When we find ourselves torn, confused, pulled in different directions, it isn't because we are faithfully following Him but because we are not. It isn't because we are faithfully heeding His voice but because we are not.

The two—His kingdom and His righteousness—are one as the five— the solas of the Reformation—are one as the Three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are One. And these three groupings are one as well. In the end, they are all about the beginning. From the beginning they have always been about the end. For our lives are and always will be bound up together in the Alpha and the Omega.

Since the beginning,

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