Younger generations are suspicious of biblical ethics. Older generations, of biblical justice. Jesus says you must have both if you are going to follow Him.
Word AND deed.
Grace AND Truth.
Love AND Law.
Ethics AND Justice.
‘You must repent” AND “Remember the poor.”
The slippery slope is an equal opportunity hazard. Some slip away from scriptures in favor of secular modernist culture, others in favor of religious traditionalist culture.
Skeptics have always existed. They exist inside and outside the Church. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the ebb and flow of what is criticized and what is idolized within faith communities. This is especially noticeable with changes in culture over time. I don’t think I will admit to being in the older generation just yet, but I guess the reality is that I’m more in it than I am the younger one. I still most often find myself somewhere in the middle … especially when it comes to finding a place in the so-called culture war. As conversations seem to more and more include a variety of thoughts, I have recently been pondering the exclusivity and authority of the scriptures* and why it’s important to let The Word of God stand alone and above all the other words. In today’s culture, how can we rely on ancient scriptures alone to show us how to apply the ethics taught by and the social justice demonstrated in Jesus? Does the gospel that has been preserved really affirm both? I think it does! But I think we may be focusing in the wrong direction.
In an attempt to summarize the scripture’s teaching on salvation, Protestant Reformers made a very public return to the Bible and discovered the gospel in a newly profound and practical way. A radical pronouncement that faith alone, not works, saves us was given along with four other statements of belief, including a belief about God’s Word – the Bible (the Book of books). A quote most often attributed to Martin Luther says: We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone. With this in mind, and based on the combined writings of John, James and Paul, I think we could also say: We are to believe the scriptures alone, but the scriptures that enlighten us are never alone.
As James puts it: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does.
In my own quest to hold the tension of truth & grace, it’s a bit ironic that I look to the reliability of God’s Word to teach me about grace, but I also rely on grace to keep me trusting in the reliability of The Word. That’s the beautiful nature of the paradox that so often permeates the gospel story. Looking to the OT book most quoted in the NT, the psalmists have some relevant and practical insight into what we should do with our questions and confusion in our present culture. Even in their doubt and discouragement, they clearly communicate the pleasure they find in God’s law by connecting it with their love for God Himself (Pm 119).
As the redeemed ones, we find ourselves in the very same place. If not kept in check, our thoughts and emotions can quickly default to forgetfulness and fretfulness when we look around at the condition of the world and also the conflict among people of faith. It’s in these times that we may find ourselves reaching an extreme conclusion on one side or the other.
“When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless …
until I entered God’s sanctuary.”
Today, on this side of the Cross, we enter God’s sanctuary through our life with Christ (Heb 4), spending our days getting to know Him intimately. The Psalms encourage us to do this by meditating on God’s Word. I think the case could be made from all of scripture that the intention is a meditation on God’s Word … alone. (ie., “day and night” “all wisdom” “God-breathed” “eternal”) We meditate on God’s all-sufficient words, found in His everlasting Word, that we may think deeply about God Himself.
We meditate to build our spiritual arsenal against the enemy’s schemes.
We meditate to prepare our minds and hearts to be ready for processing all the information we read or hear.
We meditate because Scripture guides us as we create our filters for all.the.things.
We meditate because Scripture fuels prayer as we inquire about all.the.things.
While it may seem a basic task, if we don’t possess a humble but high view of scripture, meditation will be nothing more than a constant mind debate. In their desire to create those statements of faith I mentioned previously, the early reformers included the sole authority of scripture as a foundational tenet of one’s belief.
Its origin is Latin, and it means that ‘Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian’. People who adhere to this concept would be considered to have a high view of scripture’s authority in their daily lives. Personally, I’m predisposed to this approach as I read, study and digest scripture. Although I don’t hold this view to be an essential belief for coming into The Faith, I would definitely see it as evidence of one’s Christianity.
So, yes. Sola Scriptura.
Scripture. Alone. Sufficient.
the scriptures that enlighten us are never alone.
In my experience of defending the Bible’s accuracy and authority, I have recognized something very subtle that can make its way into my heart. As I attempt to use God’s Word as the foundation for everything I think or do, a kind of Pharisaical pride can take root in my heart. I would probably never identify it as ‘bibliolatry’ or ‘bible idolatry’ as some have (because, what is that??), but I do think it could be described as ‘personal interpretation idolatry’. Because there are so many things that are not specifically taught in scripture, it is tempting to create our own rules based on principles we find there and make them the filters rather than God’s Word alone. In doing this, we often lay on people a burden that God Himself does not intend for them to bear (Matt. 23). I realize this can be an extremely delicate walk through the pages of scripture, but I have determined that recognizing this tendency is crucial to seeking, treasuring, meditating, remembering, trusting and delighting in all of God’s Word (Pm 119). Resisting the temptation to make myself the authority is accomplished by seeking the presence of God Himself, Who is Truth. I create an awareness of my dependence on God by looking to the example of Christ, humbly requesting and relying on the Spirit to guide me into the Truth, and praying continually as I read and study. I also intentionally include others who are diligently and sincerely seeking to know God. I count on trusted church leaders to teach me and I reflect on the teaching by discussing the scriptures together. It is in this context of humble pursuit of Truth that we find the Bible to be “a perfect treasure of divine instruction .. without any mixture of error, for its matter … totally true and trustworthy.”
And that’s the more of Sola Scriptura. While we don’t have specifics to help us sort through all the social issues of the day, we do have what we need.
Thankfully, a confidence in scripture alone does not deny us the freedom to prayerfully come to the bible and find personal answers and application to our everyday concerns.
Since so many things that Jesus said and did were not included in the bible (John 21), we can reason that God intended us to have a general idea of what His life on earth was like. But more so, the Word became flesh and lived among us so that we can be introduced to Who He IS. As Sally Lloyd Jones puts it, “the Bible isn’t a book of rules or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. And at the center of that story is a Baby. And every single story in the Bible whispers His name.”
“Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying the counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they see the bogus money they recognize it.” Checking the Facts
Reliance on God’s Word as my sole authority allows God to be my ultimate teacher in all the things necessary for life and godliness. As simplistic as it may sound, God’s word has become my foundational go-to when considering an action or attitude. As I approach the scriptures, I do so through a “Jesus lens.” If everything that is necessary and binding is given to us in Scripture (2 Peter 1:3), and The Book is relatively concise, I also realize that there’s more to living the Christ-life than mere words on a page. I must read and meditate on all the teachings from Genesis to Revelation with the very same perspective – looking for Christ in The Big Story. My desire is to ultimately make my way to Him as I read and study. I look for Christ in all the scriptures by remembering and rehearsing His presence at Creation, His descension from heaven, His crucifixion in my place, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension back to His Father, His activity in our daily lives through the Spirit, and His return for His Bride – the Church. I read and reflect on all the ways that Jesus, the perfect, merciful living Word, is the focus of the pages in the inspired, authoritative written Word. The Jesus lens provides me with the clarified vision I need to trust that the Word of God in the scriptures is worthy of my allegiance apart from and above all other “words”.
My genuine allegiance to the Word of God in everything it says and means is demonstrated by my consistent submission to the will of God in everything He reveals.
This allegiance inspires a scripture-driven pursuit of liberty and justice for all.
*Scriptures: This post is not intended to be a bible history lesson on what is/is not considered “scripture” and why. I am quite aware that the issue is discussed and debated. But that’s for another time. And probably another person. 🙂