Friday, January 1, 2021

New in January: A Closer Look at Scripture and Its Authority

Happy New Year! After nearly two years of looking at the big picture (the Old Testament and the Acts and Epistles), our Bible studies this year will look more closely at three important New Testament documents: Ephesians, Hebrews, and James. 

To begin the year, we will spend a week considering the doctrine of Scripture. Satan’s first attack was on the veracity of God’s Word, so we do well to reaffirm our understanding of the authority of Scripture as we begin a new year of study together. I am thankful for you, dear reader. Let us thank God for a continuing abundance of His word.

"For I myself am a man tinder authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it (Luke 7:8).

When Luther and the Reformers began to preach the doctrine of justification by faith alone, they were challenged by the papal church. The Roman Church maintained that the Protestant doctrine was not in keeping with some of the statements of various church councils and the tradition of the church (as Rome understood it). The Reformers replied that tradition takes second place to Scripture, and that only the Bible has absolute authority. The papal church clarified its position at the Council of Trent, maintaining that both Scripture and tradition are equally authoritative.

This is the crucial issue: Where does the authority lie? By what standard do we measure all things? We believe that the written Scriptures inspired by God are inerrant and infallible. The traditions of the church and the decisions of church councils do indeed have much weight, and we should not despise the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding the church through the ages. But the traditions of the church are always measured by Scripture because there are all kinds of things, both good and bad, in the traditions. The Spirit continues to guide the church into more perfect understanding, purifying the traditions of the church in line with the already-perfect Bible.

The authority of the Bible is the authority of God, who inspired its writing. It is the authority of Christ, whose Word it is. We are required to put our final faith in God alone, and in God’s Word alone. We see an example of this in Luke 7:1–10. A Roman centurion had asked Jesus to heal his servant. As Jesus traveled to the centurion’s home, the centurion sent word that he knew Jesus possessed full authority and could direct the healing without personally being present. Jesus marvelled, saying He had not seen such great faith in Israel. The centurion acknowledged the ultimate authority of Jesus’ Word.

The question of final authority has great practical relevance to the church. After all, what are we to believe? How are we to act? What does God want us to be doing? The Bible gives one answer, while the papal system of Bible plus tradition gives another.

Authority is the right to impose obligations. It is clear to us as believers that the Bible as God’s Word has the right to impose obligations on us, to make requirements of us. As you begin the new year, make it your resolve to be more open to the Bible and its commands than ever before.