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TEXT: II Peter 1:20-21
SUBJECT: Midland Confession #5: Scripture (Part 2)
With God's blessing, we'll move on in our afternoon study of the Midland Confession of Faith. Adopted by a small fellowship of English Baptists back in 1655, we made it our own in the mid 1980's. A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me why we chose this obscure Confession of Faith instead of a better known one, and that's an easy one to answer: There's nothing in it about the Sabbath, which has been the most heated controversy among Reformed Baptists for a very long time, and we wanted no part of it! It's amazing how unified our people are except on the Sabbath, and how much division this one single issue has caused.
No Confession outside the Bible is perfect, but this is a good one and reasonably defines the teaching position of the church.
Last time, we looked at the Confession's doctrine of Scripture. I assumed we could cover it fairly well in one sermon, but I was wrong; we only got about a third of it. Today we'll get to the middle third, and hopefully, next week wrap it up.
Thus far, we've studied two things: the canonicity of the Bible and its inspiration. Canonicity tells us which books belong in the Bible, which don't, and why. Inspiration means the Bible is the Word of God in a sense that other books or sermons or sayings are not, even the most truthful, edifying, and beloved.
As the Confession says--
The Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testament. are the Word and revealed mind of God...that they are given by inspiration of God.
These are foundational truths, but the rest of what it says may well be of more practical importance; it will have a bigger effect on your daily life than knowing I and II Chronicles are the Word of God while I and II Maccabees are not!
Here's the article in full--
We believe the Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testament, and the Word and revealed mind of God, which are able to make men wise to salvation, through faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; that they are given by inspiration of God for every good work; and by them, we are (in the strength of Christ) to test all things that are brought to us under the pretense of truth.
This is what the framers said back in the 17th Cebtury, but we added a line or two to address issues they didn't face--
As uniquely 'God breathed', the original Scriptures are inerrant in detail, infallible in doctrine, complete in content, and absolute in authority.
THE PURPOSE OF THE BIBLE
The first thing to observe here is what so many Christians have overlooked or otherwise gotten wrong, and that is the purpose of the Bible.
Knowing 'what the Bible is' does you no good unless you also know 'what the Bible is for'. I don't know who invented the can opener, but he was a genius, making something everyone needs, everyone knows how to use, and everyone can afford. The can opener is brilliant in its simplicity!
But what if you thought a can opener was for driving nails? Or cutting your meat? Or shaving? Well, I suppose it would be of some value in doing these things, but not much. For opening cans, a can opener is great! For shaving? Not so great.
Many people come to the Bible in this way. They believe it's a wonderful thing, but they don't know what to do with it, because they don't know what it's for.
Let me give you three examples, two on the fringe of Evangelical Christianity, and one in the middle.
Joel Osteen's father was a old fashioned Pentecostal preacher. This means his son grew up immersed in the Bible. He read it every day, heard it referred to in every sermon, and memorized a great many verses. He doesn't quote it very often in his own sermons, but when he does, he never has to turn to the passage or consult his notes. In one sense, Joel Osteen knows his Bible better than most of us do.
But if you've ever listened to his sermons or read his books, you know he's got the message of the Bible completely wrong! Osteen believes the Bible teaches God wants everyone as rich and healthy and fit and cute as he and his wife are. Your Best Life Now is emphatically not the message of the Bible, and a million memory verses won't make it so.
My second example is the President of Family Radio, Mr. Harold Camping. Years ago, he more or less got the message right. But starting in the late 80's or early 90's, he veered from its message to his own.
He began teaching that the Bible is mostly about the Second Coming of Christ, and more recently, that that is its only message (or nearly so). Sober exposition gave way to crazy speculation, and this led him into dangerous, if not damning, heresy.
Did Mr. Camping ever deny the inspiration or authority of the Bible? He most emphatically did not! No public man has more consistently over a longer period of time equated the Bible with the Word of God than he.
But for all this, he denies justification by faith and the assurance of salvation; he says the Atonement was not made on the Cross; that there is no Hell for the finally impenitent, that no one can be saved in the visible church, and every pastor in the world is a servant of Satan.
He is a very bad and dangerous teacher who, in his own words (and I think sincerely) believes 'the Bible alone and in its entirety is the Word of God'.
My third example has no one name, but millions of Evangelical Christians fall into the category of 'believing the Bible, but not knowing what it is or what it's for'.
Most Christians I know--including the ones I truly respect and admire--seem to believe that the Bible is a handbook for holy living, that it's mostly about 'What we're supposed to do for Christ'. Things like 'love your wife, 'respect your husband, 'pray without ceasing, 'witness to the lost' and so on. Are these things in the Bible? Sure they are; one's a quote from the Bible!
But the message of the Bible is not 'What we're supposed to be doing for Christ'; it's what God has done for us in Christ!
This is why the Confession says (alluding to II Timothy 3:15), that the Bible is given--
To make men wise to salvation.
For some years now, this has been my special burden. If all (or most of) what you get out of the Bible is 'what God wants you to do', you have misread the Bible, and by doing that, you'll end up powerless to 'do what God wants you to do'. What is the power of God unto salvation? Is it the Law? Or is it the Gospel? As a Pharisee of Pharisees, Paul knew that the Law produces failure and resentment and death--even if we sincerely believe it and do our level best to keep it!
Salvation is in the Gospel and when the Gospel is pushed to the side of our Bible reading, we will fail to live the Christian life.
THE FRUITS OF THE BIBLE
Next we have the fruits of the Bible, or what the Bible produces in us. Quoting from II Timothy 3:17, the Confession says it--
Serves to furnish the man of God for every good work.
This means the Bible defines 'good works', but more than 'defining' them, it also empowers us to do them. This brings me back to the Law/Gospel issue that I bring up every chance I get.
When we say the Gospel empowers us, we have to ask, 'Empowers us for what'? The one word answer is holiness. The Gospel enables a man to 'love his wife', and woman to 'respect her husband' and the other things I named a couple of minutes ago: praying without ceasing and witnessing to the lost.
The Gospel, therefore, doesn't dismiss or contradict the Law, it fulfills it. That is, as we believe the Gospel, God writes His Law on our hearts and puts His Spirit in us to live lives of faithful obedience.
This is exactly what the Law lacked; what it hasn't done and cannot do.
An Evangelical reading of the Bible, as opposed to a legalistic one, furnishes us for every good work.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURE
Next up is the authority of the Scripture. How do we know if a thing is true or false, good or bad? Most people look to the spirit of the age to make the call. If a belief or practice is accepted by most people--or by the people we respect or trust--it is true and good. If it is not generally believed--or if only 'hicks' believe it--it must be false and bad.
For example, a few years ago, almost everybody agreed that homosexuality was wrong. To some it was a mental disease, for others it was an immoral choice, but whatever the nature of the wrong, it was wrong.
Today, this is not the prevailing view; only bumpkins and bigots think this way, and who wants to be a bumpkin or a bigot?
Has homosexuality itself changed in the last twenty years? Have the hard or social sciences proven that it's good? Have Bible scholars found texts they hadn't noticed before--verses that say God doesn't forbid or condemn the practice? The answer is no, none of these things have changed in the last twenty years. But, what was widely disapproved of then, is now largely accepted.
What has changed? Only the spirit of the age. Now, if the spirit of the age can change this radically in only a few years, it cannot be a reliable guide for making important choices. Either it was right back then about homosexuality and now it's wrong, or it is right now but used to be wrong. And who's to say it won't change again in the next few years.
Put yourself in the homosexual's place. Suppose he's an ethical man, and he really wants to do the right thing. Back in the 70's, he abhorred his urges, now he celebrates them, and in ten years, he'll have to hate them again. He cannot live this way. He needs something better than fashion, trends, or the latest polls to live his life by.
What he needs is an authority, someone or something to make clear distinctions between true and false, right and wrong.
He's not alone; we all need that. That's what the Bible gives us: an authoritative, unchanging word, a word that spoke to Jews in 10th Century BC, to Romans in 50 AD, to Americans today, and to the first colony on Mars in the year of 2525!
We're to take our beliefs and practices to the Bible and test them against the Word of God. We are then to accept what agrees with the Bible and reject what disagrees with it.
This is the Reformation doctrine called Sola Scriptura, which means the Bible has the last word on everything it addresses.
Underline the words, everything it addresses. The Bible does not speak to everything. For example, it tells us that civil authorities are appointed by God and curb evil in the world. What it doesn't say is 'one form of government is better than another'. It offers no opinion on the relative merits and demerits of monarchy, democracy, or plutocracy. It doesn't tell us to vote Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Socialist-or to vote at all! These decisions, and many others, have to be made on the basis of reason, not revelation.
But everything necessary for our salvation and godly live is addressed in the Bible, and we should tun to it to find our answers, because, as the Psalmist says--
The entrance of your Word gives light
It gives understanding to the simple.
You may not believe me, but I intended to cover the whole article in one thirty minute sermon, and here we are ninety minutes into it, and we're still not done.
Let me close with a short exhortation. Forty to fifty years ago, American and British Evangelicals stood up for the Bible and issued the best defenses of its inspiration and authority ever produced, in my opinion.
We, their children in the faith, have not done as well. While we haven't--for the most part--denied Inspiration or Authority, we have also not applied the doctrines as we should have. We have misread it, we have ignored it, and we have allowed other authorities to creep into the place only the Bible deserves.
Let us, therefore, commit ourselves to a regular and right study of God's Word with a felt dependence on the Holy Spirit, and full confidence that the Bible is the Word of God and worthy of the God who gave it. Amen. Praise the Lord.
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