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TEXT: Proverbs 30:5
SUBJECT: Midland Confession #6: Scripture (Part 3)
This afternoon, with God's blessing, we'll get back to our study of the Midland Confession of Faith. First published in England, in 1655, we adopted it as a fair summary of our own beliefs back in the mid 1980's. Unlike the Bible, the Confession is not complete or perfect, but it's still very good and covers most of the doctrines that matter most to us.
One of the doctrines near and dear to every Christian heart is the doctrine of Scripture, and let me say that, from the founding of the Church in the 1st Century AD to the early 19th Century, there was virtually no debate on what the Bible is. Churches and private Christians often differed on what the Bible teaches and how we be sure of what it teaches, but as for the thing itself, the Church has always and everywhere believed the Bible is the Word of God, and because of what it is, it is true in the ordinary sense of that Word. Why have the People of God always believed this?
Because it is what the Bible teaches about itself and what our Savior, Jesus Christ, took it to be. It was He who said--
Sanctify them by your truth. Your Word is truth.
And, in another place--
Scripture cannot be broken.
This is the third sermon on the Doctrine of Scripture, and thus far, we looked at (1) what Books belong in the Bible, (2) why the Bible is the Word of God in a sense that no other book is, (3) what the Bible is for, and (4) how the Bible relates to other books, sermons, teachings, beliefs, and so on.
Now we come to the last couple of lines in Article 3, which we added to the Confession almost thirty years ago. Why did we add them? Because they clarified issues that are relevant to us today, but we not a matter of discussion back in the 17th Century. The key terms are: inerrancy, infallibility, and completeness (or sufficiency). Here are the lines--
As uniquely 'God breathed', the original Scriptures are inerrant in detail, infallible in doctrine, complete in content, and absolute in authority.
Last time, we looked at authority at some length so we won't go over it again today, except in passing.
We start with the word, inerrancy. The Confession says the original Scriptures are inerrant in detail. Every word in the line deserves some attention.
Starting with original. This means, the Bible, as inspired by God. It does not mean that any existing manuscript is perfect or any translation of the Bible is. God has preserved His Word for us, but He has not promised to keep ancient scribes or modern scholars from all error.
The second word is Scripture. The Scripture was written by forty men over a period of 1,500 years. None of the writers of the Bible was personally infallible; the Bible itself calls attention to Moses' temper, Peter's hypocrisy, and Jonah's bad attitude. Like all of us, they shared in the ignorance and prejudices of their times, and this means they sometimes said false or evil things, and that even their sermons were less than perfect. But this has nothing to do with the inerrancy of the Bible. The Bible does not say that everything Jeremiah said or every word John wrote was without error, but that everything they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is without error! In other words, what they wrote in the Bible is inerrant.
The third word is inerrant which simply means 'without error'. When applied to Scripture is simply means what Proverbs 30:5 says--
Every word of God is pure.
Not 'most' of His words, or the general teaching of His Word, but every last word is true. The Word of God is true and so are the words of God.
The fourth word is detail. This is where the controversy lies. Unbelieving scholars take the Bible for an ancient and important book, but not the Word of God. To them, therefore, inerrancy is a non-issue. Whether there are ten mistakes in the Bible or ten thousand makes no difference to them and neither does the nature of the mistakes, that is, whether they are religious mistakes or mistakes in geography, history, names, numbers, and so on. Our problem with them lies much deeper than the inerrancy of the Bible.
Inerrancy is only debated among people who believe the Bible is the Word of God. Some say, being the Word of God means 'there are no mistakes in the Bible at all', while others says, 'there are mistakes in the Bible', but they don't affect its overall message. In other words, the mistakes are incidental to what Dr. Daniel Fuller calls--
The happenings and meaning of the redemptive acts of God in history so that men might be made wise unto salvation.
In other words, what the Bible says about salvation is free from error, but what it says about other things is not. So, 'Jesus rose from the dead' is true and factual, but 'Jesus walked on the water' may well be a made up story. This is called 'limited inerrancy' or 'partial inerrancy'.
Our Confession makes no allowances for this kind of thinking. It says the Bible is--
Inerrant in detail.
Which doesn't mean 'every word is equally important or clear', of course, but that 'every word is equally true'. In his great book on the Inspiration of the Bible, Princeton theologian BB Warfield spends more than fifty pages showing that It says, Scripture says, and God says are used interchangeably in the New Testament.
From this the argument becomes clear and hard to argue with, if you believe the Bible is inspired by God: If God cannot lie or make a mistake, the Bible cannot lie or make a mistake. And this is another way of saying, 'The Bible is inerrant', not only in its general teaching, but in its every detail.
Does inerrancy means every word of the Bible should be taken literally? Of course not. Does it mean there are no mysteries or discrepancies in the Bible? No. Does inerrancy mean God dictated the Bible and the humans who wrote it didn't use their own style, make their own choice of words, and so on? It doesn't mean that. It simply means that God's Providence prepared the writers to write what they did and that the Holy Spirit so guided them in the writing that everything they said is precisely what God wanted them to say.
The Scriptures are inerrant in detail.
The next quality our Confession refers to is the Bible is...infallible in doctrine. 'Infallible' and 'inerrancy' are often used interchangeably, but here's there's a slight difference.
While 'inerrancy' refers more to the words of God, 'infallibility' refers more to the Word of God, in other words, what the Bible teaches. Or, 'doctrine'
What does 'infallible' mean? It means 'incapable of deceiving'. It is the opposite, not only of lying, but also of honest mistakes. Morally, the two are very different things, but practically they end up being the same thing. For example:
Suppose you asked me how to get to Hayward from here and I told you, 'Go out the Mission Boulevard and turn south'. Needles to say, that would not get you to Hayward. But why did I say it would? Either because I don't want you to get there, or because I do, but said 'south' when I meant to say, 'north'. In other words, it was a slip of the tongue.
Do human tongues sometimes slip? Sure they do, and so do human pens. If the Bible were only the words of Daniel or the words of Peter, they might well make mistakes, either out of malice or because they haven't had their morning coffee.
But, again, while affirming the human authorship of the Bible, we deny it is only a human book! The Scriptures are inspired by the God who never deceives us or has an 'off day'.
This means all the doctrines of the Bible are true--including the unpopular ones, the ones that contradict the 'sure results of scientific inquiry', for example, or the social fashions of the day.
I'll fight anyone who says he knows less about science than I do, but even I know that some aspects of Evolution cannot be true, especially 'spontaneous generation' (i.e., life coming from non-life) and 'random mutations' (i.e., the world developing on its own and not guided by Infinite wisdom and power). This makes me look like a narrow-minded hick, I know, but if you think about it for a moment, you'll see the people on the other side have the same problem: whereas I believe in an Infallible Word from God, they believe in an infallible word from man. The vast majority of people who believe in Evolution (with a capital E) haven't looked into it with any care, they're simply appealing to...authority. Which is what I'm doing. Our debate, therefore, is not between Reason and Authority, but between human authority and Divine Authority.
Most Christians--including a lot of Evangelicals--have succumbed to the spirit of the age, putting the authority of scientists over the authority of God.
This goes double for the soft sciences. In the 1970's Evangelical scholar Paul King Jewett wrote a remarkable book called, Man as Male and Female. What stands out about the book is Jewett's breathtaking honesty. I strongly disagree with him, but I also respect him. He said, when it comes wives submitting to their husbands and women not taking leadership in the church, 'that is what Paul teaches' in the relevant passages, but that he's wrong. Paul was right in Galatians 3:28, saying in Christ Jesus--
There is neither male nor female.
But he was wrong in the other places. Why did Dr. Jewett say this? I cannot read his mind, but it seems incredible to me that 'the spirit of the age' didn't have something to do with it. To him, the modern notions of democracy and equality trumped the plain teaching of the Bible--a teaching he admits to!
This denies the Infallibility of the Bible and paves the way for worse things to come. Over against the ever changing winds of social science, God offers a Word--
Forever settled in the heavens.
The Scriptures are infallible in what they teach.
The third term is 'sufficiency' or 'completeness'. Does the Bible teach us everything we need to know? Of course not! It says a few things about medicine, for example, and what it says about it is true, but if the only book my doctor ever read was the Bible--I wouldn't go to him! The same is true of most branches of learning, including things that are very important for life in this world.
What the Bible is sufficient for is godliness, by which I mean both conversion and sanctification. In other words, in how to be saved and how to live as a saved person.
On the first point, there is basic agreement among Christians. We all more or less believe that God saves us and we don't save ourselves, that He saves us in or through the death and resurrection of Christ, and that we have to respond to His saving work by repenting of our sins and believing the Gospel. Roman Catholics believe this, Pentecostals believe it, Presbyterians and Baptists believe it. We differ on some of the details and emphases, but our beliefs are more alike than we are different.
The godly life, however, is where the split widens. While all traditional believers affirm the Truth and Authority of the Bible, some say it leaves too many gaps and that they have to be filled by other authorities. Roman Catholics cite the Magesterium, or Traditions of the Church, which, they say, don't contradict the Bible, but explains it--and supplements it.
Protestants have always 'protested' this, insisting that the Teaching Ministry of the Church is defined by the Bible and the Bible is not defined by the Teaching Ministry of the Church! In other words, we don't need man-made rules to know God or to grow in grace. If you want to eat fish on Friday, go ahead--but it won't make you godly. If you want to celebrate Christmas, that's fine--but nobody has the right to make you do it. Human rules and regulations, may be wise or foolish, too lax or too strict, but whatever they are, they are only human rules and regulations and they're necessary for becoming a Christian or living the Christian life.
This, I think is a healthy way of looking at Tradition. But we live in an age that is more interested in the future than in the past. Our temptation, therefore, is not to submit to every old thing we find in dusty books, but to every new thing that comes along promising Better Living Through the Wisdom of Man (sometimes sprinkled with Bible verses)
Let's start with children. What's wrong with your kids? The Bible answer is sin, Psalm 58:3--
The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go forth, as soon as they are born, speaking lies.
We don't become sinners because we sin; we sin because we're sinners. But is this what your doctor will tell you? Or he is more likely to say things like, ADD, or ADHD? I'm not denying these are true conditions, or that medicine, in some cases, is called for, but when you hear hooves, you don't look for zebras; you look for horses. Thus, before we rush our little ones to the pharmacy, we ought to try the Bible's way of getting them to behave, Ephesians 6:4, for example--
And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Let's move on from children to adults. Suppose a man is addicted to pornography. What cause would the Bible likely find for that? 'Lust' would be the surface thing, with 'idolatry' underneath it, as he seeks his satisfaction in images of women instead of in Christ, the Image of God.
Suppose he goes to the doctor or a marriage counselor. How long will it be before he hears words like 'repentance and faith'? It'll be quite some time. What he's more likely to hear is 'depression', and I'm sure there's some truth in this. What do you do for depression? You treat it with medicine and or counseling. Is there any value in these things? Sure there is! But why not start with the Gospel?
Only the love of God is going to make a man truly hate his sins and only the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is going to provide him the hope to fight through his addiction. There may be a place for Prozac in his life, but the central place belongs to the Word of God.
In short, the sufficiency of Scripture means everything Scripture wants to do, it can do and it will do as we submit to its teaching in dependence on the Holy Spirit. If other things help us, thank God for them, but it is only Scripture that--
Thoroughly furnishes us unto every good work.
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