Which Authority…

I’ve had a little email back and forth this weekend with an old friend over the authority of Scripture, combined with a little discussion about the role of our Presbyterian Book of Order.  My friend has stated publically that we cannot speak “unequivocally” about what the Bible says.  The authority with which we speak on matters of scripture is completely conditional and never unequivocal, he says. When we believe we can speak unequivocally on behalf of scripture they have made an idol out of something.  In other words, we can never really say for certain and with authority any one thing about the God’s word, because it is all dependant upon our particular cultural context.

The problem with such Post-Modern, Deconstructionist Relativism is that it gives us nothing to say at all.  The Bible is simply the story of God revealing Himself to a particular people, but it does not speak authoritatively to us today.  We can gather principles, but no clear word to apply to our lives.  As Francis Schaeffer said in “How Then Should We Live?”, they “do not see the Bible as giving truth which can be stated in contentful propositions, especially regarding the cosmos and history, that is, as making statements which are open to any verification.  And for many of them the Bible does not give moral absolutes either.  For these theologians, it is not faith in something; it is faith in faith.”

Hard enough as that is to accept, my friend later went on to say that he fully embraces the Book of Order (the constitution of the PC(USA), and the new revisions to the constitution in regard to its position on the Word of God.  There is a full embrace of the Book of Order, but a qualified embrace of the Word of God.  Something is wrong here.

I mentioned to my friend that I had little to no faith in our Book of Order, because I have seen it used to punish and drive away innocent and faithful members and pastors.  This prompted a response that I was close to “renouncing jurisdiction,” an action that would permanently remove me from the church and my ministry.

So let me clarify my position.

I do not believe that I speak unequivocally about Scripture; Scripture does. Scripture tells us with one voice that we were created for God’s glory, but all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Scripture tells us with one voice that God has given us new life in Christ, and that all who call upon the Lord will be saved. Scripture tells us with one voice that the Christian life is lived in the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, overcoming sin and immorality – for this is God’s will for our lives. Scripture tells us unequivocally that as sure as Christ came once before, He is coming again to judge the world and to recieve his own.

God’s Word does not change, even though the heavens and the earth will pass away (Psalm 119:89, Matthew 24:34-35).  The Book of Order changes every time we have a General Assembly. 

Like Scripture, does the Book of Order lead me to a saving knowledge of God and His love for me in Christ Jesus my Lord?  No.

Like Scripture, does the Book of Order contain the full revelation of God, and as such, is man’s only rule for faith and life? No.

Like Scripture, does the Book of Order, by the power of the Holy Spirit, reveal my sin, and lead me to trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ?  No.

Therefore, my heart and my mind must be held captive to the Word of God.  As a Presbyterian, I am goverened by the church’s policy and will abide by its discipline as I perform my ministry in the Presbyterian Church.  I do not renounce the jurisdiction of the church, rather I claim that the church is first and foremost under the jurisdiction of Christ Jesus her Lord and King, and must not stray from His will, as revealed to us in His Word.  Counsels of men are prone to sin and error, only God’s word is infallible and inerrant.

You tell me, which should I accept without qualification or scruple?

What I Believe

“Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints…”
(Jude 3 ESV)

What do you believe?  It’s not often that someone will come right up to you and ask you about your beliefs, but if they did, what would you say?  In my sermon on Sunday I shared that the Christian faith has two aspects: an intellectual assent to a standard of doctrine or teaching, and a trust or reliance in the person and work of Jesus Christ for our salvation.  As Beth Moore puts it, “There is Believing in God, and then there is Believing God.”  Both are crucial to the life of faith.

As a member of my Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry, I have the privilege of working with those who sense God’s call to serve as Ministers of Word and Sacrament or as Commissioned Lay Pastors in the church.  Our job is to help them discerns God’s call, and to encourage, prepare, and equip them for ministry.  It is a humbling and awesome responsibility.

In the course of preparation, each candidate is required to submit a brief statement of faith.  Usually one page, this is a succinct statement of their Christian faith.  This is always such a revealing and powerful experience as we read their statements and examine their “theological readiness” for ministry.  For me, I learn so much more about a candidate by reading their statement of faith than just about any other dossier or résumé.  What we say about what we believe says a lot about who we are and about our walk with the Lord.

I can remember how difficult it was in seminary to sit down and write my first brief statement of faith.  There’s so much to say, how does one keep it to one page?  But the process of writing was such an encouragement.  God has redeemed us, heart and mind, passion and intellect.  We are given the revelation of God that we might know God, and to discern the goodness, justice, holiness, and grace of God.  We have been given minds to know Him, and are to believe all that God has revealed Himself to be.  What a blessing, to be able to know God, and to know of His loving mercy towards us.

If you have never written out what you believe, a brief statement of your faith, I want to encourage you to do it soon.  To articulate what you believe helps make it real.  The process of writing out what you believe helps you to answer some of your own questions, or correct your errors as you check your statement in Scripture.  You may even find that you become more comfortable sharing your faith, because you have put it into your own words.

I thought, in closing, I’d share with you my brief statement of faith.  I don’t share this for comparison with other statements, but that you may know my faith, and may hopefully be blessed by it.

I Believe…

  • In Almighty God, who is revealed in His creation as good, wise, and powerful, and who has further revealed Himself in Scripture as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who is righteous in justice, full of grace and mercy, and steadfast in His love.
  • That all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God for which we were created, and as such we are subject to and deserving of God’s wrath and judgment.  However, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  When we were lost in sin, as sheep who have gone astray, God sought us out, sending His Son, Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life we desperately need.
  • That salvation from sin and death is found in Jesus Christ alone, who was, is, and forever will be the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, our Lord and Savior.  Born of the virgin Mary, Jesus lived His life completely for the glory of God, who by the power of the Spirit brought good news to the poor, proclaimed release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18).  He was in every way like us, but He was without sin.  He bore our sins on Calvary.  In His death upon the cross, he took our place so that sin and death no longer have dominion over us, and in His resurrection we have the promise of eternal life with God and the assurance of His never-ending love.
  • That by the power of the Holy Spirit the work of Christ is applied to our lives.  Through the Holy Spirit we are brought from death in sin to life in Christ, we are justified by the righteousness of Christ alone, we are given faith to trust in the promises of God, we are empowered to follow after Jesus as His faithful disciples, we are equipped to serve the Lord with the gifts of the Spirit, we are convicted of sin an called to battle against it, and we are assured of our eternal security in God.
  • That the Church, which is the body of Christ, consists of those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and is called to minister to a broken world; offering forgiveness and hope, encouraging one another in a life of discipleship, so that all may glorify God and worship Him.
  • That Scripture is the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative word of God, our only rule for life and faith.  The Holy Spirit speaks to the Church today through Scripture, and while God alone is Lord of the conscience, the conscience of the Christian is bound to the word in regard to matters of faith and worship.
  • That God has given us the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as signs of His prevenient grace, which, with the preaching of the word of God, proclaim His gospel.  Baptism is an outward sign of what God’s gracious work; it is our engrafting into the body of Christ and the community of faith, the washing away of sin and the refreshing of new life.  The Lord’s Supper proclaims Christ’s atoning death on our behalf, in which we remember that His life was broken for ours, and that our salvation rests in Christ alone.  Through the Sacraments we are instructed and strengthened by faith to carry the gospel into the world.
  • That my greatest calling in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  In response to the grace of God, everything I do from this point forward in my life ought to be an act of thanksgiving and praise for all that God has done.
  • That the world, now more than ever, needs to understand the blessing of knowing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord – may they know it through me!

And to Him, my Redeemer, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit,
Three Persons, One God, be glory forever, world without end, Amen!