Saturday, October 20, 2007

Authority Challenged

This morning I had the honour of teaching on The Authority of Scripture for Reading Family Church. In an act of cheap blogging I'll post the script here over the next few days.

In Acts 13 we find the Jews rejecting the apostles teaching from the scriptures. They refuse it's call to believe in Jesus. They reject it's strong judgement against them and their sin. Consequently the Apostles then turn to the Gentiles who honour the word and embrace it's teaching. The word of the Lord continues to spread. Such is the story of the church as Luke reports the acts of the ascended Jesus through his church by the Spirit.

As Pete Lowman puts it (in Gateways to God):
in every sense, the growth of the church
is inseparable from the spread of the Word,
as we read it personally, as we gossip it,
as we feed on it at home groups,
in public exposition and proclamation.
This is depth, this is power,
this is spirituality.
Such statements only make sense when we have secured the doctrine of the authority of scripture, the scriptures by which – as we'll see – Jesus rules his church. As we gather to consider the doctrine of the authority of scripture let's say we are coming to consider a doctrine. That is, an article of faith – something to be believed. We come needing to have faith – faith which comes by hearing the word of God. It's my desire that we come to see faith rise in our hearts not just to understand this foundational doctrine. All theology study should be like that – seeking Spirit-transformation through the word as we behold Jesus together in his word.

Yet, from generation to generation right back to Eden the authority of the word stands challenged and denied – from Adam and Eve to the people of Reading today. Before we come to the doctrine itself let's paint the scene we find ourselves in.

The Authority of “the World”
Here dwells Richard Dawkins. Like any good scientist he observes the physical world, but he takes his interpretation of it to be authoritative with no regard for the scripture.

Liberal traditions in the church have followed this in the past, denying miracles for example as impossible given our experience of the world.

John Calvin responds by saying that the God delusion is deluded – simply we need to view the world through the spectacles of scripture – others like Richard Baxter go further suggesting that we no nothing of the world without theology.

When the world has authority then it is allowed to critique our interpretation of the word and define it.

The Authority of “the Church”
For some this comes in the form of Roman Catholicism and the authority of the Majesterium, casting their authoritative interpretations of scripture. This is fairly freshly popularised by Dan Brown and his opinions in The Da Vinci Code.

As Protestants and Reformation people we stand clearly against that – we affirm the authority of scripture, but it's all to easy for us to replace it with the authority of Protestant Popes, what does Terry Virgo, John Piper, Don Carson etc say... we find it when Bible teaching contains more of the preacher than it does of the scriptures, more of his opinion and view and less of what God himself says.

We have our heroes and our celebrities, and we're right to honour teachers in the church, but we cannot and must not be uncritical as we do this. I must remind myself that something is not true because Piper said it. Substitute for your own hero. Likewise prophecy must be weighed and tested against the word lest we recreate the catholic majesterium in new clothing. If we're to lead in the church of God we must beware of this – the church does not need our insight, it needs the word of God – and so we must rub their faces in the word of God. Keep it inky.

The Authority of “the Christian”
Now more personally, we ask 'what does this passage say to me?' - which is a fine question if we mean what it is mean to the original audience and therefore what does it mean to us today. But when each person is able to form their own meaning of a text the authority ultimately resides with us.
We say the Holy Spirit is saying this to me through a passage, but forget that the Spirit of Truth is not going to contradict himself.

Think also of the story of King Ahab of Israel. The king of Judah, Jehoshaphat formed an alliance with him. Ahab wanted to go to war. Jehoshaphat said, not unless God says so.

Ahab produces 400 prophets who support his decision. Jehoshaphat isn't satisfied – 'got any more prophets' he says. Ahab says, there is one but I hate him because he only ever says bad things about me (2 Chronicles 17v7)

So easy for us to twist and distort scripture to suit ourselves. We pay lip service to it but in reality it's us mastering the word rather than it mastering us. A good cure to this is to read in big chunks, keep the context in view because it's harder to turn a big ship than a small one. Postmodernism lurks around us diverting us from seriousness about the scripture – telling us that we can't trust the Bible – often pushing scripture to the margins in favour of pragmatism and experience.

Just look into any Christian bookshop and we find self-help Christianity that flirts with the Bible, or actively denies it's core doctrines. In every ages people have followed what their itching ears want to hear. Our age is no different. We find the Bible treated as a guidebook or manual for living, using it to support what we want to do – like Ahab. Our Christianity skews and distorts and the glory of Jesus stands diminished.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dave,
    a minor point - and otherwise this is a great post - but can I gently challenge your opening statement? i.e. "In Acts 13 we find the Jews rejecting the apostles teaching from the scriptures. They refuse it's call to believe in Jesus. They reject it's strong judgement against them and their sin. Consequently the Apostles then turn to the Gentiles who honour the word and embrace it's teaching."
    I'm not sure it's that simple! In 13:43 we see many Jews following Paul & Barnabas. So presumably "the Jews" of 13:45 and 13:50 are not the whole Jewish community of Antioch, they are just a subsection of it - perhaps just the leadership. Fast forward to Acts 14 and we get a great number of both Jews and Greeks believing (v. 1), the unbelieving Jews opposing Paul (v.2), and then both Gentiles and Jews and their rulers trying to stone Paul (v. 5)! In other words - it's wrong to generalise about "the Jews" rejecting the gospel - either then or now. It would be more accurate to say "some Jews " or even "many Jews". Hope that doesn't sound overly pedantic...