“I have also, as a bishop, sought to strengthen churches across the labels of conservative or centrist or liberal,” he said. “And I don't like the labels, but I've sought to be fair across the spectrum of kinds of churches. And while I believe in our traditional, orthodox faith that's rooted in the Scriptures, I also have always believed that we have to adapt our doctrine and our Scriptures to changing life circumstances that people have.” Bishop Ken Carter. Interview with The Lakeland Ledger
Where There is No King
There’s a prophetic and sobering verse at the end of the Book of Judges, one which speaks directly to us today. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Another translation puts it this way: “in those days Israel had no king, and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”
The Book of Judges, and that verse in particular, sets the context for the Book of 1 Samuel, which describes Israel’s sinful desire and demand for their first human king.
Judges 21:25 tells us there was no accepted authority over the people of Israel. They no longer submitted to the King they already had. They weren’t content with their invisible, yet divine King. Thus, the people did whatever they wanted to do. We too live in a culture that makes light of any authority outside ourselves. Many of us know parents who have abdicated their rightful authority in their own homes, schools where students do not recognize the authority of the teachers, and communities where citizens no longer respect police officers as authorities in their lives.
So too, the Church at large no longer commands the respect of authority it once did. How often we have heard words to the effect, “Well, my church believes such and such, but I don’t.” Perhaps most sadly, the Bible, the Holy Word of God, is no longer held up as the authority in the lives of many. How often have you heard someone dismiss something the Bible plainly teaches because, according to them, the Bible is nothing more than what ancient people wrote a long time ago, and therefore, isn’t relevant to our day and age? That sentiment is so often expressed it’s practically a cliché.
We too might say, “There is no authority in our day, and each person does what is right in their own eyes.”
Our culture is confused and many in the church are following the culture’s lead.
When there is no recognized authority to govern and lead a people, then the people themselves become the measure for all things. You can imagine the chaos which would ensue if each person in a city, large or small, thought he or she was his or her only authority. Such a conclusion would lead us to ask the same question the late Francis Schaeffer asked, “how should we then live?”.
Rock or Sand?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of two builders who built two homes, which based on casual observation looked basically the same. Yet our Lord tells us there was a profound difference between them. One house was built upon the shaky foundation of sand. The other house was built upon the sure foundation of rock.
Jesus was teaching that we are all builders of lives. And, according to Jesus, we’re either building our lives on the sand or on the Rock. Furthermore, when Jesus spoke of the sure foundation which should undergird every sphere of our lives, he had something particular in mind. He said the only foundation that can give us the strength we need to withstand the raging storms of sin and crises is his Word – both hearing and obeying it.
Francis Schaeffer compared this idea to the small bridges throughout Europe built by the Romans 2,000 years ago. He said those small bridges have lasted centuries and centuries because they were strong enough to support people and even horses and carriages. Yet, he pointed out they would immediately crumble if a modern-day 18-wheeler was to drive across one of them. They are strong enough for the light load, but the heavy load would destroy them.
God’s Word is the sure foundation we need for every sphere, season, and circumstance of our lives, for the light and heavy loads.
Continue in What You Have Learned
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, to make this very point. Paul reminded Timothy that he knew Paul’s teachings and his way of life. Timothy knew how greatly Paul was persecuted and suffered for the faith. Timothy knew how God rescued Paul from all of that. He then reminded Timothy that all Christians would be persecuted, and false teachers would run rampant, and even become more blatant in their deception.
It was in that context that Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the Holy Scriptures. He then explained to Timothy why the Holy Scriptures should be Timothy’s authority for his salvation, faith, and life. “The holy Scriptures,” Paul wrote, “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). (Emphases mine)
Every culture in every age is in desperate need of a transcendent authority that does not blow with every wind of change. Every person needs a clear and true Word from God to guide them through this life and safely into the next. God’s word provides all that and more.
John Wesley beautifully expressed this idea. He wrote,
“I want to know one thing – the way to heaven, how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Only God is here.”
God’s God-Breathed Book
The Bible is authoritative and sufficient for us, Paul says, because it is God’s book. It is God-breathed. Some translations say “inspired,” but the N.I.V. gets it right. The idea is not that the Bible is inspired in the way we might say, “The actor in the play gave us an inspired performance.” Instead, the meaning of the phrase, “God-breathed,” literally means words breathed out by God. Paul is teaching us the words of Scripture are literally God’s words to us. We have in Scripture precisely what God wants us to have, the way he wants us to have it.
What did God, as John Wesley put it, condescend to teach us? In addition to the way to heaven through Christ, Paul indicated all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. We have been given Scripture for a reason. Paul reminds us that Scripture is sufficient for all our needs and should be our comprehensive guide and authority for every sphere of faith and life.
Reformed writer, R.C. Sproul, once shared the story of a time when he was preaching on the authority of Scripture. After the service was over he saw a familiar face walking toward him. It turned out to be his college roommate. Sproul had not seen him for many years. His friend had gone to the mission field for three years after college and then came back to the U.S. to attend seminary in New York. Sproul had attended seminary in Pittsburgh and then went to Europe for doctoral studies. They had lost contact over the years.
Their reunion was a happy one, and they decided to catch up over dinner. During dinner, Sproul’s friend said to him,
“R.C., before we begin visiting, I want to tell you that I heard your sermon tonight where you affirmed your confidence in Scripture as our authority for life. But I have to tell you, after having been a missionary for three years where I learned about many other religious books, and after going to Seminary in New York and learning about biblical criticism, I don’t believe in the authority of Scripture anymore.”
Sproul said he was a bit surprised to hear his old friend say this, and so he asked him, “Well, what do you still believe?” His friend said, “Oh, I still believe that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord.” Sproul said he was delighted, of course, to hear that. However, his friend’s answer led Sproul to ask a follow-up question. “You say that Jesus is your Lord. Can you tell me how Jesus expresses his Lordship over you? That is, a Lord is someone who issues commands. How does Jesus, as your Lord, give you your marching orders?”
His friend replied that it was through the church. Sproul responded by asking, “What church? The Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran church – what church?” His friend answered, “through the Presbyterian church.”
“Which Presbyterian church?” Sproul asked. “The one in New York or the one in Dallas or the one in Atlanta?” “The General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church,” his friend responded. Sproul followed by asking, “Which General Assembly, the one that voted one way last year, or the one that voted a different way this year?”. “Well, I guess I have a problem,” his friend conceded. “Yes,” Sproul said, “You have a Lord who is unable to exercise Lordship over you.” (from Sproul’s video: “Hath God Spoken?”)
Give Me That Book
Is Jesus your Lord? In truth, Jesus is Lord whether you recognize him as so or not. Yet, he exercises his Lordship through his Spirit working through his Word. Thus, we must hear his voice in the pages of Scripture and obey them. Let us say with John Wesley, “O give me that book! At any price, give the book of God! Here is knowledge enough for me.”
Only the Spirit of God working through that book, the Bible, will lead you to Christ and the real, abundant, and eternal life that comes through faith in him. Only God’s Spirit working through God’s Word will sanctify you, making you more and more like Jesus. In a world full of people, ideas, and activities competing for your allegiance, there’s only one standard worthy to be your sure foundation. May it be for you the Word of God.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.