What is the place of Scripture?

The Wycliffe Bible

On December 7, 2011 the Fellowship of Presbyterians released its Theological Basis [pdf download], a document that outlines the identity and foundational theology of both the Fellowship as an umbrella organization as its expression as a new denomination.

The Theological Basis addresses an important issue for today’s church–what is the place of Scripture?

The Essential Tenets section of the document states:

God’s Word: The Sole Authority for Our Confession

The clearest declaration of God’s glory is found in his word, both incarnate and written. The son eternally proceeds from the Father as his word, the full expression of the Father’s nature, and since in the incarnation

the word became flesh all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are given to his disciples. The written word grants us those treasures, proclaims the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and graciously teaches all that is necessary for faith and life. we glorify God by recognizing and receiving his authoritative self-revelation, both in the scriptures of the old and new Testaments and also in the incarnation of God the son. we affirm that the holy spirit overshadowed the virgin mary so that she would conceive a son, and that he also inspired the writing and preservation of the scriptures. The holy spirit testifies to the authority of God’s word and illumines our hearts and minds so that we might receive both the scriptures and Christ himself aright.

 

This provision rightly asserts the importance and the centrality of both ways in which God has made himself known: through the Incarnation of Lord and through the Holy Scriptures. 

The two go hand in glove. Where the church fails to take the Scripture seriously Jesus becomes a simply projection of our cherished beliefs about culture, society, self. It is too easy for a Bible-less Jesus to become conformed simply to our own prejudices (whether conservative or liberal, traditional or progressive). Jesus is abstracted from his teachings and interactions with others captured in the witness of the Gospels and interpreted and applied in the writings of the apostles.

Similarly, where there is the Bible and no Jesus we easily misplace the object of our deepest affection and the supreme expression of God’s redeeming love–our prophet, priest, and king–Jesus.

Calvin compared Scripture to a pair of glasses that allow us to see God clearly, a means by which to bridle and test our impressions of God.

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly (Institutes, I.vi.1).
Since no daily responses are given from heaven, and the Scriptures are the only records in which God has been pleased to consign his truth to perpetual remembrance, the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognised, unless they are believed to have come from heaven, as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them (Institutes, I.vii.1).
I appreciate the dual emphasis found in this document as a corrective to common devaluing of Scripture, especially amongst some Neo-Orthodox theologians and certainly amongst progressives.
My own convictions about the nature and authority of Scripture are captured nicely by Calvin (above) and by the Westminster Confession of Faith:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased….
…The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed (WCF I.i, vi).
Thanks be to God.
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