01 January 2008
The Basics: Divine inspiration and supreme authority
In our 11-part series looking at how the Alliance's Basis of Faith is Good News for our neighbours, Krish Kandiah discusses...
3. The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.
I had a sudden panic attack at lunchtime today. I was speaking at an evangelistic event at Warwick University. The Christian Union had as usual done a great job. It had provided a buffet lunch and peppered the campus with flyers.
"If God exists, why doesn't He prove himself?" was my theme, and members of the atheist society had turned up. I began to panic as I looked around at the listeners and then down at my notes as I stood up to speak. I had a fascinating video clip, several philosophical arguments and even a few funny stories up my sleeve. But my panic attack wasn't due to the topic, the audience or my sketchy notes. I had a wave of doubt as to my authority to talk on this subject.
Confidence in preparation, qualifications, material and even humour can take us a long way in most spheres of life. But when it comes to commending belief in God in our culture we need much more than that.
Evangelicals believe that God's word is our supreme and unique authority. If we ask people to believe because of the laws of logic or the cleverness of the speaker, we are undermining this important doctrine. If we truly believe God's word is authoritative then we must learn to use it and trust it.
This core doctrine of the Christian faith meant that it was not me on display today, but God making His appeal to the audience. My job was to help people understand the significance, relevance, power and truthfulness of God's trustworthy, divinely-inspired, written word.
Questions of faith
Whether it is a roomful of hostile hecklers, or our helpful Hindu neighbour, we can all be paralysed with panic when faced with questions about our faith in God and our Christian conduct. As individuals and as churches we all need to recapture a confidence based on Scripture's supreme authority. As this happens the world will be drawn to God's Word and the God who inspired it.
The authority of Scripture can have an impact on us in three areas...
1. The authority of the Bible and individual Christians. Many of us live with the sacred/secular, Sunday/Monday divide. We look to the Bible for spiritual help, but miss out on Scripture's agenda for our business, our leisure, our family, even our internet use.
When Paul writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3.16), he was not simply talking about the Bible being useful in church services or personal devotions.
God's word should not be our last resort, but our first port of call in all our decision-making. This does not mean we treat the Bible as a horoscope expecting our daily readings to give us specific instructions or expectations for the day ahead. This does not mean that we use selective reading, overlooking challenging ideas, to force our own agenda into Scripture, which would put us in danger of making ourselves the supreme authority.
Rather we engage with the whole Bible - Old and New Testaments - and allow it to speak to us, allowing the key principles of Scripture to shape our approach to every aspect of life. As we become familiar with the Scriptures we become familiar with God himself. This helps us work out what pleases the Lord, develop Christian character and build both confidence in what we believe and authority in introducing God to others.
2. The authority of the Bible and the Church at large. If we as individuals are in danger of allowing personal agendas to attempt to domesticate God's word, the Church is in danger of allowing power struggles, trendy management techniques and time-honoured traditions to usurp the authority of the Bible.
Organisational systems, psychological research and sociological changes can shape the Church, but only if they are filtered through the fine sifting of a biblically informed discernment process.
How much does Scripture set the agenda for our church's strategy, daily practice, services, relationships and priorities? If God's Word is the supreme authority, it must set the agenda and the standard for the whole of church life. Paul's advice to the Church is to work together as a body: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3.16).
3. The Authority of the Bible and the world in need. If we as individuals can humble ourselves to sit under the authority of God's Word, and the Church can recapture this corporate bond of accountability, what about the world around us? Is it far-fetched to think that God's word is authoritative in a culture where most people do not have a clue about the stories in the Bible, let alone their meaning?
In Jesus' parable, the sower scatters the seed of God's Word and, although it seems to be wasted, we are not to be discouraged since some falls on fertile soil and bears fruit. Scripture contends that we are "to set forth the truth plainly" and allow people to make their own minds up through an encounter with God through His Word.
We will not put our ultimate confidence in logical argument, scientific support, archaeological evidence or personal powers of persuasion. Though God can use all of these, our confidence and authority come from what God Himself has said in His word.
Don't forget the only offensive weapon in the spiritual armoury of Ephesians 6 is the sword, the Word of God. And as we hold it out to the world around, its razor-sharp edge "penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4.12).
If we really grasp this doctrine of the Bible as our supreme authority in faith and conduct, it would be constantly on our hearts, minds and lips. It would fuel our faith, determine our decisions, season our conversations and unite our communities. It would transform our lives, our churches and our world.
For more on this subject, see Krish Kandiah's book Twenty Four: Integrating Faith and Real Life (Authentic, 2007).
This series is not a commentary on the Basis of Faith, neither is it an explanation of how the Basis is interpreted by the Alliance. Rather, it focuses on the relevance of the Basis to spreading the Good News.