Wednesday @ Westminster: Where is God’s Authentic Word?
Statistics can be misleading if they are abstracted from the moment they are calculated. But in that moment, they reveal a glimpse of reality. The well-known church growth leader, George Barna, provides us an opportunity to glimpse the sad reality of the modern evangelical church as well as our culture. Back in 2000 one survey revealed that 75% of Americans agreed with the statement “God helps those who help themselves.” Then in 2005 another survey revealed that 11% of “born-again” Christians said they did not believe the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings. These statistics go hand-in-hand with the sad anecdotal reality that many of us have that Americans as well as professing Christians are turning from the Word of God to alternate spiritualities, different religions, to themselves, or to no religion at all for their version of the truth.
In such a time as this, people are asking in their own way, "Where is God’s authentic word?" This question is not new, though. Our forefathers had to ask and answer this question as well even in “better” times. The Larger Catechism asks the question, “What is the Word of God?” (Q&A 3) It’s answer should be well-known to us: “The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.” The Catechism then asks, “How doth it appear that the Scriptures are of the Word of God?”
The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.
"What" and "how" are asked, which imply the question of where? In our time we need to proclaim that Holy Scripture, also known as the Bible, in which is contained thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and twenty-seven of the New Testament, is where the authentic voice and word of God to humanity is found. But we also need to proclaim this confidently. How firm will you be when you co-worker tells you that they read a novel or saw a television program that said the manuscripts contradict themselves? How will you answer when you hear the assertion that the early church decided what books were Scripture by leaving out other viable books?
The Need to Find
There is an urgent need to find the Word of God in our time. In his second epistle to young pastor Timothy, Paul gives several characteristics of the “last days” (2 Tim. 3:1) in which the church has existed since the time of the apostles. First, the church exists in an age of apostasy from the true faith. Paul says “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4). Second, the church exists in an age of ungodliness: “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:2–5).
Now, stop and ask yourself this question: what is so different about Paul’s day and ours? The answer is absolutely nothing. In this age it is imperative that we to find God’s words to the world. His words are like a beacon in the darkness of falsehood and like a light that exposes the darkness of our sinful hearts. And when we find the Word, we find an anchor for our souls in the midst of the turbulent storms of false theology and false piety that beat against our faith.
The Place to Find
So where can we find the true Word of God? The place to find it is in what we call the “canon” of Scripture. A canon was an ancient way of describing what we call a ruler. Our ancient forefathers adapted this word for describing the Word of God, saying that we have in the Old and New Testaments the ruler, the true measure of authentic faith in God and genuine life before his face. In 2 Timothy 3:14 and 3:16 we learn of Timothy’s upbringing in the faith of the Old Testament. Yet Paul’s statement that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” extends to the New Testament, of which Peter equates Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:16) and which our Lord himself says has come to an end with the Revelation of John (Rev. 22:18).
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are canonical because they are inspired, literally, “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). As Peter says, that breath of God carried along the writers of Scripture like a sailboat upon the water (2 Peter 1:20–21). These Scriptures are also sufficient. They are what we need to be “complete” and “equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
But this is all assertion. How can I know this? There are so many religious books out there, after all. The Larger Catechism gives us several reasons by which we know the Scriptures we have are the very Word of God:
- They are majestic and pure, as we would expect from the mouth of God. One reading of the Bible next to the Apocrypha, the Book of Mormon, or the Qu’ran will evidence this.
- All the different parts of the Bible have a unity and consent, they all have the same scope or purpose, “which is to give all glory to God” (Q&A 4).
- They give light and are powerful to convert sinners and to comfort and build up believers unto salvation.
- The same Spirit who breathed them out also bears witness by and with them in our hearts. He alone is able fully to persuade us that these books are the very word of God.
The Practice of Finding
In the prophecy of Amos we read of a coming famine: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). We live in that day. What are we to do as God’s people? We need to engage in the practice of finding the Word, and when we find it, continue to mine it for its riches; continue to cultivate it for the food that it is to our souls; continue to go back to it like a well in the desert.
We are to meditate on the Word (Ps. 1:1–2; Col. 3:16). We are to conform our lives to the Word (Ps. 119:1–8). We are to express our utter thankfulness for the Word (Ps. 119:62; 164). And we are to contend for the Word (Jude 3). May God help us to do so for our souls’ sake, for the sake of our children, and for the sake of our churches.