The Sufficiency of Scripture at Work in the Family Integrated Church
This article discusses how the recovery of the doctrine “Sola Scriptura” is vital to the reformation of the Church.
In Matthew 15:2-8, Jesus poses a very profound question to the Scribes and Pharisees, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt 15:3). The Lord is presenting one of the most important questions for all religious people for all ages, “Why do you value your traditions above the commandments of God?” Put another way, “Why did you eat gravel when you could have steak instead?”
As the church has developed in America, she has accumulated a host of traditions. The church has assumed features from her surrounding culture, which, though innocently acquired in many cases, have nonetheless worked to dwindle our appreciation for the practices described in the Word of God. So the question “Why?” needs to be asked.
One of the main reasons for this trend is this: the church of today does not fully embrace the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.
“Sola Scriptura” means “Scripture alone.” Understanding this doctrine is critical to help us see the root cause for why we have drifted from the commands of God into man-made patterns. The French Confession of Faith of 1559 summarizes this doctrine clearly:
We believe that the Word contained in these books has proceeded from God, and receives its authority from Him alone, and not from men. And in as much as it is the rule of all truth, containing all that is necessary for the service of God and for our salvation, it is not lawful for men, nor even for angels to add to it, or to take away from it, or to change it. Whence it follows that no authority, whether of antiquity, or custom, or numbers, or human wisdom, or judgments, or proclamations, or edicts, or decrees, or councils, or visions, or miracles, should be opposed to these Holy Scriptures, but on the contrary, all things should be examined, regulated, and reformed according to them. (Quoted by Robert L. Saucy in “Scripture,” p. 234)
This doctrine holds up the importance of looking to Scripture to help us examine, regulate, and reform the church. And it leads us to the conclusion that the forms and directions for church life found in the Bible are enough. Put another way, “In Scripture, we have all we need.” Sadly, rather than assume the sufficiency of God’s Word, too often we ask this question instead, “Is there need for additional and more effective practices? Do we need additional (to the Apostles’ requirements) structure and practice to accomplish the work of Christ?” The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture answers with an unequivocal, “No.”
“I Will Build My Church”
One of the important assumptions behind a belief in the sufficiency of Scripture is that the church is not our invention. Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). He has chosen to build it upon the instruction of the Apostles. The church is not something that we should try to reinvent in every generation, for every generation. The church should not be built by the creative efforts of His people. The church has a Head, and He has spoken clearly enough.
Make no mistake about it — the people of God have been given clear practices and standards, and we should keep them “on task” in every generation:
- Preaching the Word may not be the most stylish or engaging method for your visually stimulated generation;
- The public reading of Scripture may not be the most entertaining means of communication;
- Celebrating communion may not be the most popular rite;
- Prayer may not be the most exciting activity;
- Church discipline may not be the most appreciated tool;
When it comes to that which God has prescribed for the church, our opinions do not matter. Whether God’s standards are acceptable or popular with Christians and so-called “seekers” (Romans 3:8) or not, Scripture calls for them to be practiced in the church.
Modern Church Structure Replaces the Biblical Order
Most people believe that some creativity can be good for the church. However, if in our creativity we leave out what is foundational and create replacement traditions, we will, without exception, harm the integrity of the church.
Take church structure for training children, for example. Today, the primary method for training Christian young people is the modern Sunday school structure. Huge resources are dedicated to maintaining this structure in almost every church in America. Yet this structure cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. It is not commanded in Scripture. It is not demonstrated in Scripture. Our modern method for training children has no basis in God’s Word.
But there are two activities that are clearly communicated and commanded and demonstrated in Scripture for teaching children God’s Word: Fathers teaching daily (Deuteronomy 6), and able teachers preaching in the church (Ephesians 4). If we look at Scripture alone, we must conclude that God’s way of teaching children is through the engagement of fathers and through the preaching (“kerusso”) of qualified teachers within the context of the church.
Since Scripture speaks clearly on the matter, then it is the responsibility of church leaders to insure that what is clear, what is commanded, and what is demonstrated in Scripture is fulfilled in their ministries.
The bottom line is this: if we are spending our energies on things that divert energy from that which is clearly taught concerning the training of children, then we have misdirected our efforts. We have set aside the commands of God for the traditions and desires of men.
Cultural Blinders Affect Us All
Trusting in the Word of God is difficult for all of us, particularly in view of the fact that we have been raised in a culture that is everywhere in rebellion against it. We are not even fully aware of how much we have been tarnished by our culture, which should make us overwhelmingly dependent upon the grace of God. Our best efforts will always be lacking, compared with the glory of God. We “fall short” without even trying... and often without even knowing it (Romans 3:23-26).
Our churches fall short in their sincere attempts to be obedient to God in church life simply because of the fallen culture within which they exist.
None of us should be overly proud of ourselves when we think of the kinds of churches we have built or participated in. Every single Christian is off center, and “falls short.” I “see through a glass darkly” and am the “chief of sinners.” All of the churches mentioned in the New Testament had their problems, and our churches are no different today.
But thankfully we have a sufficient and fixed point of reference through which to evaluate our lives, our churches, and our culture — God’s Word. And as the trends twist and turn in our culture, it is so very important that we are saturated with what God has revealed to us in Scripture, so that when we can order our steps aright.
So the question that Jesus asks the Pharisees is an important question for the church in our times, “Why do we trade the clear teaching of the Word of God for the traditions of men” — “Why do we eat gravel when we could have steak?”
May our prayer in the church today be that of the Psalmist, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalms 119:18).