Thursday, February 28, 2008

"The Word of God"

Link updated

Todd Wodd, a self-described "Fundamental Baptist" pastor, is an alumnus of Bob Jones University, an hour or two up the road from me in Greenville, South Carolina. Residing in Idaho Falls, Idaho, he engages Mormons in his blog, "Heart Issues for LDS" (see Links on the right). Given his commitments, it is not surprising that his first article of faith concerns the role of the Bible. As part of this, he posts the following, from R. A. Torrey: Ten Reasons I Believe the Bible is the Word of God.

Well, I hate to knitpick, and coming out of a background similar to Todd's, I have every sympathy for him, and I certainly support his ongoing engagement with Mormonism.

HOWEVER, I must note some things, both about the article and about the broader mindset in which it is rooted.

First, while the Bible itself frequently uses the phrase "Word of God" in both the Old and New Testaments, it rarely, if ever, refers to the Bible as such. It refers to God's message for His people and ultimately, refers to directly to Jesus Christ, the incarnate, eternal Son of God. So we already have a problem with "sola Scriptura": the Bible is pointing beyond itself.

Second, while Todd and his compatriots are always at pains to affirm their loyalty to the Bible, they approach it from a position which denies a great deal of what it says, especially about the roles of Baptism, Holy Communion, and yes, apostolic absolution in salvation. They cannot see this, it seems to me, because they approach the Bible with certain presuppositions that come from building a theological system on isolated passages and then turning around and applying that system to the rest of the Book.

Third, there is the question of the canon. Todd, somewhere, points to someone's post on another blog which speaks of a "fallible list of infallible books." I may be missing something, but this sounds pretty incoherent to me. The truth is, the Reformers and especially, their followers, truncated the canon of the Old Testament to eliminate some things that went against their system(s). Luther tried to do the same thing with the New Testament Letter of James.

Fourth, the Church, spoken of in pretty high terms in the New Testament, precedes the complete Bible. (Consider, for example, what Jesus, in the biblical Gospel of Matthew, has to say about apostolic authority). As it happens, three elements of Church life grew up together alongside the biblical canon, or list of writings to be included in the Bible. One structure was the apostolic office, first filled by the Apostles themselves and then, by bishops, the first of which were ordained by the Apostles and mandated to govern the Church(es), teach the faith, and ordain successors as needed. Clement of Rome, writing around AD 96, documents this. Second, there are two other "canons" or "rules". One is the "rule of faith", the final, most definitive statement of which is the so-called Nicene Creed. The other is the "rule of prayer", which consists of norms for the conduct of public worship. Take any liturgy of any Church which pre-dates the Reformation, and you will see an iteration of this latter canon.

Therefore, while I applaud Todd's high opinion of the Bible, I wish he wouldn't try to deal with it in isolation from the above. It just wasn't meant to be used in that way.


Anonymous said...

We came from the evangelical world where the Bible is it. There was no need for church fathers, tradition etc. We were real big believers in all of that stuff. Now our eyes have been opened. Thanks be to God!

FrGregACCA said...

"Thanks be to God." Amen and Amen.

Former evangelical, Fr. Peter Gillquist, says, "All of Orthodoxy is to be found in the Bible, but a great deal of it is found in passages we didn't underline when we were Evangelicals." A quick glance at my late father's Bible will immediately confirm this.