(December 2006 – Volume 12, Issue 11)
Communication, in this modern age of communication, can be frustrating on many levels. Consider the common cell phone. Many nimbly leap from phone call to text message to taking a picture of a friend, all with the efficiency of a technological Jedi. Others, mortally fearful of missing a call, trot around with a “Bluetooth” attached to their ear (my regular jest to such people, that “you have a little something in your ear,” has so far failed to elicit a chuckle). Such people have mastered the art of modern communication, at least of this variety.
Then there are the technologically-challenged. Our one-year-old grandson has a better chance of activating the television through use of the remote than many middle-aged adults have. When it comes to the cell phone it gets worse. Everyone seems to have a cell phone these days but legions are totally perplexed as to how to go about retrieving messages. How frustrated they are to see the little screen indicating they have a message but have no concept of how to retrieve that message.
Perhaps this is how many of us feel about messages from God. It wasn’t so bad when we were using the old communication technique—you know, the Bible. Back when we were taught that prayer was us speaking to God and Scripture was God speaking to us. We understood at that time how such communication from the Lord worked. We read and studied the Word to understand God and His instructions for living. This was not always easy, but with careful effort and proper technique we had a handle on God’s instructions. Then along came new and “improved” methods. We were told that God had a specific will for each of our lives and, more importantly, we had to find that will. We were now on a celestial treasure hunt to “discover the will of God.” Complicating matters further was that the Bible provided no instructions to aid in this search. Instead, we were told that the Lord was providing a sort of new and fresh revelation completely apart from biblical revelation. It was personalized revelation directed specifically at each individual. It was the voice of God but not audibly heard. This voice was an inner voice most likely detected through hunches, feelings, promptings and circumstances. And adding to the gravity of the situation was the warning that to miss this voice, or even misinterpret it, would doom us to living outside the will of God—perhaps for life.
An array of books, seminars and sermons was developed to instruct and train concerned Christians on how to “retrieve” these messages from God. However, the instruction manuals, having not been written by God, tended toward conjecture and guesswork, were often contradictory and left the weary believer apprehensive at best. “How do I know,” they often asked, “if I am really hearing the voice of God? Could it be my own imagination or desires? Could it be the suggestions of others or even the devil at play? Could it be that pepperoni pizza I ate at midnight?”
Like many frantically searching through a series of instructions hoping to unlock the secret to the latest message from a friend, the child of God fished through the plethora of man-made instructions to discover God’s messages. But here the stakes are higher. My wife may have missed my message to bring home ice cream, but the believer fears that he may have missed God’s message concerning a spouse, a career change, what church to attend or automobile to purchase.
It is for such frustrated and perplexed people that I have written a number of papers on this subject. It is my hope that these thoughts will help unravel some of the confusion. In this article I would like to press home the great need of the hour: the need for confidence in the Word, the only authoritative voice of God for all ages.
Confidence in the Word
What I believe is missing today is confidence in the sufficiency of the Word of God. The scriptures are under attack. Of course, this is nothing new; we can trace such attacks to the Garden of Eden. What is new in evangelical circles is the package. Let’s back up for a look at recent church history.
In the 1920s and 30s differences between conservative and liberal churches came to a head in America . Out of that controversy came new denominations, fellowships, schools, missions, etc., which separated from those who no longer believed in biblical Christianity. These organizations were founded by believers who desired to hold fast and “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). One of the big problems at that time (as it is today) was developing a consensus concerning the essentials of the faith. That is, what doctrinal truths were absolutely necessary? What did all Christians who claimed to be orthodox believe and, conversely, what could be left to individual convictions? In other words, what was non-negotiable in the faith? A series of volumes, published originally in 1909 entitled The Fundamentals for Today, were an attempt to answer those questions. Written by some of the finest conservative scholars and church leaders of the day, The Fundamentals addressed the doctrines of Christology and soteriology, but almost one third of the essays concerned the reliability of Scripture. What emerged from this was what has become known as the Fundamentalist movement. A Fundamentalist was simply one who adhered to the fundamentals of the faith, primarily as described in The Fundamentals. One of those fundamentals was the belief in an infallible and inerrant Bible.
As time moved on, those who would become known as evangelicals split from Fundamentalism. Evangelicals still held to the fundamentals of the faith, but believed there was more room to compromise and work with those who denied some of the essentials. Of course, today there are many sub-groupings under these titles, but that is not our subject. Our point is that, by definition, all Fundamentalists and evangelicals supposedly adhere to the belief that the Bible is the only authoritative revelation from God to man, without error in the original, and is correct in all that it affirms.
While the Fundamentalist camp has continued to firmly hold this position, there has been considerable evidence of weakening on the evangelical side. For example, in 1976 Harold Lindsell, former editor of Christianity Today and typical evangelical, wrote a book called The Battle for the Bible. In this book, he documented the compromise taking place concerning biblical infallibility and inerrancy in such evangelical organizations as Fuller Seminary, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). The book was not well received. He followed it with The Bible in the Balance in an attempt to show the danger the evangelical world was facing because of its eroding view of the Scriptures. He wrote, “Today an increasing number of evangelicals do not wish to make inerrancy a test for fellowship.” His lament throughout the book was that evangelicalism was slowly losing its conviction in an inerrant Bible. Conversely, he believed that Fundamentalists were standing firm on the Scriptures.
Few heeded Lindsell’s warning and, as a result, forty years later it has become increasingly difficult to define an evangelical. Recently, in a futile effort to define the term, one journal resigned that an evangelical today is anyone who claims to be one. There are no longer any definitions. Lindsell suggested in 1979 that all Christians who wish to maintain an orthodox view of Scripture may want to return to the term “fundamentalist” even with all of its negative connotations. With this we happily agree if, by the term, we mean one who stands for the essentials of the faith including an inerrant and infallible Bible.
However, many who accept the Fundamentalist label (defined by its original meaning) have their problems in regard to the Scriptures as well. While they firmly stand for infallibility and inerrancy, many have sadly compromised on sufficiency.
By the sufficiency of Scripture I mean that the Bible is adequate to guide us into all truth pertaining to life and godliness. Based upon such passages as 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:15-4:2 and Psalm 19, I believe the Scriptures alone (through the power of the Holy Spirit) are capable of teaching us how to live life, how to mature in godliness, how to handle problems and how to know truth. The Bible needs no help from the wisdom and experiences of men. Yet, the vast majority of both evangelicals and Fundamentalists believe the Scriptures are either inadequate or incomplete in communicating what the Christian needs to know in order to deal with the issues of life. Thus they believe that something in addition to Scripture is necessary.
A Biblical Example
Again, there is nothing new about God’s people believing that the Bible is insufficient to meet their needs. Colossians 2 describes a church during the New Testament era that felt it necessary to add several things to Scripture in order to move on to maturity. The church at Colossae apparently had come under the influence of the early stages of Gnosticism. Gnostics taught that certain individuals were privy to mystical sources of knowledge beyond the Scriptures. If one wanted to move on to maturity, according to the Gnostics, he had to tap into this extra-biblical knowledge through the methods that they taught. The Colossians, under this influence, were leaving behind the apostolic instruction concerning the Christian life (vv. 1-7) and were being deluded into adding at least five things to God’s Word:
Colossians 2:8-15 warns of the danger of being taken captive through philosophy and empty deception. “Philosophy” means the “love of wisdom” and the book of Proverbs tells us that the love of wisdom is a worthy pursuit (Proverbs 4:6). God does not oppose wisdom; He is against the wrong kind of wisdom. Paul warns of a pseudo-wisdom that can be identified by three characteristics:
- It is according to the traditions of men. That is, wisdom that comes from the mind of men, not the mind of God.
- It is according to the elementary principles of the world. This is likely a reference to the attempt to gain esoteric knowledge through mystical means, something the Gnostics loved (see v. 18).
- It is not according to Christ. True wisdom is found in Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v. 3). The Colossians were searching in the wrong place for wisdom. What they were looking for was found in Christ, through the Word, not in the philosophies of men.
Everyone thinks he knows what legalism is and no one, including the Pharisees, ever thinks he is legalistic. Colossians 2:16-17 describes legalism as majoring on the minors. It is living for the shadows instead of the substance. It is the belief that keeping certain rules and rituals wins favor with God. These rules and rituals almost always are things that do not emerge directly from the Word. Therefore, the danger lies in the fact that we have added our own ideas to God’s in order to mature in godliness. We, in essence, declare that God’s Word is insufficient to instruct us on how to live life; we must therefore assist Him.
Asceticism is based on a misunderstanding of our bodies. It is the idea that God will be impressed and we will become more holy if we deprive our bodies of even those things that are good. The major flaw, as Paul says, is that it is a “self-made religion” and thus once again an addition to God’s revelation (Colossians 2:20-23).
Pragmatism is not specifically mentioned in Colossians 2 but nevertheless permeates the whole passage. Pragmatism is the error of determining truth by what appears to work. If some method or concept seems successful, if people feel better, if they respond to the gospel or go to church more often, then it must be of God. Instead of the Word of God determining how we live and what we do, pragmatism steps in and rules.
Paul describes the dangers of mysticism in Colossians 2:18,19. The Gnostics taught that a few elite had received the gift of direct revelation through the Holy Spirit. These moments of inspiration took place through visions, dreams, and encounters with angels. This divided the church into two classes, the haves and the have nots (the truly spiritual and the unspiritual).
The heart of modern day mystics’ problems is found in these verses: they are basing their theology on experiences rather than on the foundation of Jesus Christ as found in His Word. The end result is that such people are “defrauded.” They are missing out on true biblical living because of their beliefs.
As happened at Colossae, many in the conservative/fundamental ranks are subtly adjusting their view of the Scriptures. These individuals would defend to the death their belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word, but have softened in the area of sufficiency.
When I speak of the sufficiency of the Bible, I mean that it alone is adequate to train us in godliness. Only the Word reveals God’s truth for living. On the negative side, this naturally implies that nothing needs to be added to the Scriptures for us to know truth and live godly lives. Therefore, when anything, whether it is man’s wisdom, personal experience, pragmatism, tradition, or direct revelation, is touted as a means of accomplishing these things, then biblical sufficiency has been denied. By this definition we find the conservative Christian landscape literally covered with those who claim to believe in the authority of Scripture, yet in practice deny it by their extrabiblical sources of obtaining truth and guidance.
But is biblical sufficiency biblical? Does the Word claim to be adequate? In reply, we are reminded of 2 Peter 1:3, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him…” How is life and godliness obtained? It is accomplished through the true knowledge of Christ, which is found only in the Word. 2 Timothy 3:16,17 reminds us that the Scriptures are inspired by God and are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Why? In order that we might be adequately equipped for every good work. We have to wonder, if the Scriptures are adequate to equip us for EVERY good work and if they are able to lead us to EVERYTHING pertaining to life and godliness, what else is needed? Why search beyond the Scriptures for the things that God says the Scriptures alone supply?
In our support of the doctrine of biblical sufficiency we can do more than proof-text. The whole thrust of Scripture implies that the Word alone is sufficient to teach us how to live life and find guidance. As a matter of fact, the burden of proof that something beyond the Scriptures (visions, man’s wisdom, tradition, etc.) is needed lies with those who doubt sufficiency. Note the view of God’s Word as found in Psalm 19. We are told that it is:
- perfect and will restore the soul (v. 7)
- sure, making wise the simple (v. 7)
- right, rejoicing the heart (v.8)
- pure, enlightening the eyes (v. 8)
- clean, enduring forever (v .9)
- true and righteous altogether (v. 9)
- more desirable than gold (v. 10)
- sweeter than honey (v. 10)
There is no hint here that the Word is inadequate to equip us for whatever life throws our way. As the psalmist praises the Scriptures he implies that there is no need for help from any outside source. This is the picture that we get throughout the entire Bible. Human wisdom, observations and experience add nothing to the Scriptures.
Mysticism, either in its classical or softer form, is one of the most subtle forces that undermine sufficiency in the evangelical church today. John MacArthur’s definition of the often-accepted evangelical form of mysticism is helpful, “Mysticism looks to truth internally, weighing feeling, intuition, and other internal sensations more heavily than objective, observable, external data….Its source of truth is spontaneous feeling rather than objective fact, or sound biblical interpretation.” 
Many of us dismiss the faulty view of revelation held by charismatics as unbiblical, but turn around and adopt a similar understanding for our own lives and ministries. I believe this to not only be inconsistent with, but an unavoidable denial of, biblical authority and sufficiency.
 Harold Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), p. 303.
 Ibid., p. 320.
 Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), pp. 49, 139-142, 163-166.
 John MacArthur, Our Sufficiency in Christ (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991), p. 32.