The Sufficiency of Scripture – Part 1
(August 1995 – Volume 1, Issue 10)
Inerrancy is the belief that the Scriptures contain no errors in the original. Infallibility guarantees the accuracy of the recorded messages found in the Word.
The Scriptures today 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 1920’s and 30’s differences between conservative and liberal churches came to a head in America. Out of that controversy came new denominations, fellowships, schools, missions, etc., that 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), is developing a consenses concerning the essentials of the faith? That is, what doctrinal truths are beyond compromise? What must all Christians who claim to be orthodox believe, and conversely what can be left to individual convictions? In other words, what are the non-negotiables of the faith? A series of volumes, published originally in 1909, known as The Fundamentals for Today were an attempt to answer these 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 is what has become known as the fundamentalist movement. A fundamentalist was 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 known as evangelicals split off from fundamentalism. Evangelicals still held to the fundamentals of the faith, but believed there was more room to compromise and work with those who deny some of the essentials. Of course, today there are many subgroupings 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 very words of God, without error in the original, and is correct in all that it affirms.
However, while the fundamentalist camp has continued to firmly hold this position, there has been some 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. So, he followed up with The Bible in the Balance in an attempt to show the danger the evangelical world was facing because of their eroding view of the Scriptures. He wrote, “Today an increasing number of evangelicals do not wish to make inerrancy a test for fellowship” (p303). His lament throughout the book was that evangelicalism was slowly losing its conviction of an inerrant Bible. However, he also believed that the fundamentalists were standing firm on the Scriptures. Few heeded Lindsell’s warning, and as a result it is becoming 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 (Ibid p320). 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, we who accept the fundamentalist label have our problems in regard to the Scriptures as well. While we firmly stand for infallibility and inerrancy we have sadly compromised on sufficiency. By the sufficiency of Scripture, we mean that the Bible is adequate to guide us into all truth pertaining to life and godliness. Based upon such passages as II Pet 1:3; II Tim 3:15-4:2 and Psalm 19 we believe that 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 incommunicating what the Christian needs to know to deal with the issues of life. Thus they believe that something is addition to Scripture is necessary.
Again, there is nothing new about God’s people believing that the Bible is insufficient to meet their needs. Col 2 describes a church during the NT era that felt it was necessary to add several things to the Scriptures in order to move on to maturity. The church at Colossae apparently had come under the influence of the early stages of Gnosticism. Gnosticism taught that certain Christians were privy to a mystical source of knowledge beyond the Scriptures. If one wanted to move on to maturity, according to the Gnostics, they had to tap into this extra Biblical knowledge through the methods that they taught. The Colossians, under this influence, were leaving behind their early instruction concerning the Christian life (v1-7) and were being deluded into adding at least five things to God’s Word:
Col 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 (Prov 4:6). So, God is not against the love of wisdom; He is against the wrong kind of wisdom. Paul warns of a pseudo-wisdom that can be identified by three characteristics: 1) It is according to the traditions of men. That is, this is a wisdom that comes from the mind of men not the mind of God. 2) It is according to the elementary principles of the world. This is likely a reference to the attempt to gain esoteric wisdom through mystical means, something the Gnostics loved (see v18). 3) It is not according to Christ. True wisdom is found in Christ, “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v3). 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. The 1990’s church has again gone to the well of human philosophy in order to discover how to live life. This is most obvious in the attempt to integrate humanistic psychology with the Scriptures. So-called Christian psychology is a view that the Bible is not adequate to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs. The Bible is sufficient for spiritual concerns and minor difficulties, but people who have real problems need the help of psychology. We will deal in depth with this issue in the future.
Everyone thinks they know what legalism is, and no one, including the Pharisees, ever thinks they are legalistic. Col 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 the keeping of certain rules and rituals win 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 help Him out.
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 is an addition to God’s revelation (Col 2:20-23).
Pragmatism is not specifically mentioned in Col 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. Perhaps, this is most evident in the church growth movement today. As John MacArthur says, “Church goers are seen as consumers who have to be sold something they like. Pastors must preach what people want to hear rather than what God wants proclaimed” (Our Sufficiency in Christ). Far too many churches and church leaders are more concerned about what works than what is Biblical.
The final addition to God’s Word is one which we would like to spend some time discussing. Paul describes mysticism/experience in Col 2:18,19. The Gnostics taught that a few elite had received the gift of direct inspiration through the Holy Spirit. These moments of inspiration took place through visions, dreams, and encounters with angels (see The Gnostic Gospels pp49, 139-142, 163-166). This divided the church into two classes, the haves and the have nots (the truly spiritual and the unspiritual). The parallels with our modern day Charismatic movement are hard to miss. Since the 1960’s, the church has been divided into two camps: those who possess supernatural gifts and receive special revelation from God and those who do not.While there are numerous errors in the Charismatic movement, the heart of their problems are found right 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. Unfortunately, the influence of the Charismatic movement has infiltrated many who would deny any involvement in that system. In our next letter, we want to document how the Charismatic movement’s view of Scripture has subtly changed the way many evangelicals and fundamentalists view God’s revelation.