Baptists and the Bible: By What Authority?

October 2, 2009

Rev. Steve Grose is pastor of the Newcastle Baptist Tabernacle in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. He blogs at Grosey’s Messages. Steve is a conservative Baptist serving in a Baptist Union in New South Wales, and this article was written for that context. With his permission, we reproduce it here.

Have you ever considered what your world view is, and where did you get it?

When we became Christians something wonderful happened. Our world view changed.

2 Corinthians 5:16 From now on, then, we do not know anyone in a purely human way. Even if we have known Christ in a purely human way, yet now we no longer know Him like that. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. 18 Now everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:

Your world view has changed. Your view of Christ has changed. Your understandings of everything have changed to some degree.

World view is a fancy name that speaks about something we take for granted. We take for granted how we see the world. Like most folks over 50 I wear glasses. It changes the way I see the world, other cars, people, some of my friends are much older now that I wear good glasses. Hopefully the lenses in the frames help me have a more accurate world view. I have grown so used to my glasses sometimes I haven’t realized I have been wearing them; I once searched for my glasses for 3 hours, until I asked my wife where they were. She told me they were on my face! There are four basic lenses that give us a world view of the things around us. Sometimes we are not aware that we are looking at our world through a combination of these four lenses. There are various ways that something can be known. How much weight we place to the many ways of knowing effects our world view.

All Christians recognize the authority of the Scriptures. Someone once described an ordination service in a cult group. The ordinand held his bible in one hand and the writings of their cult leader in the other. Really, the ordinand was affirming the authority of his cult leader above the authority of the Bible. We may wrongly affirm Reason, experience or the traditions of our community above the authority of the Bible.

A. Reason. The Enlightenment made reason primary. Its creed was “if it can’t be verified, it can’t be believed.” Thus, science became the determiner of truth. Sadly, much was critiqued on the basis of reason and found to be wanting. “Miracles were impossible so miracles could not happen”. Sometimes as we try to prove by reasoning or the scientific method, we ourselves succumb to the same error, putting all our eggs in one basket. This form of reasoning succumbs to the premise of rationalists that the only true form of knowledge is that which can be gained using the scientific method. It allows the methodology and world view of scientism to become the dominant worldview. The Hebrew word for “Truth” is “emet”. This word has been translated into Greek as “alètheia”, and into Latin as “verilas”. But its meaning is quite different from that which the Greek and Latin words have in philosophical usage. For the Greeks, truth is essentially the transparency of a thing to the mind; “alètheia” means “unveiling.” Thus the criterion of truth is evidence. But the root of the word “emet” refers to the solidity of something from which one receives support; the pillar on which a building rests; the support that a child receives when resting in his mother’s arms; In the moral sense, the word refers to the faithful servant, on whom reliance can be placed.

The nuance to the idea of truth that “emet” brings is not the evidence of something known, but the veracity of the testimony that supports knowledge. Scientific method cannot attain the essential realities of personhood. These are only known by testimony. Realities such as; love; the love of others for us; the reality of historical events; are only known by testimony. Reason and scientific method allow us access to the material world, however when we come to the level of persons, the properties of persons can only be known if they reveal themselves. And for this reason we utilize the “evidence” of testimony. Revelation is God unveiling to us His nature and being, which we could not know in any other way. Baptists accept that there are more forms of knowing than just scientific method, and accept that if God is to be known, He must make Himself known. He has done this by His Word, the Bible.

B. Experience and Intuition.. In reaction the new creed of postmodernism is “if it has happened to me, it is real.” The desire for experience in all fields can become overwhelming in itself and can lead to the “If it works, it must be right.” pragmatism that characterizes many aspects of church life.

By its very nature, truth by experience is relative to the individual. This worldview concedes too much ground to pluralism and the post-modern mindset which says, “What’s true for you may not be true for me, and what’s true for me is all that matters.” But in normal day to day life we do acknowledge that there some limits to this form of knowledge. Everything is not true in medicine and life. Aren’t you glad your doctor does believe that there is a real difference between cyanide and Panadene. Reason tells us that poison and medicine are not both good for headaches. The same is true in our Christian beliefs. We do not hold that both atheism and Christianity are both true. It is logical to say that opposites cannot both be true at the same time. With such a diversity of religious experience being offered today, where does one look to find truth? Recently some have taught a prosperity gospel. They claim that God wants all Christians to be rich, and that wealth and power are proofs of God’s blessing. Others have pressed that all Christians should speak in tongues. Still others have thought that by the strange mysticism of Feng Shui, they can bring good luck to places or organizations. As Baptists we reject this as being something more akin to animism. If we heard of Baptist organizations supporting such ridiculous ideas we would be upset. Where do we go to find out where truth is? Baptists have historically examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. In reading the Bible, we discover that neither the prosperity gospel nor the overemphasis upon tongues is biblical. We discover the Feng Shui has roots in the demonic. And so as Baptists we assert the authority of the Bible over the authority of experience or intuition to direct our lives.

C. Community. We can believe stuff because our community believes stuff. Often the way we vote politically is more fashioned by the way our parents voted than by our conscious choice. It would be hard to estimate to what extent our conscious choice is fashioned by our family’s beliefs anyway. Prior to the Reformation in Europe Church attending folk believed that church officials, Popes, and priests had the power to pardon sins. Why? Because the church community had traditionally believed that for some time (this belief still continues today as the pope recently promised pardon for sins for those who visit the Vatican as tourists or pilgrims). But does God truly cancel sins that way? As Baptists we go back to the Bible and we discover that “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”( 1 John 1:7). We would prefer to take God’s Word for it, than the word of any Pope. How can we know truth from error in religious community? I recently chatted with a young elder of a bike riding denomination who admitted that he might have believed differently had he been raised somewhere else in the United States. Traditional views are community views that have become entrenched. One of those non-biblical views that has been accepted in tradition as being important in some churches is that of infant baptism. Baptists assert that if a teaching isn’t in the Bible it is dangerous to build our beliefs upon it.

D. Revelation. Billy Graham is famous for saying “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

In a world that relies heavily upon rationalism or experience or community beliefs we need some clear guidance that transcends our human biases and frailties. If the transcendent God is to be known (transcendent meaning that He is above our human efforts to understand Him as He is of different nature to ours Job 11:7 Can you by searching find out God? can you find out the Almighty? Ecclesiastes 3: 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.) He can only be known if He reveals Himself. As an act of grace, God specially revealed Himself to humans through the living Word (Jesus) and written Word (Bible). This revelation is authoritative as it comes from God Himself. I like how A W Tozer expressed the priority of revelation: “A Christian knows a thing to be true, not because he has tested and verified it in experience, but because God has said it.” In other words, although personal experience and tradition and the church and our own rationality are wonderful things, the final judge for our beliefs is God’s Word. It is the standard and guide to our Christian experience, our church traditions and our understandings of the world and all that is in it.

Psalms 119:130, “The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.”

Psalms 43:3, “Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill And to Your tabernacle.”

Proverbs 6:23. “For the commandment is a lamp, And the law a light; Reproofs of instruction are the way of life”

Psalms 19:The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;

Baptists believe that all other authorities must bow to the supreme revelation God has given us of Himself in His Word. We must bring our minds (rationality) and hearts (experience and emotions) captive to God’s Word. 2 Corinthians 10:4 We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Paul spoke in the context of a confused world Acts 20:29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.30Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

We need to study God’s Word to keep our stability on a confusing and strange world of shifting ideas.