For generations, and without substantive resistance, the protestant church has taught that the Bible is the final authority for us. For certain, there are areas of secular life about which the Bible is specifically silent. In each of these instances the values and principles taught in scripture can be applied to discover not what God did say about these specific things, but what God would say about them, given what we know of God from the Scripture. And thus, my generation and our denomination has had very little substantive conflict over whether God's Word is the final authority for our lives.
But today there is reason for confusion. Various Bible translations and paraphrases of the Scripture are full of contradictions. Instead of making a thoughtful, discerning decision about which translation to read many people pick which one is easiest, most convenient, or which ever one is suggested to them. Many years ago, while working at a Christian book store in Olathe, Kansas, I was given the task of being in charge of a large section of the store reserved for the display and sales of Bibles, Bible software, commentaries and reference materials, Bible study guides, etc. One of my specific tasks was to create a catagorized binder which would give guidance to customers in selecting an apporpriate Bible or Commentary for them based upon what specific theology they adhered to, and which church they attended. All of the material was Christian material, but the lines of demarkation were well drawn. It was interesting work for me, then a masters student at Nazarene Theological Seminary, and also very eye-opening regarding the differences between our Christian churches. Yes, there is much confusion out there.
But the differences between denominations are minor compared to the lines being drawn today. Many Christian leaders are casually lending support and lip-service to some well-known Christian teachers who have crossed some pretty formative lines in our theological understanding. Instead of simply seeing lines of theological differentiation between denominations, we are now seeing in our churches, our schools, and in our publishing companies, a re-emergence of leaders who clearly teach doctrine that is outside of orthodoxy. The foundation of our Christian understanding of the truth is crumbling. It is disturbing. Among well-known and widely heard ministers there are those who teach such wrong doctrine as 1) Jesus may not have been born of a virgin, 2) Heaven and Hell may not be real places, 3) Creation may have been a Biblical myth, 4) Satan may not be a reality, 5) the Bible may not be the final authority on matters of faith, etc. I have been shocked, then disturbed, then bewildered, and now am incensed by what I have heard and continue to hear. The problem isn't that we are dumb, or even uninformed. The problem is that we listen blindly to the wrong teachings. The church needs to be repopulated by a generation of Christian leaders who rebuild our foundation of Christian thought finally on the authoritative Word of God.
Let's look back at one Christian leader who got it right. John Wesley sought out truth from several different sources, but strained all aquired truth through the authority of the Scripture. His pathway to truth is now called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Information about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is widely available on the internet and the following information is from Wikipedia.
The term itself was coined by 20th century American Methodist Albert C. Outler in his introduction to the 1964 collection John Wesley (ISBN 0-19-502810-4). Upon examination of Wesley's work, Outler theorized that Wesley used four different sources in coming to theological conclusions. The four sources are:
- Scripture – the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments)
- Tradition – the two millennia history of the Christian Church
- Reason – rational thinking and sensible interpretation
- Experience – a Christian's personal and communal journey in Christ. (www.wikipedia.com)
In our day, many denominations are straying from this teaching. The United Methodist Church, the standard bearer of the Wesleyan movement, is now forming doctrine based upon reason rather than Scripture. The scripture is clear, for example, that homosexuality is a sin, but the UMC is now ordaining openly gay ministers. Why? Because they reason that the Scripture must be wrong when homosexuality is forbidden there. Do you see how reason has become the final authority instead of Scripture? The Catholic church, who never stated aggrement with Wesley, has always believed that Church tradition is of higher authority than scripture. This was the defining reason for the reformation; that men are saved by grace alone, but the Catholics church believes that that grace must come from the church. And in recent years there have been a multitude of leaders teaching that something experienced in the throws of spiritual extacy is to be more formative to the individual even than the words of Scripture. Friends, these teachings are wrong. These avenues for pursuing the truth are good, but must always be understood through the Word of God. We have a great deceiver (Satan) among us who wishes us to have only a form of Godliness. This mere form of Godliness is attracive, and gathers large crowds, but it has no power. It is deceit.
Every Christian has the responsibility to know the Scripture so that we may test and approve the truth.