Sunday, February 17, 2013

How Is the Bible the Sole Authority for Faith and Practice?

When Baptists say that the Bible is their sole or only rule or authority for faith and practice, what do they mean?  Millard Erickson in his Theology (vol. I, p. 258) speaks of a Baptist seminary president, who said, tongue in cheek, "We Baptists do not follow tradition.  But we are bound by our historic Baptist position!"  Does having the Bible as sole authority mean having no authority but the Bible, including tradition?

Baptists have distinguished themselves from other denominations with this distinction, the Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice.  However, the London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF, 1689) reads:

The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.

That's how the London Baptist Confession of Faith starts.  It doesn't say that the Bible is the only authority for faith and practice, because it goes on.

although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation.

Later we read in the section on Scripture:

Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

And even later,

our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

It ends with the following:

The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.

The LBCF also says that "light of nature" and "works of creation and providence" are authorities.  Then  it says that the "illumination of the Spirit of God" is a necessary authority.  After which, it says that "light of nature and Christian prudence" orders "circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies."  And finally it says that the Holy Spirit again is an authority in the persuasion and assurance of the truth of the Word.  The latter is how the church identified and agreed upon the sixty-six books of Scripture.

I write all this to say that Scripture is not the sole authority for faith and practice, but the sole infallible authority for faith and practice, and, therefore, the supreme judge.  That contrasts with Roman Catholicism which places the Bible parallel with tradition.  So does tradition and history have no authority?  I contend, "no," and I take you in part back to the original statement of the Baptist seminary president in Erickson's theology.  "We are bound by the historic Baptist position!"

Baptists have no authority but the Bible.  So how did they get their distinctives?  They're in the Bible, yes, but they're the distinctives of Baptists through history.  These are the distinctives that have distinguished Baptists through history.  Do you hear another authority there?  There are other authorities, just no other infallible authority besides the Bible.

Roman Catholics use 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6 as a basis of tradition as an authority.  Are those two verses legitimate as a basis for tradition as an authority?  They sound like it to me.  However, they are not a basis for tradition as parallel with the authority of Scripture.

The Bible as an authority doesn't mean that whatever we think it means is an authority.   It's what it is actually saying that is an authority.  And what does it actually say?  What the Bible says is not new.  It's old.  And what's old, that gets passed down, is tradition.  It isn't superior to Scripture, but it shouldn't be ignored either.  There are some with the Bible as their only authority, who actually have what they want the Bible to mean or say as their authority.  The Bible itself gives authority to the church and the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

We live in an age that more than ever men invent new things for the Bible to say and mean.  They justify what they do with the Bible with interpretations and beliefs and practices that are new.  They claim the Bible as authority.  This is where tradition should not be ignored.   Other authorities exist.  They are necessary.  It's just that the Bible itself is the only infallible one.


18 comments:

Lance Ketchum said...

It is Neo-Gnostic terms like "saving knowledge" and "saving understanding" that I reject the London Baptist Confession. It is often referred to as a "baptized Westminster Confession." There are no such terms in the Bible. Knowledge and understanding are necessary to salvation, but they are not "saving."

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Lance,

I don't hold exclusively to the London Baptist Confession, but it is something that professing Baptists believed. We can reference it as a historical document. My point here is, "What is the historic understanding of 'Bible sole authority for faith and practice?'" Does it mean actually no other authority but the Bible? I don't think so. I believe that it means no other "infallible" authority but the Bible and that the Bible is supreme judge for matters of faith and practice. I say this because I believe we have a regular disregard for historic positions. History and tradition are not final authority, but we should not ignore what was passed down. It represents the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. People give equal credence to new interpretations of Scripture today, especially younger people, and feel satisfied that they've got Bible proof. Their doctrine is new and unauthoritative. This is my point, and I think it's worth discussing among us.

I also see a departure from conservative Christianity where all new positions on cultural issues especially are embraced, saying that they are actually biblical positions, that they are more biblical than the old positions.

Lance Ketchum said...

There are two radically different views regarding the Bible being the "final and absolute authority for life and practice. There is the view of "life and practice that comes from actual exegesis of Scripture, and there is the view of "life and practice" supported by proof texts (usually taken out of context). Although the London Baptist Confession is a historical document as far as doctrinal statements go, the point is that it is a poor doctrinal statement for Baptists because it is steeped in Reformed Theology (presuppositionalism).

If I remember right, the 1644 LBC was signed by two men and the 1689 LBC was signed by 37 men. This was the group of Baptists to which Spurgeon was aligned and with which he involved himself in the Down Grade Controversy because they had "downgraded" the normal position on Sola Scriptura of doctrines established by an inductive methodology to doctrines established by deductive methodology. The deductive methodology led to "derived theology" or "derived doctrines," - ideas imposed upon the Scriptures.

George Calvas said...

"People give equal credence to new interpretations of Scripture today, especially younger people, and feel satisfied that they've got Bible proof. Their doctrine is new and unauthoritative. This is my point, and I think it's worth discussing among us."

You must remember that the bible is a two-edged sword and VERY dangerous when one USES it to find what he wants!! The Lord God will make sure he finds that which he desires even though it is wrong. Every false doctrine is "found" in the scriptures by those who desire to have the preeminance (3 John 9), who deceive willfully or otherwise (Acts 20:29-31), or those teachers (2 Peter 2:18-19))whose damnation is sure, who make some two-fold the children of hell because those who listen to them desire in their hearts, through "itching ears", to believe those lies given to them by men with a bible in their hand (EX: Warren, Olsteen, Hickey, Graham, Dollar, Jakes, Hinn, etc.)!

The Scriptures will send many to hell thinking and believing that they are actually going to heaven, for they are men of corrupt minds destitue of the truth.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Lance,

I'm quoting LBC for no other reason than to go back a ways to see what people were writing about Bible sole authority. They weren't saying, I don't believe the same thing as people often think they were. People added more adjectives than only "sole." They didn't believe it was the sole authority, but that it was the "sole infallible authority," since the law written in the heart and the conscience were both authority as well.

I'm going to bounce off of this post with a few ideas, this Wednesday or next Monday.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks George.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I believe it is very correct and proper to refer to the Bible as the
sole authority for faith and practice, and I believe the LBCF would
agree (although it is not our authority for faith and practice).

The statement quoted about "the light of nature" proves that men are
accountable before God for their sin. It does not prove that nature
is an authority for faith and practice for the LBCF.

The statement about "circumstances concerning the worship of God, and
government of the church" does not establish anything about authority
for faith and practice. Circumstances in worship are things that are
not elements, that is, they are things that do not pertain to faith
and practice. Whether one has blue or red chairs, or pew benches, is
a circumstance of worship. It isn't worship. Elements of worship,
such as preaching, singing, the Lord's supper, and baptism, pertain to
faith and practice, and in these the Bible is the sole authority,
although oen can use "the light of nature and Christian prudence" in
determining that the color of the carpet in the church building looks
nice, is durable, and is not overly expensive.

The Holy Spirit is an authority, for He is Almighty God, but His
authority is revealed in the Book He has dictated. What someone says
the Holy Spirit has revealed outside of the Bible has no authority for
faith and practice whatsoever.

I must therefore dissent from your statement:

The LBCF also says that "light of nature" and "works of creation and
providence" are authorities.

and from any similar affirmations about anything outside of Scripture
as authoritative for Christian and Baptist faith and practice, such
as: "This is where tradition should not be ignored. Other
authorities exist. They are necessary." Nothing outside of Scripture
is "necessary" for the church as an authority, for Scripture alone has
the ability to make the man of God "perfect," and if anything else was
necessary, then the church should preach those other things also, but
she is to preach only the Word, (2 Tim 3:15-4:2).

In answer to your statement:

So does tradition and history have no authority? I contend, "no,"
and I take you in part back to the original statement of the Baptist
seminary president in Erickson's theology. "We are bound by the
historic Baptist position!"

I would say, "yes, tradition and history have no authority." I would
add that they are very useful in helping us see if we are interpreting
the real and sole authority, the holy Scripture, correctly, and should
not be entirely disregarded. This may seem like simple semantics, but
I believe the distinction is important. I agree with your affirmation
that history should not be ignored, which is, as I understand it, your
main point. I would, however, refrain from calling such things
"authority."

2 Thess 2:15; 3:6 refer to traditions that were canonized in the
Scriptures, either in the Thessalonian epistles or in later inspired
writings that were not yet given by inspiration. They do not prove
that any traditions outside of Scripture are authoritative.

The church has only been given declarative or executive authority, not
legislative authority. The church can bind and loose based on the
sole legislative authority for her, the canonical books dictated by
the Holy Ghost.

KJB1611 said...


Bro Ketchum,

I am thankful for some good decisions you have made concerning
separation, and am thankful that you are being lambasted by people in
the Sharper Iron crowd. If they liked you, there would be a problem.

While I do not accept the LBCF as my authority, I have no problem with
terms such as "saving knowledge" or "saving faith." It is plain that
there is a type of knowledge of God that falls short of salvation (e.
g., 2 Peter 2:20-22 and many other texts with which I am sure you are
familiar), and there is a type of knowing God that is associated with
salvation, John 17:3 (and many other texts with which you are
familiar). Obviously the LBCF is not affirming that knowlege is the
ground or basis of justification, since only the blood and
righteousness of Christ are this ground or basis, but as knowledge is
a necessary component of saving faith, knowledge is part of the
instrumental cause of justification, as faith is the instrument
through which we are justified. I also think it is highly dubious to
affirm that there is a connection between Gnosticism and the terms you
mentioned in the LBCF. Also, I do not believe in any of the points of Calvinism, and I appreciate your opposition to that system of theology, but I am not at all clear on the significance of your statement about deductive methodology, and the downgrade controversy took place two hundred years after the LBCF was formulated.

Ryan Hayden said...

I understand what you are saying about tradition and the new. Obviously, if someone takes a position of application "based" on scripture that was held by almost no one throughout history, he's probably off in left field. It's not what we think it means, but what God meant that counts. There is a lot of postmodernism in application, even among fundamentalism.
But I think too much emphasis can be placed on tradition as well, especially when it comes to social issues. Tradition supported slavery in the 1800s and segregation in the 1900s. The tradition of my context (what you call revivalistic fundamentalism) would have me preaching non-biblical fluff and what you call belief only salvation. I don't think all of us young guys looking to scripture and questioning our tradition is necessarily a bad thing.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thomas,

You wrote: I believe it is very correct and proper to refer to the Bible as the sole authority for faith and practice, and I believe the LBCF would agree (although it is not our authority for faith and practice).

Answer: I like sole authority, and believe it, but I think it means, historically, sole infallible authority, and that is in fact what they wrote in LBCF. The terminology Bible sole authority is in itself tradition, not a statement from Scripture.

You wrote: The statement quoted about "the light of nature" proves that men are accountable before God for their sin. It does not prove that nature is an authority for faith and practice for the LBCF.

Answer: That paragraph reads as though they think “light of nature” is another lesser authority, as seen in the word “although.” “Light of nature” leaves men without excuse. How could it if it had no authority? Light of nature is authoritative for something. It is God’s revelation. If it were unnecessary, why did God provide it or give it?

You wrote: The statement about "circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church" does not establish anything about authority for faith and practice. Circumstances in worship are things that are not elements, that is, they are things that do not pertain to faith and practice. Whether one has blue or red chairs, or pew benches, is
a circumstance of worship. It isn't worship. Elements of worship, such as preaching, singing, the Lord's supper, and baptism, pertain to faith and practice, and in these the Bible is the sole authority, although oen can use "the light of nature and Christian prudence" in determining that the color of the carpet in the church building looks nice, is durable, and is not overly expensive.

Answer: You seem to be proving the point here. Light of nature and Christian prudence have some authority in the circumstances of worship. So we seem to agree on this point. You, however, are saying that circumstances are in fact not a practice. If they are a practice, which LBCF seems to assert, then Christian prudence, as an example, is not the infallible authority, but it is an authority for practice.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Continued to Thomas.

You wrote: The Holy Spirit is an authority, for He is Almighty God, but His authority is revealed in the Book He has dictated. What someone says the Holy Spirit has revealed outside of the Bible has no authority for faith and practice whatsoever.

Answer: The authority of the Holy Spirit, that you admit, is said to us in Scripture, as is light of nature, Christian prudence, etc., which is what my essay is saying. The agreement of believers is the Holy Spirit agreeing on a particular application of Scripture. This authority is in Scripture, and it is an authority, but it is not infallible like that of the authority of Scripture. It is neither the supreme judge.

You wrote: Nothing outside of Scripture is "necessary" for the church as an authority, for Scripture alone has the ability to make the man of God "perfect," and if anything else was necessary, then the church should preach those other things also, but she is to preach only the Word, (2 Tim 3:15-4:2).

Answer: The church preaches the Word because it is the only infallible authority and the supreme judge. It stands as an authority over all other authority. However, Scriptures themselves assert other authorities. This is what I also see in the LBCF, among other places. There is a reason “infallible” is written, this qualification is given, and that is clear in the LBCF. People use the Bible as an authority and depart from the teaching which is “passed down.” They move away from the teaching of their church. Yes, all of these are also against Scripture.

You wrote: I would say, "yes, tradition and history have no authority." I would add that they are very useful in helping us see if we are interpreting the real and sole authority, the holy Scripture, correctly, and should not be entirely disregarded. This may seem like simple semantics, but I believe the distinction is important. I agree with your affirmation that history should not be ignored, which is, as I understand it, your main point. I would, however, refrain from calling such things "authority."

Answer: Anything has authority that Scripture, which is the only infallible authority, says has authority. Tradition and Scripture are not parallel in authority as Catholicism asserts, but tradition has authority, since it is what was “passed down.” It is not infallible, but it should not be ignored. I’m saying it is necessary because the Bible, which is sufficient, says that it is.

You wrote: 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6 refer to traditions that were canonized in the Scriptures, either in the Thessalonian epistles or in later inspired writings that were not yet given by inspiration. They do not prove that any traditions outside of Scripture are authoritative.

Answer: The tradition of 2 Thess 3:6 was canonized after Paul wrote it. Canonized by whom? The Holy Spirit. How? Through the churches. Ironically. However, it was a tradition before Paul wrote it, and Paul said that teaching was passed down. The doctrine, the tradition, was binding. I think there is something to that other than just the words of Scripture, but also the teaching. That’s the point I’m making, and I’m still sticking to it. If it’s new, it’s not true, and if it’s true, it’s not new.

You wrote: The church has only been given declarative or executive authority, not legislative authority. The church can bind and loose based on the sole legislative authority for her, the canonical books dictated by the Holy Ghost.

Answer: This reads as a concession. Thank you. :-D

Kent Brandenburg said...

Ryan,

Thanks. I believe that the left field teaching comes from ignorance of tradition, which is a lesser authority and one that is not infallible, as I am seeing it. It should not be ignored. Your example of slavery shows the fallibility of a tradition.

It seems to me that doctrine and practice are regularly being reinvented, and treated as if they are not passed down. Does that matter? That's a question I'm exploring here.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I think that part of the disagreement here stems around a different use of the word “authority.” I do not deny that a policeman has authority to tell a Christian what to do if he is disobeying the law. However, “authority” in the sense of “the right to dictate to the church, or the Christian, how he must worship God and practice Christianity,” is limited to the Bible alone, not history, etc. Nature does have authority in the sense that if one wishes to defy the law of gravity, it isn’t going to happen. Nature dictates to the church that they need to have the door to the building on the level of the ground, rather than on the roof—if an assembly met in outer space, things might be different, and people could float in. Prudence indicates that it is not a good idea to have a hole fifty feet deep in the middle of the auditorium. However, nature, etc. does not have any authority to dictate or legislate Christian worship or religion.

The traditions mentioned in 2 Thess 2 & 3 were infallible traditions that were the Word of God, just the Word of God delivered orally until it was finally enscripturated. With the passing of the Apostles, there is no new authoritative oral Word, and the written Word is the sole legislative authority for Christian worship and religion.

I think you may agree with what I have written above. That is the sense in which I mean “sole authority.” I do not deny that Scripture gives government authority to enact laws such as the death penalty, the church executive authority to practice church ordinances, etc. But the Bible alone is the sole and totally sufficient authority for Christian worship and religion.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Thomas,

I agree with everything that you've said above. However, there is a little bit more that perhaps you haven't thought of or about that I am adding to those thoughts, and anyone else reading is free to pipe in.

You've got what the Bible states, it's Words, those are the final, supreme, and sole authority for faith and practice. They are infallible. What the Bible teaches is also infallible. However, there are a lot of differences on teachings, if you haven't noticed, even among professing believers, even though there is one truth. And there are likely to become even more and more teachings that are all based upon the Bible by people, like the seventh day adventists, who also say the Bible is their sole authority for faith and practice. But these new teachings differ than the old ones, the already established ones, the ones passed down. By the way, don't go off track on the seventh day adventists---that was an illustration. When Paul said "traditions" in 2 Thessalonians, versus some other word that could have been used, which he did (will of God, commandments, word of God), he was talking about teachings that were already established as authoritative. They were teachings that were recognized to be biblical teachings and practices (if a man won't work, he shouldn't eat---that kind of thing). Those are traditions in the sense that Paul is talking about. The church has established set teachings and practices from which it shouldn't go astray. The church, for instance, has departed from the tradition of psalm singing. Is psalm singing scriptural? Yes. But the way the church sang it, a psalter, that whole thing, was a church tradition, and churches left it for various reasons. I'm saying that established practice of the church there is a tradition and it is authoritative, and that is something slightly different than the direct Words of God that are the infallible, supreme authority.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I would say that we should very seriously consider what Baptist churches have done in the past, but would reserve "authority" in the sense I defined it above to Scripture alone. I don't believe the SDA's, other cultists, etc. are really getting their beliefs on the Bible--if they were, they would become Baptists. (I think you would agree.)

I don't think we're too far apart on this.

Lance Ketchum said...

When the LBC uses the phrase "light of nature," they are just referring to the ontological arguments for God's existence. For instance, if a creation and creatures exist, there must be a Creator.

Anonymous said...

Would not 1 Cor 11:14 indicate that the teaching of "nature" has a greater role than merely to point to the existence of a Creator?

Lance Ketchum said...

"Nature" in I Cor. 11:14 is from Greek phusis. The context refers to the genus (taxonomic rank) differences between males and females.

The LBC use of the "light of nature" is an old simplistic way of referring to the four logical arguments of General revelation:

1. TELEOLOGICAL: This argument focuses on the broad aspects of design in nature.

A. The perfect cycles of time, space, laws of physics, mathematics, chemistry, etc.
B. Random happening logically would evolve into chaos, not order.
C. Scriptural support; Psalm 19:2; Acts 14:15-18

2. ANTHROPOLOGICAL: In that man possesses the ability to reason, create thoughts and ideas, maintain a moral consciousness of good and evil, and generate and communicate concepts, it is evident that a higher being is involved in man’s generation. Life must come from life.

3. ONTOLOGICAL: (ONTO = being or existence)

A. In that man is able to conceive of a Perfect Being in his mind, it implies the existence of that Being outside of man’s mind.
B. Scriptural support; Romans 1:19

4. COSMOLOGICAL:

A. The universe around us is an effect that connotes an adequate cause to account for it. Something cannot be self-created. It either must be eternal or have a Creator.
B. Scriptural support; Romans 1:20

Examples of the General Revelation of God

1. Psalm 19:1; God’s glory
2. Psalm 19:1; God’s power to work in creating the universe.
3. Romans 1:20; God’s Supremacy
4. Romans 1:20; God’s Divine Nature
5. Acts 14:17; God’s providential control of nature
6. Matthew 5:45; God’s goodness
7. Acts 17:29; God’s intelligence
8. Acts 17:28; God’s living existence