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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Is the Bible the Ultimate Authority?

Don Stewart :: What Are Some of the Things That Christians Mistakenly Emphasize in Place of Scripture?

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What Are Some of the Things That Christians Mistakenly Emphasize in Place of Scripture?

Is the Bible the Ultimate Source of Authority – Question 8

There are people who do not accept the Bible as the final rule of all matters of faith and practice. For them, there is no ultimate source of authority in the Scriptures. For others, the Bible is their textbook. It is the sole source of specific information about who God is, and what He wants from us.

However, some of these people who do accept the Bible often make their own mistakes when it comes to the matter of final authority. In practice, they have a source of authority that is actually above the Scripture. The problems come in the following areas:

1. Church Creeds

Church creeds are summarized statements of belief ? they state what Christians believe about the teachings of the faith. Unfortunately, many Christians pay more attention to church creeds than to what the Bible actually says.

While creeds can be helpful, they should never be given more authority than the Bible. Creeds are not infallible; they can always be revised. Furthermore, they are too short and too general to provide any real value. Moreover, creeds are a secondary source; they appeal to Scripture as the final authority. Therefore, they should never be looked upon as some final statement about what Christians believe.

There are further problems with creeds. For example, the Apostles’ Creed, probably the most familiar of all, is so general that many groups, including heretics, have been able to happily recite it. Arians, those who reject the biblical truth that Jesus Christ is God, are able to recite this creed because it says nothing specific about Jesus’ nature. Protestants and Roman Catholics alike see this creed as giving evidence for their particular viewpoints. These illustrations point out the ultimate meaninglessness of this creed. It is too general and too vague to have any real significance.

2. Confessional Statements

Confessional statements are more detailed explanations of Christian belief than are the creeds. The most important of the confessional statements for Protestants include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, and the Augsburg Confession. These are among the most important statements that certain groups within Protestantism have produced to set forth their beliefs.

While confessional statements contain more content than the creeds, they are still human-made documents. They should never be considered as a substitute for Scripture. In addition, these confessional statements reflect the views of a particular group within the Protestant Church. Not everyone who calls themselves a Protestant would necessarily agree with everything the statement said. In addition, confessional statements, like the creeds, appeal to Scripture as the final authority. Consequently, they are secondary statements.

3. Tradition

While giving lip-service to the Bible as the final authority, some groups, for all intents and purposes, have put some sort of tradition in their church as their authority. The Bible does tell believers to submit to church authority:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7 TNIV)

The writer to the Hebrews also says:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing - for that would be harmful to you. (Hebrews 13:17 NRSV)

Although the church should set guidelines, these guidelines are not infallible. Again, what a particular tradition does or does not do, should not be the final source of our authority.

4. Current Beliefs among Christians: the Mind of the Church

Some people look to the current views of believers on a particular matter, or the mind of the church, to be some sort of final authority on any particular matter. The question then would be asked, “What does the consensus of Christians believe? This would determine where final authority comes from.”

While we should not reject out of hand what the current opinion of believers may be, there is the enormous problem of determining which Christians we are going to look to as that authority. Will it be scholars? Pastors? A group of pastors? Some church council? If so, then which scholar, pastor, group of pastors, or church council should be followed? What happens when there is disagreement? Where does one then go to get the answer? Practically speaking, it is not possible to discover the so-called “mind of the church.”

5. Religious Experience (Mysticism)

Many Christians place their own personal experience above what is revealed in Scripture. This is also known as mysticism. While they insist that the Bible alone is their final authority, their personal experience often determines truth. This is very dangerous because experience can be misleading. There needs to be a standard by which the experience is tested. Christian experience is a witness to the truth, but it does not determine truth.

For example, how can anyone know when the Lord is “leading” them? Upon what basis can we evaluate our own experience or that of someone else? The only firm foundation for evaluating Christian experience is the teaching of Scripture.

There is, however, a form of true mysticism. God still speaks to His people today through the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit illuminates the minds of believers to allow them to understand the truth of the Bible.

Those who are mystics in the biblical sense of the term accept the Scripture as the final authority on all matters. They seek to judge their own personal experience by the Bible. They do not allow personal experience to take precedence over the Bible, nor do they judge the Scripture by their own experience. Scripture always has the last word. This is the proper way to approach the subject.

6. Religious Systems

Some Bible-believers place religious systems ahead of the teachings of Scripture. Everything they read and study is understood in light of their pre-determined religious system. While it is helpful to systematize the truths of Scripture, the problem is that the Bible will not so easily fit into these systems. When there is a conflict, it is the Bible that usually bends to the system, rather than the system to the Bible.

This is not the way that it should be done. We have no right to twist the meaning of Scripture to fit some preconceived system. Truth, and our particular view of the truth, may not necessarily be the same thing.

7. Popular Bible Teachers

A mistake that is often made in Christian circles is to elevate the teachings of a popular Bible teacher to the same level as Scripture. While great Bible teachers may provide wonderful insight into the Scriptures, every single thing that they say should be tested. No one, no matter how learned he or she may be, has all the answers. That is why the Scripture tells us to test the spirits. John wrote the following:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1 NET)

This warning includes the teachings of those whom the Lord has given the gift of teaching. All of us who teach God’s Word should have our teachings examined by others, and when necessary, corrected.

8. The New Testament Only

Some groups reject any teaching from the Old Testament. Although they claim to recognize the entire Bible as authoritative, in reality, they will accept nothing from the Old Testament as having any authority, no matter what the context. This approach is in contradiction to Paul’s statement to Timothy. He said:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 timothy 3:16-17 NKJV)

All Scripture refers to both the Old and New Testament. Everything that God has revealed is profitable for humanity.

9. Only the Things That Are Culturally Relevant

There is also the position that the Bible should only be considered authoritative in those places where it is culturally relevant. This position rejects any part of Scripture that has no relevance for modern humanity. The problem with this view is that each believer decides for himself or herself what is relevant and what is not. This takes the authority away from God and puts it into the hands of sinful humanity. Certainly, this is something which we should not do.

10. Only the Things in the Bible They Like

There is also the tendency of believers to ignore commands that they do not like. Instead of accepting the entire Bible as binding, they pick and choose what parts they will obey, and what parts they will ignore. This robs the Bible of its authority and gives each individual believer the final say concerning what is from God and what is not.

When Christians do anything other than accept the entire Scripture as the authoritative Word of God they are violating what the Bible says about itself.

The Book of Revelation gives this warning:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19 ESV)

We are not to add or subtract to what God has revealed.

Conclusion: It Is the Scripture Alone That Must Be Our Guide

Consequently, there are a number of things that Christians should be aware of when it comes to the matter of where final authority actually rests. Although we may say that the Scripture is our final authority, our behavior must back up what we say we believe. It is clear that the Bible and that it alone must be our guide. Creeds, doctrinal statements, decisions of church councils, and even the church itself must be judged by Scripture; not the other way around.

Summary – Question 8
What Are Some of the Things That Christians Mistakenly Emphasize in Place of Scripture?

Bible-believing Christians sometimes fall into the trap of allowing something apart from the entire Bible to be their ultimate source of authority. Whether it may be church creeds, confessional statements, tradition, a religious experience, the so-called mind of the church, a religious system, the doctrine of a popular Bible teacher, the New Testament only, only the things that are culturally relevant, or only the things they like.

None of these should replace the entire Scripture as the ultimate source of authority. The Bible repeatedly commands believers to make their own decisions about spiritual things by searching the Scriptures. The Bible alone should be our final source.

What Is the Jewish View of the Authority of Scripture? ← Prior Section
Does the Bible Ever Appeal to Human Reason as a Source of Authority? Next Section →
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