The Scriptures: Our Authority

The Scriptures: Our Authority

A pagan man in a marriage that appeared doomed finally relented and went with his Christian wife to a counselor. In one of their sessions he posed a question he was sure would stymie his wife: “How do you even know who you’ll be married to in heaven?”

She answered immediately that in heaven neither she nor anyone else would be married. Marriage is an institution for this life only. She was relying on the Lord Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees in Matthew 22.

The husband pondered these words. His wife, he realized, knew to a certainty what she believed because she had made God’s word her authority. He, on the other hand, was sure of nothing. He had naught but his own opinions and emotions and the testimony of others as feckless as he to guide him.

In short order, he was reading the Bible. Their marriage survived and, 20 years later, it thrives because husband and wife draw on the same source as their tutor and moral instructor.

Our heavenly Father has made Himself manifest to us in His creation and in His Son. But He has given us more. In His Holy Scriptures we find the more specific revelation we must have to live a life of purpose and order. Those who reject it, taking their chances, have nothing but chance to inform their thoughts, words and deeds.

The Bible is inspired, inerrant and authoritative. About that last, there is much more to say, but first we should examine the other two. These are St. Paul’s words from 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“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.”

In the original language, the term for “inspiration” is, more literally, “God-breathed.”
St. Peter makes the same point:

“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty . . . And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:16, 19-21)

Our religion has objective content. To those who ask what warrant we have to accept a document that attests to itself, we reply that we have as much as those who cannot explain the origin of the world and see no order in it. Or more.

If Scripture is inspired and inerrant, it must be authoritative. Who would shun the revelation of the Creator of all that is?

In her formative years, the Christian church accepted the Hebrew Bible as Israel had shaped it as its Old Testament. As its leaders decided which books would form the New Testament corpus, or “canon,” they devised a simple test: The books reliably deemed to have been written by the apostles who traveled with the Lord and sat at His feet or someone closely related to them, such as the gentile Luke, achieved canonical status. Others did not.

In this way, the writings of the New Testament authors gained the same status as those of the Old Testament prophets, who recorded and relayed to the people of Israel God’s precise words.

For most of two millennia, the authenticity and authority of God’s word was a given in the West. It was the precious deposit of truth of our faith. More recently, many have squandered this treasure like besotted lottery winners.

The erosion began in Germany in the 19th century. Scholars developed a way of analyzing the provenance of the Scriptures by methods that can be lumped together under the rubric of “form criticism.” They attempted to trace segments back to the sources, often oral, and to determine such matters as the date of the source and of the document and the likelihood of its authenticity.

This approach quickly hopped the Atlantic. American scholars have carried it into such endeavors as the “Jesus Seminar,” which analyzed the sayings of Jesus and assigned to each a grade denoting their estimate of its originality.

Mainline churches in North America have adopted such ideas to the great detriment of the authority of Scripture. The Bible, considered for all those centuries a coherent body of thought written and assembled under divine guidance, became an unreliable mishmash of ancient sayings and missives stitched together in a later day. Form criticism has fallen out of fashion of late but its corrosive effect remains.

In reaction, denominations splintered. Conservatives pulled away and formed more denominations to preserve the integrity of God’s revelation. In sum, these new groupings came to be called the “evangelical” church. They existed to disseminate “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

And so, where do we stand?

We are evangelicals – as long as that term is properly understood. Anglicanism traces its roots all the way back to the apostles of our Lord. We regard the writings of the church fathers, those who learned from those apostles and the men who succeeded them, with a healthy respect. They are neither inspired nor canonical but useful for understanding and instruction. Prominent among these men are St. Augustine and St. Athanasius, stalwart defenders of orthodoxy, but there are many more.

With the conservatives of other denominations, we in the Reformed Episcopal Church hold the Scriptures to be inspired, inerrant and authoritative. They contain the deposit of truth we must cherish and guard with all our strength because it comes from God. We are not to be confused with the movement that has sprung up the last 150 years or so as a counter to the liberalism of the mainline denominations or with the Protestant Church overall that has invented itself since the Reformation of the 16th century in reaction to Roman Catholicism. We are neither a “way station” on the road to Rome nor an innovation of recent times. We are an apostolic church that stands
with our evangelical brethren of all movements and denominations that look to God’s word as our foundation of truth. Ω

The Reverend Edward W. Fowler