Sole Authority of Scripture

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The Baptist Distinctives

                   The Bible as the sole authority for faith and practice

                   Independent, autonomous churches

                   Regenerated church membership

                   Baptism by immersion of believers only, and the Lord's Supper as the two ordinances of the church

                   Priesthood of all believers and soul liberty

                   Separation of church and state

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The first and most crucially fundamental Baptist distinctive is the doctrine that the Bible is the Christian's sole authority for faith and practice. All other doctrines and Baptist distinctives rest entirely upon the reality of this truth.

First, we will examine what we mean by saying that the Scriptures are authoritative for faith and practice. Historic Baptists believe in the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Old and New Testaments. They believe that the entire Bible is a revelation from God, infallible, inerrant, and is God's written Word to man.

By "verbal inspiration," we mean that the Holy Spirit so guided and controlled the men whom He used to author Scripture that not only the ideas they wrote about, but their very words, came from God. He so directed each individual's choice of words that they are, in reality, His words!

By "plenary inspiration," we mean that the entire Bible is the Word of God. Every part of the Bible is equally inspired and the Scriptures that we have now are all of God's intended revelation. No further revelation is necessary until Christ returns. It is important to remember that the Bible does not contain the Word of God, but that it is, in fact, the Word of God.

By "infallible," we mean that every guideline given to us by the Scriptures is true and proper. None of God's instructions for us today are mistaken, improper, outmoded, or to be set aside. The Bible is to be completely obeyed because it is the Word of God. By "inerrancy," we mean that God has kept the Scriptures from any error: theological, philosophical, moral, historical, or scientific! Every statement in Scripture can be trusted in its entirety.

There are a number of Scriptures which make clear these basic truths about God's Word.

 

"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 perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (II Timothy 3:16-17).

 

"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you"

(I Peter 1:23-25)

 

"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (II Peter 1:20-21)

 

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15).

 

All orthodox, fundamental Christians agree with the doctrine previously expressed as to the full inspiration of Scripture. However, historically, Baptists have taken their position on Scripture one important step further. Baptists (and only a very few others) teach that Scripture is the sole authority for faith and practice. Many who hold a view of full inspiration will say that the Bible is the final authority or that it is the ultimate authority. This means that they accept the Bible as inspired, and that nothing may contradict the Scriptures, but that there may be other spiritual authorities on matters upon which the Scripture does not speak. Usually these other possible authorities will be:

                     additional revelation from God (e.g., charismatic movement);

                     church councils (e.g., orthodox Presbyterians); or

                     tradition, church history, or a prominent spiritual teacher (e.g., Roman Catholicism).

However, all of those are unreliable. Historic Baptists teach us that not only is everything in the Bible true, but that everything we need is in the Bible. Baptists do not accept the concept of additional revelation, authoritative decisions by church councils, human tradition, examples of leadership, or history as spiritual authorities. God has given us everything essential to our spiritual well-being in the Scriptures. It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of this one concept--the sole authority of Scripture.

Scripture teaches that God has given us legitimate human authority with certain areas of control over our lives (see Romans 13:1-7 and I Peter 2:13-16). Obedience to human authority (as expressed in its limited legitimate area) is obedience to the will of God as expressed in the Scriptures. Bible examples of human authority include:

                     pastors,

                     civil government,

                     husbands,

                     parents, and

                     employers.

While their authority is real, and it is Scriptural, it must be remembered that it is also personal and limited.

Parents may express the will of God for their children, but they cannot express it for other families. A pastor may provide legitimate spiritual leadership for his own congregation, but he cannot exercise authority over other congregations. Civil government, while having a God-given role in maintaining law and order, has no place in the spiritual lives of people, the affairs of churches, or in teaching or establishing doctrine.

Obviously, wise men and women will learn from Godly examples; but, however much helpful information we may gain about methods or procedures, these are not infallible spiritual truths and should never be treated as such.

Thoughtful Christians will always be careful in their interpretation of Scripture. Saying that Scripture is our authority, and then saying that there is no way to be sure what it teaches, makes our doctrine of Scripture meaningless.

To be effective in our use of Scripture, we must practice literal interpretation. We must not find fanciful meanings but recognize the normal use of words. We must realize that the issue is not what Scripture means to us; but rather, what the Holy Spirit was saying through the human authors of the Bible. The meaning is contained in the content of Scripture, not in our imagination or personal opinion. The key to proper Scripture interpretation (hermeneutics) is to discover what the authors meant.

The doctrine of sole authority reminds us that our task is to "discover" the truth of Scripture, not to "decide" the truth of Scripture.

The doctrine of sole authority leads directly to the doctrine of separation of church and state. If the Word of God is our only authority for faith and practice, then the state cannot become a spiritual authority over the affairs of the church or the spiritual lives of individual Christians.

Peter and John made this truth clear when they resisted the attempt of the local Jewish rulers to stop their ministry.

"And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:18-20).

 

Peter and the apostles soon reaffirmed this truth to local rulers.

 

"And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:27-29).

 

It is this doctrine that has so often led to governmental persecution of Baptists. Throughout history most governments and most governmental leaders have felt that their authority was unlimited. This caused them to constantly interfere in the religious practices and personal lives of the people they ruled. The doctrine of religious liberty is the ultimate enemy of tyranny. Where people are free to believe as their hearts and minds dictate and to practice their religious faith, soon all of the other corresponding freedoms will follow. Monarchs, dictators, and hoodlums throughout history have understood this and have fought the doctrine of religious liberty as though their rule depended on it (and in reality, it did).

As we will see later, Baptists played a major role in establishing the concept of religious liberty as a major factor in the American system of government.

The Bible makes it clear that we cannot get our source of spiritual authority from any other source than the Word of God.

"But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).

 

We are clearly taught in Scripture that the state does have a proper place and that we must be careful to properly respond to the state in its area of authority. We are reminded, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's ..." (Matthew 22:21a). Again, we are also clearly taught that the role of the state is limited, and we must give unto the Lord that which is His proper due, "...and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21b).

 

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