Blogging the Institutes–1.8.1–Arguments are not ultimate, but helpful

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.

Arguments are not Ultimate, but Helpful

Unless the authority Scripture is ultimately founded upon something greater than human reason, all the arguments and evidences for Scripture will prove to be in vain. Until the authority of Scripture rests upon the Spirit’s testimony, it will be up for debate. Although arguments and evidence for the authority of Scripture are not persuasive in the ultimate sense, they can still be useful for the believer. We will be strengthened in our faith when we consider how God’s wisdom is arranged in Scripture. For example, the Scriptures are free from any taint of human corruption. They is also are perfectly consistent and contain divine truth.

Furthermore, our hearts will have assurance when we realize that our admiration for Scripture is based more upon the content than the writing style. God’s word unpacks heavenly mysteries, yet it does so with finite and limited human language. If Scripture was written in an elegant style, unbelievers might be tempted to see all of its “power” merely in its eloquence. Think about this: when Scripture’s unpolished simplicity which borders on rudeness, makes a deeper impression upon people than the most elegant writings, what does this tell us except that the Scriptures are so powerful that they need any “improvement” from a speaker?

For good reason, then, the apostle Paul declares that the Corinthian church’s faith did not rest on the “wisdom of men” but rather upon “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5). His speech and preaching to them was “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Corinthians 2:5), because Paul preached the Scriptures.

Truth is vindicated from every doubt when it is not supported by arguments, but rather, works powerfully by itself. No human writing can ever affect someone in a way that is similar to Scripture.  Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato, Aristotle. No doubt, you will be allured, pleased, and enchanted by their writings. But after reading them, read Scripture. It will so affect you–pierce your heart, and work its way into your bones and marrow.  In comparison to those other writings, Scripture will make those other writings disappear from your mind. It will be clear that the Scripture is God’s truth, something which makes it superior to all the gifts and grace attainable by people.

 

Blogging the Institutes–1.7.5–The Spirit Seals the Truth on the Hearts of Believers

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Spirit Seals the Truth on the Hearts of Believers

Those who have been taught by the Holy Spirit in their hearts will naturally trust the Scriptures. The authority of Scripture does not rest upon evidence or arguments, but upon the testimony of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds, we no longer believe the Scriptures come from God based upon our own opinion or reason. Rather, we are perfectly assured that the Scriptures come from God in a way superior to human reason. We come to know the Scriptures as if the very image of God is impressed upon them, coming through the hand of men from the mouth of God.

As believers, we do not ask for arguments or evidence. Rather, we subject our intelligence and reason to the Scripture as being too transcendent for us to fully grasp. We do this, not like we are trying to hold onto some unknown object. We submit to Scripture because we have a thorough conviction that in it, we are holding the unassailable truth. We are not like miserable men whose minds are enslaved by superstition, but we feel a divine energy coursing through it—an energy which draws us in and compels us to obey it. We obey it willingly, with more power than comes from mere human ability. Therefore, God says from the mouth of Isaiah: “‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me’” (Isaiah 43:10).

We can have knowledge in our mind which does not ask for reasons. Yet, this knowledge corresponds to the highest reason—the kind of knowledge which comes from revelation from heaven rather than merely human opinion. I’m not saying anything different than what any ordinary believer experiences. I’m not going to dwell on this subject much any longer, because I’ll get back to it later.

We must understand that the only true faith we cave have is the one which the Holy Spirit seals upon our hearts. The book of Isaiah demonstrates this truth as it speaks of God’s people being “taught by the Lord” (Isaiah 54:13). The privilege of being taught by God is given to His elect people only. How does faith begin? Does it not begin with alertness to hear God’s Word? God, by the mouth of Moses, demands to be heard:  “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:12, 14).

Since God has reserved the treasure of His truth for His children only, it is no wonder that so much ignorance is seen in the rest of humanity. Within this mass of humanity, I even include the Jews until they are grafted back into the church of Jesus Christ. Isaiah reminds us that God’s truth would seem unbelievable not only to the unbelieving pagans but also the Jews as well: “To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1).

If we become troubled by the small number of people who believe the truth, we must remember that no one can comprehend God’s mysteries unless God chooses to reveal them to someone.

 

 

Blogging the Institutes–1.7.4–God Speaks in the Scriptures

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.

God Speaks in the Scriptures

Understanding that God is the author of Scripture establishes the church’s teaching. God’s own character is the best argument for the authority of Scripture.  When the prophets and apostles wrote Scripture, they did not brag about their own quality of writing or persuasiveness. Rather, they appealed to God’s own name in order that the whole world would be compelled to submit to Scripture. God’s name, however, is not invoked deceptively or to give legitimacy to their writings. If we want to have stability and not be blown about by the winds of uncertainty, then we must understand that the truth of Scripture comes from a source higher than human opinion or human reason. The truth of Scripture comes from God Himself, specifically, the work of the Spirit in our hearts.

Now, if you really want to, you can make arguments to support the truthfulness of Scripture. For example, if God does in fact exist, then it is logical to see how the Scriptures came from Him. Some people may try to discredit the Scriptures. But even the smartest people, if they are honest with themselves, will acknowledge that the Scriptures exhibit clear evidence of being spoken by God and teach the truth about God. We will examine a little later on how many more copies of holy Scripture there are than any other ancient writing. If we read Scripture with clear eyes and an open mind, we will certainly conclude that it comes from God.

It is, however, preposterous to try to convince someone of the truthfulness of Scripture by arguments alone. Now, if I were to argue with the smartest skeptics of God’s word—even though I’m not the smartest person or the most eloquent debater—I still wouldn’t find it very difficult to shut them up. Although my arguments could refute those who doubt Scriptures, they still couldn’t produce faith in their hearts. Unbelievers think that religion rests only on human opinion. Therefore, they demand that the truthfulness of Scripture be proved so that they can find a loophole and not believe it.

The work of God’s Spirit in our hearts is superior to human reason. Only God Himself can establish the truthfulness of His own word. Thus, Scripture will not be fully accepted by people until the Spirit works in their hearts. The same Spirit who spoke through the prophets must penetrate our hearts in order to confirm the truth of Scripture to us. The connection between God’s word and God’s Spirit is clearly expressed in Isaiah, “‘My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,’ says the Lord, ‘from now and forever’” (Isaiah 59:21).

Some believers get upset because people criticize God’s word and they don’t feel like they have the arguments to refute them. What they forget is that the Holy Spirit is called a seal and a pledge to confirm the faith of believers. Therefore, some believers will be tossed about by the winds of doubt until the Spirit enlightens their minds to comprehend the truth.

 

When “Safety First” Wasn’t a Drag on Christians

We are unlike the Christians of the New Testament. Our approach to life is conventional and static; theirs was not. The thought of ‘safety first’ was not a drag on their enterprise as it is on ours. By being exuberant, unconventional, and uninhibited in living by the gospel, they turned their world upside down…Why are we so different? Why, compared with them, do we appear as no more than halfway Christians? Whence comes the nervous, dithery, take-no-risks mood that mars so much of our discipleship? Why are we not free enough from fear and anxiety to allow ourselves to go full strength in following Christ?…Now let us call a spade a spade. The name of the game we are playing is unbelief.

–J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 270

Blogging the Institutes–1.7.3–Even Augustine Thinks Scripture Supports the Church (Not Vice Versa)

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Even Augustine Thinks Scriptures Supports the Church (Not Vice Versa)

Some people object to my argument that the church doesn’t have authority over the Scriptures. In response, they try to use St. Augustine and his writings to prop up the belief that the church determines the authority of the Scriptures. Now, there is quote from Augustine where he says that he wouldn’t believe the gospel unless he was moved by the authority of the church to do so. It’s easy to discover from the context, however, it doesn’t prove the case that the Scriptures are subordinated to the church.

In context, he was reasoning against the Manichees, who believed that they had the truth though they didn’t show that they did. They pretend to appeal to the gospel to support Manes, but Augustine asks them what they would do if they came across someone who didn’t believe the gospel. What argument would they present to try to persuade this person? Augustine later adds, “But I would not believe the gospel…” What he meant was: If he were an unbeliever and stranger to the faith, the something which could induce him to believe the gospel would be the authority of the church.

Augustine, therefore, isn’t saying that the faith of believers is based upon the authority of the church. He also doesn’t mean that the reliability of the gospel depends on the church. He is merely saying that unbelievers could be influenced to believe the gospel through the consent of the church to the truth of Scripture. He shows this to be the meaning of his words by writing this earlier:

“When I have praised my beliefs and ridiculed yours, who is supposed to judge between us? What is to be done except avoid those people who invite us to have certainty and then ask us to believe with uncertainty. Furthermore, what are we to do except follow those who invite us to believe things we cannot comprehend at first, but through faith are able to come to understand what we believe. Eventually, it is God Himself who strengthens and illuminates our minds.”

Augustine was not subjugating Scripture to the determination of the church. All he was trying to do was show that those who don’t yet believe the gospel are often more “pliable” to the gospel when they see the church’s reverence for how she treats the Scriptures. Although the church’s authority helps lead us and even prepares us to believe the gospel, Augustine himself saw that the faith of believers rests upon a different foundation than the church’s authority.

Nevertheless, I admit that Augustine often argues against the Manichees using the consensus of the church, even while supporting the Scriptures which they rejected. He scolds Faustus for not submitting to the truth of the gospel—truth so well founded, so firmly established, so gloriously famous, and handed down by the a certain succession from the days of the apostles. But nowhere does Augustine insinuate that the authority of the Scriptures rests upon the opinions and definitions of men. He only uses the universal consensus of church tradition as a support for his arguments. If you want to see this proved in his writings, just read his short treatise, The Advantages of Believing.

 

Blogging the Institutes–1.7.2–Sugar is Sweet; Scripture is Truth

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

 

Sugar is Sweet; Scripture is Truth

The belief that the church has authority over the Scriptures is refuted by one single verse from the apostle Paul. Paul testifies that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20). If the teachings of the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church, then they must have existed prior to the church. And thus, the church could never be built upon something which didn’t have prior authority. Now, some people might respond by arguing that although the church came after the Scriptural writings, the Bible didn’t have authority until the church determined which writings were in the canon. Yet, if the church was founded on the teachings of the apostles and prophets, then those teachings were certainly approved of by the church because if they church didn’t approve those teachings, she would have never existed in the first place!

Therefore, the whole idea that the church has the authority over the Scriptures is nonsense. When the church received the truth and placed her “stamp” on it, she wasn’t determine the Scriptures’ authority. Rather, she was acknowledging it as the truth from God and proclaiming her duty to submit to it with unreserved consent.

Now, people ask: How can we know that the Bible is God’s Word without appealing to the authority of the church? Well, think about this. What if we asked a different set of questions: How can we distinguish between light and darkness? Sweet from bitter? Scripture gives clear evidence of its truth by what it is, just like sweet and bitter things are known by their taste.

 

Blogging the Institutes–1.7.1–Scripture’s Authority rests on the Holy Spirit

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.

Scripture’s Authority Rests on the Holy Spirit

Before we go any further, let’s talk about the authority of Scripture so that we can submit to its authority with reverence.

When God’s Word is actually acknowledged to be God’s Word, no person will refuse to give credit to God for speaking, unless a person lacks common sense. Now, we know that God doesn’t whisper into our ears from heaven every day. Rather, He has committee the truth to the written word—the Bible. The Bible’s authority isn’t truly appreciated unless we believe that it is God’s Word, as if God spoke all the words of the Bible in heaven and then had them written down. We’ll get into this more later.

Now, some people will object to the authority of Scripture. Their objection goes like this: The Scriptures depend upon the church. In fact, the church determined which books of the Bible would be included in the canon of Scripture; so therefore, the church has a higher authority than the Scriptures. Some even take this logic to the extreme and claim that the church can do just about anything, since she determined the length and scope of the Bible.

What is my response? Think about this: Who can assure us that the Scriptures came from God? Who can guarantee that they are accurate and haven’t been tampered with? Who can persuade us to treat the Scriptures with reverence? Only the Holy Spirit! Furthermore, what is going to happen to people who are looking for solid answers of how to obtain eternal life, but then they find out that the promises of eternal life in the Bible are only backed by the opinion of mere people? Won’t they doubt and have their confidence shaken? Our faith will be mocked and derided if it rests on the mere opinion of people.