The Necessity of Acknowledging Authority (repost)

Another repost after an interesting week of response to a sermon on Ephesians 5:22

Do you believe that the Word of God in the New and Old Testaments, discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the supreme authority for the faith and conduct of all God’s people?

Authority is not something that human beings are naturally comfortable with. All around us we see the consequences of people claiming the supreme authority in their lives. Broken families are often the result of fathers declining to take on their role of authority in the family. School teachers cannot exert authority in the classroom. Politicians lose authority and democracy suffers as a result. And to even assert that there is a greater authority than yourself will result in a puzzled look as if you’ve just spoken fluent Swahili.

As a minister, you’re different. Your allegiance is to Christ. By your initial confession you have declared that there is a God. As one of his creatures you acknowledge that you come under his authority. Now you will promise to base your whole ministry on that authority.

This promise may not be as strong as an inerrantist may want but it is still a strong and vital promise that you are making. The “discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” is a good explanation of the role of the Spirit in sanctification as he opens your eyes to his truth in his word. However, we have seen in the URC how that phrase has introduced a bit of wriggle room for liberals which makes them functional charismatics.

Don’t let that be the case with you, dear minister. The Bible is the Word of God. There is no other place for you to find the will of God. There is no other place for you to go to hear how God has saved you and how you are to live in gratitude for that salvation.

The Bible is your supreme authority for your faith and practice. Everything in your ministry depends on this. No more sermons from Opinions 7:12. No more sanctioning of moral behaviour that is clearly unbiblical. When you do that you are in rebellion against the promise you made before God and the church.

You are under authority. Conduct your ministry as if that is true.


3 thoughts on “The Necessity of Acknowledging Authority (repost)

  1. Another very interesting post, Phil. Worried, though, by the idea that the Bible is the Word. Surely the Bible is a human artefact (words) that witnesses to the Word, who is the living Christ? (I’m sure you’ll recognise this as the Barthian line on Biblical authority). I totally agree with you on the necessity of authority and for the Church and for its ministers locating that authority solely in God, which makes it difficult to absolutise the authority of any human being or product, whether that be the Pope, the Confessions or the Bible (although I would also agree with you about the danger of a sometimes lazy liberal-charismatic invocation of the Spirit that dissolves all authority into an ill-defined conscience – as in the Church of Scotland’s attitude to the Westminster standards)

  2. Nick,
    You’ll not be surprised to find that I utterly reject the Barthian notion of the Bible. It sounds very pious but how does God reveal this living Word to us? Through his written Word. Jesus himself told us that the whole scripture spoke of him (John 5:39, Luke 24:27), he believed that what the Scripture says God says (Matt 19:4-5) and the whole New Testament attributes the words of David and the prophets to the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16, Hebrews 3:7).
    If we do not affirm the Bible as the inspired Word of God (2 Tim 3:16) then we stand in ultimate authority over the text of scripture. The Bible is wholly human and wholly divine, in the same way as Christ is wholly human and wholly divine. That has been the position of the church throughout its history and I have no qualms about affirming that position today. (Believe me, it’s been an interesting and circuitous route to get there.)
    However, Nick, I would be very worried by anyone bringing down the Bible to the same level as a Pope or Confession. Especially a Protestant minister.

    I really appreciate your comments. It’s good to have the chance to really think through these things.

  3. Entirely agree that the Bible has a different and higher status than the Pope or than any of the Confessions (or even the Creeds). I was being a but mischievous with that list, but I’d be interested in hearing how you reconcile what seems to be a very strong attachment to the Westminster Confession with a view of the uniquely inspired status of Scripture.
    As to the way in which the Word is revealed it remains the case for the most orthodox Calvinist that the Bible on its own is not sufficient. Despite the dangers inherent in saying so (and I repeat that I agree with you about them) the inspiration of the Spirit is required in the reading and interpretation of Scripture.
    It is also the case that Christ is really present in the Church. This is true in a particular way in the sacrament of Communion (again orthodox Calvinism) but is also in a more diffuse way true of all of us who are joined to Christ in baptism. We should take the idea that the Church is the body of Christ with the utmost seriousness, in my view. That’s why I think the question of dissent from the form and instance of the Church to which one has been called is a very weighty matter and not to be treated lightly.
    Our relationship to Scripture is always, whether we like it or not, mediated by our formation (let’s call it tradition) and this is true for the Reformed as much as for anyone else.

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