Taken Captive: Part 8 of 10

by Justin Lonas

Justin LonasEditor's Note: This is the eighth of 10 articles on areas in which entrenched unbiblical attitudes tend to hold sway in the Church. We are seeking to encourage believers to live up to Paul's command to "see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world rather than according to Christ" (Col. 2:8).

Tradition Number 8-The Bible and Orthodoxy

The inherent assumption behind this entire series is that the Bible is God's Word, that it is inspired, inerrant, and "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). In short, God means what He says, and we have a responsibility to live accordingly.

Holding God's Word in proper esteem is absolutely integral to our identity as Christians. How we view and use Scripture speaks volumes about how we view God-if we aren't willing to take Him at His Word, then we cannot come to terms with His holiness, our need for redemption, or what it means to be the Church. Either God speaks through Scripture and defines our existence or we presume to dictate to Him "the way things are." A right understanding of the truth of Scripture and faithful reading, study, and preaching of it will allow it to shape our actions and give form to God's purpose for our lives.

Many who claim the name of Christ in America and around the world, however, want very little to do with His revealed Word. Mishandling or disregarding Scripture is nothing new; Paul warned Timothy that "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrineand will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths" (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Five primary ways in which people mistake the Word stand out in a wide range of Christian traditions.

1) Instead of reading Scripture themselves and allowing the Spirit to shape their hearts through His Word, many believers implicitly or explicitly allow others to handle the Word for them. Getting the Bible in the hands of the people was a rallying cry of the Reformation, and yet today many are content to let their pastor, teacher, or favorite author read and interpret it for them, taking whatever they're handed at face value without seeking the Lord's wisdom on a personal level.

While there are many faithful expositors in pulpits around the world, God clearly intends us to interact with His Word, internalize it, and live it out. The Psalmist's meditations in Psalm 119 do not come from a heart that has merely listened to good teaching but one that has been bathed in the Word. Christ sets the example in Matt. 4 for us to have the Word in our hearts and minds to turn away the enemy's attacks, reminding us that God's Word is the nourishment for our life in Him (quoting Deut. 8:3).

2) Others settle for a cursory exploration of Scripture and live by a set of "principles" drawn out by less-than-thorough exposition and often taken out of context. They often use Scripture to advance their own agenda or justify their own decisions instead of letting it speak. Such an attitude not only undermines the purpose of the Word but attempts to use it against God and His work-it is no better than Satan's temptation of Christ with "snapshots" of the Old Testament.

3) John 1 tells us that the Word is the very essence of God, and that it has been incarnated in Christ. 2 Tim. 3:16 states that "all Scripture is inspired by God"-literally "God breathed-out" (theopneustos), and 1 Peter 1:20-21 points out that none of it comes from man but that "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." The primary work of God's Spirit, it is clear, is the revealing of His Word to men through Scripture.

Some, however, rely on a special "word from the Lord" in making life decisions, determining right from wrong, etc. They wait for the Holy Spirit to speak directly to them and allow a "spiritual experience" to guide what they believe and how they live. Seeing the Spirit move, though, is not about witnessing something new and different but rather having Him call to mind the truths that are "ageless and new" and giving us the strength to live them out. Expecting God to speak over and above Scripture is arrogant and ultimately anti-spiritual.

4) Still others faithfully study and memorize the Word but fail to let it soak into their hearts, renew their minds (Rom. 12:2), and be lived out in their actions. God's Word is alive and active (Heb. 4:12), and if it is not having an effect in our hearts, it should serve as an indicator that we need to confess our sins and be restored to right relationship with the Lord.

5) Finally, there are those who live with total disregard for God's Word. They neither love nor study Scripture, and they turn the Church into a purely social institution, shutting God out of the exercise entirely. When a church ceases to be under the authority of the Word, it ceases to be a church.

The apostles were very clear in drawing a line from the Old Testament to the teaching of Christ. The epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and others are filled with references to and quotations of Scripture, pointing out unequivocally that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the prophecies about Messiah and showing that His words should be viewed as Scripture also. The doctrines we affirm are not special teachings but distillations of the same Word.

Every faithful church leader since that time, from Athanasius and Augustine to the Reformers of the 16th century to today has based their teaching in God's Word. Those who did not have led people astray and been rejected by true believers. While no individual is perfect in their interpretation of Scripture, we are to hold each other accountable to the word as the Body. The Lord uses our collective study and meditation on the Word to maintain integrity in our application of it.

Adherence to the Scripture is the thread that ties together the history of the Church; the fact that the faith survives to this day is itself a testament to the power and vitality of the Word. We would do well to remember this in a day in which "truths" that people live by are selected from a buffet line of philosophies according to their self-serving preferences. If the Church fails in its commitment to Scripture, "Christianity" will become just another option (as it is already viewed by many) with nothing definitive to say about who God is and how we relate to Him.

If, however, we remain faithful to God's Word and its proclamation, He will continue to use it to glorify His name and empower His followers to be the light in a dark world that He has called us to be.

Justin Lonas is editor-in-chief of Pulpit Helps magazine.

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