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Scripture and Authority

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
December 17, 2022 12:01 am

Scripture and Authority

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 17, 2022 12:01 am

Since God alone has absolute authority, only His Word can be the highest authority in the church. Today, R.C. Sproul considers how the authority of Scripture plays out in our everyday lives as Christians.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

The Bible came to us from God Himself for a specific purpose. For our edification, for our reproof, for our correction, for our instruction that we may be fully equipped to be men and women of God. But the crisis in our day is not simply over the issue of whether the Bible is infallible or inerrant or inspired.

The crisis in our day is what's in it. Welcome to the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. In our most recent State of Theology survey, we asked people to respond to a number of statements, and here's one of them. The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths, but is not literally true.

Fifty-three percent agreed with that statement. It seems like Scripture is attacked from all sides these days. Its origin is questioned, so is its trustworthiness. So we can readily see why people question its authority.

Today, R.C. Sproul shows us how to defend the Bible and reminds us where its authority lies. A few years ago, I was lecturing at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in Philadelphia, and the topic for that session was the authority of Scripture. And after the evening service where I had lectured on the subject of biblical authority, I was delighted to see coming up to me afterwards a friend whom I hadn't seen since we were in college together many years before. And this fellow after college went to the mission field.

He became a minister and so on. And we had met regularly as college students. We met every night for a half an hour of Bible study and prayer together. And I had lost touch with him over the years and so excited to see him.

We went out to eat and asked about families and all of that sort of thing. And then he was a little bit embarrassed, and he said to me, he said, I want you to know that since we were together in college, he said, I've changed my view completely on Scripture. And I said, well, what do you mean, Charlie? He said, well, I don't believe in the inspiration of the Bible anymore. He said, I've been to seminary and I've studied this, and now I'm aware of all the critical theories.

And so I don't accept that view of the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture like I once did. And I said, well, what do you still believe, Charlie, from those days? And he smiled and he said, well, I still believe that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord. And I said, well, I'm delighted to hear that, but my question for you, Charlie, is how does Jesus exercise His Lordship over you? And he said, what do you mean? I said, well, the Lord is somebody who has authority to issue commands, to give you marching orders, to require you to do this or to do that. And now you can't appeal to Scripture as the source for your marching orders.

Where do you get them? Oh, he said, I see what you mean. He said, well, I believe that Christ speaks to us now through the church.

And I said, oh, I see. Which church? And he said, the Presbyterian Church. I said, which Presbyterian Church?

The one in Chicago, the one in Philadelphia, the one in Pittsburgh? The First Presbyterian Church, Second Presbyterian Church, Third Presbyterian Church, which one? He said, oh, no, not the local Presbyterian Church, but when the church comes together in General Assembly, that's where we hear the voice of Christ. And I said, which General Assembly?

The one that last year voted one way on a particular issue and reversed it this year. Has Christ changed His mind? And Charlie began to feel the weight of the problem, and I said, we've come a long way. We've just finished the circle from the Reformation. This is what the sixteenth century debate was all about. In the final analysis, is the authority of Christ vested in the church and in the teachings of the church or in the apostolic word that we find in sacred Scripture?

And so that was the discussion that I had with my friend. Now, in the sixteenth century, as I've already mentioned, the issue of sola scriptura arose. And we saw that the term sola means that the Scripture alone is the ultimate authoritative, special revelation of God, and that the church does not have authority of an equal footing with the sacred Scripture. Now, when the Roman Catholic Church responded to the Reformation in the middle of the sixteenth century at their ecumenical council of Trent, Trent, in the fourth session, spoke directly to this question of the relationship of the authority of the church and the authority of Scripture. And as I mentioned in earlier session, Rome confessed her confidence in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, that the Bible came through the Holy Ghost dictante, as I said, the Holy Spirit dictating.

But in addition to that, Rome, in the fourth session at Trent, speaks of God's revealing Himself through the sacred Scriptures and the tradition of the church. Now, how are we to understand the statement that God's revelation comes to us through the Bible and tradition? If somebody said to me, where do you find the truth of God, R.C., I'd say, well, you can find the truth of God in Scripture or in the Westminster Confession of Faith, because I believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith faithfully reproduces the teaching of sacred Scripture. But I don't believe the Confession is inspired or infallible or inerrant. But I do believe that you can find the truth of God in places outside of the Bible.

You can find it in sound books on theology insofar as they are sound. But they are not the original source of that special revelation by any means. So maybe what we have here when Trent, in the fourth session, said that the truth of God is contained in both the sacred Scripture and the tradition, that all that is being said by this innocuous statement is something akin to what I just said about Protestant creeds and confessions and traditions.

I don't think that is the case. I think that what we see here in the Roman Catholic Church is what we call a dual source theory of special revelation, where the church has two sources of special revelation, one of which is Scripture and the other of which is the tradition of the church, putting the church on an equal footing of authority with the Bible itself. Now, a fascinating study has come about in our day with respect to these statements at the Council of Trent because the fourth session of Trent was dismissed abruptly because of the outbreak of war on the continent. And as a result of that, some of the records were misplaced and confused about what actually went on at the Council. And we know now through the research of an Anglican scholar by the name of Palmer that the first draft of the fourth session of the Council of Trent contained not these words Scripture and tradition, but they had two Latin words in the text partum partum. That is, if you would translate these exactly, they would be saying that the truth of God is contained partly in Scripture and partly in tradition.

There, there would be no question that you have two sources of divine revelation, one in Scripture, one in the tradition. However, when that original draft was presented to the assembly, two priests who were delegates there protested. One's name was Benutio, the other fellow's name was Nakhianti.

Don't ask me why I remember their names, I just happen to. But in any case, Benutio and Nakhianti rose up and protested the wording saying that that language would destroy the sufficiency and the uniqueness of sacred Scripture. They were fighting for the reformation principle of sola scriptura.

Now there the record ends with respect to the discussion and the debate. We don't know how the rest of the assembly argued in response to these two men, but we do know that in the final draft these words were no longer there and in their place was the word et, which simply means and. Now the question is this, did the church respond to this protest and consciously reject a dual source theory? Did the church make this change simply for literary reasons or intentionally as what we call a studied ambiguity to leave the question open for further reflection?

We don't know the answer to that strictly from the record of the sixteenth century, but we do know the answer to it from subsequent decrees and decisions of the church, most recently being in Humani Gaineris in the decade of the forties by Pope Pius in which there it is spelled out without any ambiguity that the church embraces two distinct sources of special revelation. So for Rome, they can appeal both to the tradition of the church and to the Bible for their doctrine. That's what makes ecumenical dialogue so difficult because you come to a different view of a particular doctrine, and the Protestants want to establish their doctrine strictly on the authority of the Bible, and Rome would say, well, we don't have to just stick with the Bible, we can look at this church council or this papal encyclical and we can see that the tradition of the church establishes this particular doctrine like the immaculate conception of Mary and the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven, issues like that that you can't find anywhere in the Scriptures, they can establish on the basis of their appeal to tradition. And then when you get engaged in these discussions and you say, well, wait a minute, I'm from Missouri, I'm a solo scriptorian, you're going to have to show me from Scripture alone and not by appeals to the authority of the church, they will respond immediately by saying, but don't you understand that the Bible that you're retreating to and the Bible you're appealing to as your only authority of special revelation gets its authority from the church. And without the authority of the church, you don't have biblical authority. And then they will immediately begin to discuss this historical sorting and selecting process for the establishment of the canon, which I went over in our last session.

And the reasoning goes something like this. Since that it's by the church's decision that certain books are formally canonized, therefore the authority of the Bible is subject to the authority of the church and in a very real sense derives its abiding authority from the even greater authority of the church itself. Well, of course, we reject that really for biblical reasons, for theological reasons, and also for historical reasons. Again, we go back to the origin of authority and we understand that when the principle of sola scriptura was uttered by the Reformers, the reason why they were restricting binding authority to the Scripture is because they were convinced that the Scriptures are the Word of God and that it is God alone who can bind the conscience and that God alone has absolute authority, and that's why they restricted the authority to the Scripture because they said herein we find the Word of God. Well, of course, the Roman Catholic Church would say, yes, of course, we believe that God alone is the ultimate authority, but He has delegated that authority to the church because after all Christ built His church on Peter. He said on this rock I will build my church, and Peter passed on that authority to future generations so that Peter still is ruling in the chair of St. Peter in the embodiment of the pope who is the vicar of Christ on earth.

And so the church is the continuing incarnation, and there is what's called apostolic succession, that apostolic authority continues beyond the first century, beyond Peter, beyond Paul, and is invested then in every generation in the church and most specifically with the pope. Now that's, of course, open to dispute whether or not the Bible clearly affirms such apostolic succession, and it's certainly not a matter of a settled controversy as to exactly what was meant by Jesus at the Caesarea Philippi confession when He said on this rock I will build my church. But one thing we do know is that there was a delegation process, that Christ is the delegated apostle par excellence, as we've mentioned before. He said, I speak nothing on my own authority, but only on the authority of the one who sent me. And so that Christ claimed to speak with nothing less than the authority of God. And when the church embraces Christ as Lord, the church says we recognize Christ's authority over us and that His authority as the head of the church is certainly superior to any other part of the church. And also we see Christ delegating His authority to His apostles, saying those who receive you receive Me, those who reject you reject Me, which is the argument that Irenaeus was fond of using against the heretics of his day. But when we look at the historical question, here is where I think it becomes rather clear. Because when the church finalized the formal list of books that we call the canon, in that process the church used a Latin term that I think is critical to this discussion.

And it is the term reciprocimus, which being translated means we receive. That is at the time of the establishment of the canon formally and officially and ecclesiastically. At that time in church history, the church was not so arrogant as to claim that the church was creating the canon or that the canon received its authority from the authority of the church.

But rather what the church was saying at that point is we are recognizing and receiving and embracing these books as the books that have the binding authority over us. It would be like if God were to appear to me today and I said, well, how do I know that you're God? And He said to me like He said to Moses, put your hand in your pocket. And I did and I pulled it out and it was leprous. And He said, okay, put it in there again and you pull it out and it's not.

Or He said, take this piece of chalk and throw it on the ground and I do that and it turns into a snake. And then God would say to me, are you satisfied? I would say, yes, I'm satisfied. He convinced me that you are the Almighty God. Now, if I come to that conviction and I bow now before the authority of my Maker, does my acquiescence to His authority in any way give Him any authority that He didn't already have?

Of course not. All I'm doing is recognizing the authority that's already there and bowing before it. And that's exactly what the church did during the period of the early centuries when she was involved with an acquiescence and discussion of formalizing the text of Scripture. So the church is always subordinate to the authority of the Bible.

This doesn't mean that the church has no authority, state government has authority, parents have authority, but those authorities are authorities that God has delegated that do not have the absolute authority that goes with His own Word. So whatever authority we have in the church, which we are to respect and obey as much as we possibly can, is an authority that is subordinate to the authority of Scripture itself. Now, having gone over quickly and briefly this portion of our study of systematic theology where we began really with the doctrine of Revelation and have looked in the last few sessions at the concept of Scripture, I want us to understand that we are still speaking in a very real sense in the abstract. We're talking about the nature of Scripture, the origin of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, the relationship of biblical authority to ecclesiastical authority and all of those related issues, the scope of the canon, and so on.

But if we have a perfectly accurate concept in our minds about the nature of the Bible, and if we are perfectly orthodox in our confession of its authority and of the scope of the canon and all of these things that we've been talking about, but have no mastery of the content of sacred Scripture, what have we gained? Again, the Scripture is given to us not merely as an abstract doctrine, but it comes to us as God's divine Word that is designed for our edification, for our conversion, for our proof, for our correction, for our instruction that we may be fully equipped to be men and women of God. But the crisis in our day is not simply a crisis over the issue of whether the Bible is infallible or inerrant or inspired.

The crisis in our day is what's in it. And even in seminary, we spend so much time looking at the academic issues of what we call prolegomena, the dating, the culture, the language, and all of that, that we can make it through seminary without ever really coming to grips with the content of sacred Scripture, with what we call a mastery of the English Bible. In other words, I'm saying to you folks, do you know what's in the Bible? This series that we're doing now on systematic theology is ambitious insofar as that it covers so many issues.

The longest series we've done up until this point is our series called Dust to Glory, which was an attempt to address this very point. My passion, I think far more important than studying systematic theology, is that the people of God in our day come to a knowledge of the content of Scripture. And that's what we try to provide for people in a biblical overview, beginning with creation and going all the way to the end of the New Testament. The only other thing I want to say before we finish this segment of systematic theology is even if we deal with the content, have a sound doctrine of the nature of Scripture, we're still left with the very sticky question of, how can I be a responsible interpreter of the Bible? You know, even with Rome, with their infallible collection of infallible books and infallible teaching of the infallible Bible, still sooner or later it has to come down to you, and you're not infallible, and I'm not infallible, and at some point I may twist and distort the Scripture. So we also need to learn something about the basic principles of biblical interpretation. I'm not going to cover that in this course.

We have ancillary materials for you. My book, Knowing Scripture, is written for laymen to give you the fundamental principles of how to interpret the Bible in a way that will not lead you into a misunderstanding or misinterpretation or distortion of the Word of God. So with that, let me close the first segment of this series on Revelation and on the Bible as it prepares us for the next segment where we begin to look at theology proper or a study of the character of God.

God's Word is specific, it's true, and authoritative. Thanks for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb, and here on the Saturday edition of our program, we're just a few lessons into R.C.

Sproul's series Foundations. We return to it each week, and we'll make our way through the entire 60-message series in the coming weeks and months. I hope you'll make plans to be with us every week.

R.C. will cover a number of vital theological doctrines, including sin, salvation, revelation, miracles, and eschatology—the end times. Today we focused on the doctrine of Scripture, but we'd like for you to have the full series. There are eight DVDs, and when you contact us today with a donation of any amount, we will be glad to send you the entire series.

You can do that online when you go to Let me thank you in advance for your generous donation. When you give to Renewing Your Mind, your donation allows us to continue producing teaching material like we've heard today, and it's having an impact around the world.

I'd like for you to listen to Flavek. Back in 2003, when I was a church member in a very legalistic church in Ukraine, because of that fact, I was fighting with severe depression back then. But in God's providence, there was one book that I found in a church's library in the basement, preserved by God for me, and that book was chosen by God, R.C.

Sproul. It has changed my life forever. I have never heard biblical Reform theology before, so I moved to America and started to grow under Ligonier Ministries teaching.

I was so hungry. I wanted to know biblical God, and then a resistible desire started to grow in me, and I said to myself, I want my Christian brothers and sisters in Ukraine to hear Dr. Sproul. So I started to translate video messages of Dr. Sproul into Russian language on a weekly basis and send it to Ukraine. I want my Christians in Ukraine to know who God is. I just can't let my Christian brothers and sisters in Ukraine to live in theological darkness. Thank you, Ligonier Ministries, for not only have you transformed my life, but you are transforming the lives of Christians in Ukraine today. Well, Flavek, we thank you, and to you, our listeners, thank you for your ongoing support of Ligonier Ministries.

Well, as we heard R.C. say at the end of today's message, next Saturday he'll turn the corner and begin a study of theology proper. That is for the message titled, Knowledge of God, next week here on Renewing Your Mind. God bless!
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-17 11:40:37 / 2022-12-17 11:49:35 / 9

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