Few questions are more controversial, when discussing the Bible, than those surrounding the issue of authority. Joyfully, Article 5 tackles two of the most difficult head on. Specifically, (1) what kind of authority does the Bible have, and (2) who decides it has that authority?
Some might find dear Guido’s answers a bit illusive here, but I’m fascinated by them.
First, the type of authority. The Bible’s authority is for “the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith.” That’s a massive area of influence, however it leaves an equally-as-massive area completely untouched. This is important. The Bible is a library focused on matters of faith. Sure, one’s faith influences everything from the interpretation of science to politics to matters of justice and so, appropriately, the Bible can be applied by people of faith to those matters (if done so with integrity), yet it bears noting that the Bible does not speak to everything – not even everything important.
The phrase I heard constantly when I was in seminary was that it was accurate “in all it intends to teach.” I’m actually not particularly fond of that language. It suggests (at least in my mind) that the Bible’s primary purpose is to impart facts and information. It isn’t. While the Bible includes facts and information, it’s purpose is to “regulate, found and establish” our faith – which is a much deeper and much more complex process than merely information-gathering or fact-acquisition.
Which is why the second question is actually remarkably wise rather than a simple cop-out. Article 5 continues:
We believe without a doubt all things contained in [the scriptures] — not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God.
Ignoring, for now, Guido’s overly-optimistic opening clause (Seriously?! “all things” and “without a doubt?!”), the point is simple: Biblical authority doesn’t come from councils or congregations, and it isn’t determined by denominations or synods. Biblical authority is revealed to our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit – to quote Supreme Court Justice Stewart (exceptionally out of context), we “know it when we see it.”
This post is already getting long, but there are two things I’d like to mention about this. First, since the scriptures reveal themselves to be of God and cannot be determined “authoritative” by any human institution, it does absolutely no good whatsoever to attempt to use the scriptures as “proof” or “facts” in contexts where their authority has not been identified by the people involved. Secondly, it is entirely inappropriate to use them in attempts to bludgeon people into a particular positions. This isn’t their purpose. Period.
Meanwhile: Happy Holidays! (I use the phrase intentionally in the hope that your Advent was a blessed one, that your Christmas was joyful, that the Christmas season is progressing beautifully, and that you have a wonderful New Year’s Eve/Day and an inspiring Epiphany).
Grace and peace,