Last Sunday I spoke at Montrose Baptist Church on Mark 15 where Jesus is humiliated and beaten by Roman soldiers on his way to the cross. Whilst on one level we see the powers of darkness rejoice, for those that eyes to see, we also see that Jesus covers our shame. Hope you enjoy it.
Category Archives: Scripture
Whom shall I release?
Here is a message I shared with Cupar Baptist Church in May on Mark 15 where Jesus is before Pilate, as we see the innocent presented as guilty and the guilty presented as innocent. Hope you enjoy it.
The Joyful Planner
Back in January I shared this message to Carnoustie Community Church on Psalm 33. I hope you enjoy it as we see God the Artist, Planner & Rescuer.
10 lessons on having confidence in our leaders
Yesterday I read this verse in Hebrews whilst studying for a sermon I am writing at the moment on Jesus’ public humiliation before his crucifixion: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority because they kept watch over you as those who must give an account” (Hebrews 13v17).
Over the last 25 years, I have served as both a person-in-the-pew and in church leadership at four churches. I have also had many conversations with people who had little if any confidence in their church leaders. I admit that I have not always followed this instruction, so I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone. Here are 10 lessons that hit me afresh when I read this verse:
- Leaders will shape the DNA of a church, company or organisation whether they realise it or not, as will our attitude to them leading us (for better or worse)
- Having confidence in our leaders is not something that comes naturally to most people, it will normally require a change in heart attitude on our part
- It is a command of scripture, so we would do well to obey it and will find a blessing as a result
- Submitting doesn’t mean we will always (or often) agree, but it does mean supporting them by our words and attitude as far as is biblically possible
- Our leaders will make mistakes, we should get used to it. Sometimes they will recognise these mistakes (publically or privately), sometimes they will not. This verse is not conditional on our leaders admitting their mistakes.
- Complaining and moaning to others does not resolve anything (it only hardens our heart), be courageous enough to gently address unbiblical actions or attitudes face to face, or cover over with love and be silent.
- If we think the best, hope for the best and act for the best we will make their lives a lot easier and our own minds a lot more contented
- Other passages make it clear leaders do not have unquestioned authority, be clear what areas really constitute disqualification from leadership and which don’t (see 1 Timothy chapter 1 & 6, 2 Timothy 2 & 3).
- In a world where leadership is constantly in the spotlight (and everyone is an expert) be gentle with your leaders, always keeping your own failings and faults at the front of your mind. They will one day have to give an account for their oversight.
- Forgiveness, forgetfulness and prayer for their blessing will defeat a critical and bitter spirit that is rising up in our hearts from past hurts.
Father, help us to appreciate those who give of their time, effort and gifts to lead us, often without thanks for all their sacrifices. May we be easy to lead amongst the flock, being both biblically discerning and relentlessly supportive as we all follow you. Help them as they keep watch over us to know your presence and wisdom in their lives. Amen
95% is not obedience
Recently I have started reading the bible in what I would call the Countdown style. 2 from the back, 1 from the front and 1 from the middle – ie 2 chapters from the Old Testament, 1 from the New and 1 psalm. It has brought up some interesting insight as I mediate on such a broad sweep of redemptive history.
This morning I read Genesis 21 & 22, Matthew 11 and Psalm 11 and found an interesting parallel. In Genesis Abraham’s love for his son is tested, in Matthew John the Baptist’s quest for the Messiah is answered, and in the Psalm David’s refusal to flee from his enemies is declared.
It struck me that each of these passages shows us an important but different aspect of obedience. Obedience in the bible is always in the context of relationship with the Creator. As our maker and father he instructs us in the best way for us to walk, he guides us towards the best pasture to feed on. The question is, will we follow?
Abraham’s obedience overcomes paternalistic love; John’s obedience overcomes nationalistic apathy; David’s obedience overcomes hostile attack. In each the test is different but similar. Do you love me more than your greatest love? Will you follow me if you are the only one? Are you prepared to trust in my protection?
Sometimes we are tempted to think of obedience as this impossible standard of perfection that encompasses everything we think, say or do…and that would be correct. On this level our every action is marred by our tainted motives. Much of this is innate and only slowly and painstakingly redeemed.
However there is another aspect of obedience which is the deliberate choices we make to either follow or reject God’s leading in our lives. This is conscious, deliberate, stumbling toward God in faith moment by moment. We will never defeat our every sinful motive (who can know all their hidden faults?), but we are expected to choose the path of obedience over family love, fear of enemies and paralysing apathy.
In this place if we are only willing to give God 95% of our hearts, then this is not obedience. Full and unreserved surrender is the currency of heaven. Yes we stumble in times of weakness, yes we have a backlog of bad tendencies to work through, but in the moment by moment relationship we are holding nothing back. This is the outworking of Jesus’ call to remain in him and bear much fruit.
Father, help us to submit our lives to your care, enable us to overcome our hesitation and fall forever into the ocean of your unconditional love. Amen
Just as my mother did
In Psalm 86 David is crying out to his God for help. He is facing enemies who seek to destroy him and have no love or fear for God. David reasons that since he does love God he will cry out to him for help.
The psalm is a beautiful example of the struggles of the faithful heart in the midst of turbulent waters. One the one hand praising and worshiping a God who is unchangingly merciful and relentlessly compassionate, while on the other experiencing the day by day pressure of being pursued by those seeking our harm. One the one hand surrounded by peace & rest, on the other contempt & hatred. For anyone who has known opposition in their life this psalm is an oasis of hope in a inhospitably desert.
Right in the middle of meditating on this psalm I was struck by one phrase in verse 16. I had been reading the psalm for many days but never read this phrase as I read it now. David is crying out to God to remember his life of service to him and using this as a reason for God to save him. Then there comes this throw away phrase that struck my profoundly – just as my mother did.
David is here remembering how his mother served God, how she loved her children and her husband Jesse through her service. In his moment of heartache David’s mind goes back to his mother. Remember her Lord? Remember how she served you, as I now serve you? Remember that from generation to generation we are a faithful family? Would you intervene to rescue those that are seeking with their whole heart to follow your ways?
One of the things that hits me about this text is how it deepens the intimacy of the final plea to God. In the final few verses David cries out for God’s visible manifestation of his strength (v16). He asks God to be God in his circumstances because David is his servant, who serves him and seeks to glorify him in each moment of his life (v12). He thinks of the most visible expression of that servant attitude in his life and his mind instinctively goes to his mother, rather than his father. Then he immediately thinks of his enemies and their absolute absence of a humble servant heart. This extreme contrast compels him to cry out to God for the invisible pleasure of God upon his people to be made known to shame his opponents into submission.
David’s mother is not named in the bible, but according to the Talmud it was Nitzevet. We know very little about her, but she must have been some woman. Not only did she exemplify a life of service to God, but she raised seven boys. Sometimes in parenting our enthusiasm is overcome by apathy as more and more children arrive. The youngest one can sometimes be the most ignored and left to get on with things themselves. It is to her credit that her witness did not wane with age, but rather deepened and sweetened.
Until this little phrase hit me this week I had not appreciated how much of an influence David’s mother would have had on his ministry, leadership and reign. The example of this godly woman helped shape the man who “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them” (Psalm 78v72). What an impact her life made, what a difference had she not been the faithful servant in her private home as a mother, wife and friend. She was a visible sign of God’s goodness to David which lasted his entire life and impacted the entire Israelite nation. Thank God for faithful, godly, servant hearted mothers!
The gospel according to GDPR
On the 25th May 2018 a new law hit the UK that changed how organisations held people’s private date such as their name, address, email etc. It was called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and sought to ensure that there is greater transparency over what information is held about us online and in databases.
In preparing for this day I got a load of emails from organisations asking me to verify that they could keep sending me their marketing materials. Hopefully this new regulation will mean fewer spam emails and phone calls over the coming years as there is a greater penalty for misuse of personal information.
All this focus on personal data made me think about three important lessons for learning more about how the gospel impacts our daily lives in this area:
We are more than our data
In this day of social media and everything being online, it is sometimes easy to forget that even through you may know all about someone from their Twitter or Facebook feed, you don’t really know that person until you meet them and spend time with them. All of us whether we realise it or not present only a certain side of our personality online, the real us is much too complex, contradictory and cautious to bare all online.
We are so much more than the bare statistics of our life, what our name is, where we live, who we are married to, our waist size, our iQ, our job title. All of this data is a representation of the person behind it, and can be copied by others to try and steal our identity, but the real you stands distinct and separate from all the numbers and characters.
Our data is not our own
GDPR says to us that we control the data about ourselves, and can have it removed and deleted if we so wish from any UK organisation that holds information about us. While it is theoretically possible to remove every digital copy of our data there is an infallible and never-ending record of not only ever online transaction, but everything we have said, done and thought being recorded right now.
This is the story of our life as recorded by an infinite, all-knowing God who is the one who really does own all of the information about you and me – the God who created time, the universe and human history. All of life is logged away in his memory banks, a perfect record of our lives, for better or for worse.
He owns this data and no amount of hitting “unsubscribe” will remove it from this database. It is permanently etched onto his memory for all time by every person who is alive now and has ever lived. God knows us inside and out, and has it all on file!
Your data will destroy you
As this data repository grows throughout our lives it shows us for who we really are, not the photoshopped version of ourselves, but the real you. All of us fail at some point or another, all of us leave traces behind us of weakness or corruption. We seek to move on and forget the bad stuff and hope that no one ever pulls up that file or views that video, but it is there like a silent depth charge waiting to explode at the first contact.
None of us can claim to have a totally pure hard-drive. Our personal data is private but not hidden. On the final day everything will be laid bare and the private will become public, and the hidden things revealed. Unless we act now, it will then be clear that the viruses were not the only reason our files were corrupted.
Data cleansing is for real
The good news is that the record can really be swept clean. Although in this life every online action leaves a trace, by the power of the one who made us he is able to destroy our records once and for all – through the cleansing that comes from the death of his Son.
Then we will find that there is really only one piece of information that is really important and we are happy for the entire world to know – whether we are his disciple or not. It will be this piece of data that will split mankind right down the middle, and it will be this tiny piece of data that restores and refreshes our systems totally and completely one day.
So feel free to unsubscribe from following this blog at any point, and let me know if you want your email address deleted, but just make sure you don’t opt out of GDPR – gospel driven personal renewal!
The Master’s mind
At the start of Ephesians Paul has been praising and adoring God. Although he writes about “us” and “we” in verses 3-14 he is really inviting us to view God’s wonderful acts on our behalf…it is as if he is stood in front of a beautiful picture and is helping us admire it…do you see this bit? And this? How wonderful the artist is! He says to us. From verse 15 he changes his focus – he moves from adoration to intercession, from worship to supplication.
We are no longer stood beside him viewing the picture – we are now the recipients of a gift he wants to give us. I am praying for you he says…ever since the first day that I heard about your faith. I am praying for all of you, without faltering, without stopping …but what is he praying for them? He wants them to know God. He is praying to God the Father that He would help them to know him better. Paul knows that this is the most important and vital prayer he can pray for another believer. He knows that we struggle to really comprehend the truths of verses 3-14 and our knowledge of God is at times superficial and transient. I want us to notice three things about this request for the knowledge of God:
i) A spiritual knowledge – firstly it is a spiritual knowledge. He prays that God would give them the “spirit” of wisdom and revelation. Over Christmas I had the pleasure of sitting with the in-laws to watch Mastermind. Do you know how this programme works? Have you seen it? Each person has a specialist topic that they answer questions on in round one and then general knowledge questions in round 2. Here are some specialist subjects that were considered not suitable to be used:
- Routes to anywhere in mainland Britain by road from Letchworth.
- Cremation practice and law in Britain.
- The banana industry.
- Orthopaedic bone cement in total hip replacement.
Now maybe you wouldn’t chose those topics, but how would you revise for your own specialist topic? You would get films, books, Internet – whatever you could to research everything about you topic…and hope for the best! Paul says knowing God is not like this. The most learned (but unsaved) university theology professor has less true insight into the knowledge of God than a young child who has come to faith in Jesus. Amassing facts is a futile task, if we come to them as we come to every other piece of knowledge.
So what is spiritual knowledge? It is the ability to understand, accept and hold a conviction about truth that is granted completely and utterly dependent on the movement of the Spirit of God. And it comes to us Regardless of intelligence, race, gender, wealth, age – or any other human quality. We come to understand something we didn’t before, we come to accept something we previously rejected, we come to believe something we previously denied, we come to trust in someone who was previously unknown to us. In essence it is not becoming a mastermind on a favourite subject, but coming to a place where we understand the Master’s mind.
ii) A hidden knowledge – secondly, it is a hidden knowledge. Paul is praying that God would open the eyes of our hearts to help us see the unseen. What is truly humbling is that none of us have the slightest chance of finding this spiritual knowledge on our own, unless God opens our eyes. Yes, there are glimpses that we can get of the divine being from creation, but left to our own we are utterly incapable of discovering truth about God. If God had chosen to remain unknown there would have been absolutely nothing any of us could have done about it. If we come to really understand this it should deeply trouble us…if what I have said is true, then nothing in the strength of my human wisdom can fathom the mysteries of God.
Is this not what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1.20-31? “The world in its wisdom did not know him”. He is beyond our reach. He must reveal himself, and to whom and when and how is entirely at his discretion. The wind blows where it pleases, so does the self-revealing almighty God. It is a knowledge that we are at first entirely ignorant of – all of us at one time were outside of Christ and cut off from this knowledge. As we shall see next time, we were by nature objects of wrath and dead in our sins. This is the natural condition of men and women. We should not be surprised at people’s response to the gospel. To the natural man it is foolishness.
There is nothing wrong with the message, it is not a secret knowledge, it is plain for all to see, but it is us who must be changed to understand it. We must come to know the unknown, and see the unseen. What is hidden must be revealed – that is why the preaching of the gospel is so important. For in proclaiming Christ crucified to a lost world we are the means by which God has chosen to open blind eyes.
iii) A gradual knowledge – thirdly it is a gradual knowledge. Look at what he says…I keep asking… Not only is it spiritual and hidden but it is also gradual in our experience of it. there are times when we receive fantastic new insight into God, but it is not always like this. Remember how it was for the blind man in Mark 8.22 – after Jesus touched his eyes the first time he could see people moving like trees, then Jesus puts his hands on the mans eyes again and he can see clearly. Was Jesus suffering from a temporary problem with his healing power? No, it was a metaphor for how we come to see spiritually, that was immediately played out by Peter – who has been shown by the Spirit who Jesus is…the Messiah, but is blind as to why he came v33 as he tries to rebuke Jesus for talking about going to the cross.
Our knowledge of God generally comes to us little by little and is a slow process! Sure there is the moment when our eyes are first opened and we see Jesus for who he really is, and we are overcome with adoration and awe. By God’s grace he grants more experiences like that throughout our life, but the norm for us seems to be a gradual opening in our understanding to the radiant brilliance of his beauty. Like the years and decades that it takes us to get to know our wife, so knowing God takes a lifetime and beyond, into eternity.
25 Things I’m Learning About Ministry of the Word within the Mundanity of Work
As I stumble out of bed for another early morning commute to work I wonder, again, why God has put me on this never-ending treadmill. For many years now I have struggled to balance two compelling, and sometimes conflicting, visions – the one is a calling to the ministry of the word, the other is a strong conviction to be rooted in secular employment. As I struggle through how these two visions work themselves out in the daily grind of work I have learnt many important lessons:
1. The mundanity and struggle of work reflects the consequences of the fall (Genesis 3.17). Shouldering the burden of this is never going to be easy.
2. It is good to provide for your family and not to be a burden on others, it also gives you the privilege of being able to give to others.
3. Many types of work can be beneficial to society (even if sometimes the connection can be a bit intangible). Most of my career has been spent helping well off senior managers make better decisions…but eventually wealth creation filters down through society.
4. Secular work grounds us in the reality of the daily grind that 99.9% of the world are engaged in. The working world has changed drastically in the last 10 years – being part of this world helps us engage with others and ensures we feel their pain before we open our mouths.
5. Work can be satisfying and fulfilling when you are doing something you enjoy – but often you won’t be, so see #8.
6. Work stops you from becoming lazy and having opportunity to sin. Not having any free time and being constantly tired means you never have the opportunity to waste time or have idle hands. Doesn’t feel like much of a blessing, but worth noting.
7. Working in the professional services industry teaches you how to keep your promises, develop strong relationships, deal with conflict and go above and beyond others’ expectations. All these are vital skills needed to build a health church and can only help in ministering to others in a broken world.
8. The daily grind of work teaches us how to be obedient to the one whose servant we are. When we stay where we are only because we believe that is what we have been told to do, against all our desires, then we learn what it means to say “I am the Lord’s servant, let him do with me as he wishes.”
9. Being a professional person gives us credibility with some people who would not give a minister two seconds. Unfortunately, today the role of the church minister has become ostracised from society. 50 years ago the church was at the centre of the community and life revolved around the church, now it is seen as a forgotten relic of a past time. Ministers struggle with overcoming this barrier to reach people, Christians in secular work have no such barrier and can gain a hearing (provided they have something to say!).
10. Holidays are necessary. Trying to prepare sermons during your holiday is not a good idea. Often in lay preaching opportunities to preach only come during the pastor’s holidays – resist the temptation to burn the candle at both ends as it inevitably has a serious impact on family life and health.
11. God sees your desires, time is not running out, God is in control, He will guide you. Although sometimes everything inside of you says the opposite, trust God to open doors in his timing. Be the best where you are right now. Work hard and be content, as well as you are able. The burning passion for ministry can lead to discontent and frustration, instead use it to lead to greater submission and yielding. Learn that “it is good for a young man to bear the yoke…to bury his face in the dust” (Lamentations 3.27).
12. Preach every sermon as if it really is your last, you don’t know when the next opportunity will come and if he will call you home before.
13. Don’t be afraid to repeat a sermon in a different church, the emotional drain of preaching is hard enough to recover from on the Monday morning, let alone preparing a new sermon every time. Make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare so that you do not burn yourself out – find what level of ministry you can cope with and recognise that the changing demands of a young family will impact this too.
14. You are not indispensable to the work of the Kingdom. Elijah, Moses, Joseph and even Jesus spent years in the wilderness as God prepared them for ministry. It is not wasted time – see #7, 8, 11
15. Do not get comfortable. Live as though one day you will take a 50% pay cut, manage your family with that perspective in the front of your mind. Pray for an open door for bivocational ministry.
16. Your children are your most important mission field, even after a long day and a long commute, don’t give in to exhaustion when its bed time. Give each of them one to one time with you and the Lord every night, whenever you are around.
17. Take opportunities to develop your gifting wherever you can. Write, read, study. Use your commute – if you are on a train study theological texts and if you are in the car listen to iTunes podcasts such as The Daily Audio Bible, or theological courses from Reformed Theological Seminary (see iTunes U). The longer the commute the more time you have to study every day.
18. Be a person of integrity in all aspects of your working life. Build a reputation for integrity and honesty despite the challenges.
19. Recognise that changing jobs and churches will happen from time to time, and that each time it does happen you are back to square one. Make sure your motivations for career progression are subjected to the test of the Spirit. Ask yourself: Is this job the right move for me, my family, my church? However, recognise that the logical or sensible decision is not always the right one – remember Abraham was called out of Ur, leaving all his wealth and career prospects behind, a decision contrary to all human wisdom, but obedient to his God.
20. Put down roots. Moving churches, houses & jobs every 1-2 years (as is often the case these days) can make you a spiritual nomad. Pray for God to help you put down roots so that you can have the opportunity for ministry in the local church and develop relationships at work that go beyond the superficial.
21. Find an outlet for your ministry of the word – for me it has been writing and preaching, for others it will be any number of things. Find a way to serve others in your community, sometimes this will be at work in the business world, as that is where we spend most of our time. Do something constructive to encourage you that in some tiny little way you are contributing to the progress of the kingdom of God.
22. Don’t forget how important exercise and physical activity is to having a healthy mind. Being involved in ministry while also working doesn’t leave much time for anything else, if you are also gradually becoming less fit then this is a recipe for a mid-life breakdown. Work on having a healthy body so that you have enough energy and drive for everything else you do.
23. Serve in the church as much as you can, while recognising your limitations. Don’t constantly feel guilty for not making the evening service or the prayer meeting. Give what you can cheerfully, liberally, graciously and then recognise the limitations on your service. Allow God to give you the joy of being a cheerful giver of your time, money and gifting.
24. Preach the gospel free of charge. Don’t allow anyone to take away your boast of preaching the gospel for no other motivation than for the love of God and desire to help others. Do not accept a preaching fee while you are in full-time employment (this is my philosophy of ministry, I recognise there are other passages to balance (e.g. “the worker is worthy of his wages”) and I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic on this).
25. Look for others to encourage in the ministry. Next to entering the ministry yourself, the greatest privilege you can have is to encourage and prepare others for being a full-time minister of the word. Look for other Christians in the secular world who have never had the opportunity to develop their gifting and, where possible, mentor and guide them in their development.
I’m sure there are many more – that’s 25 to get us going, anyone want to suggest number 26?
Anyone think I need a holiday? 😉
Calvin’s Institutes, Book 4 Chapter 9
Under what government is the church to be run? Who makes the final decision and decrees in regard to sound doctrine and teaching? The Israelite nation operated under a number of different systems – ancestral tribal leaders (e.g. Jacob); charismatic judges (so called “Kritarchy”); divinely anointed monarchs (e.g. David) and hereditary monarchs (e.g. Solomon). All of these were under the broad dominion of a theocratic system, where the Word of the Lord was (in theory) supreme over the decisions and decrees of men. But what is the government of the church age? Are we still under a theocracy? If so, how does this represent itself, and if not what replaces it? Do we look to our leaders for a final ruling or is it every believer for themselves, as each seeks to understand and interpret the scriptures?
It is to this issue that Calvin turns in Chapter 9 as he probes ever more deeply into the issue of authority. He asks whether the councils that had determined orthodoxy since the fourth century actually had the right to final authority in questions of doctrine. This is remarkably bold from Calvin as the Roman Catholic Church viewed these councils as having the ultimate say in biblical interpretation and church practice. Moreover, these councils were graced by many of the most influential church fathers. Nevertheless, Calvin is unrelenting in his pursuit of defining the limits and jurisdiction of firstly the church (see Chapter 8 ) and now the councils.
Calvin makes sure that his opponents understand his examination of councils does not spring from a lack of respect, for “it is not because I set less value than I ought on ancient councils. I venerate them from my heart, and would have all to hold them in due honour.” But he immediately adds “there must be some limitation” as to their rule, for “it is the right of Christ to preside over all councils” and they must never become a law unto themselves.
Calvin then asks what scripture says about the authority of councils – have they always been viewed as they are in his day? Well, the examples of councils in the New Testament are pretty disturbing – in John 11.47 we see that the Jewish ruling council condemn Jesus to death – not the type of decision you would want from your upholders of truth. Moving away from Jewish councils, Calvin then demonstrates that the early Christian councils were sometimes in opposition to each other, for example the councils of Nice and Constantinople disagree on the use of images in the church – meaning one of them must have been wrong. While his opponents did agree that, in theory, councils may error in areas not essential to salvation, in practice they denied this. For they sought to use the power of the councils “as a pretext for giving the name of an interpretation of Scripture to everything which is determined by councils.” Thus, they seek to justify “purgatory, the intercession of saints and auricular confession”.
Thus, if we cannot demonstrate a biblical mandate for the establishment of infallible councils, what then should be the principals by which the true bounds of authority should be defined? Calvin argues that we should examine each council’s decree on its own merits, seeking to examine: “what time it was held, on what occasion, with what intention, and who were present; next I would bring the subject discussed to the standard of scripture.” For support of this view Calvin quotes Augustine who stated that the bishops were not bound by the authority of previous councils, arguing instead – “let thing contend with thing, cause with cause, reason with reason, on the authority of scripture.”
Throughout this chapter Calvin repeatedly brings the decrees of the church and councils to the bar of the scriptures as a final examination. Just like a lawyer who relies on the country’s legal rulings for the prosecution of their case, so Calvin draws upon the bible to assess the rules of his day. For while both a judge and a pastor may be misguided, the law that underpins their decisions and doctrines remains uncorrupted. Calvin would be well used to the idea of a written code of practise against which decisions must be referred from his days training to be a lawyer. The only difference being the scriptures can be relied upon as infallible, while all human legal systems have some areas of imperfection.
So what is the result of all this on our church governance? Well, while we recognise that God has appointed pastors and shepards to oversee the flock, and they have been entrusted by the church with leading us wisely, they must always bring all their decisions and decrees against the bar of scripture. Only the scripture is authoritative, not the will of a pastor, the wisdom of a denominational leader or consensus of a local church. Yes, there is an important point to make about the potential risk in this of entrusting the interpretation of scripture to fallen men and women, but if God was willing to take that risk then shouldn’t we?
It is interesting to see Calvin’s use of church history, particularly Augustine throughout the Institutes. While Calvin and Luther are considered champions of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Calvin goes to great pains to demonstrate that his teachings are nothing new. In fact he traces them all back to the early church fathers and shows that he is the one who is being most faithful to early church tradition. Perhaps it would be better to speak of Ultim Scriptura – “scripture final” rather than alone, as the reformed faith never seeks to sever biblical interpretation from church tradition, but faithfully build upon the orthodox interpretation of believers right back to the time of Christ. Thus, just as in the law illustration above, Calvin uses the biblical equivalent of legal precedent in examining the bible – that is, what have hundreds of years of biblical interpretation made of this verse? How has the church understood it and applied this teaching? Only then does the scripture’s final authority come into its own and it alone is the final authority, not tradition. We must never lose sight of this as the only authoritative test for church doctrine.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” Psalm 19.7-11
Father, may you grant that our biblical interpretation would be pure, untainted and Spirit-led. May we not lose sight of the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before and grappled with your Word to interpret it faithfully, may we draw deeply from their wisdom. Amen.