Q. What are the sins forbidden in the first commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the first commandment are . . . making men the lords of our faith and conscience. . .
1. What is meant by “making men the lords of our faith and conscience”?
This means making; mere human beings our authority in religion, so that we believe and do what they tell us to believe and do, not because of the teachings of God’s Word, but merely because of the influence or instruction of men. . . .
5. Are members of Protestant churches ever guilty of this sin?
Yes. Undoubtedly there are multitudes of careless Protestants who can give no better reason or higher authority for their faith and practice than the customs or teachings of their church, or the statements of their minister. To accept and obey the customs, teachings, and rules of a church, or the statements of a minister, without satisfying ourselves that they are in accordance with the Word of God, is wrong, for it amounts to making churches and ministers the lords of our faith and conscience. It is every Christian’s duty to search the Scriptures for himself, to learn whether the statements of his church and minister are true or not.
6. Are there Protestant churches that try to exercise authority over people’s faith and conscience?
Yes, there are. It is one of the evil signs of our time’s that some large and influential denominations which formerly regarded God’s Word as the only authority over men’s faith and conscience now are coming, more or less, to regard the voice of the church as equivalent to the voice of God. Such denominations are coining to demand of their ministers, officers, and people an absolute and unquestioning obedience to the decrees of conferences, General Assemblies, church boards, and agencies, and, it would even appear in some cases, to the utterances and orders of individual men who hold high positions in the denomination’s organization. . . This whole tendency is thoroughly perverse and wicked. As the voice of the church becomes more and more important, the Word of God is regarded as less and less important. In reality the voice of the church has weight and authority, to be believed and obeyed, only when it is in accord with the written Word of God.
All the Andy Stanley stuff (so far) in one place. This is for me as much as anyone else. Instead of tracking down each resources in this conversation each time I want to review, here they are, easy to find. This conversation isn’t over, so as developments continue, I’ll continue to add them to this post.
Why do I care? Why should you?
Because, this shows how foundational your view of Scripture is. And, how your theology will determine your apologetic. The way Christians treat the Scriptures is no joke. It’s a serious thing.
What is the church? What is apologetics? What’s the relationship between the church and the Bible? An unbiblical theology of the nature of God results in a sub-biblical apologetic, then that decays the highest view of Scripture, as James White says. These things go together.
That’s why this discussion, with the excellent criticism, is so important. James White’s evaluation of this issue on the Dividing Line is the main event, here. As James White points out in the 9/19 episode of the Dividing Line, this Andy Stanley thing provides the opportunity to talk about the intersection of so many things. Non-Reformed theology joins with a man-centered apologetic, together with “mere-Christianity.” It all comes together to form the weird things Stanley says on stage.
When someone with a global platform, talking to 32,000 people, says if the Old Testament vanished it wouldn’t undermine Christianity, there must be a response. “Liberal garbage,” says James White (How Theology Determines Apologetics, and So Much More, 2:01:01). I agree.
I think this post is appropriate first, regarding publicly addressing public error. Fittingly, it’s actually in response to flak the author received about critiquing Andy Stanley!
Finally, “The Dividing Line” with James White. Regarding the interview of Andy Stanley by Russell Moore at a conference and the sermon of Andy Stanley’s that started this whole thing, James White shows both, and critiques them point by point.
Here are the Dividing Line episodes, in order:
Then, James White actually went through with his idea, and preached “Unashamed of Inerrancy” at his church (Part 1, and Part 2).
Continuing with the Dividing Line:
Read this excellent article by David Prince, written the day after:
Now, the last episode of the Dividing Line, where James White examines Andy Stanley’s follow up, clarifying sermon. Also, the contrast of Frank Turek’s and James White’s response to the problem of evil is especially helpful.
“Liberal garbage,” says James White. I agree.
Dr. Frank Turek’s wrote an article in response which came out the same day as the last episode of the Diving Line:
James White put out another episode of the Dividing Line, and actually mentions Michael Kruger’s article: “We’re saying the same things.” The part related to Andy Stanley begins at 22:55, “back to the Russell Moore/Andy Stanley discussion, once again noting fundamental issues of ecclesiology and Scriptural authority lying at the root of the topic.”
Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an essay on this issue:
This is an apologetic disaster and would leave Christians with no authoritative Scripture. Instead, we would be dependent upon historians (among others) to tell us what parts of both testaments we can still believe.
Those parts will inevitably grow fewer and fewer. This is what must happen when the total trustworthiness, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible is subverted.
We are back with Friedrich Schleiermacher, trying to convince the “de-converted” of his day that Christianity can be retained as an intellectually defensible morality and spirituality without its central truth claims and doctrines.
Andy Stanley is no Friedrich Schleiermacher, but the path he charts for the church is a road to abject disaster.
If we are truly Reformed, we shall say that the will of God should determine our attitude to the Christian school, and that this will is revealed to us in his general, but above all in his special revelation.
In his essay, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School”, Louis Berkhof first summarizes some secular approaches to education, namely nationalism and evolutionary psychology. Then in contrast, Berkhof discusses the Reformed perspective on education. Here are some excerpts under that heading.
Who is responsible to educate children?
God has made known to us whom he regards as the responsible educators of the child. He has indicated this in his general revelation in nature in the orders which he has established. The gentile world hit upon the idea of parental obligation in the work of education. . . Athens placed the responsibility for the work of education squarely on the family; all its schools were private schools. And of the five rights of the Roman citizens, that of the father over his children was the very first. . . The home rather than the school was the center of the educational system. . . The children are born of the parents and therefore belong to them first of all. . . . Hence it is but natural that the parents should be the responsible educators, and that, if the parents should feel constrained to call in the help of others, these others should feel that they stand in loco parentis (in the place of the parents, ed.).
Scripture itself also teaches that parents are the responsible educators.
God’s special revelation teaches us the same truth with even greater clarity. Negatively, it may be said that the Bible in speaking of the duties of the state never mentions the work of educating the children of the nation (cf. Exod. 18:22-26; Deut. 1:16, 17; Matt. 22:17-21; Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-15). It is a striking fact that even the Old Testament, in which God deals with the nation of Israel more than with the individuals that belong to it and consequently speaks primarily in national terms, always refers to or addresses the parents as the responsible educators of the children. . . . In the New Testament . . . when it speaks of the education of the children, it turns to the parents in the words, “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Because human beings are whole persons, and the whole of man is engaged in every activity, then the education process should be a “unitary process.”
It is utter folly to think that you can inform the intellect without giving direction to the will, that you store the head with knowledge without affecting the emotions, the inclinations, the desires, and the aspirations of the heart. . . . Again, in view of the fact that education is and should be a unitary process, we understand the absolute absurdity of saying that the school is concerned only with the head and should limit itself to secular education, while the home and the church make provision for the heart by adding religious education. We should never forget that the education which the child receives in the school, though divorced from religion, is nevertheless an education of the entire child and is bound to make a deep impression on the heart.
Since the table of contents for this book has been difficult to find, I’ll post it here:
Part One: The Necessity and Distinctiveness of Christian Eduction in Reformed Perspective
1. Antitheses in Education (Cornelius Van Til)
2. Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School (Louis Berkhof)
Part Two: The Doctrinal Foundations of Christian Education
3. Creation: The Education of Man—A Divinely Ordained Need (Van Til)
4. Covenant: The Covenant of Grace and its Significance for Christian Education (Berkhof)
5. Faith: Faith and Our Program (Van Til)
6. Authority: The Christian School and Authority (Berkhof)
7. Eternal Life: The Full-Orbed Life (Van Til)
Protestants sometimes laugh at Roman Catholics for having a pope and placing implicit trust in him.
Yet, we often do the same thing. We just don’t (usually) use the title “pope.” I only know of one movement that actually did use that title.
Too many Protestants, sadly, still think and act like Roman Catholics. One of the chief ways is in how they relate to that man of authority in the church.
This tendency is nothing new. J. C. Ryle observed:
We all naturally love to have a pope of our own. We are far too ready to think, that because some great minister or some learned man says a thing, or because our own minister, whom we love, says a thing—that it must be right, without examining whether it is in Scripture or not. Most men dislike the trouble of thinking for themselves. They like following a leader. They are like sheep, when one goes over the hill all the rest follow.
Nothing has changed. Perhaps it’s even worse today, given that ministers now have a far wider reach over the internet and the conference circuit. “Celebrity” pastors hold the implicit confidence of potentially hundreds of people that they’ve never even met. And because it is “some great minister or some learned man”, whatever they say must be right. No examining the Scriptures to test whether it is true.
Most people still do not like to think for themselves.
Is there respect due to the office of minister? Of course. In fact, submission to their teaching and authority, and imitating their faith is not optional. However, as some friends are quick to remind everyone, “He puts his pants on one leg at a time.” He’s just a man. He’s not infallible. There is a difference between that biblical submission to teaching and authority, and implicit confidence in the man.
Men soon took up the saying, “Do nothing contrary to the mind of the minister!” But what are ministers, preachers, and deacons? What are the best of ministers but men—dust, ashes, and clay—men of like passions with ourselves, men exposed to temptations, men liable to weaknesses and infirmities? . . .
Ministers have often driven the truth into the wilderness, and decreed that to be true, which was false. The greatest errors have been begun by ministers!
J. C. Ryle would remind Protestants that infallibility is only in the Scriptures. As Protestants, we confess that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and life.
Why then are so many Protestants functionally Roman Catholic when it comes to church leaders?
We should follow them so far as they teach according to the Bible, but no further. We should believe them so long as they can say, “Thus it is written, thus says the Lord,” but further than this we are not to go. Infallibility is not to be found in ordained men, but in the Bible alone!
In contrast to not thinking for ourselves and just following what the minister says, we should test their teaching by Scripture. Scripture, not man’s opinion, is to be followed.
It may be a tired example, but it is in the Bible: the Jews at Berea were commended not because they nodded and believed without question what the great and learned Paul said. No, they were commended for examining the Scriptures to check if what Paul said matched. Though they eagerly welcomed his message, they examined the Scriptures daily to test it. Their final authority for doctrine and life was the infallible word of God. “Consequently, many of them believed” (Acts 17:10-12). They would follow the teaching of Paul as long as it was thus written, thus said the Lord.
Too many Christians who claim the Bereans as an example to imitate still treat their minister as a pope. They are still unwilling to do the hard work of thinking for themselves and examining the Scriptures. They would rather lazily play follow the leader. “He’s the pastor, he must be right!”
Don’t just be a Protestant of convenience. Be one of conviction: Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and life. Infallibility is not found in ordained men.
Man will necessarily have something that he respects as his god. If man do not give his highest respect to the God that made him, there will be something else that has the possession of it. Men will either worship the true God, or some idol: it is impossible it should be otherwise: something will have the heart of man. And that which a man gives his heart to, may be called his god: and therefore when man by the fall extinguished all love to the true God, he set up the creature in his room. For having lost his esteem and love of the true God, and set up other gods in his room, and in opposition to him; and God still demanding their worship, and opposing them; enmity necessarily follows.
When we as believers say that God’s word is authoritative, we should mean all of it.
Yet, those who say they believe the Bible to actually be God’s Word functionally deny the authority and inspiration of the whole. Scripture, all of it, is the only infallible rule for faith and life. Sola Scriptura requires totaScriptura.
However, the authority of all of Scripture is sometimes denied. Some believe there are different levels of authority within the Bible itself.
Ironically, it is often done out of “loyalty” to Jesus Christ.
“Red Letter Christians”
Many editions of English translations of the Bible put the words of Jesus Christ in red, as opposed to black. So, when people think the words of Jesus Christ are the most important, they get the name “red letter Christian,” because they focus on the red letters.
This is why many other Christians disagree with red letters. It may make it even easier for people to isolate the words of Jesus to the neglect (or even opposition) to the rest of the Bible. Personally, I like my red letter edition. It helps me find things, easier..
The “red letter Christian” phenomenon is just one form of denying the total authority of God’s Word, albeit more of a functional denial than theoretical one.
But, there’s a more explicit form: saying that Jesus’ words are more authoritative than the rest.
Oneness Pentecostals will tell you that the words of Jesus Christ have more authority than the words of the Apostle Paul, for example. They are fine with the possibility of biblical authors disagreeing.
If you find yourself in a conversation over what the Bible teaches, and you quote Paul on something, you will (likely) receive a reply like, “but Jesus said this and I believe what Jesus says.”
Notice what is assumed in this kind of thinking: 1) Jesus’ words disagree with other Scripture and 2), have more authority than the rest of Scripture. On the flip side, what is denied is the unity and coherence of Scripture. To counter one Scripture with another in this way is to grant a genuine disagreement between biblical authors, and, consequently, a genuine disagreement between the words of God in one place and the words of God in another. Secondly, the rest of Scripture is downgraded to something less than the Word of God.
Is that a proper doctrine of Scripture? Is it consistent with what God has said about his Word? No. Those who deny the authority of Scripture all reveal that their real authority is not the Lord Jesus, contrary to their claims, but whatever principles by which they decide what words are authoritative and by which they select what teachings of Scripture they want. They pick and choose based on their tradition. Parts of Scripture are accepted because they agree with their presuppositions.
The Triune God speaks in Scripture. Therefore, it is allequally God’s Word, all inspired, and therefore in perfect harmony (no conflict), and all equal in authority. The Bible is the Word of the Triune God.
The elevating of Christ’s words, which is actually a downgrading of the whole rest of the Bible, parades itself as loyalty to Jesus, as depending on Christ alone. But it actually is not honoring to Christ. It is not submission to the authority of Christ.
The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, are the words of the true Prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is accurate to call the Bible both the Word of God and the Word of Christ. Christ is the true Prophet and himself the fullest revelation of God, and the Spirit who inspired Scripture proceeds from both the Father and the Son, testifying of the Son. The Scriptures are about the Son (Luke 24:25-27, 44-48; John 5:39). Scripture is properly the Word of Christ. It is not inaccurate to switch back and forth between saying “Word of God”, “Word of Christ”, “self-attesting Word”, “self-attesting Christ”, and the Triune God speaking in Scripture. It’s all true, just different angles or perspectives (which the Bible provides) on the same truth.
This is just as important for “red letter Christians” as for Oneness Pentecostals and all others who don’t see the whole Scriptures as the Word of Christ.
It is doing despite, not only to the Spirit of God, but also to Jesus Himself, to regard the teaching of the Holy Spirit, given through the apostles, as at all inferior in authority to the teaching of Jesus.
—J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism Kindle loc. 987