Sunday, November 27, 2005

By What Authority?

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:16

“that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:3-4

Q. What rule hath god given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

This is the second question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The concern here is amazingly not put in terms of merely right doctrine, but really in terms of our joy in the Christian life. Joy that comes from the teachings of Scripture and how we are to live a godly life. Joy in knowing God. Sometimes evangelicals will say that they are not really concerned about doctrine, they just want to love Jesus. The Scriptures teach propositional truth that can be articulated as well as deal with issues of personal piety. These are not really things that can be dissected one from one another. I believe the anti-doctrine stand does have a point though. Doctrine can become a source of one-up-manship and pride. Doctrine can fool us into believing we are righteous through our knowledge. However, rather than leave off doctrine as an integral part of the faith, we need the proper place of doctrine with a warmth of love for God and for one's fellow man.

The church prior to the Reformation had developed a doctrine that said tradition was authoritative. In other words, the institutional church was to be obeyed as authoritative. If there was a conflict between what the institutional church said and what the Scriptures taught, they resolved it by saying the institutional church had the only authoritative interpretation of Scripture. The second question of the Catechism here is specifically addressing this issue of what is the authority for our lives. In Protestant circles, we don't deal with the authority of human institutions in contrast with Scripture, we do have something else. It is the authority of an individual who claims to be led by God. When people say they are led by God they usually mean on issues not addressed directly in Scripture. (But sometimes they mean how they are led to do something against the command of Scripture. Most of the time I have heard this, it has to do with leaving a spouse.) Back to the issues not addressed by Scripture, when a pastor tells his congregation that he feels led to have a new building program for the church, how do you argue against that? When someone says they feel led to take another job, what Scripture could you use to tell them they are wrong? In a sense, the argument becomes one of authority by the one sensing God's leading. In reaction to this kind of authoritative stance, some have developed a theology that we are free to do as we please as long as we do what Scripture commands. Not always, but it can be that the application of this principle of complete freedom to do as we please on issues other than those commanded in Scripture can lead one to see life's decisions as arbitrary. If arbitrary, then meaningless and without purpose. It means a life given to preferences instead of purpose and calling. When someone is suffering in a difficult ministry, is their consolation really that it was just a choice that they made on their own to serve God in this way and that God would have been just as pleased with them if they had chosen to be a building contractor or airlines pilot? The issue is not one merely of epistemology (how do we know) but one of resolve to stick to a calling. The issue is not one of merely fulfilling expressed duty, but one of meaning in fulfilling those duties. Some people see the transcendent things of life as merely illusion which help to satisfy a psychological need of the individual. For thinkers like this, instead of having a purpose, one merely has a perception of purpose. The meaning of one's life is what ever seems most helpful to you at the moment.

Instead of discussing how one is to sense the will of God on issues not addressed in Scripture, it would be more helpful to discuss a sense of calling in a person's life. Some of that sense will be subjective, but at the same time there are objective issues to be discussed. One can rightly discuss objectively if one's sense of calling are confirmed by one's ability and passions? Is it confirmed by the opinion of others? When we discuss a calling instead of the “will of God” we rightly placing the issue as emotional and volitional.
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