Authority of The Holy Scriptures

Taken from the book, “The Baptist Faith”

The Need for a Seat of Authority in Religion

“That there can be any such thing as unity, in churches or anywhere else in the sphere of religion, without some authority to fix and settle beliefs, is the merest dream.”  There must be a final source of authority: someone or something to speak the final word, to settle points of controversy and to establish what we must believe and be and do. Without such an authority Christianity would be an endless mass of confusion worse confounded. There are three groups which stand out perceptibly with reference to the question of the seat of authority in religion, with these three being the only possible sources of authority in religious matters.

They are: (1) the individual conscience, together with reason and experience; (2) an infallible institution, the Church, expressing itself finally through an infallible Papacy; and (3) the supreme authority of a Person, Jesus Christ, speaking through an infallible record as God's inspired revelation to men.

If the source of authority in religion is the individual, then every man becomes his own standard. What each man thinks to be true and right becomes such for him. But it is evident that reason, or experience, or inward consciousness cannot be the supreme arbiter and guide in religion, for the simple reason that each springs from the sinful nature of man and cannot escape the warping effects of ignorance, unwholesome desire, and prejudice. Most rationalists, humanists, anti-super-naturalists, and other types of followers of "the liberal illusion," are to be found in the vanguard of those who hold to the belief that the individual conscience is the most trustworthy guide in religious matters. Hence, there can be no fixed universal authority in religion; no fixed content of teaching or faith; no determining creed. If this course be pursued one will find as many sources of authority as he will find persons able to reason, and the end is an uncontrollable babble of voices constantly nullifying one another.

If the Church is the final authority, expressing itself through an infallible Papacy, then it is possible for religious faith to change with the passing of time. Christianity may take on new forms and doctrines, often synchronizing with surrounding alien concepts and practices, as men in control change their opinions under the stress of time and circumstances. The above is very descriptive of the Roman Catholic faith, supported by its millions of devotees. Although her boast has been, semper eadem, "always the same," the facts of unbiased history show the Catholic Church to have changed both the content of faith and the nature and form of  Ordinances at the will of Popes and Councils, often resulting in sad and contrary departures being made from New Testament Christianity. But this view has proved itself to be definitely fallible, extremely mechanical and human, and has subordinated both the Holy Scriptures and the individual conscience to a rigid statutory religion which can be changed if circumstances warrant it.

The author is glad to be numbered among the people called Baptists who hold to the supreme authority of a Person, Jesus Christ, and the record of His revelation of God to men, the New Testament, as the final appeal in all matters pertaining to religious faith and practice.

"If the authority in all matters religious centers in Christ who speaks through an inspired and infallible book, then there is stability in matters of faith and practice, and there can be no change unless Christ and the Bible change. . . . Believing this, I take the Bible to be the Word of God. I hold that there is no other position which will give purity and permanency to Christianity. There is no other safe-guard against heresy."

All religious controversy must finally settle around the seat of authority in religion. Therefore, "practically the first point that has to be decided in religious controversy is the court of appeal that is to be considered final." "There is not one particle of trustworthiness in any one as a religious leader who does not settle down to a standard of authority." It is of utmost importance, likewise, that there be more than just a mere acquiescence to that authority; it must grip the soul of the individual who believes it with the steel hoops of conviction. Where that grip is relaxed a looseness of purpose and desired end will inevitably result. In consequence,

"The greatest single reform that can be wrought in Christendom today is the renewing of a proper sense of the divine authority communicated to us through the Holy Scriptures."

Therefore, this book is begun with the inquiry concerning the standard of truth, or rule of faith, which is to be the guide of mankind in matters pertaining to God, to Christ, and to Christianity. Such an inquiry reveals immediately that the Baptists and Catholics are poles apart in their respective concepts of the authority of the Holy Scriptures. 

The Baptist Concept of the Authority of the Holy Scriptures

The one fundamental principle of Baptists, and the foundation stone on which they rest as an effective Christian group in the world today, is their belief in the supreme authority and absolute sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, especially the New Testament, as the complete and infallible guide in all matters pertaining to their faith and practice; and every other peculiarity which characterizes them is the practical outcome of this principle. They have no binding and authoritative Creeds, Catechisms, or Decrees; considering such as useful only to stating what the Scriptures teach, and preferring always to go back and rest on the foundation alone—the Holy Scriptures. Baptists believe that Jesus Christ alone is Law-giver in Zion, and its only King; that His law is laid down in the Scriptures, particularly the New Testament, and is perfect. Therefore, they bow only to the behests of inspired precept, and the recorded practices of Apostolic Churches, as their record is found in the New Testament.

Baptists also believe that God has given to every person the inalienable right to interpret the Scriptures for himself, in order that he may discover their facts and truths, and then honestly follow them in obedience.  They believe, furthermore, that man is responsible to God only for his faith and practice, so far as the infliction of any punishment for disobedience to God is concerned. The very heart of Baptist faith is loyalty to Jesus Christ as Sovereign Lord and Saviour, and to the New Testament as the expression of His Sovereign Lordship and Saviourhood.

Baptists believe that:

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly insurance.

“That it has God for its Author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error, for its matter.

“That it reveals the principles by which God will judge us.

“That it, therefore, is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union.

“And the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinion should be tried.”

SOURCE: New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article I

The following interesting particulars may be noted in regard to the Holy Scriptures:

What the Scriptures are called:

By them God’s will is accomplished. Isaiah 55:10-11; Jeremiah 23:29.

The above facts, to which many more could be added, make it evident that the Holy Scriptures contain all of life and salvation that it is necessary for us to possess to have “the faith” —what we are to believe, what we are to be, and what we are to do

“The Bible is a divine revelation of God to man, and is a complete and infallible guide and standard of authority in all matters of religion and morals; whatever it teaches is to be believed, and whatever it commands is to be obeyed; whatever it commends is to be accepted as both right and useful; whatever it condemns is to be avoided as both wrong and harmful; but what it neither commands nor teaches is not to be imposed upon the conscience as of moral obligation.

The New Testament is the constitution of Christianity, the charter of the Christian Church, the only authoritative code of ecclesiastical law, and the warrant and justification of all Christian institutions. In it alone is life and immorality brought to light, the way of escape from wrath revealed, and all things necessary to salvation made plain; while its message is a gospel of peace and of hope to a lost world.

Every man by nature possesses the right of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and in all religious concerns; it is his privilege to read and explain the Bible for himself, without dictation from or dependence upon anyone, being responsible to God alone for his use of the sacred truth. Every man has the right to hold such religious opinions as he believes the Bible teaches, without harm or hindrance from any one on that account, so long as he does not intrude upon, or interfere with the rights of others by doing so.”

“The New Testament is the Law of Christianity. All the New Testament is the Law of Christianity. The New Testament is all the Law of Christianity. The New Testament will always be all the Law of Christianity.”

The foregoing statements of the Scriptures, from representative Baptist authors, and from a commonly accepted Article of Faith among Baptists, show the prominence they give to the Bible, especially the New Testament. Their emphasis on the New Testament being the whole law of Christianity does not do away with the importance of the Old Testament, or deny that the New Testament  is a fulfillment of the Old Testament. But it does affirm unequivocally that Christians should go to the New Testament only to find out about Christian law and institutions. Baptists believe that the Church and all that pertains to it is a New Testament institution, and that it is unknown in the Old Testament.

They reject any and all supposed references to Church membership, ritual, offices, officers, government, liturgy, and mission, as found in the Old Testament, and plant themselves alone on the New Testament in determining such matters. They reject, furthermore, all traditions and post-apostolic history which have accumulated through the centuries, relegating them to the realm of the utterly worthless, unless they coincide with the teachings and practices of the New Testament. Baptists are concerned very little with what the ancient ecclesiastical “fathers and doctors” have said; they are primarily interested in what the inspired “grandfathers,” the Apostles and others, penned in the sacred volume of the New Testament. The New Testament is all the Law of Christianity.

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