Do We Really Believe in the Sufficiency of Scripture?

When we say that we believe in the Scriptures alone, we are not saying that there is nothing of value in the word of mere men. God has gifted men as teachers and preachers in the church and their role is more than merely to read the Scripture. They are called to explain the Scripture. Some of these men have written their explanations of Scripture in books called commentaries and they have value for the people of God. But the ultimate authority for the Christian is not the explanations of men, but the declaration from God in His Word.

The rise of humanism in the period immediately preceding the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century had produced an environment in which the classic works of antiquity were being rediscovered. This movement can be summarized by the Latin phrase ad fontes (meaning, back to the sources).

The cry of ad fontes or “back to the sources” signaled for the Reformers a return to Scripture. They saw this as a call to cut through the centuries of tradition and teaching of the Catholic Church all the way back to the teaching of Scripture. Their desire was that their doctrine would rest upon the Scriptures alone!

The Reformers commitment to the sufficiency of Scriptures is easily seen. The Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli memorized the entire NT in Greek and began his reforms in Switzerland by preaching verse by verse through the book of Matthew.

French Reformer John Calvin’s work in Geneva was characterized by the verse by verse exposition of Scripture. In addition to his preaching, he wrote commentaries on nearly every book of the Bible. A 22 volume set featuring these commentaries is still in print today! Calvin’s commitment to expository preaching is seen in that after he was banished from his pulpit and the city of Geneva by the City Council on Easter Day, 1538, he returned in September, 1541 (over three years later) and picked up the exposition in the very next verse.

The German Reformer Martin Luther was a preacher of the Word. Of his reforms in Germany he could say,

I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, . . . the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.

The question is: Are preachers today equally convinced of the sufficiency of Scripture? I fear that we are not. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul declares the sufficiency of Scripture to Timothy. In the same text from which we are most clearly instructed about the doctrine of the inspiration of Scriptures, we also find the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scriptures! There Paul states:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Greek word translated profitable in verse 16 has the idea of sufficiency. The word translated thoroughly equipped in verse 17 meant to completely outfit or fully supply. It was used of a wagon or a rescue boat that was completely outfitted, or of a machine that was sold in good condition, i.e., capable of performing the service expected of it (Rogers & Rogers). We might use this term today to speak of a new vehicle that comes fully loaded, with all the buttons and whistles. An automobile with everything that you could possibly need for your driving pleasure. This is what the Word of God is for us!

For what does Paul say the Word of God is profitable? For what does it thoroughly equip us?

Paul uses four words to show what the Word of God can accomplish:

  • Doctrine – the content of teaching
  • Reproof – rebuking in order to convict of misbehavior or false doctrine
  • Correction – restoration of something to its original and proper condition. John MacArthur says that correction “is the positive provision for those who accept its negative reproof.”
  • Instructionpaideia originally used of training a child.

We’ve fought the battle for the Bible as Baptists and largely won the fight for the doctrine of the plenary verbal inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. But we’re failing miserably in the battle for the sufficiency of Scripture in our preaching and practice.

The modern church’s infatuation with amusement and entertainment and all ideas that a particular music style or program or whatever can accomplish in this world what God has declared can only be accomplished by His Word are doomed for ultimate failure. We have only one guaranteed method of success and it’s not a method but a message! Do we truly believe in the sufficiency of Scripture?

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