How would you have responded to a poll back in 1979?
A 1979 Gallup Poll asked this question:
If you, yourself, were testing your own religious beliefs, which ONE of these four religious authorities would you turn to first?
- What the church says
- What respected religious leaders say
- What the Holy Spirit says to me personally
- What the Bible says (ChristianityToday.com)
Which would you choose?
Each of us has experienced being under authority. Whether you’ve been under the authority of parents, teachers, government, or if you’ve been in the military or on a carousel at the amusement park, you have to follow the rules of someone over you. Someone else has power to demand something of you. And our ultimate authority is God. He is the sovereign Lord over all.
The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! (Psalm 97:1)
He is the authoritative God who Paul, quoting Isaiah, tells us in Rom. 11 has no use for a counsellor. He can never be indebted to anyone. And our only response to our ultimate authority is to give Him glory. God is our authority because of who He is.
What being ranks higher than the eternal God who created heaven and earth? And Scripture conveys His message to us. It bears equal weight to when God spoke to Adam or Moses. Scripture is authoritative. It has the right to command our belief and action. That means the Bible defines what we are supposed to believe and how we’re supposed to live (211–215).
And this brings us to our featured theologian: Robert “Lightning Bob” Lightner from the good old state of Pennsylvania. I actually remember hearing Dr. Lightner speak, back when I was in Bible college. And he just went to be with the Lord back in 2018. In his discussion of the authority of Scripture, Lightner wrote:
When the questions of revelation and inspiration with regard to the Bible have been answered, the issue of authority will have been settled (16).
In other words, if you believe the Bible is the Word of God, you’re probably not going to disagree with authority. God has made Himself known in the written Word of God. Because it’s the Word of God it’s free from error, trustworthy, and authoritative. This is the objective basis of Scripture’s authority. If you want to follow the logical reasoning here, another theologian, Wayne Grudem, lays it out like this.
All the words in Scripture are God’s words.
Therefore, to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.
That’s actually just how he defines the authority of Scripture. But that raises the question: How do we know the words in Scripture are God’s words? The Bible makes this claim for itself. Scripture is produced by God according to 2 Tim. 3:16, which says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
If you read the Old Testament you will come across the words “Thus says the Lord” hundreds of times. Passages like Acts 3:18 tell us that God spoke through the prophets. New Testament passages refer to New Testament writings as Scripture and therefore, God breathed.
Yes, we’re appealing to Scripture’s authority to prove Scripture’s authority. But if God’s Word is our absolute and highest authority, to what other authority could we appeal? We would be making whatever else we would appeal to the higher authority. So we can say that all the words in Scripture are God’s Words. And because of that truth, disobeying or disbelieving any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God (73–85). Like I said, that’s the objective basis for Scripture’s authority.
But there’s also a subjective basis. The Holy Spirit works in us to illuminate and persuade us to this same end (221). The fall of man affected the nature of man. Even after salvation, sin still affects us. So we depend on the Holy Spirit to witness to the truth and counter the effects of sin to understand the application of Scripture to our lives. (225). That’s why Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 2:14:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
The Holy Spirit guides the believer to receive the Word of God that natural reason and intuition can’t do alone (101). The Christian has the Holy Spirit doing a work in them to recognize the words of the Bible as the Word of God.
So how would you have answered that poll back in 1979? Which religious authority would you turn to first to test your own religious beliefs? The correct answer is the Bible. The church and religious authorities can teach the Bible. But they can get it wrong. What the Holy Spirit is telling you personally is subjective because you can get it wrong.
The objective measure of our religious belief is Scripture. The way God operates in our life through the work of the church, religious authorities, and in the person of the Holy Spirit is to use Scripture to guide us. And that’s why authority matters.
What if Scripture wasn’t fully authoritative? What would that mean for the Christian faith that deals with our eternal salvation. What comfort would we have to face life or death? In the words of Augustine, “Faith will totter if the authority of the divine Scriptures begins to waver.”
What does it mean for us then that Scripture is fully authoritative? It means we must obey without question (87). It’s God who sets the standard for our conduct. It’s God who tells us what to believe. Scripture is God’s authoritative communication to us. Its authority stands above all other authorities. Every other authority is limited to its own sphere. But the authority of Scripture is over the whole of every person. Obey and believe this authority at all times (1:465).
Worship this authority by presenting your body as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”
Resources cited in this post: