Attending Bible College in the 1960s involved a two-year course, each year having three terms. This meant that six areas of Systematic Theology were covered, the first being the foundational Doctrine of Revelation—what we believe about the Bible. Entering Moore College in 1973 meant attending the transformational lectures of DB Knox as he led us through TC Hammond’s, ‘In Understanding Be Men’, the first chapter of which is entitled, ‘Final Authority in Matters of Faith’.
All other doctrines flow from a right understanding of what we believe the Bible is, its source, its nature and its purpose. Coming from a Presbyterian background I had personally experienced the destructive effect of modernism or liberalism: preaching was hesitant, indefinite, and unclear. There certainly was no sense of authority. All one could say, after hearing a sermon, was that the minister believed in some sort of divine being!
The available Presbyterian Theological Schools, with a non-commitment to the inspiration of Scripture, its supremacy, authority and sufficiency, had produced generations of preachers with nothing to say, apart from vague, theistic, positive psychology.
When Paul urges Timothy in 2 Timothy 3 to understand the times, avoid the alternatives and preach the word, all these imperatives are based on a firm conviction about Scripture’s divine source (2 Timothy 3:16). Abandon the foundation of what God tells us about Scripture and the pulpit, and all true pastoral ministry will be lost!
Fifty years on and we need this reminder because fewer of us have experienced those empty, powerless days. Scripture’s inspiration means that its authority is supreme, over church and culture. Scripture’s inspiration means that it is sufficient, we need not, and should not look for any other special word from God, for that extra word is at best a hunch.
Scripture is God’s word, not yours or mine, therefore we have no right to add to it or subtract from it. Scripture is the instrument God uses to bring the lost to life and to bring the believer to maturity (Isaiah 55:11; Acts 12:24; 19:20; 20:32; 1Cor 1:18;1:21; 15:2; Eph 1:13; 2Timothy 3:15-16).
As disciples of the Lord Jesus, we share his conviction as to the authority and centrality of Scripture (Mark 12:10; John 10:35). Thus all Christian leaders must be awake to what our recent history has taught us, and actively resist any influence to water down the central and supreme authority of Holy Scripture.
As our old friend John Chapman used to say: ‘The authority is in the text, brother. Preach the text’. It is at the very root of the Evangelical position that the supremacy of Holy Scripture be held in its fullest sense. No words can too strongly express the importance of securing, beyond doubt, the unsuperseded authority of the Sacred Scriptures in all religious discussions whether of doctrine or practice (see T. C. Hammond, ‘In Understanding be Men’). – David Cook