Filed Under (Author, Dee Dee Warren, book excerpts, book reviews) by dee dee on 11-04-2005
I had been reading an advocacy book for the home-church movement called Ekklesia which I thoroughly enjoyed and have the honour of knowing two of the authors. I was given this blurb which will be included in the next edition:
Though we firmly believe the concept of home-sized fellowships to be in accordance with apostolic tradition regarding church practice, it is important to emphasize that the scriptures also describe a much bigger attitude and congregation: a membership in the church universal. It is unhealthy for believers to exist exclusively in one isolated house church. Each house church, properly speaking, is a part of the much bigger city church in whatever town it is located (the New Testament authors philosophically considered each city to contain but one church). Though they may never all meet together in one place, and though there is to be no outward ecclesiological authority controlling them, all the congregations in a given area constitute the one church of that city. We are to cultivate an attitude of oneness, acceptance, love, concern, and cooperation with all the other believers in our city.
What has all this “big church” talk got to do with preaching and teaching? Simply this: In our Bible teaching and interpretation we must not ignore the rest of the church as a whole. The Bible is our final authority, but it is not our only authority. The Holy Spirit has guided and worked in God’s people for the 2,000 years since Jesus left and long before anyone reading this book was even born. When the church of history has studied a matter and reached consensus on it, that becomes authoritative for us as well. Do we really have the right to dispute the theology of the church of the ages?
Who has the authority to decide upon the correct interpretation of the Bible, a single church (i.e. Rome), the individual believer, or the universal church as a whole? At one extreme, the Roman Catholics will declare that as an individual you are not supposed to interpret your Bible, but rather that you should accept what Rome declares it to mean. At the opposite extreme, though, many Evangelicals have replaced Rome with a new Pope in the form of each individual believer. “Just me and my Bible.” Is this really much different?
Do we believe that the Holy Spirit has guided the elect for the past two millennia? When certain basic doctrines are agreed upon today by Christians from every conceivable background, and also by all those who went before us in the Faith, that should get our attention. That is authoritative. Some of these basics include a belief that the sixty-six books of the Bible do finally and completely comprise God’s written revelation to us, the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the propitiatory nature of Jesus’ work on the cross, justification by grace through faith unto good works, the future bodily return of Jesus, the future tomb-emptying resurrection of the dead, and the future earth-shattering great white throne judgment.
The original doctrine of sola scriptura included the belief that whereas the Bible is our final authority, it is not our only authority. The church as a whole is also an authority (albeit a secondary one). As Paul wrote to Timothy, the church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1Ti 3:15). When the entire church arrives at the same conclusions regarding theology, that is authoritative. Teachings contrary to doctrine universally agreed upon by the church at large are not to be entertained.
The church of history has passed on to us various creeds and confessions. The word “creed” is from a Latin root that simply means, “I believe.” Did you know that there is even a post-New Testament, church-made creed printed in your Bible? It is called the “Table of Contents.” The books of the Bible were not finally compiled and settled upon until quite some time after the apostolic era. How can we trust the church of history to give us the right books that are supposed to be in our Bibles and yet not also trust her to give us right theology about what that same Bible teaches? The main people who resist an acceptance of the basic creeds of the church are those who hold to aberrant theology, denying one or more of the essentials listed above.
Throw out the interpretations of the church as a whole, and you are left with individual subjectivism. Keith Mathison, in his book, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, has aptly pointed out that modern American Evangelicalism has redefined sola scriptura in terms of secular Enlightenment rationalism and rugged democratic individualism. This modern reinterpretation grants autonomy to each individual believer’s reason and judgment. The result is the relativism, subjectivism, and theological chaos that we see in modern Evangelicalism today. Mathison points out that each of us comes to the Scripture with different presuppositions, blind spots, ignorance of important facts, and, most importantly, sinfulness. Since we are far from neutral, each of us reads things into Scripture that are really not there and also misses things that are there. Reason and conscience become the final interpreter. The universal and objective truth of Scripture is made virtually of no effect, because instead of the Church proclaiming with one voice what the Bible teaches, every individual interprets Scripture as seems right in his own eyes. The unbelieving world is left hearing a cacophony of conflicting voices rather than the Word of the living God. In the final analysis, each individual is responsible for establishing his own creed.
The church as a whole has clearly spoken concerning the correct interpretation of many foundational doctrines of the Christian faith. To deny these is to deny the teachings of the Bible. Those who do not hold to sound orthodoxy are not to be allowed to teach their false doctrine (1Ti 1:3), and are not to be recognized as apostles, elders, or deacons (1Ti 3:9, Titus 1:9). Our churches are not like little row boats out on Lake Placid. Instead, we will go through storms on the high seas. Challenges will come. Aberrant teaching will wash up on deck. It is not a matter of if, but when. Like the captains war ships, we must cry “Repel all boarders!” in guarding against and repelling heterodoxy theology. By “boarders” I mean the false teaching and not necessarily its proclaimer. Of course, the difference between the two can be a fine line. We are to gently instruct those who oppose, “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who had taken them captive to do his will” (2Ti 2:25-26).