Scripture, our only infallible rule
Shorter Catechism Question # 2: “What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?”
Answer: “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God.”
If our “chief end” or ultimate purpose in life is to glorify and enjoy God, where do we turn to find out how to glorify and enjoy Him? The Bible-based answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is clear: Holy Scripture, which is the Word of God, and thus our “only rule” for faith and practice. Not the Scriptures plus something else (for example, the Scriptures plus the Pope, or the Scriptures plus the Book of Mormon, or the Scriptures plus the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, or the Scriptures plus charismatic visions and prophesies, or the Scriptures plus “what my heart tells me,” or the Scriptures plus “the experts,” etc.). This catechism answer assumes the essential sufficiency of Scripture, the fundamental clarity of Scripture, and the absolute authority of Scripture to direct us in our beliefs (“doctrine”) and in our behavior (“ethics”). As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in Second Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (ESV) If, as the inspired Apostle says, the Scriptures are able to make the man of God “complete” to fulfil his sacred calling, then certainly the Scriptures are (by good and necessary inference) sufficient in themselves for such equipping, clear enough in their essential teachings to bring about such completeness, and absolutely authoritative and fully trustworthy in all that they teach.
If it is true that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is the only authoritative rule to direct us in how we are to glorify and enjoy God, how should that impact our lives? Obviously it should impact our lives in many ways; but allow me to just list a few thoughts by way of application:
(1) If the Bible is indeed the Word of God and thus the only infallible rule given by God to direct and guide us in how we are to glorify and enjoy Him, then neglecting to read and study the Bible seriously is an act of unfaithfulness.
How many there are who profess themselves to be “Bible believing Christians,” but who are, at the same time, almost biblically illiterate. Sure, they may carry a big black leather Bible to church and be able to quote a few key texts (like John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Romans 8:28, or Psalm 23). But one suspects that they almost never crack open their Bibles during the week, for if questioned they would show very little familiarity with the contents of the Bible. But God has given us His Word, not so that it might sit on our shelves collecting dust, nor to make us look good when we carry it out in public; rather, He has given us His Word so that we might read it, meditate upon it, believe it and obey it! As the Psalmist says of the blessed man, “…his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2, ESV) We can only do this if we are regularly reading the Bible (ideally reading it every day). Dear reader, do you regularly, seriously, and conscientiously read your Bible? Are you regularly in the Word? Do you delight in the Word, meditating upon it day and night? Or is watching TV, surfing the web, texting your friends or other such distractions more important to you than grounding yourself in God’s Word so that you might know how to glorify, please and honor Him?
(2) If the Bible alone is the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, then we must be very careful never to add to or subtract from the Scriptures.
“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2, ESV) “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:32, ESV) “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19, ESV) Religious sects and organizations which add their own “Scriptures” to the Bible are guilty of doing this. The Latter Day Saints (or “Mormons”) do this with their Book of Mormon, which claims to be “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” The religion of Islam does this by claiming the Bible to be corrupted, and by claiming that their pseudo-scriptures, the Quran, is the Word of God. The Jehovan’s Witnesses do this through their perverted and inaccurate “New World Translation” of the Scriptures, and through the cultic and heretical teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The Roman Catholic Church does this by having added the apocryphal books to their Old Testament canon and by claiming its own allegedly infallible “Tradition” as being a source of revelation equal to the Bible. And Pentecostal groups which claim access to ongoing direct revelation from God (“The Lord told me…”; “I got a word from the Lord the other day…”; etc.) are also guilty of this. Because we have God’s completed Word in the canon of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, any claim to have received new or fresh revelation from God must be rejected outright, and those who claim to bring such new revelations must repent of their blasphemy, lest they fall under God’s curse for adding to His Word. Finally, rationalists, modernists, and other Bible skeptics take away from Holy Scripture by replacing the authority of the Bible with the authority of their own autonomous “reason.” But the Triune God revealed in Holy Scripture is the necessary foundation for the right use of human reason (God being the One who has blessed mankind with the capacity for reason); so to replace God’s revelation in Scripture with “reason” grounded only in the mind of finite and fallible man is (ironically) irrational to the core.
At this point some readers may find it inconsistent for me to criticize other groups for adding to or taking away from God’s Word when we Orthodox Presbyterians acknowledge the validity of using creeds, confessions and catechisms. (Indeed, this blog post is a commentary on the second question of our Shorter Catechism!) But the difference is that historic Presbyterians and other confessional Christians do not place our confessions and catechisms on a level equal to the Bible. Instead, we view them as our subordinate standards (subordinate, that is, to the primary and ultimate and final Standard of God’s inerrant, infallible Word, the Bible). As biblical Presbyterians we don’t hold our Confession and Catechisms to be equal in authority to the infallible Word of God; rather, our confessional standards are a fallible explanation and summary of what we believe the Bible teaches. To have church-sanctioned confessional standards which explain and summarize what a church denomination or fellowship believes the Bible to teach is no more an adding to the Word of God than a minister standing behind the pulpit and explaining a text of Scripture using his own words is somehow an adding to the Word of God. For a solid biblical defense of the use of creeds and confessions in the church, I recommend The Creedal Imperative by Dr. Carl R. Trueman (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2012).
(3) If the Bible alone is the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, then we must not only believe its doctrines; we must also obey its commands.
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” So says the famous hymn, “Trust and Obey.” If we trust Jesus as Savior, we will want to follow Him as Lord. Likewise, if we profess to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then we will seek to follow its laws and obey its precepts. Dear reader, do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior? If so, are you showing the reality of your faith by seeking to obey His Word?