I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to take orders. At work, I’m kind of used to it. I’ve been at the same job and with the same employer for almost 25 years. It’s the kind of place that’s run old style, it’s a union shop, and there’s not much asking, but plenty of orders. I’ve grown accustomed to it. Outside of that though, I am personally part of a culture of individualism.
First of all, I’m an American. It’s supposed to be the home of the brave and the land of the free. It’s no longer as opposed to authority as it once was, but still, its America, the world’s standard of freedom.
I am a Tennessean. It’s a land settled by hard and tough individuals, not large groups of immigrants. Men brought their families, one at a time, over the mountains, into situations wrought with dangers of weather, angry Cherokee Indians, and harsh geography populated with dangerous snakes and predators.
Furthermore, my heritage as an inhabitant of the Southern Appalachians has instilled in me the ideas of elbow room and extreme individualism. People here are like the individuals who made this land what it is, folks like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. They were hard, strong individuals who longed for minimal authority and maximum freedom.
Finally, I am a Southerner, a son of the South. Down here we have a sense of pride. We are people who push forward, against overwhelming circumstances. We don’t care about the odds that are against us. We get knocked down and we get right back up, knock the dust off our pants, and keep on keeping on. Our ancestors survived wars, hurricanes, disease, poverty, and persecution. We are proud of our individual fortitude, and I am one of us.
It’s deep within me, this individualism. It breeds skepticism of authority and fear of any attempt to make me conform. It’s in my blood, my heritage, my will. I am who I am and am willing to fight for that freedom. It’s not just a personality; it’s my essence, my very being. So when someone tells me that I need to believe or conform my beliefs to some authority outside of those principles of individualism and maximum freedom, my hair bristles and my eyebrows push down into my cheekbones, if you know what I mean.
So what about the authority of the Bible and the Church? Well, all I can say is that over the years, it’s been a tough sell for preachers to tell me that the Bible is the final authority of all matters of faith and practice.
The modern world detests authority but worships relevance. Our Christian conviction is that the Bible has both authority and relevance, and that the secret of both is Jesus Christ.- John Stott
Don’t get me wrong. I am a Christian, of course. I have been since I was five years old. I was raised attending church in those days when the whole family went Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, no questions asked. If you missed, you were almost dead. If you went on vacation, you left on Monday and were back by Saturday. I have a long row of Sunday School pins (a thing of the past) that show I didn’t miss a Sunday School for twelve years. I know about God, his Son, and his book. I don’t need to be told what to believe by anyone, I am a Christian. I believe Jesus died for me, rose again, and I trust him. I don’t believe in heavy drinking, chain smoking, or gambling. I know about the Children of Israel and the Old Testament Prophets. I know the Lord’s Prayer. My theology is complete, right? I don’t need any other authority. Well…
A few years ago, a preacher got me pretty fired up about living for God. I had come back to church after having children and a pretty long personal crisis. In his teaching, this pastor taught me something about the importance of study, real study. I wasn’t just to read the Bible, I was to study it. That led me to some other resources. With the availability of online courses, I was able to do some very intense study of God and his Word. I was soon faced with some doctrines that I had ignored as silly or fringe doctrines in the past. The folks teaching me these doctrines challenged me. They made the case that I could take or leave what they said, but if it was Biblical, I’d have to do something with that. If the Word clearly stated some of these unusual or what I assumed were fringe doctrines, then I was faced with a dilemma. Either I must ignore them, dispute them Biblically, or deny the truth of Scripture. In other words, I could go back to my old life of ignorance of doctrine and simply ignore those uncomfortable truths that the Bible seemed clear on. Ignorance is bliss. I could find evidence in the Bible which contradicted those doctrines which would mean they weren’t necessarily true. Or I could simply deny the authority of Scripture on the matter.
Finally, the only other option I had was to accept what the Scripture says is true and live my life, including my theology, accordingly. To be honest, it was a struggle for some time. These doctrines, namely those of election and predestination, had been doctrines that I had been opposed to all of my life. My experiences told me they were false. My internal moral logic told me they were false. I had even heard other Christians in my tradition which called those doctrines crazy. But this teacher was smart. He had done this before. He enlightened me to the weakness of my dilemma. He did this primarily by teaching me prior to any other doctrine, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. If the Bible is inspired, God’s Word; and if it is infallible, incapable of error; and if in fact it is inerrant, without mistakes; and if we do have the right books; then it is authoritative on all matters of faith. Honey, as they say down here that changes things!
You see, to deny these new doctrines, I would have to do some fancy Biblical gymnastics. I would have to twist some words or verses or even whole chapters and paragraphs to make them say something other than what they seemed to clearly say. I could no longer just ignore them. I couldn’t go back to the life of ignorance. I couldn’t deny what it said. That would be to deny God’s truthfulness, inspiration of his word. All I could do was find evidence in Scripture that explicitly taught against what these other passages said. I could not. It changed my life.
The point is this; I could no longer live a life of theological ignorance. I couldn’t simply live as if my ideas, my thoughts about God, were ruled by my own logic or experience or for that matter my tradition. I could no longer live theologically independent. If God said it in his Word, I must conform my thoughts to his and I must therefore conform myself to his expectations and commands. The doctrines that changed my life are those of sovereign grace, but the doctrine that rules all doctrine for me now, the final authority, is the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Now, no longer merely in confession, also in practice, the Bible is my final authority in all matters of faith.
If you have seen the evidence of inspiration, studied the evidence of inerrancy, looked at the evidence of canon, then it is overwhelmingly clear that the Bible is what it claims to be and that we have a very, very accurate transmission of its original documents. It is God’s Word. The question is, do you live under it? Or will you continue in ignorance? Will you deny its doctrines?
I have to ask you, now that you have been faced with the evidence, by who’s authority do you believe what you believe? When you say what you say and act how you act, do you still do it by your own thoughts and experiences? Are you merely a theological individualist? Does your freedom to believe what you want trump that of what the Bible says? You see, you will live under someone’s (or your own) ideas. You will answer life’s most important questions under someone’s influence. You will make decisions that affect your life and other’s. You will adopt a particular worldview. The question is not whether you will do these things; the question is UNDER WHOSE AUTHORITY will you do them?