Road Trip: The GPS Version!

GPSWe have recently returned home from one of our extended teaching trips across the US having driven our usual 4000+ miles, and I gotta tell you, I just love my GPS. (That’s Sat-Nav to my English readers!) The vehicle we keep over there is pretty cool too, but if our Ford Explorer (we call her Dora…get it? Dora the Explorer!) keeps us comfortable then it’s the GPS keeps us sane. It makes the odd mistake, of course, but nothing like the ones I used to make when it was just me (Belinda doesn’t do maps) going at 70mph with the steering wheel in one hand, my proprietary Walmart US map in the other, Belinda screaming in my right ear in abject terror and Bethany laughing her head off in the back enjoying the show! But all that aside, I don’t think Christians are as aware as they should be of the sheer symbolic and biblical significance of these little GPS mini-TV screens that can talk you through just about anywhere from anywhere at anytime.

It Must Be Alright, the Holy Spirit Led Me!

As I am often at pains to point out, there are two equal and opposite errors concerning the relationship between the authority of scripture and the personal subjective, supernatural leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The first (as mentioned in my last post) is the completely  false idea that the Holy Spirit sometimes leads people contrary to scripture. He doesn’t! Full stop! Finito! End of story! The fat lady has definitely sung as far as that one is concerned! When that happens you may know assuredly, and for a complete fact, that it is either you deceiving yourself, or the work of an actual deceiving demonic spirit. If the Holy Spirit were to ever lead but one believer to go against scripture in but one way, then that could only mean that He might lead any believer against scripture in any way at any time. And if that were the case then you would simply have no basis on which to judge anything at all, or any way whatsoever to establish whether any given action or behaviour was ultimately right or wrong. Someone leaving their wife to find a different one who fulfils them better might be the result of the Holy Spirit leading them so to do, as might also be the case for unmarried folk who are in a sexual relationship with each other.

ExplorerIf the Holy Spirit sometimes leads believers in ways contrary to what scripture clearly teaches, then why not regarding sexual morality too? After all, if the Holy Spirit has told a believer something, then who is anyone else to argue? It’s all very well trying to say that some ways of going against scripture are permissible whereas others aren’t, but again, on what possible basis could such be decided?  It the Holy Spirit can lead a believer to marry an unbeliever, or a woman to teach and conduct church leadership, then why could He not lead some believers to live together outside of marriage, or even to conduct a homosexual or lesbian relationship? I marvel that Christians are so slow to understand what a nonsensical, and deeply sinful, thing it is when they try to pit the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit against the clear teaching of scripture.

Bye Bye Lord! See you in Heaven!

But of course you can fall off a log both ends, so there are other believers who, though clear on the authority of scripture, have little or no understanding that the Holy Spirit does want to actually communicate directly with us outside of us just reading scripture. It’s as if they think that when they got saved Jesus said to them, “Great! Glad you made it! Anyway, gotta get back to Heaven now and I’ll see you there later. I’ve given you the Bible and a brain, so you can go ahead and start figuring out what following me should look like for you. I’ve given you lots of experts to read as well, and to listen to, (they’re called Ministers, or Priests, or Pastors…or whatever!) and they’ll help you figure it out too. I know they all have completely different opinions about just about everything the Bible says, but hey, you’ll get the idea. So look after yourself, keep reading, and I’ll see you when you die, or when I come back. Happy Bible-studying! Oh yes, and don’t forget to be good!”

They’re a bit like Marxists (or Leninists or the like)  who have the appropriate authoritative writings that contain the relevant teachings they need, and who then have to spend a lifetime working out how to best apply those teachings to their own situations. “Man, wouldn’t it be great,” they must think sometimes, “if Marx (or Lenin) were still around to help us out a bit and to explain things to us?” So likewise, many believers seem to live their Christian lives as if it’s just a matter of getting to know the Bible better so they can implement it’s teachings as best they can. In other words, they too have gotten it wrong, just as have those who play off the Holy Spirit against scripture!

The Answer to the Dilemma

So what’s the balance then? What’s the correct way to think about the relationship between the authority of scripture and the reality of the subjective leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Well, it’s actually my trusty little GPS. Let me explain!

The Scripture Only Brigade

The trouble with the ‘Scripture, and that’s all!’ folk (I call them doctrinalists) is that they have a map and a compass and that’s just about it. It is entirely down to them to figure out where they are, where they need to get to, and the best way to do it. It’s certainly better than not having a map, or having a map that is in some way incomplete or inaccurate, but it’s nevertheless not the best way of doing things. But when you have a GPS (oh, how I love my GPS) you have something much better. You still have the map – the map never changes because it is simply what is – but now you have a means of interaction with the map via a device that is actually tied in, real time, with some satellites. And these satellites enable the device to know not only exactly where you are relative to the map (which never changes), but the very best way for you to get to where you have programmed in that you need to go, all as a result of the software installed in the GPS. Moreover, not only does the GPS display the map as you travel on it’s screen, thus visually providing all the information you need, it actually talks you through the necessary directions as you proceed. In other words, it’s a modern miracle!

Such is the best illustration I have ever come up with concerning the age old miracle of the relationship between the authority of scripture and the subjective leading of the Holy Spirit. The Lord hasn’t just left us to our own intellectual devices when it comes to knowing and applying His written Word. No, He actually lives within us and is with us in person the whole time, and the Holy Spirit, amongst other things, is the means by which He shows us how to apply and obey the truth and teachings in that Word. That our intellects have an important part to play in this is not in dispute, but oh, what damage has been done by the sheer dryness and irrelevance of a Christianity that has come across to the world as mere morality to be pursued rather than an actual personal relationship with the Almighty God.

The Mapless Mystics

But of course those believers who fall off the other end of the log need to be addressed too. And their problem is not the absence of a GPS – they have had one all along! No, their problem is that they have been so reliant on the GPS they never properly consult the actual map in order to check whether or not the GPS programming they trust so much is actually accurate. Indeed, they have completely missed the fact that Satan specialises in uploading virus’ into spiritual GPS systems, thereby corrupting the software in unbelievably subtle and significant ways. Only the continuous syncing of the GPS with the ‘master programme’ can protect against this. Or, to put it another way, scripture – the actual map that never changes – remains the final authority, and never the directions of the GPS unit itself.

In other words, it is only safe to look to the Lord for subjective guidance, leading and revelation to the extent that we understand, and actually practise, that conformity to scripture is the final authority and arbiter in all matters. If something conforms to scripture, then it can be said to be of the Lord; but if something does not conform to scripture then it can never be said to be of the Lord, by very definition! Further, it is a foolish man indeed who thinks that he can access whatever biblical truth he needs to know merely on his own as an individual. That we know the Lord both personally and individually goes without saying, but in the abundance of counsellors is still safety, and anyone who just pursues growth in truth and the Lord on their own, without the accountability of significant personal and open accountable fellowship with others is just kidding themselves. They are virtually guaranteed to end up being deceived.

I have met so many Christians over the years who, if one were to compare their supposed guidance and revelation with our GPS analogy, are, so to speak, trying to get to New York from South Carolina by going via Oregon; or thinking that the way to Norwich from London is by first heading south to Hastings. In other words, their map is corrupted and their reliance on their GPS, without the safety of all the time referring to the actual objective map, has them literally all over the place. They are deceived, unstable and heading totally in the wrong direction! Why? Because they have failed to realise that, irrespective of the genuine reality of the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, scripture remains the only final authority!

Fortunately, our choice need never be between Spirit-less and dry doctrinalism on the one hand, or spiritual deception on the other. If we seek to walk in the safety of what our GPS analogy teaches us, then we are free to hear the Lord’s voice directly whilst minimising the risk of falling into either error. Can we guarantee we will never get it wrong? Of course not! We are deception-prone sinners still! But by sticking as closely as we can to the Lord, scripture and other godly believers, we are given the best chance of increasing in holiness and maturity in the Lord, as we live by His every Word to us as individuals, as we’ll ever have.

 

 

 

Deformed Theology

Bible

Fundamental to following Jesus is the understanding that He is our final authority in all matters. However, because scripture is the only ultimate way we can know what He wants, then scripture also becomes our final authority in all matters. Because subjective revelation/personal conviction can be Satan deceiving us, or us deceiving ourselves, conformity to scripture is the only test we have in order to establish whether or not something could be the Holy Spirit leading us. Any attempt to separate the authority of the Lord personally from His written Word is therefore pure deception. The senior officer of a battalion of soldiers who receives his written orders from Headquarters and then, instead of just getting on with obeying what they say, gets into a debate with himself as to whether the Commanding Officer back at HQ is his authority or the written orders he has sent out, and whether he might therefore be able to in some way go against those orders whilst still claiming that he is acting under the Commanding Officer’s authority, is not worth the uniform he’s wearing. The authority of the Commanding Officer and the authority of the written orders he sends out are, quite simply, one and the same thing.

Our Authority…

Therefore, if the Lord is our ultimate and final authority, which He is, and if He has given us His written Word in the scriptures, which He has, then anyone who thinks they can be truly under His authority whilst being in any kind of non-conformity to those same scriptures is kidding themselves. The scriptures are our written orders sent us by our Commanding Officer, and His authority and their authority are one and the same thing. Indeed, any attempt to make a distinction between them could only ever be for the reason of smuggling something into our belief system or practise that is contrary to scripture, but to which we want to give place.

…Not Our Authority…

Here’s the point: If scripture, being the written orders of our divine Commander-In-Chief, is our final authority…then absolutely nothing else is!!! Not theologians, not established doctrine, not statements of faith, not Christian books, not Pastors, Priests or Ministers, not John Calvin, not Jacob Arminius, not traditional evangelical cultural practise, not me (Aw, shucks!!! That’s too bad!!!), not anyone or anything, except the scripture itself.

…and Systematic Theology…

So let me make absolutely clear what this means regarding so-called systematic theologies: unless such are deemed to be merely a teaching aid, and nothing more, systematic theologies, of whatever doctrinal bent, are actually deceptive. And of course the reason is that it’s just so darned easy to end up reading scripture through the lens of a doctrinal system rather than the other way round. Or to put it another way, instead of judging one’s thoughts, understandings and doctrinal belief system (which is what a systematic theology is) by scripture, one actually ends up judging scripture according to one’s own doctrinal presuppositions and dogma. And of course one’s final authority then is not the Lord Jesus through His Word, but rather whatever systematic theology/doctrinal system one happens to subscribe to, and therefore merely the teachings and reasonings of whichever theologians came up with it.

The Big Change…

I reached a point many years ago when I realised that in order to explain what i thought certain verses in the Bible meant I was having to explain away certain other verses. I concluded that this had to be wrong, and so decided to stop doing it and to have a comprehensive biblical re-think. As a result I embraced the wonderful freedom of no longer needing to think that I ought to understand everything in the Bible, or that I could have the Lord God and His truth nicely wrapped up in in a little box of some pre-digested systematic theology. (Not that I had ever subscribed to any particular one!) Indeed, I actually found rest and security in the Lord in even the most inscrutable biblical mysteries and paradoxes. (It is not, for example, in any way irrational to believe, at one and the same time, in election and predestination as well as human responsibility. Neither is it to embrace the utterly perplexing mystery and paradox that there is but one God, yet Who exists in three separate Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Man, go figure that one!!!)

The Resolution…

As long as we are truly willing to surrender, and to be in obedience to, that which can be truly apprehended and understood in scripture, then we needn’t be under any compulsion to kid ourselves into pretending that we have unfathomable mysteries in God’s Word that are completely beyond us all figured out and nicely sown up. If, in your thinking, the Lord God Almighty is not exponentially and massively bigger and more mysterious and inscrutable than any doctrinal statement you may subscribe to concerning Him, then there is something profoundly wrong with your understanding of the concept of both the Divine and the Infinite.

The trouble, sadly, with systematic theology is its enduring tendency to not let what the Bible teaches stand in the way of a good doctrine.

May the Lord preserve us from the 21st Century Deformers!

 

 

 

 

They Call Me Mister Biblical…but I don’t think it’s meant as a compliment!

When I came to know the Lord I very quickly knew from Him that the Bible was His written Word to mankind and therefore our absolute and final authority in all matters. This realisation was all the more powerful given that I was converted from a non-Christian background, having never even read it outside of the occasional Religious Education class at school. However, even knowing this I nevertheless hit big problems as I found myself to be in disagreement with what it taught regarding certain things. It was a dilemma I could have most certainly done without, but one that obviously needed to be resolved, and quite definitively too. And the resolution I came to, however reluctantly, was that concerning certain issues I found myself in disagreement with the very Lord God Who had saved me, and that I was therefore, by very definition, as much in the wrong as it is possible for anyone to be. I therefore, whilst still a young Christian, settled once and for all that, quite irrespective of what the issue might be, the Word of God was right and I was wrong, such being all there was to it. This was all the more remarkable, I think, given that, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise myself to have been an as arrogant and know-it-all a young man as had ever encountered the living God.

Imagine my perplexity then at discovering, over more years than I care to imagine, that a frighteningly large proportion of Christians I got to know either didn’t believe the Bible to be their absolute and final authority, or were just evading, getting round and explaining away whatever aspects of it’s teachings they didn’t like. Further, sharing my own settled approach of just accepting that scripture was right and everyone else was wrong got me labelled as being a divisive extremist, and I do mean by those who were genuine evangelical Bible believing Christians. That I initially shared my burden unwisely and with a certain lack of humility I do not doubt – I was just over midway through my teens when I came to know the Lord – but then that really shouldn’t have come as any great surprise to those with whom I tried to fellowship who were, both biologically and in the Lord, older and more mature than I was. After all, had none of them been proud and foolish when they were my age, or was I the only arrogant teenager who had ever lived? (Perhaps they had just forgotten what they were like when they were young!) Further, should not the dramatic conversion of a demonised hippy have been considered a good and exciting thing? Something to be positively thrilled about, in fact! Well, apparently not! At least not, it would appear, when he was asking questions no one wanted to answer, and especially when those questions concerned why the teaching of the Bible didn’t seem to be holding final sway.

Another of these ‘realisations’ I came to as a new Christian, which I obviously now believe to have been revelations from the Holy Spirit, was that one of the most important things believers should be doing was to stand firm on, clearly and especially, and propound and live out the teaching of scripture at precisely the points where the culture of the day was most in disobedience to it. And it was as clear as day to me that one of the areas Christians therefore needed to be the most exercised about was the whole area of sexual morality, the sanctity of marriage and God’s order for family life. (This was during the first half of the 70’s, so imagine how much more important this is now given how much worse things have become.)

It has to be understood though just how significant these revelations were given my background. Converted hippies are not known for their natural proclivity towards sexual purity, and had it been the case that the Bible endorsed free love then no one would have been more delighted than I. But it didn’t! And not only did it not endorse free love, it demanded the almost ridiculously (to my thinking) high standard of complete sexual abstinence outside of marriage. So because I had already settled in my mind that the Lord was right and I was wrong, I therefore, though somewhat reluctantly, accepted it. Likewise, I could see as clear as day in scripture that the sanctity of marriage was both unquestionable and inviolable, divorce – with, I understand, just a couple of rather extreme exceptions – being totally unacceptable. (I do not by this imply that those who have remarried wrongly should be considered pariahs. You can’t, after all, unscramble eggs. But what I do most positively imply is that Christians should be made subject to church discipline should they be planning to divorce and remarry illegitimately.) But I also saw quite specifically in scripture, and this is one of the things over which I have been getting into trouble with Christians ever since, that God’s order for family was that the husband was the head of the wife, wives being therefore commanded to submit to their husbands, with husbands and wives together being in authority over their children who should be raised to be both obedient and respectful.

And that, for a newly converted hippy from a liberal, socialistic, occult-practising non-Christian background, took some swallowing. But it was what the Bible clearly taught, and so I had to simply surrender to it in my thinking. And just to complete the picture here, no one was more against capital punishment than I was; and what did I discover from the scripture? That not only is the Lord in favour of capital punishment, it was His idea in the fist place, it being actually commanded in the case of murderers. In fact, in the early years of being a Christian there wasn’t much I didn’t have to change my mind about as I read the Bible, and there was much I found really, really hard to swallow. But of course I did! I’m a sinner whose thinking had, at that time, been completely wrong and ungodly my entire life.

My early years as a Christian were therefore decidedly tough. Not only did I have to struggle to conform my own life and thinking to scripture, I had to struggle with why other believers not only ignored whole areas of the Bible’s teachings, but also actively disapproved of me for not doing so. Rather than help and encourage me to grow in the Lord, which is what I obviously needed, they continuously put me down to being a divisive troublemaker and distanced themselves from me. I found myself in the ridiculous position of faithfully attending just about every meeting the church had (it was an Anglican church) even though just about everyone else present, and especially the priests, didn’t want me to be there. I knew it was right and biblical to be part of a church, but doing so in the face of being so unwanted by the church I trying to be part of was far from easy, even though I remained convinced it was right for me to continue attending.

But of course as the months passed things just got worse and worse because, as I read the Bible more and more, not only did I understand the whole thing about God’s order for family, I realised that virtually nothing of church life as it was normally experienced was based on scripture and couldn’t, in fact, have been further from it. I saw more and more clearly that a monolithic pattern existed, irrespective of which denomination, or even non-denominational churches, one had in view, that was massively different to what the New Testament taught concerning what churches ought to be like. I saw the contradiction between the New Testament practise of a having numerically small churches meeting informally in houses, without either clergy (or it’s equivalent) or ‘services’, the believers concerned sharing their lives together in a truly open and meaningful way. What I concluded was basically that, biblically speaking, church life was meant to emulate extended family life, and that churches, wherever I looked, and of whatever persuasion they were, were nothing of the kind, being rather mere religious institutional clubs. And of course this explains not only why I am not a feminist, but why I am also an advocate of house churches.

It explains too, though, why, although a house church guy, I further advocate what I call biblical churches, because even though a biblical church (by which I mean a church set up according to the New Testament, thereby replicating what we read in it’s pages) will be a house church, there is more to it than merely that. It is therefore the case that there can be house churches which are unbiblical in other important respects. Indeed, some of the most unbiblical practises and beliefs I have ever encountered have been amongst house church folk, and it underlines the importance of realising the importance of being comprehensively biblical, and not just picking and choosing which parts of scripture one enacts and which one just ignores and goes against.

I therefore, within a couple of years of coming to know the Lord, came to realise how completely at odds much of Christianity was with the teaching of scripture regarding some extremely important matters. Not only did I see Christians caving in left, right and centre to modern culture regarding divorce, feminism and family life in general, I realised that the entire edifice of church life, indeed, it’s very foundations, were other than that which the Bible teaches. I didn’t yet understand from whence all this false teaching concerning church life had come, but I did know more and more that I had to conform to scripture personally as much as possible.

It was also the case that in the first couple of years of me knowing the Lord quite a few folk became Christians as a result. My parents travelled a lot and would be away from home for months at a time, and in the summer of 1973 I had the place to myself. I had a strong conviction from the Lord that He wanted to use the house, but I wasn’t sure as to what for. I therefore got together with the very few number of local Christians who didn’t think I was a nutcase, and we met at the house one night for prayer. We surrendered ourselves to the Lord afresh and prayed that He would do whatever it was He was planning, and that we would be unconditionally available. And what happened was basically that, over the following few weeks, people spontaneously turned up, some not even knowing why they were there, and became Christians. Most came as the result of word of mouth, but there were also some who came who didn’t know any of us involved, and who quite literally had no idea why they came. That is, until they surrendered to the Lord.

Over a couple of months around 40 to 50 people came to know Him in that front room, most being in their late teens and twenties, with some needing demons casting out of them as well. It was a time of joy and amazement beyond words, and what was also so amazing was that although were sharing the Gospel verbally as needed, we were mostly just praying, with those turning up just joining in and spontaneously having a revelation of the Lord and His salvation. Far from us having to work at evangelising these folk, it was rather quite literally the case that we couldn’t stop them coming to the Lord. It was incredible, and I have obviously never forgotten it.

But of course it was also quite exceptional, and the Lord turned the tap off some weeks later as definitely as He had originally turned it on. New people stopped turning up and the conversions ceased. The outpouring of the Spirit, as it had most surely been, was over, and I have never experienced anything like it since. What wasn’t over, however, was the task of looking after and nurturing these folk who were new converts, and to that task I turned my attention, having really no clue as to how to proceed. We met often for prayer and I would do Bible studies too, this being how I discovered that I could teach in a way that people told me was helpful to them. I also found that I could help people with their personal problems, and sort of just knew the best advice to give. Again, people told me over and over that this was a help to them, and I found that the Holy Spirit would lead me clearly in these, and other, regards.

My biggest mistake, however – though made for all the right reasons – was to try and integrate these folk into the church I was attending so they could be part of it as well. We started meeting together on Friday nights in a hall for worship, sharing together and doing Bible study (I knew the church wouldn’t provide such for them) but thought that an influx of new converts might change people’s attitudes in the church and bless them. I couldn’t, however, have been more wrong. It was a complete waste of time and resulted in us being considered, no doubt as a result of people having been freed from evil spirits (as I had been when I became a Christian), to be occultists. Some in the church managed to be a bit more gracious and even tried to help here and there, but with the leadership so set against us they never really had a chance. So even though I continued to attend the church myself I gave up on further attempts at integration, and continued to meet with the new converts completely outside of it.

Basically, though I didn’t quite see it in these terms at the time, a new church had come into being that was looking to myself, and one or two others, for leadership, though I was the only one able to publicly teach. Thus I discovered my calling, it being proven and confirmed to me through others saying it had been proven and confirmed to them also. That gathering of those young saints continued for another three years, even though I was gone from the area after just one, and it remains to this day the proving ground of the calling that has become my very life ever since. As a direct result the Lord showed me that scripture, and not the Christian Church, must be the authority upon which I act, and that the future lay not in trying to change something which is ultimately unchangeable, but in bringing onto being something quite new – though like any return to scripture, something actually two thousand years old – that is, biblical family and church life. It was basically the realisation that the burden the Lord was placing on me was to teach the whole counsel of God, as opposed to just some of it, but specifically emphasising and practising precisely those aspects that believers were ignoring and trying to avoid.

I am therefore not only somewhat obsessed with the notion of being biblical in every possible way, such being the only way to gauge our obedience to the Lord, I am perfectly happy to be so. It doesn’t, of course, mean I always get it right, and neither do I for one moment think I am myself comprehensively biblical in every regard. Of course not! No one has a monopoly on biblical truth, and least of all me! But it is nonetheless my deliberate intention to aim for such, irrespective of with whom I end up in trouble as a result, or how unpopular it makes me. In the late seventies I had a good friendship with a guy who was both a Baptist Minister and the eventual President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Though traditional church leaders have obviously never much cared for me, there have been some notable, delightful and greatly appreciated exceptions, and Peter was one of them. He never became convinced of what he would regard as my more radical biblical positions, but he respected me as a young man of God equally as much as I respected him as an older one. There were two occasions when he asked me direct questions to which he wanted an honest answer. The first was when he asked me what I thought my calling was. My reply was simple: to teach the whole counsel of God, but with special emphasis on the parts no one else seemed to be teaching. The second question was asked, if memory serves me correctly, whist he was President of the Union, and it was what I thought the Baptist Union of Great Britain needed to do in order to become biblical. I replied that it should dissolve itself and cease to exist, sell all its buildings and assets and give the money to the poor and bona fide biblically based ministries, and to advise all its affiliated Baptist Churches to do likewise, and for those who attend them to stop being Baptists and just form themselves into a gazillion little biblically based churches meeting in each others homes. He obviously didn’t agree, but he did smile when I said it. But far from being the condescending smile of a big leader pitying a mere un-ordained layman for his sad delusion (he was far too much of a godly and humble man to be so obnoxious) it was a smile of respectful recognition that it was what I truly believe from scripture, and to which I was living accordingly. (Though I have never made much reference to it, I was once head hunted by the Baptist Union to be a Pastor. However, even though both the public profile and money would have been substantial, I nevertheless declined the offer because my conscience would not allow me to so blatantly depart from what I knew to be the teaching of scripture.)

Without a doubt, if there is one thing that four decades of fulfilling my calling has taught me it is that the closer you stick to scripture in teaching and practise the more you will become a target for those Christians who are convicted by the Holy Spirit as a result. The very last thing that believers who aren’t living according to scripture want is to be bothered by those who are, and there is little they won’t do in order to try and silence them. Whether concerning church life, God’s order for family or anything else, whenever there is a choice to be made between going by the Bible or what other people think of you, then it is obedience to scripture that should win out every time. Why? Because obedience to scripture is obedience to the Lord Himself!

I have therefore come under fire many times from Christians over the years, and from church leaders in particular, regarding such issues as church life, Christian leadership, the sanctity of marriage, God ‘s order for family and the necessity of comprehensive obedience to scripture. And what these folks criticism of me actually boils down to, once you get past all the smoke screens, misrepresentations, slander and character assassination, is that they consider me to be far too biblical in my thinking and that I don’t make sufficient concessions to the so-called ‘realities’ of modern life and culture. It is basically that I make the text of scripture, and not pragmatic considerations, the final authority. Or to put it another way, I insist that Christians go by scripture even when the consequences of doing so are unthinkable to them.

The biblical definition of the sin of license is the failure to require from each other as much as scripture does, and the biblical definition of the (equal and opposite) error of legalism is to require of each other more than scripture does. The problem one is therefore up against here is licentiousness, but of course those who are licentious in their thinking define legalism not as the Bible does, that is, requiring more than scripture does, but rather as merely requiring of each other everything that scripture does. Their favourite verse is 2 Corinthians 3v6 where Paul teaches a distinction between the letter and the Spirit, saying that the letter kills whilst the Spirit gives life. The context, however, is a direct comparison between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant pertaining to salvation, but those who teach license, in whatever form, say it rather means there are times when we can ignore certain aspects of scripture should the Holy Spirit lead otherwise.

But of course this is precisely the core deception that so many Christians are under today, the idea that the Holy Spirit sometimes leads contrary to the Bible. If, however, such is the case, then there is ultimately nothing anyone could say is biblically wrong, because on what basis could anyone be challenged should they be claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit? After all, if the Holy Spirit is leading you then you must be right, and anyone who challenges you must be wrong! But if such is the case, then on what basis can any Christian identify anything as being a deception? Well, only by conformity to scripture – and so we come around full circle. Licentious Christians obviously accept that Satan can deceive them, and accept too that scripture is the key to our safety, but the problem is that they consider it to be up to them to decide, purely subjectively, which bits of scripture are binding and which bits aren’t, thus providing them with no protection at all. Whether it’s women being ‘led by the Spirit’ into church leadership, though scripture forbids such, or people being ‘led by the Spirit’ to divorce and remarry in circumstances which scripture teaches are invalid, there is no protection to be had against such deceptions because these believers precisely discount the scriptures that pertain to these things, claiming that the Holy Spirit is leading them otherwise

It is therefore understandable that various segments of the Christian spectrum would find what I teach unpalatable. Whether it be the Evangelical Feminists, the libertarian pragmatists who downgrade the Bible’s teachings, or those who defend the unbiblical church structures, traditions and practices of mainstream Christianity, how could they be anything other than uncomfortable with someone who challenges these things on the pure basis of the teaching of scripture. Further, due to the fact that I am unapologetically baptised with the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues and believe in and minister the gifts of the Spirit, I am somewhat frowned on too by those who teach that such was only for the New Testament era. Yet ironically, because I also deplore the truckload of unbiblical false teachings, practises and so-called ‘ministries’ that abound concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I am also a thorn in the side of charismatic and Pentecostal type Christians. Both the so-called ‘charismatic movement’ and ‘Pentecostalism’ in general is comprised of far more error than it is biblical truth, and I have always seen it as a priority to help believers embrace the Spirit-filled life, and to experience of the spiritual gifts biblically without all the nonsense. So hey, for these, and other, reasons they call me Mister Biblical…but I don’t think they mean it as a compliment!

In more recent years, however, I have been targeted regarding my insistence of being fully biblical in all matters by some who not only claim adhere to the same high view of scripture that I do, but who would also broadly agree with my understanding of biblical church life in general. Indeed, an article appeared and circulated some time ago from precisely these quarters entitled, ‘When Biblical is Bad’, and everyone who knew both myself and the author knew also that, even though my name didn’t actually appear, it was nonetheless written with me in mind.

Now if I taught that we must be biblical in all things and that I alone know what that is, then such condemnation would obviously be fully in order. But of course, not only have I never taught any such thing, the author of the article in question knows full well that I haven’t, and that I have actually always laid great emphasis in my teaching on the fact that no one should accept anything I teach passively, or anything anyone else teaches either, but must test everything for themselves, and to their own satisfaction, against scripture. Indeed, one of the definitions I used of my Christian life is that it is the ongoing process of discovering what I am wrong about, and anyone who has any firsthand knowledge of me at all will readily confirm such as being the case.

So given that my unstinting emphasis is that we should be biblical in all things, and that scripture alone is our final authority, and that neither I nor anyone else has a monopoly on that truth, why on earth should anyone who also believes that scripture is the final authority be accusing me of being wrong for teaching such an emphasis? After all, my mantra is, ‘The Bible, the Whole Bible and Nothing But the Bible!’ so why on earth would any conservative evangelical Bible-believing Christian have a problem with that? Well, the answer is, I think, that there are those who say they believe that the Bible is the final authority, but who actually, without even fully realising it, have other ‘authorities’ that conflict with it, but which are only brought out into the light and exposed when someone dares to suggest that they are actually there.

We have to realise that when we say that the Word of God is our final authority the statement only makes full sense when we also identify whatever things might lay claim to the same status. To say, for instance, that the Bible, and not the Pope, is our final authority is something to which every Protestant believer will give a hearty amen; but if one teaches, as I have done for many years, that systematic theology and theological systems can become to Protestants what Popery is to Catholics, then suddenly the atmosphere changes. To say that scripture is the final authority is a perfectly acceptable statement to many Christians who will then get defensive beyond words at any suggestion that their theological systems might just be more authoritative in their eyes than scripture itself, or that they stand in danger of testing scripture by their theological system as opposed to the other way round. In other words, reading the Bible through the pre-suppositional grid of a theological system, as opposed to testing any theological system such as one adheres to against the touchstone of scripture, is actually a sure-fire way for the devil to replace the bondage of the Catholicism that the Reformation delivered us from with a less obvious, but equally damaging, deception. To replace the authority of the church with the authority of theological systems, creeds or statements of faith is to merely exchange deceptions and to precisely undo a big part of what the Lord did through the period of history we refer to as the Reformation.

Christians who understand the importance and function of scripture and its authority in all matters are rightly saddened at Christians who don’t understand this, and who subsequently end up just going by whatever their preferred ‘teacher’ or ‘prophet’ says, and woe betide anyone who gainsays them. Yet the truth of the matter is that many Christians who do understand the authority of scripture make exactly the same mistake, but just with teachers who are long dead. Whether it be Augustine and the Early Church Fathers, or a Luther or Calvin, one is almost made to feel that to question the teachings of such men, let alone point out their many serious doctrinal errors in order that we might learn from them, is like questioning scripture itself, and to be made to feel one is being, almost by definition, pretentious and arrogant. How dare, it would seem, we presume to question them?

I have even heard it taught by some who say they believe in the final authority of scripture that we can only properly understand it as we submit to the consensus of church history. So I have to ask: what is the difference between the authority of church tradition as taught by the Catholic Church and the notion of the authority of the consensus of church history when embraced by Protestants? Answer: not a lot! And of course one has to also immediately ask; which version of the consensus of church history are you meaning? Is it the Catholic one or the Calvinist one? Or do you mean, maybe, the Arminian one, or perhaps even the Anabaptist one? The idea is irrational in the extreme, just as is Catholicism’s doctrine of the authority of the tradition of the Church, and it ultimately just boils down the ‘experts’ telling the ‘non-experts’ what to believe and what not to believe. Result: the authority of the Bible is replaced with the authority of ‘experts’ telling you what it teaches.

And so I think I understand why I am in trouble even with these folk. That there is much to be learned from ‘great’ teachers and figures of the past, and from church history itself, is not in dispute. Of course not! What is in dispute though is any idea of such having authority. They don’t! I say again, that there is much to be learned from all this is not in dispute, but it must be only to the extent that we test everything by scripture and reject anything that is not consistent with it. Scripture is our final authority because it alone is the infallible revealed Word of God. In contrast, church history can be learned from, but must never be thought to be authoritative. So too with the ‘great’ figures of the past, though it does have to be said there is an enormous problem regarding such in that Christians don’t actually agree who are the goodies, and baddies, actually are. I know godly and highly intelligent and biblically literate believers who think, for example, that Luther and Calvin are the among the most important and godly Christian figures in church history, whilst others, who are equally as godly, intelligent and biblically literate, think them a blot on the Christian landscape. So too with Augustine! Was he the godliest man to have lived since Paul the Apostle, or was he the most dangerous heretic church history has ever produced? Again, you will find godly men and women, equally intelligent and biblically literate, answering that question oppositely. Personally, I think they were all bit of both, but the point to grasp here is that none of this is as straightforward as some would have you believe. I can understand why there are believers who mix up whatever theological system they hold to with the authority of scripture; after all, they believe their system to be the actual and definitive explanation of what the Bible teaches. But then who needs the Bible? If you have a definitive explanation of it, then it is obviously far simpler for me to comprehend that than scripture itself. The ‘experts’ have done my thinking for me, and surely they know best.

But of course there’s yet another problem here because there are multiple such theological systems, and guess what, they all conflict with each other. And if they all conflict with each other, then they can’t all be right, can they? So are they all wrong, or is one actually right? But if so, how would we know which it is? Is it Augustinianism, Calvinism, Arminianism, Dispensationalism, or one of their infinite variations? How do we know what is right or wrong in such regard? Answer: by testing them against scripture! And so we come full circle! Scripture alone is our final authority, and to claim there is authority in anything else is not just an error biblically speaking, it is nonsense. It is sheer folly and nothing less! (Let me put in here as well that there are many believers in various parts of the world who have never even heard of such a thing as a theological system, yet who seem to be doing just fine in the Lord with just their Bibles. Indeed, I would even say that many of them are doing massively better than those who think their theological systems to be so important and who cling to them so insecurely. The basic problem, I have found, with theological systems in general is that they just won’t let what the Bible teaches get in the way of a good doctrine.)

So do we need input from varying sources in order to better understand scripture? Of course we do! We need to benefit from Bible teachers both dead an alive, and from the genuine experts, who know, translate and explain the original Bible languages, and who do the technical Bible history and stuff. Indeed, we thank the Lord for them, every one! But it is ultimately scripture that we go by, testing everything and everyone else by it. Theological systems, for all their shortcomings, can obviously also be useful as teaching aids, each bringing differing but valuable insights into biblical truth. But just as with Bible teachers, ‘experts’ and church history, all must be tested by scripture, and not the other way round. And if you do you will find that those who have been deceived into thinking that there is a definitive theological system of biblical truth – the one they personally adhere to, of course – will think that you adhere to no theological system at all, when the truth is that you are actually a pick-and-mix synthesis of the best of them all. Or to put it another way, every existing theological system is partly right and partly wrong. They are all partly biblical and partly unbiblical. So how can you know? By testing everything against scripture for yourself. Let me summarize:

Scripture is the final authority, not the Early Church Fathers!

Scripture is the final authority, not Augustine of Hippo!

Scripture is the final authority, not church history!

Scripture is the final authority, not the Catholic Church!

Scripture is the final authority, not the Pope!

Scripture is the final authority, not Martin Luther!

Scripture is the final authority, not John Calvin! (Arguably the first Protestant Pope!)

Scripture is the final authority, not Jacob Arminius! (Arminius was a nicer, kindlier, more gracious, more loving and far godlier and Christ-like man than John Calvin ever was! Even his enemies testified to his tolerance, forbearance and respect towards all. In contrast, however, Calvin’s enemies, or at least those he managed to catch, were forced into exile, imprisoned, tortured or executed.)

Scripture is the final authority, not creeds!

Scripture is the final authority, not statements of faith!

Scripture is the final authority, and not anyone or anything else.

And so I rest my case! Irrespective of my critics, whichever theological wing, or lack of it, they may come from, I remain steadfast in my assertion that our final authority in all matters is scripture alone, and not what anyone says concerning it. Or to use what has virtually become my catchphrase, we must live according to the teaching of the Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible!

Let me sum up thus: the Beatles once sang Chuck Berry’s song, “Rollover Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.” Neither Chuck Berry, nor the Beatles, I think, meant any disrespect to those two great composers, but were simply announcing that something new and different was now coming alongside. In a similar vein I say: Roll over Augustine, and tell John Calvin the news.

Yes, they call me Mister Biblical…but I don’t think they mean it as a compliment!