Interlude from Series on Preaching: Sola Scriptura!

We need first and foremost exposition of and from the Old and New Testament (Ultimate & Unique Authority and Power). If or when the various writings, creeds and confessions of those fallen sinners who were redeemed by Christ prove helpful in understanding and explaining specific texts of Scripture, then we should use them (Secondary and Dependent Authorities–Only having authority to the degree that they echo Scripture). But we do not need first and foremost exposition of and from the creeds and confessions of the Church, no matter how eloquent and accurate they are at particular places. Note that the whole issue is the precise relationship between the two classes of writings.

One of the great dangers among conservative Reformed and Presbyterian (and frankly this plagues all Christians regardless of affiliation only in different ways) folk is losing sight of the relationship between these two classes of writings. What I find remarkable is how often teaching authorities in Reformed and Presbyterian circles cannot find it within themselves to say, “I/We don’t know, because the Bible does not reveal the answer to that question.” Too much, I fear, that marks many present theological discussions and debates is generated by an unwillingness to exegete Scripture for the life of local congregations, and instead is a wandering off into trying to answer or address questions based on speculation that devolve into a clash of egos, personalities, denominations and para-church institutions and ministries. John Calvin was rather well-known for, among other reasons, saying the following: “This is where Scripture stops, so this is where we stop.” One can, of course, argue with whether Calvin always was true to his own words, but surely we ought to conclude that his words reflect a great truth: We need God’s Holy, Inerrant and Powerful Life-Giving Word for life and godliness, and it alone is able to give us what we need. The creeds and confessions are enormously helpful, and, yes, there is a certain kind of need for them. Still, they are not in a place of first position of authority and power, and plenty of people have been saved from their sins without having much if any detailed knowledge of the historic creeds and confessions of the church. What they knew was The Truth to which the best creeds and confessions in the history of the church pointed and gave expression, albeit in a limited way. In other words the best creeds and confessions of the church are a vehicle for truth. One can still have The Truth without having a particular 4th, 8th, 16th, 17th, or even 21st century vehicle for it.

I have not to this point taken any exceptions to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms in my ordination vows, and I think that these Standards are still the best human articulation of the truth that the Scriptures require us to believe that have ever been written. But I preach from the Bible. I am responsible for what I say that the Bible says. The people to whom I preach and with whom I counsel need God’s word. When our doctrinal and theological debates and discussions degenerate into hashing out answers to hypothetical situations and questions, and set us adrift into scouring the annals of church history for how various pastors and professors tried to address and answer those hypothetical matters we are simply repeating the sins of our fathers. And when we do so, we are quite unhelpful to God’s people.

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