At the recent coronation of King Charles III, he, like every King and Queen of England since 1689, was presented with a Bible. The words uttered at that moment by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland were,
Sir, to keep you ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, receive this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.
It is a very strong set of words. For many this was a throw-back to a bygone era, when faith and the church played a more significant role in public life. It is part of the coronation ceremony that they would be happy to see excised. Yet for others this reflects something profoundly true irrespective of the current cultural mood. The Bible, the written word of God, is more precious than anything else in the world. It is the instrument the Spirit uses to awaken and nourish faith. It generates hope and it promotes and expounds love.
Two weeks before the coronation, the fourth GAFCON took place in Kigali, Rwanda. The Kigali Commitment that came out of that conference spoke at length about the authority of the Bible and its place in the life of believers and in the churches.
The Bible is God’s Word written, breathed out by God as it was written by his faithful messengers (2 Timothy 3:16). It carries God’s own authority, is its own interpreter, and it does not need to be supplemented, nor can it ever be overturned by human wisdom.
God’s good Word is the rule of our lives as disciples of Jesus and is the final authority in the church.
It grounds, energises and directs our mission in the world. The fellowship we enjoy with our risen and ascended Lord is nourished as we trust God’s Word, obey it and encourage each other to allow it to shape each area of our lives.
What a great encouragement these words are! They not only remind us that we are called upon to trust the Bible, but explain why we do. The words of the Bible, from an array of different human authors, produced over a protracted period of time, are at the very same time the word of God to us. God did not bypass the choices, personalities, creativity and styles of the human authors of each part of Scripture. Even in translation we can tell the different styles and emphases of Paul and John, of Moses and Isaiah. They wrote purposefully, consciously choosing the topics they did, and using the words they did. Yet the end result is what God intended us to have. It is the word of God written.
The pattern of life with God has been, from the very beginning, word-shaped. The man and woman in the Garden of Eden were meant to live under the word of God’s blessing, promise and warning. Everything went haywire when they chose not to listen to God’s word of warning and to follow another word from a most bizarre source. Abraham was meant to live under the promises God made to him when he called him (Genesis 12:1–3). The people of Israel at the base of Mount Sinai “did not see a form” they “heard only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12). They were to relate to God by hearing and obeying his words. The Psalmist spoke of God’s word as “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Isaiah recorded God saying, “but this is the one to whom I will look, he who is humble and contrite of heart and who trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
The faithful Old Testament Israelite delighted in God’s word and saw it as an enormous privilege to be those to whom God has chosen to address himself. God’s word brings life and wisdom, justice and peace. The worst kind of judgment imaginable was silence from God, “a famine of hearing the words of the lord” (Amos 8:11). After all, it was the word of the lord that pointed them forward to the deliverance to come and the one who would bring it.
Jesus challenged those who opposed him with the question “Have you not read?” (Matthew 12, 19, 22) and with the insistence “It is written” (Matthew 4). He spoke of true discipleship in terms of “hearing these words of mine and doing them” (Matthew 7:24). He gave his words (or rather the words of his Father) to his first disciples, and they received them (John 17:8) so that they could share them with yet others (John 17:20; Matthew 28:20). As that apostolic mission got underway, and Paul joined them to speak of Jesus to the Gentiles, he made much of the critical role of Scripture.
Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
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. (2 Timothy 3:16)
The writer to the Hebrews pressed down on how penetrating God’s word can be.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Since life as a disciple is life lived under the direction of the word of God in the power of the Spirit, those involved in God’s work of making disciples, nurturing them in faith and equipping them to join in the mission, must know the Bible well. The training they themselves receive needs to be a deep and sustained immersion in Scripture. They need themselves to understand the Scriptures, delight in the Scriptures, and be shaped by the Scriptures. They need to learn how to love from the Scriptures and how to hope from the Scriptures. How they view the world, how they treat those right in front of them, the decisions they make in ministry, all need to be directed and shaped by the teaching of the Bible.
That’s what a theological education at Moore College is all about. The Bible looms so large in all we do because it is God’s word and what he has to say to us is of supreme importance. It is the sword of the Spirit, his instrument to shape us into the image of Christ and equip us for his mission. Of course we must pay careful attention to what is going on in the world into which we are sent. We learn from each other and from those who have gone before us or live alongside us. But God’s written word has a priority which is evident (we trust) in all we do. It does not need to be corrected, or clarified, or supplemented, precisely because it is God’s word.
“The most valuable thing this world affords”? Most certainly. “The good word of our good God that rules our lives as disciples of Jesus and is the final authority in the church”? Without a doubt. “Its own interpreter”? How critically important that is in theory and in practice. But one more thing. Jesus trusted God’s word and entrusted God’s word to his apostles. So because I am a follower of Jesus, I trust the Bible.