Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - The Authority of the Bible (Part 3)

When there are controversial theological or ethical questions, such as those related to same sex relationships, conservative evangelicals look to the Bible for our answers. Why? In short, we believe that the Bible is the word of God (what God says to us) and so if we want to know God's view on an issue, we look to the Bible's view. Put another way, God's authority is expressed through his word, the Bible.

So if the last post in this series was addressing a broad range of people to explain why Christians look to the Christian God as their authority, then this post is addressing a narrower audience of people - those who would define as Christians (or at least have some interest in doing so) - and explaining why I, as a conservative evangelical, look to the Bible as authoritative.

Now there are good books written on this subject, a few of which I'll mention below. A blog post can't possibly cover all the arguments. However, hopefully we can sketch some of the main points.

1. Most who identify as Christians would accept that God is a communicating God. It's seems a sane response to any idea of a personal creator and it seems especially likely in the context of a Trinitarian God, who creates with his word (e.g. Gen. 1:3, 6, 9), makes communicating beings in his image (Gen. 1:27), sends prophets and finally sends his Son with his message (Heb. 1:1-2).

2. The question is: where do we find that communication? Anglicans in particular have talked about Scripture (God communicates through the Bible), Tradition (God communicates through the church) and Reason (God communicates through our reasoned understanding), which to some degree align with the churchmanships evangelical, catholic and liberal. It is perhaps right to add a fourth approach, which has become especially popular with respect to Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement (although one would also find it in mysticism), which we might call experience (God communicates directly in my experience). It is too much for this blog post to build a coherent argument for why, while I respect God's sovereign guidance over tradition, reason and experience, I think that they fall prey to the sinfulness and unreliability of the human heart (Jer. 17:9; Mar. 7:14-23), whereas God has promised to speak truly in his word. However, I think a book like God Speaks, which I have reviewed, would be an excellent place to go.

3. Having said that, I think it is important to notice that Jesus' seems to approach Scripture as expressing God authoritative communication. For example, he can say that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:34) and he can criticise the Pharisees for their failure to obey the Scripture and obeying their traditions and reasoning instead (Mark 7:1-13). There's a sense in which, if I follow Jesus, then I want to have Jesus' attitude to everything, including how God communicates.

4. A church that takes this position (this could fairly be called the evangelical, or reformed, or protestant position) is always reforming, but not always evolving. What do I mean? Well it is a church that recognises that humans in their sin always get things wrong, and that churches can drift away from the truth God has communicated to us. We always need to be reformed back to that truth. However, we are not simply evolving, in that we are moving away from an unenlightened past to a more enlightened future.

5. Interestingly, I would say this view of Scripture is the historic position of the Church of England, i.e. it is reformed and evangelical on Scripture (although it can be unpopular to say so!). So in the 39 Articles (which clergy still affirm in their vows and still form the doctrinal basis of the legal formularies) we read:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. (Article IV)

I.e. our belief is defined by what we read in Scripture.

The Nicene Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture. (Article VIII)

I.e. any summary of belief, like the creeds, is only true because it truly summarises Scripture.

The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.(Article XX)

I.e. neither reason nor tradition (nor experience) comes above Scripture, but Scripture (which is consistent) defines the parameters of our belief and practice.

And within the canons, to which we ministers are to be obedient, we read:

A 5 Of the doctrine of the Church of England

The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.

In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.

which again makes clear that the question, at least for those of us in the Church of England, of what we believe, is a question of what Scripture teaches.

The implication of all this, is that the discussion to be had is a discussion about what Scripture says. Now I know this doesn't change the fact that questions around homosexuality and same-sex relationships are very personal and very emotive for a lot of people. I know it's not always easy to have a discussion about what the Bible says, when it says things about me that may have a big impact. However, I want to suggest that, in many ways, this is the reality of Christian discipleship. God get's to call the the shots, even when it's a call about the very core of who I perceive myself to be. If I trust him, then I'll trust him even with the things closest and most personal to me. And God addresses me on these and all issue through his word - the Bible.

That means that the next step in the discussion will be to look at what the Bible says about same-sex relationships.

Let me say the best book I've read recently on confidence in biblical authority for Christians is Confident by Daniel Strange and Michael Ovey. Have a look at my review.

Other Posts in the this series:

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