Christians are to base our beliefs and our practices on God’s Word.
Yet there are at least four influences, other than the Bible, that can get in the way of our accepting the teaching of God’s Word: 1) a word or impression supposedly from God; 2) church history (councils, creeds, pastors, authors); 3) experiences we’ve had; and 4) reason.
A Word or Impression Supposedly from God
Joseph Smith taught that every Mormon could receive special revelation from God.
Many Evangelicals believe that God speaks to individual believers today. This includes Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third-Wave Christians, anyone who practices contemplative spirituality, and many Calvinists.
Dr. James Dobson rejoiced on air that God spoke to his father after a massive heart attack, promising him perseverance and thus guaranteeing his salvation.
People sometimes think God told them who to marry, what job to take, what car to buy, what church to attend, etc.
Special revelation to OT and NT prophets was always the exception. There has never been a time when more than a few believers received special revelation, and even that stopped with the ending of the apostolic age.
We have God’s Word to guide us.
Church History and Tradition
Protestants may scoff at Catholics and Orthodox who think that church tradition has equal footing with the Bible.
Yet many Protestants think the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Synod of Dort are essentially on par with Scripture.
I see many Facebook posts that people send me in which someone is arguing for a particular understanding of truth, and they point to a book written by some theologian. The book is the source and proof of their understanding. A human book, not God’s Book, informs them.
Many say the Holy Spirit has given the Church 2,000 years of teachers. We need to learn from what the Holy Spirit has been teaching all that time.
The reality is that most of the teaching in church history is false teaching. Church history is a test. Will we study God’s Word for ourselves? Will we evaluate what people write rather than just accepting it as true?
Reason and Experience
Many people decide what is true or false based on their reasoning or experience.
I read something by a person who said he believed it would be unjust of God to condemn anyone to hell who had never heard about Jesus Christ during his lifetime. That conclusion is not based on Scripture. It is based on one’s own reasoning.
Our 2006 annual conference proved very controversial. Zane Hodges and Bob Bryant both said that unless a person believes he has an irrevocable salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, he has not yet been born again. That ended up dividing the conferees, with about half strongly disagreeing. They disagreed based on their own experiences. I heard many say, “When I was born again, I did not believe that my salvation was secure.”
A month later, during another conference a friend with a doctorate from DTS said that he had not been sure of his eternal destiny until five years after he was born again. I later had a chance to ask him how he knew that was true. He answered that his life changed dramatically, proving that he had been saved then.
Why the Scriptures Alone Must Guide Our Beliefs and Practices
Many Scripture texts show that our beliefs and practices should be based on Scripture alone. It is the principle called sola scriptura.
Second Timothy 3:16-17 is an anchor passage for this doctrine.
It is Scripture–all Scripture–that is profitable for reproof, correction, teaching, and training in righteousness.
Of course, the Scriptures cannot guide us unless each passage is a building block in renewing our minds (Rom 12:2).
If God’s Word is what men of God–giants of the faith like Moses and Timothy–needed, then it is also what every believer needs.
Nothing else should guide the believer. Impressions, church history, logic, and personal experience must bend the knee to God’s Word. We must not allow other things to trump God’s Word.
Gotquestions.org has this opening statement in one of its answers: “The statement ‘the Bible is our only rule for faith and practice’ appears in many doctrinal statements. Sometimes, it takes a similar form, stating that the Bible is ‘the final authority,’ ‘the only infallible rule,’ or ‘the only certain rule.’ This sentiment, whatever the wording, is a way for Bible-believing Christians to declare their commitment to the written Word of God and their independence from other would-be authorities.”
If anything else can override Scripture, we have become the lords of our lives. No longer does God direct us via His Word.
Consider Psalm 119. Nearly every verse extols God’s Word.
Consider Isa 40:8. God’s Word stands forever.
Consider Matt 24:35. While heaven and earth will pass away, Jesus’ words will never pass away.
This is particularly true in terms of evangelism and the saving message. Few professing Christians study to learn what the Bible says about the saving message.
Most people’s understanding of what to do to be saved is based on experience, reasoning, and tradition.
The Lord taught about the importance of God’s Word in discipleship in John 8:30-32. We must abide in His teachings and Word to be His disciples. If we abide in His Word, the truth sets us free from sin’s bondage (as vv 33 and those following show).
There are many potential sources of false doctrine: church history, YouTube videos, blogs, books, friends, Christian radio, Christian TV, experiences, feelings, and what seems right.i If we want to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” we must base our beliefs and practices solely on His Word. We must regularly ask God to open His Word to us.
i There is truth in some of these things. But we must evaluate what we read and hear in light of Scripture. If we simply accept what we hear and read in our tradition, we will likely be greatly deceived since most Christian traditions teach some form of works salvation.