Confessing Church: The Bible
II Kings 22:8-13
Whenever I stand to read the Scripture, I always say as firmly and as categorically as I can: “This is the Word of God.” Notice that I do not say: “Listen for the Word of God.” I do not say: “May this be God’s Word for you.” I do not say: “This Book contains the Word of God.” No. For me there are no conditions, no reservations, no uncertainty. I say: “This is the Word of God.” I say it because I believe it.
Let me review with you an Old Testament story to make the point. A long time ago, there was a king in Israel named Josiah. In spite of the fact that both Josiah’s father and grandfather had been rotten kings, allowing Israel to forsake her love for God, Josiah himself was very good. One of the things he did was to rebuild the temple which, through neglect, had fallen into disrepair. As the restoration work was in process, the workmen chanced to find in some dusty nook or cranny a Scroll. Sensing its value, they took the Scroll to Hilkiah, the high priest. Hilkiah immediately delivered the Scroll to King Josiah, saying: “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” Now the Book of the Law was what we now know as the first five books of the Bible. The king had that Scroll read to him, and when he heard the words, he repented, for he realized that what was going on in his nation was an offense against God. Josiah then sought the advice of the leading prophet in the land, only it wasn’t a prophet, it was a prophetess—a woman. Her name was Hulda. Hulda told the king that this Word of God must be read to the people. Josiah then had the Word of God read, and as a result, tremendous reforms—political, social, economic, and religious reforms—swept through the land. False idols were torn down. Purveyors of the occult were run out of business. God’s Covenant with His people was taken more seriously. The worship of God was purified. The reading of the Book changed things. The reading of this Book always changes things. The reading of this Book can change things even now. That’s why I believe that:
The Bible needs to be taken more seriously in the church.
You know, the ignorance of so many people in the church today is quite amazing. Let me try to make the point with laughter.
I heard about a pastor in Kansas City who had been receiving criticism with regards to his church’s Sunday school. He decided to visit in one of the classes the next Sunday and he chose the fifth-grade class. He stood at the back of the room and listened as the teacher asked the class: “Can anyone tell me who tore down the walls of Jericho?” Nobody answered, and so the teacher called on one of the students. “Billy, who tore down the walls of Jericho?” Billy immediately replied, “I don’t know, Miss Smith, but I didn’t do it.” Well, of course, the pastor was shocked. He went rushing to find the Sunday school superintendent and he said: “Listen, I’m really upset. I was just in the fifth-grade class and the teacher asked Billy Jones who tore down Jericho’s walls, and Billy said that he didn’t do it. Now what do you think of that?” The superintendent immediately replied: “Now pastor, just calm down. I don’t know anything about this incident you are investigating, but I know Billy Jones, and if Billy said he didn’t do it, then he didn’t do it.” Now the pastor was horrified. He called an emergency meeting of the Christian Education Committee that night and he told them the story of what had happened. And then he asked: “Now what are we going to do about this?” The chairman of the committee, who was one of the elders said: “Now pastor, don’t get all worked up about this. We’ll just take up a special offering and pay for the damages that were done!”
Well, there was a time when a preacher could stand in the pulpit and make an incidental reference to a Bible story and everyone in the congregation immediately would know the story to which he referred. No more. Frankly, I think it’s the fault of many ministers in the church today. You see, there are too many ministers today who read books about the Bible, but who do not read the Bible itself. There are too many ministers who proclaim their own words, rather than the Word of God. There are too many ministers who seem to believe that it is a sign of intelligence to call into question the authority of the Bible. There are too many ministers who try to water down or rationalize away the teachings of the Bible which they do not wish to hear. That’s why it was so encouraging to me to hear one of the families who joined our church recently say that the reason they took that step was because in this church the Bible is believed, honored, preached, studied, and obeyed. Let there be no mistake about that. While there may be those in the Presbyterian Church today who do not claim the Bible as the absolute authority and infallible Word of God, that is not true of this church. Here we claim the great truths delivered in our Presbyterian confessions of faith. Just a sampling for you:
- The Scots Confession: “As we believe and confess the Scriptures of God sufficient to instruct and make perfect the man of God, so do we affirm and avow their authority to be from God, and not to depend on men or angels.”
- The Second Helvetic Confession: “We do not admit any other judge than God Himself, Who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what to be avoided.”
- The Westminster Confession of Faith: “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (Who is truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
- The Confession of 1967: “The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the Word of God written. The Scriptures are not a witness among others, but the witness without parallel.”
That’s what Presbyterians have always believed; that this Book is the Word of God. Sadly, now, there are those in the Presbyterian Church who are seeking to diminish the authority and inspiration of this Book as the absolute, infallible, unchanging Word of God. Not I. Not this church. We choose to stand with the great confessions of faith which have arisen from the Presbyterian Church to declare that the Bible is the Word of God written; the only infallible rule and source for everything we are to say and believe and do in life. Yes, I believe that and I tell you, I would be willing to lay down my life for that belief. And that’s why I believe that:
The Bible needs to be taken more seriously in our society and in our lives.
You remember from the story in II Kings that when King Josiah had just a portion of this Book read to the people, the whole society was changed. Well I dare suggest that if this Book were read—truly read today, the same thing would happen. Interesting, don’t you think? The Bible is far and away the best-selling Book in this country, but it is also the least read book in this country. There was a time in this country when we as Christians, and we as Presbyterians in particular, were called “the people of the Book”, but no more. It’s such a shame. I haven’t traveled to every nation on earth, but I’ve been to quite a few and I will tell you that when you go into a nation or a culture where this Book is not known and not honored, you will find the worst disease, the worst despair, the worst poverty, the worst prejudice, the worst deprivation of human rights, the worst diminishment of the human spirit, the worst devaluation of human life that you find anywhere on the face of the earth. And that is why I believe it is high time that we as a people, we as a society, we as individuals, get back to this Book. We need once again to be known as “the people of the Book”.
A sidebar, please. Let me encourage those of you with small children to take the Bible seriously. Don’t let your Bible gather dust in your home. Read it to your children every single day. It doesn’t have to be a long and involved process. The Bible is one of the most incredible collections of riveting stories ever compiled. Read those stories to your children. I especially encourage fathers to do this. If there is no father in your home, or if the father has no spiritual life, then Mom, by all means, you do the reading. But please, let your children grow up hearing the Bible read to them every day. We are certainly learning how the words of the Koran are being pounded into the minds and hearts of Muslim children all over the world today. So parents, plant the Word of God in the heart of your child. For then, at a very tender age they will begin to grow in faith and they will develop a love for our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, take them to the pages of this Book. That’s the way to change them. That’s the way to change your home. That’s the way to change this city. That’s the way to change this nation. That’s the way to change our world.
Let me finish with this.
Billy Graham tells how early in his ministry he was disturbed by those who were questioning the truth and the truthfulness of the Bible. Adding to his frustration was the advice of a good friend who had accepted some of the more liberal understandings of the Bible. It came to a head one day in 1950 when these two were together at the Forest Home Conference Center in the mountains outside of Los Angeles, California. As they were talking together, his friend said to him that if he continued to claim and to preach his old views of the Bible, he would be limited to a very narrow interpretation of the Scripture, and thus, his evangelistic ministry would be curtailed. People would write him off as being irrelevant to the times. Billy Graham was so disturbed by all this that after supper, instead of going to the evening service at the conference center, he went out for a walk on the slopes. There, under a star-filled sky, he tried to decide what would be the direction for his life. It was a moment of crisis. Here is how he describes it: “I duel with my doubts, and my soul seems to be caught in the crossfire. Finally, in desperation, I surrendered my will to the living God recorded in Scripture. I said: ‘Lord, many things in this Book I do not understand, but You have said that the just shall live by faith, so here and now by faith I accept the Bible as Your Word. I take it all. I take it without reservation. Where there are things that I cannot understand, I will reserve judgment until I receive more light. If this pleases You, then give me the authority to proclaim Your Word from Scripture.’” Within six weeks after that moment, Billy Graham’s first crusade began in Los Angeles, and you know what has happened since.
My beloved, the decision to simply accept the truth of God revealed on the pages of the Bible is a decision which is ours to make. I have made that decision. That is why whenever I stand to read the Bible, I always say as firmly and as categorically as I can: “This is the Word of God.” I believe that. This church believes that. I call you to believe it too.