Is Scripture Sufficient?
August 8, 2023, 3:00 PM

Question: I read an article that claims the sufficiency of Scripture is “under attack” by “management techniques, extra-biblical revelations, and mysticism.” I am not aware of any of those things that you mentioned occurring in my church. Do you have more specific examples of “management techniques, extra-biblical revelations, and mysticism that are occurring in other churches?

Answer: Thank you for your question. As Christians, we need to measure everything we do in the church to the rule of Scripture. The church of Jesus Christ ought to adhere to the principle of Semper Reformanda, or "always reforming," and the sole, infallible rule of reforming the church is by the Scriptures; they alone are sufficient for the task.

The fact that you are not aware of anything that would compromise the sufficiency of Scripture in your church is a matter of praise and thanksgiving. But the undermining of Scripture's sufficiency is not always by way of a "frontal attack," but can often subtly creep in through the "back door." Consider the examples that we see in Scripture itself. In Revelation 2-3, Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the Church, dictates seven letters to the Apostle John to be sent to the seven churches of Asia Minor. The first one, to Ephesus, describes a church that is doctrinally sound and does not tolerate error or false teaching. However, their fatal flaw is they have left their first love (Jesus). Jesus tells His disciples in John 13:34-35, that the world will know they are His disciples, not if their doctrine is pure, but if they have love for one another. We want to have pure doctrine, don't get me wrong, but not at the expense of Jesus' command to love one another. That is a form of denying the sufficiency of Scripture. Now consider the letter to the church of Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17). Here is a church that held fast to the name of Christ even under severe persecution, but they were in danger to succumbing to a seductive error. My point being, compromising the sufficiency of Scripture may be more subtle than we imagine. Maybe we think our church hasn't succumbed to compromise when it has.

What is one of the most famous compromises of the sufficiency of Scripture that we see in church history? The Roman Catholic Church. This was one of the main points of disputation during the Protestant Reformation. Church historians often talk about the "formal" cause of the Reformation and the "material" cause of the Reformation. The "formal" cause of the Reformation had to do with ultimate authority in the Church. The Reformers held to the principle of Sola Scriptura, or "Scripture alone," as the sole, infallible rule for faith and practice in the Church. Now, it's not as if the Roman Catholic Church denied the inspiration or infallibility of Scripture, but they did not adhere to Scripture alone. Rather, they held to a "dual source" theory of authority: Scripture and Tradition (unwritten, apostolic tradition handed down through history). Martin Luther, and the other Reformers, were quick to point out that tradition has often contradicted itself. Popes err, Church Councils have reversed themselves. This is not to say that tradition is always wrong, but it is not inspired, inerrant, or infallible like the Holy Scriptures.

Moving ahead a couple of centuries, we can see in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, another compromise of the sufficiency of Scripture. Thanks to the Enlightenment of the 18th century and the Modernism of the 19th century, we saw the erosion of Scripture's sufficiency within many of the "mainline" denominations. The rise of the physical sciences and the skepticism that it ended up producing in the intellectual classes, led to an overall attitude of anti-supernaturalism in the Christian church. This came to a head in what was called the "Modernist-Fundamentalist" controversy in the 1920's. Many within the church were denying the inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the miracles of Christ, the vicarious atonement of Christ, and the resurrection of Christ. Why was that? Because Christianity was no longer being seen by many as a religion "of the Book," but another philosophy of life. The "Golden Rule" became more important than the "good news" of the gospel. Seeing the Church as an engine for social change was more important than seeing the Church as the vanguard of the Kingdom of God. All of this was because the Scriptures were no longer seen as being sufficient for the Church's faith and practice.

What about today? You mentioned "management techniques," how have these compromised the sufficiency of Scripture? Let me first ask a question: What is the Church's "mission statement?" That can be found in Matthew 28:19-20, commonly referred to as the "Great Commission:"

[19] "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV)

The Church is to make disciples. This is to be done as the Church goes to all nations. It is to be done through the process of baptizing them (the disciples) and teaching them (the disciples). The primary weapon in the arsenal of "disciple making" is the preaching of the gospel. That's why the Apostle Paul can say, "For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2 NKJV), or he can tell his protege, Timothy, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV). The Scriptures tell us everything we need to know to carry out the Great Commission: Preach the gospel, baptize, and teach the disciples. Well, in the latter half of the 20th century (ca. 1970's and 80's), there were two "movements" that became wildly popular in the Evangelical Church: The Seeker-Sensitive Movement, and the Church Growth Movement. The Seeker-Sensitive Movement taught that if you want to grow your church and reach the lost, you must make your worship experience less threatening to the "seeker." The "seeker" is defined as a person who is not a regular churchgoer, thus you gear the worship service to appeal to them. How is this done? The sermons ("messages") are toned down and less doctrinal and more practical. Sin is downplayed while grace is emphasized. The music is more contemporary and less traditional. The order of the service is more free-flowing and less liturgical. Some may look at this and say, "What's the problem? We each are drawn to what appeals to us." That's true, but what is the purpose of worship? Is it to appeal to the unbelieving, non-churchgoer, or to appeal to the Holy Creator of the universe? The Bible clearly teaches that no one seeks after God, but that He seeks and saves the lost (cf. Romans 3:11; Luke 19:10). Then there is the Church Growth Movement that seeks to incorporate the latest trends in market research, sociology, and analysis. These are all "well-meaning" attempts to reach the lost and grow the church, but they fall short because they don't see the God-ordained means of a pure gospel proclamation of sin, salvation, and service as good enough; they need to be supplemented by man-made management techniques.

Moving along a little more quickly, you also ask about "extra-biblical revelations and mysticism." In his book, "Recovering the Reformed Confessions," R. Scott Clark identifies two traps into which many Christians fall: (1) The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC); and (2) The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). Extra-biblical revelations (such as what you see often in the most extreme distortions of the charismatic movement) would fall into Clark's definition of QIRC. What the Bible says is not enough, we need new revelation, a fresh word from the Holy Spirit. If you've had the misfortune of turning on the TV to the Christian channels in your cable or satellite package and you see people like Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland, you might have heard them speak about a "word from the Lord" they have received. This is not new but is a modern-day example of extra-biblical revelations.

Mysticism, on the other hand, is an example of QIRE. It is an attempt to gain a religious experience of the divine in ways that are alien to, or distortions of, Scripture. Within the history of the Church, this was mostly seen in the monastic movement as many young men, seeking a more pious experience with the holy, left the trappings of modern society behind to join religious orders. The QIRE would include practices as meditation (not biblical meditation on Scripture), solitude, physical denial, acts of service, etc. As I mention these things, many of them are not wrong in and of themselves, but to experience God more fully and outside of how He has revealed Himself in Scripture, that is what makes them illegitimate. That's the key to mysticism, it seeks an experience of God independent of Scripture. Modern-day mystics would include people such as Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and Brennan Manning.

While these things may not be happening in your church, they have infiltrated many American churches. As I said earlier, sometimes in very subtle ways. Maybe a pastor or a trusted friend recommends a book by a Christian mystic. Maybe your church practices a seeker-sensitive model of church growth. Maybe you're a part of a Pentecostal or charismatic church that believes the Holy Spirit is still speaking new revelation today. These things are happening in the Church of Jesus Christ, which is why Christians must always be on guard and must always contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

I hope this helps.

~ Pastor Carl

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