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COMING TO A CHURCH NEAR YOU - A PILE OF DISCARDED BIBLES

CLOSURE OF BIBLE HOUSE
12th December 2003

It is entirely appropriate that I should speak on the day Bible House, 95 Bathurst Street, Sydney, closes. I was born in the same week as it was opened! The speaker at the opening was the Honourable H.M.HAWKINS, member of the NSW  Parliament, and long term Treasurer of the Central Methodist Mission. Today, at the closing, I am guest speaker, a minister of the Uniting Church, and Superintendent of the Wesley Mission, formerly the Central Methodist Mission, and also an Honourable member of the NSW Parliament.

Men from Sydney Methodist Church, now Wesley Mission, were among the founding fathers of the Bible Society in Australia in 1817 and we have been supporters ever since. Yet times have changed in regard to people's attitude to the Bible. In 1817 everyone agreed with the authority and inspiration of the Bible even if they neglected or objected to it. By 1938, many in society rejected the Bible's claims, but no denomination did. Every denomination accepted the authority of the scriptures, even though Protestants were suspicious the Roman Catholics giving equal place to the authority of church tradition.

By 2003, we have the first mainstream denomination rejecting the Bible's authority. The 2003 Assembly of the Uniting Church, affirmed that ministers living in open same s ex relationships may be ordained as ministers to the consternation of members across Australia. 22,000 members wrote expressing their disagreement. Their petitions had no effect. This month's "Onward" magazine from Victoria states,

"What is radically new is that implicit heresy is now openly declared and defended.  However, many of us in the UCA reject what the Assembly has done and we continue to submit to the authority of the Bible as the supreme rule for Christian faith and behaviour. We continue to adhere to the theological essentials of the UCA Basis of Union. To do otherwise is to betray the holy, catholic and apostolic church to which we claim to belong. Now that the UnitingChurch has openly declared its apostasy, who knows how many more heresies are contemplated.

Certainly the blessing of homosexual relationships is in the pipeline. Then it would be consistent to press the Government to give full legal and moral status to such relationships and to equate those relationships with marriage.  There is also a progressive denial of the essential elements of the Person and Work of Christ in deference to a non-Christian "ecumenism." These heresies are widespread and little or nothing is currently done to discipline or correct them."

Never, in this country, has there been a more urgent need for the Bible Society to declare its belief in the authority and inspiration of the Bible. It is really impossible for a church from the reformed and evangelical tradition, to teach that the Bible has as much relevance and authority as last year's Sydney telephone directory! Otherwise, coming near to you, will be a church, with a pile of discarded Bibles!

There is a beautiful touch of sarcasm about how such modern Christians speak when they are discussing the authority of the Bible. In the Monty Python movie, "The Life of Brian", Brian, a supposed contemporary of Jesus, is standing on the edge of the crowd when Jesus delivers the sermon that begins with the Beatitudes. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

At the edge of the crowd it is hard to hear the speaker. The speech is half heard, half passed from person to person. Jesus continues: "Blessed are the peace-makers for they shall be called the sons of God." "What was that?" asks a man in the crowd. "I think it was, "Blessed are the cheese makers," responds someone further forward. "What's so special about the cheese-makers?" A cultured type who has been to a modern theological seminary, chimes in, "It's not meant to be taken literally. Obviously it refers to any manufacturer of dairy products."

To hear some preachers twist passages of scripture to declare they are to be taken literally or not, to hear others saying that Jesus was not physically raised from the dead nor born of a virgin, and others declaring that the days of creation must be only 24 hour days otherwise a person is a non-believer, is to generate in the minds of many intelligent hearers uncertainty about the authority of the Bible. If these days, every Rev. Tom, Dick and Harriet interprets the scriptures as they please, the whole question of the nature of the script­ures, their inspiration, infallibility and authority is up for grabs.

None of us want to return to a obscurantist, closed minded acceptance of everything told us, simply because someone says "the Bible tells me so." Billy Graham came preaching with authority because he kept punching out the phrase "The Bible says" but even Billy quotes psychologists, politicians and world leaders alongside the scriptures these days, because for growing numbers of people, the Bible has little or no authority. What can intelligent people believe about the authority of the scriptures?

1. WHAT DO WE MEAN BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES?

We believe in the unique, absolute and final authority of the Bible for belief and practice. All other differences regarding conversion, a personal relation­ship with God, judgment, heaven, hell, styles of worship and morality are based on that one main difference - evangelicals believe that the Bible is authoritative.

Consequently, in analysing any theology, it is crucial that evangelicals carefully evaluate the view the theologians have of the Bible. It is their view of Scripture that is essential. I have been saying in the Uniting Church, that the argument is greater than same-sex couples living the manse, ordained to teach our congregations. The issue has to do with the question: "Does the Bible continue to have any relevance and authority to this Church?"

Evangelical Christianity affirms that the revelation God gave in the Old and New Testaments is unique, final and closed. But many theologians and secular commentators see scripture as a product of ordinary people, trapped within the limitations of their time of writing and so are open to challenge and change for us today.

To the question: "Is the Bible still authoritative?" must be added another: "to whom?" If the answer to that question is "to the man on the street" then we must reply: "No, the Bible is no longer authoritative to the man on the street, even though the written Word of God has been regarded by the man on the street as authoritative for the past 3,000 years, the ordinary secular person these days has little regard for any authority.

Certainly there is little regard for the authority of school-teachers or the police, the viewpoint of judges is widely deprecated, the scientific judgement on the ozone layer is disputed by people who little knowledge of the subject, politic­ians views are cynically disparaged and the findings of any expert subject to the opinions of talk-back commen­tators and the un-enlightened mind. No authority is regarded as sacrosanct anymore."

We live in an age when anti-authority views are seen as praiseworthy, when children are taught not to accept what teachers say and our view is deemed thorou­ghly objectionable. Modern secularist thought can tolerate any form of belief except the belief that there are absolute answers to life's questions. Modern pluralistic society can accept witchcraft and nonsense astrology in newspapers more easily than it can accept evangelical Christianity.

Furthermore, modern liberal theology cannot accept an authoritative Bible. Liberalism is the fruit of rejecting the unique authority of the scriptures. Once the authority of the Bible was dismissed, then all other possibilities of interpreting the written record were allowable, subject only the feeling of the moment.

Why this rejection of the authority of the Bible both by secular humanism and theological liberalism? In parts of Africa, Christians today are called by a name that means "The People of the Book." Why have so many Christians and so many communities based upon the ethic of the scriptures no longer want to be known as the people of the Book?

Because evangelical faith declares that God has spoken in an absolute, final way about human thought, beliefs and conduct, and that the duty of every human being, in the face of God's revelation is faith and submission. Therefore a prime task of the church is to translate and distribute, at a price everyone can afford, God's word, to every people group on earth.

But few denominations accept that today. This is a tough pill to swallow for the do-your-own-thing generation, and it comprises the primary scandal of Christianity in the 20th century. The basic reason why people will not accept the authority of the scriptures, is that have all been hood-winked into believing that we modern people are the master minds behind all we believe and the sole arbiters of all we accept. We do not want to be under any authority. We want to be the captains of our soul and the masters of our destinies.

But let the intelligent mind challenge that! The findings of psychiatry and psychology tell us we are the product of environment and genes more than we realise. From the world wars, we should have learned that when we rejected all other authorities, we were taken over by some whose only authority is their own megalomania. Our personal experience is that when we stand for nothing, we fall for anything! Accepting the external and objective authority of the Bible is a mentally healthy approach to life if nothing else!

The question of authority is the most fundamental issue that faces everybody seeking to understand and obey the scriptures. Authority is the key question of theology to be answered before any other. The question by whose authority is the scriptures judged and obeyed cannot be overes­timated, for it is the means whereby worship, preaching, practice, discipline and organisation are kept under the continuous scrutiny of the truth. Differing forms of authority produce contrasting systems of theology and religion, and invariably underlie most other theological differences. The origins of all authority lie in God Himself.

2. IN WHAT SENSE THEN ARE THE SCRIPTURES AUTHORITATIVE?

Most today exalt the authority of the human mind over all else. In the last two centuries the supreme authority of Scripture has been consistently subjected to human reason, conscience, feeling, ex­perience and scientific learning which have critically judged the Bible. Rather than the divine Word, human reason is seen as the judge. Anybody can set himself up to be the final arbiter of what the Bible says and its significance. On the issue of same s ex marriage of clergy, radio talk-back personalities pontificate vacuously, and journalists express their own ignorance.

Others within the Church, in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches gave equal status to the authority of tradition. This blends with Scripture the authority of the church and its pronouncements. The voice of tradition is exercised through councils of bishops or through the Popes. This however, reflects misgivings about the sufficiency of Scripture. Protestantism rejects the claim of an infallible tradition and regards all tradition as subject to the test of Scripture.

Evangelicals accept the authority of Scripture alone. "Sola Scriptura"  This is the Reformation view. We assert Scripture is the only source of all knowledge of Him. The Creator has not left His creatures to hazard guesses at the truth concerning Him. Scripture is the written record of what God has spoken to His people. The Bible is a record of God's revealing of Himself and contains all that the church needs to know in the way of salvation and service. "The scriptures bear witness to Me", said Jesus. John 5:39 The Bible is the inspired and true record of what God has to say to us.

Last Sunday one of the giants of the faith died. Theologian, journalist, and evangelical leader Carl F.H. Henry died Sunday, December 7, at age 90 in his longtime home of Watertown, Wisconsin. Henry made it his life's work to present biblical Christianity as intellectually credible and historically true. On the battlefields of modern theological thought, spanning seminaries, denominations, and media, Henry shaped the defenses of evangelicalism with two goals in mind: preserving truth and attracting non-believers.

After a chance meeting with a young Christian friend, the non-believing Carl Henry inquired for three hours about spiritual matters, and then prayed The Lord's Prayer. When they were done praying, Henry remembered, "I had inner assurance hitherto unknown of sins forgiven, that Jesus was my Saviour, that I was on speaking terms with God as my Friend. A floodtide of peace and joy swept over me. My life's future, I was confident, was now anchored in and charted by another world, the truly real world."

Carl Henry completed two doctorates, was the founder of Fuller Theological Seminary, and first editor of "Christianity Today." In later years he found himself preoccupied with two concerns: the problem of religious knowledge, and the doctrine of God. He became convinced "that if we humans say anything authentic about God, we can do so only on the basis of divine self-revelation; all other God-talk is conjectural." These theological issues gave birth to his six-volume work, "God, Revelation, and Authority". 1983. An able encourager and champion of evangelicals, Henry critiqued evangelical accommodation to a society increasingly at odds with Biblical standards. We need his skills as we face our society and church denominations today.

3. HENCE THE AUTHORITY LIES IN THE REVELATION OF GOD.

Dr Carl Henry would agree that the Bible is a human record and celebra­tion of God in history. It is also the point of God's self-revealing encounter with us in the present. God spoke in human experience and the Bible is the written record of that Word. In that revelation God acts at three inter-linked levels.

Level one is revelation on the public stage of history. God acted in human history, eventually by coming in Jesus Christ and in the Pentecostal outpour­ing of the Spirit. He will act again in human history at the point of Christ's return for judgment and cosmic renewal, which will end human history.

Level two, is revelation in the public records of Scripture. Written public records give us accurately and permanently what God wants us to know about Him­self.

Level three is revelation in the personal con­sciousness of individuals. That is, God gives us an understanding mind and will of the God Jesus disclosed. Mt. 11:25-27; 16:17; 2 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:12-16; Eph. 1:17-20; 1 Jn. 5:20 The Holy Spirit interprets to us the contents of Scripture in a way we understand. "New Dictionary of Theology"Inter-Varsity Press, 1988

For the past twenty-five years, on national television, I have proclaimed the word of God and invited people to ring one of our counsellors who can show them from the scriptures what it means to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour. Thousands of people have responded in faith to what the Bible teaches over the years. This week, one of our counsellors, Sally Dales, reported to me:

Adam Nasey, of Cabramatta, responded to the message of Dr. Gordon Moyes on Sunday morning's Turn Round Australia. He comes from the Middle East, and is a Muslim. He asked about what the preacher said about relationship with JESUS CHRIST, what is my view about it, and what is he to do to have relationship with HIM? I explained to him the death and resurrection of the LORD, His love for us, that we have to acknowledge that we are sinners, repent of all our sins, believe the LORD JESUS CHRIST died as the penalty for our sins, and to acknowledge the LORD JESUS as the LORD of our lives, to be renewed of heart and mind, to be born again and make disciples of all nations, and that the purpose why we are here is to glorify HIM. I gave him a brief testimony of where I was delivered by God. After our conversation, I asked him if he would like to pray with me and repeat after me the salvation prayer and he did. I gave the Lord all the glory and praise."

The Reformers insisted that Scripture alone, unaugmented by any philosophy or religion, can bring us to know God, for the Spirit opens Scripture to us reveals our need and God's answer.

4. FROM EXPERIENCE WE KNOW SCRIPTURE TO BE INSPIRED.

The historic description of Scripture as inspired, means not that it is inspiring (although it is) but that it is "God-breathed." 2 Tim. 3:16 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

The Bible is a product of the Holy Spirit, to be viewed as the teaching of God Himself through the words of human witnesses through whom the Spirit spoke. Christ constantly quotes what men such as Moses, David or Isaiah said through the Spirit. Mk. 7:6-13; 12:36; Rom 10:5, 20; 11:9 It also records what God has said through men. Mt 19:4-5; Acts 4:25; 28:25 Peter said: 2 Peter 1:21 "For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

Individuals and groups received the Spirit's inspira­tion. The Bible was not produced "by a few literary individuals who wrote whole books as a modern author might write a novel. Sometimes they gathered up and brought together into a new synthesis traditions which had developed and circulated in the community for generations. Even the books of the prophets combine oracles from different sources and have been brought into the form in which we have them by a number of editors and redactors. The gospel writers also have drawn on oral and written sources which existed well before they began to write. The nearest we have to a single person's work are the letters of Paul... Most of these letters also came out of an interaction between Paul and a Christian community. So if we are to speak of inspiration we need to see it as involving not just a few individuals but all who contributed in any way to the final text." The Bible With Understanding." Gordon S. Dicker, Joint Board 1988

The inspiration of the Bible was shared between a large number of people over centuries. The whole community of faith, not just significant individuals, were used by God to produce His God-breathed records.

Is the Bible still authoritative? This is the question we asked at the beginning. Yes it is - not through whatever distinction we bestow upon it, but by its inherent quality. It is authoritative to believers whose eyes have been illum­ined by the Spirit of God. That is why the secular humanist cannot see neither the inspiration nor the authority of the Bible. When theological seminaries teach from a secular humanist viewpoint, is it any wonder church doctrine and behaviour ignores the commands of Scripture as neither inspiring nor authoritative?

The tradition of the Bible Society and those who support its work acknowledge the Bible's authority as unique and sufficient for everything of faith and salvation because God has revealed Himself in this written record of His events in history and in the life of Jesus Christ and His Spirit. Whenever we open ourselves to the inspired Word, it inspires us.

That is our experience of God's Spirit breathed into those who wrote the words and into all who read them with a seeking heart.

For "You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord abides for ever." That word is the good news which was preached to you."     1 Peter 1:23-25

We thank God for every blessing that has emanated from Bible House, Bathurst Street, and pray for even greater showers of blessing upon the new building in North Ryde.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.