The sixth paragraph of the London Baptist Confession on Scripture introduces a new aspect of interpreting Scripture: it is sufficient for all it claims to do and teach.
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
The Christian faith is different from other religions in many ways, but the greatest distinction is that the one true God has revealed himself in order to save us while the false gods wait for men to find them.
Most clearly, God has revealed himself in Christ. He says that if you have seen him, then you have seen the Father (John 14:9). The author of Hebrews tells us that God has spoken finally through his Son (Hebrews 1:2). Peter teaches that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). To know God, we must know Christ.
So how do we know Christ? We must know the word he has given to his apostles. When Paul is writing to Timothy, he makes sure Timothy understands the connection between Christ and Scripture. Paul commends Timothy for his understanding of Scripture, which he’s been taught since his childhood. Scripture makes us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
Paul tells the church in Galatia that there is one gospel, and any other gospel is no gospel at all. He warns them, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). Paul isn’t fooling about the singular, unchangeable message of Christ. And where did Galatia receive this gospel? From Paul, an apostle.
What the apostles have written down, under the inspiration of the Spirit, who relays to them the truth, is to be received as if it is from Christ himself. To know the way of salvation, how to worship God, and how to rightly order our lives, we turn to Scripture.
The Confession reminds us of the sufficiency of Scripture. The Bible already contains all that we need for God’s glory, our salvation, and living. It may not say all we wish it did, but what it does say is enough to be faithful to God’s will. Nothing quiets our spiritual anxiety quite like knowing that.
The other side of the sufficiency of Scripture is that we must not add anything to it. The only authors of Scripture were prophets (primarily of the Old Testament) and apostles (in the New Testament, as well as their associates), and those biblical roles have not replicated themselves to the present day. Any claim to truth must have a corresponding body of biblical evidence.
It’s all too easy to become Pharisaical in our traditions. We may have all the right intentions in setting up guardrails to protect ourselves and others, but a careful Christian recognizes that he is not the one imbued with the authority to do so. Set all the guardrails to protect yourself that you can; but traditions of men are not binding on the consciences of others.
Paul warns us in Colossians 2:21-23, "'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
It’s possible that people reject traditions out of a contrarian mindset. But it’s also possible to accept the traditions of others as if they were gospel. Both extremes are mistakes.
When the Confession speaks of “the light of nature and Christian prudence”, that is referring to how to live, worship, and behave when Scripture may give a general principle but no direct command. We’re told to receive communion but not how often, only “as often as you do this…” (1 Corinthians 11:25). So how often do we receive it? Once a week? Once a month? Once a year? “Often” would seem to imply more regularity than not, but what is the intent of the command? Paul is writing about receiving the ordinance rightly, not how often. What does Christian prudence require of us?
What if we have a person or people in the congregation who are not believers but attend worship often? Does Scripture not tell us to behave in such a way precisely because there will be unbelievers in the congregation (1 Corinthians 14:23)? So, we generally welcome unbelieving people into the worship services in hopes that the Spirit convicts them of their sin and applies the blood of Christ to them. But what do we do when they start to be disruptive? What constitutes disruption? When do we ask an unbeliever to leave? What does Christian prudence require of us?
We must always observe “the general rules of the Word” and use Christian prudence to faithfully determine the best practice or way forward.
It’s at this point we can rightly define and apply sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. When pulled from its historical/Reformation context, sola Scriptura is how the church defines where saving knowledge comes from and the limits of its scope.
We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.
Nature shows us that God exists and leave us without excuse. But to truly know God as Redeemer, we must turn to Scripture alone.
We’re continuing our look at the London Baptist Confession’s statement on Scripture. The Confession is not binding on us, but it is a wonderful guide.
It consists of several paragraphs that each address an important component of a fully-orbed doctrine of Scripture. Last week we saw how Scripture is special revelation from God himself through the words of men. It is sufficient for knowing the way of salvation and God’s will.
The next paragraph simply enumerates the books that make up the Old and New Testaments, followed by a brief statement on the Apocrypha: they are useful books for devotional reading but are not to be binding on the consciences of God’s people.
The following (fourth) paragraph speaks to the binding authority of Scripture, especially its source. Scripture is authoritative because God has give it its authority. The Confession says:
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependenteth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.
Why is this something that is necessary to say? The question that the Confession is answering is, “Who says that the Bible is true?”
The Bible is not true because the church declared it to be true in church councils. If that was the case, then the truthfulness of Scripture is almost arbitrary.
The first time that we are given an account of a canon, or an authoritative collection, of Scripture, is the year 170. It was called the Muratorian Canon. It consisted only of New Testament books. However, it did not list Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, or 3 John. Further down the road, both the Council of Hippo and the Council of Carthage (both in the 390’s) listed the same 27 New Testament books we affirm today.
Not every part of the world, early on, may have received a copy of a certain biblical text and therefore did not include it initially in their canon. But when they did receive it, it was received with joy and an acknowledgment that they should do so based on the witness of the church at-large and its apostolic roots.
Some have argued that because we do not have a list of New Testament books until the end of the fourth century that the early church did not care as much about the authority of Scripture as we do. But that is a gross misreading of church history.
The apostle Peter says that Paul’s letters are sometimes difficult to understand and that evil people twist the meaning, as they do the other Scriptures. Peter affirms Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), and therefore he affords Paul’s writing the same status as the Old Testament, which the Jews received as authoritative.
Paul often ended his letters with a command to pass it around to other churches. He tells the Colossian church to send that letter around and to wait for a letter from Laodicea. Paul, as he wrote his epistles, was fully aware that he was writing Scripture on par with Moses and the prophets.
The point is that within the pages of the New Testament you see the seedlings of a canon of Scripture. To deny it is to willfully ignore the actual words.
So why did councils make pronouncements about a canon? Because there were those who were going against the well-established canon before the councils took place. Some were making declarations that the church had got it wrong and that only what they said about the Bible was true. The councils were attempts at returning to the earliest witnesses about the authority of Scripture and which texts were in fact Scripture.
Why did a council make a declaration about the divinity of Christ and not the humanity? Because some were saying that Christ was not fully divine. Why did a later council make a declaration about the humanity of Christ and not his divinity? Because there were those who were teaching that Christ was not fully human.
Many times, a council is not the one being novel. Councils were convened to reject the novelty of something the church did not believe.
When it comes to the Old Testament, the same kind of questions remain. How do we know we have the collection that God intends?
By the time of Jesus, Josephus, a Jewish historian, lists 22 books that lines up nicely with ours. We have 39 Old Testament books in our Bibles, but that’s partly because scribes later divided some books into two (Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles). Ezra and Nehemiah seem to have been a single book at one time. In some places, books of the prophets were also grouped together into a single book. These were simply traditions that did not erase the peculiarity of each author or its authority.
Besides, Jesus and the apostles quote from the Old Testament. For all the quotations, there are no disputes within Scripture that someone quoted something that they shouldn’t have. Jesus and the apostles do not quote anything in the Apocrypha, and the Jewish leaders with which Jesus had so many blowups never do, either.
Some have argued that just because there are questions of authorship on some books that that means we cannot have any assurance that we know anything at all. That kind of sentiment is wholly untenable, and no one uses it in everyday life.
Here is just one example. We do not know who wrote the books of Hebrews with complete assurance. Probably the best educated guess is that it is a teaching of Paul given through the words of Luke. It has plenty of Luke’s high-brow Greek and Paul’s high Christology. The author mentions “our brother Timothy” toward the end (13:23). He has allies in Italy (13:24). However, the author says that he received the gospel from others (2:3), something Paul always rejects; he received it directly from Christ. All of the internal evidence suggests it was not Paul but a close associate with a better education that most. The apostolic companion and physician fits the bill, and he has already written two volumes of the New Testament against which we can compare the vocabulary and grammar. An early collection of the New Testament had Hebrews directly after Romans. Romans was titled “The Apostle Paul to the Romans.” Then Hebrews was called “And to the Hebrews.” So even the early church at least recognized the Paul-ness of the letter, and they were far more attuned to who wrote it.
In the end, we believe in the authority of Scripture not because of what we think but because of what it says. The Holy Spirit is ultimately the one who shows us that glorious truth, to which we will turn next week!
The beginning chapter of the London Baptist Confession of 1689 outlines the doctrine of Scripture. It covers a range of important points, from infallibility, to inspiration, to clarity. We’ll discuss each of these important components of a robust doctrine of Scripture in turn. The Confession begins in this way:
The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience, although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in diverse manners to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Notice the claims made about Scripture in the first sentence alone: Scripture is sufficient, certain, and infallible.
First, Scripture is sufficient, but for what? It is sufficient for all things necessary to have saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. If we desire to know more of God, we turn to Scripture. If we desire to increase our faith, we turn to Scripture. If we desire the means for obedience, we turn to Scripture. We search for applicable texts. We memorize them. We meditate on them and place them in our hearts and minds.
Second, Scripture is certain. Scripture is to be trusted as the standard for truth. When anyone makes a claim to moral or ontological certainty, you must ask them, “By what standard?” Scripture is the standard for truth because of its origin in God.
Third, Scripture is infallible, meaning Scripture is not wrong or incorrect in what it says. Scripture may not give us all the information we desire, but where it does speak, we can trust it with our whole being. There must also be an intelligent way of reading Scripture: is the author being precise in terms of numbers, or is he rounding up or down? Is the birth narrative of Jesus told from Jewish perspective or a Gentile perspective? Rounding does not make a statement wrong or incorrect. Different perspectives on the same event do not make one perspective or another a lie.
Some churches ascribe infallibility to other sources, such as Catholicism to the pope when he speaks ex cathedra. But by only trusting in Scripture, Christians have a clear, agreed-upon source of revelation from God by which all other declarations are measured.
Yes, there is truth about God revealed to us by “the light of nature,” but that truth is not salvific. We may turn to nature to see that God exists, and perhaps even that we need reconciliation to that God, but we will never know the means that God has ordained to make that reconciliation happen. Natural revelation does “leave men inexcusable,” but what we are not pardoned from is knowing that God exists and that we are not innocent. Romans 1:18-32 makes it clear that mankind is not merely ignorant of God but that mankind has rejected God. This means that every one of us knows that there is a God in heaven whose hands formed us and all of creation, yet we have all turned to our own ways and become a law to ourselves.
Nature shows us the goodness of God. The land provides us the food we need. The environment generally forms an inhabitable environment. Animals serve us in a variety of ways, from workmates to companionship.
We also see his wisdom. One such example is the “fine-tune” theory of creation. An unfathomable number of criteria have been met to sustain life on the earth, from the amount of water to the earth’s tilt. God holds every life-giving component in his hands and graciously sustains it.
God has spoken through other means than Scripture, such as the prophets. These are the “diverse manners” of which the Confession speaks. Scripture is history, such as Genesis through 2 Chronicles. But Scripture also consists of wisdom literature such as Proverbs and Job. Scripture consists of Psalms, prophets, and apocalypses. The apostles and their associates left us gospels, epistles, and apocalyptic literature. All of them are to be received as equally divine and fully inspired.
The words of Paul, James, or John are not to be subjugated to the word of Christ. The red letters may help us know when Christ is speaking while on earth, but Christ is speaking in every word of the Bible. There are not levels or degrees of inspiration or infallibility. Paul did not invent a new form of Christianity, as some have erroneously argued.
Perhaps the most well-known passage of Scripture about Scripture is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” From Genesis to Revelation, God is speaking. God is teaching. God is reproving. God is correcting. God is training us in righteousness. They are his words, not the words just of men.
Some have argued that Scripture simply “contains” the words of God. It’s a double-speak kind of way of ignoring the parts of Scripture that offend us. The Christian is responsible for determining which passages of Scripture are actually the word of God and which are not. But that is not within the Christian’s authority. Just as no citizen gets to pick and choose which laws they obey, no Christian gets to choose which passages of Scripture they believe.
The flesh, Satan, and the world are the enemies of Scripture. Our flesh tries to satisfy itself through worldly means. Satan tries to distract us and ask us, “Did God really say?” The world is naturally an enemy of God for going their own way, which we were at one time, also. But Scripture is sufficient to rail against all three.
Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” The confession reminds us that “those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased,” we only turn to Scripture to read and understand God’s will.
We may not have a passage that tells us such things, for example, as who we should marry, but we do read that we should not be unequally yolked with an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14). If we need to learn the divinely appointed terms of marriage, how to compassionately and judiciously deal with cases of abuse, and how God will bring in his kingdom, we have no other prophet than Christ, who has set his words in Scripture.
We have not yet exhausted all that the Confession says about Scripture. We will return next week to look at authority, clarity, and more!
Pressure makes diamonds. When God’s people are pressed but not crushed, great things are the result. In our own day, when the church must address everything from religious liberty, the divinely appointed boundaries of government, and secular arguments for a new morality, pressure will result in wonderful beauty.
One of those wonderful beauties is the clarity with which the church must speak. Diamonds are beautiful because of their clarity. There is no more room for fence-riding or doublespeak. If the secular tide is going to rise up to our church doors, we might as well provide safety boats made out of Scripture for our people. Otherwise, it could very well take them with it.
One such point in history when pressure wrought wisdom and clarity was in the development of the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 (henceforth, SLBC). The 1600’s also produced the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Savoy Declaration, both eminently biblical statements of faith, though a little heavy on the paedobaptism.
During the 1600’s in England, there was a good amount of religious turmoil. Monarchs were either Roman Catholic or Anglican, and the established religion might change between this or that monarch. You would go to bed a Catholic and wake up an Anglican. As one might imagine, the first order of business of a newly ordained Roman Catholic queen might be to deal swiftly with all those Protestants.
Arminian doctrines about free will were also in development around this time. Because Baptists were more of a fellowship than a denomination, they were free to adopt the doctrine of the atonement they determined was most biblical. Some Baptists did adopt the Arminian framework and came to be known as General Baptists, meaning that Christ died in general, for everyone.
Baptists more in line with the Reformed heritage denied that man would repent of their sins and have faith in Christ on their own. They came to be known as Particular Baptists, meaning that Christ died for a particular number of people. Since the range of meaning of a given word changes over time, it’s important to note that in this sense Particular simply means “determined amount,” as in, a particular number. Particular Baptists rejected that Christ died to forgive a man’s sin, and then that man may or may not believe in Christ.
Baptists of all stripes shared a similar ecclesiology, or understanding of what the church is and how it must function in this age. This resulted in Baptists forming their own congregations and being persecuted by the Church of England. Baptists were smaller in number than other Protestant groups of the time, so they got the brunt of the mockery and jail sentences from the state.
Keep in mind that the Reformation had barely been going on for 150 years by this point. Christian groups were still actively seeking to purify the church and bring clarity to their positions, which in many ways were all attempts at simply returning to a reading of Scripture based on grammar and history: let the text speak for itself.
A group of Particular Baptists decided that it was time to show how they gladly align with historic Christian orthodoxy and bring clarity to their positions on church order and baptism. The first result was the 1644 Confession. The Baptists beat the Presbyterians to a written confession by two full years! Baptists were among the first to articulate the Reformed faith in a succinct, easily readable and transmissible format.
The 1644 Confession was not exhaustive, but it said all of the important things. A trajectory was set for future additions and further clarity. There was a fuller confession attempted in 1677, but persecution kept it from being widely adopted. It was not until 1689 that The Toleration Act was passed in England, which permitted religious freedom. Baptist pastors met again to discussion the 1677 confession, and because it could now be widely affirmed without fear of retribution, it was titled the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, or the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689.
Today, a saying has made its way around many Baptist circles, “No creed but the Bible.” While it sounds religious and faithful, it says a lot without saying anything. There is no substance, and it actually works against its intended effect. Many Christians who hold to “no creed but the Bible” can’t explain much of their faith at all.
Every Christian needs to know the sum and substance of Scripture and why they believe it. Every Christian needs to have Scripture in mind when they declare what it is they believe.
The SLBC consists of 32 chapters, each only a few paragraphs in length. But it covers everything from the Trinity, to the ordinances, to Christology, and much more.
Over the next 32 weeks, we’ll turn our attention to one chapter per post with a little explanation to follow. You may not necessarily hold to every line of thought put out in the confession, but you will be a better thinker and more informed reader of Scripture. We’ll learn from Baptists of the past who, while undergoing great pressure, trusted in God to use that pressure to make diamonds.
It’s been said that there are disagreements about words and there are disagreements about things.
If there are disagreements about words, then as long as two parties are willing to concede that they mean the same thing and are using different words, they can get along just fine. If there are disagreements about things, meaning two parties are supplying two irreconcilable answers to the same question, then there isn’t much of a way forward other than division.
The water gets even murkier when two parties use the same words and yet load those words with contradictory meanings. Christians and the LDS church both carefully define the word Trinity, but one sounds like Scripture and the other sounds like Perelandra.
We should be grateful when major Christian churches agree on central doctrines. When it comes to the Trinity, the Christian doctrine of God, Protestants and Catholics can read each others’ work and benefit greatly. However, when it comes to how God saves us, the differences are stark. Are we disagreeing about words, or are we disagreeing about things?
Extra Nos. adj. A description of the righteousness which man possesses in relation to its source; man’s righteousness comes from a source outside of himself.
This is the rub. This is the root of all the arguments. Where does righteousness come from? How am I made righteous?
Extra nos is a Latin phrase that simply means “outside of us.” Obviously that phrase is not found in Scripture. But in the same way you wouldn’t use a word in the definition of that word, sometimes it’s good to use words the Bible doesn’t use to teach what it teaches.
Extra nos means that the righteousness which a believer possesses is not inherent to them, they contributed nothing to gaining it, and it comes from entirely outside of themselves. That sounds very Protestant.
The medieval Catholic Church taught that a person is justified by a synergistic, or a cooperative, relationship between faith and good works. The system worked like this: God would infuse a measure of grace to an individual, and that measure of grace gave the person the ability to obey God and generally do good works. Based on the volume of venial and mortal sins, a person could essentially become more or less justified, and in the case of a mortal sin, become unjustified before God.
Martin Luther saw no Scriptural warrant for this system. Passages such as Ephesians 2, which includes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv.8-9), make it difficult to conclude that righteousness includes works of your own.
Luther concluded that righteousness was extra nos, or outside of us. Romans 3 is worth quoting at length.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (vv.21-26).
Who is righteous? Certainly not us. No one seeks after God; no not one. It is God’s righteousness that the law manifested. Justification is a gift, Paul says. And again, it was to show God’s righteousness, not our own, which he says twice. Because God alone is righteous, he alone is able to be perfectly just and yet justify sinners who yet have faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
Catholicism teaches that the sacraments are the means of grace which God uses to infuse grace to believers. Sacraments such as the eucharist and penance can increase the measure of grace you have already been given, thereby increasing your ability for good works and potential righteousness. When it comes to the means of grace, the medieval and contemporary Catholic Church teach the same things.
But does Scripture teach that there are means of grace, such as the eucharist and penance? The Catholic Church is an entire framework of belief, and within that framework the seven sacraments fit neatly, which we must grant. But it is a different matter altogether if these means of grace arise naturally from a grammatical-historical reading of Scripture.
Philippians 3:8b-9 says, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
We are justified only through faith, which is itself the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). Faith itself comes extra nos, outside of ourselves. Faith is given to us so that we can exercise it. Yes, we must live by faith, but that faith is not itself something we do apart from God in order to be justified.
Baptism is an act of obedience, a sign of your death to sin and life in Christ, something to do once and soon upon the conferral of faith. Communion is a memorial meal that reminds us of the new covenant in Christ’s blood, to do often and with fellow new covenant believers.
Our faith and our justification comes from outside of ourselves. It is a gift of not, not of ourselves, so that no one may boast.