Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Sufficiency of God

I love the scriptures. The Assemblies of God doctrinal statement starts out with what I feel is the most important aspect of the entire thing--the Bible is the all-sufficient rule for faith and practice and the Old and New Testaments are the verbally inspired, infallible word of God. I fear, however, that some folk (not of the A/G variety hopefully) have an entirely wrong-headed notion of the sufficiency of Scripture, so let's talk a little about that.
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.  (John 5:39-40 NIV)
The Bible is never a substitute for God. Ensconcing the Bible on the altar of worship, doing obeisance to wood pulp and carbon black is just as much idolatry as if one bowed before a grass-skirted, hula dancing bobblehead and gave glory to the gods of surf and blue agave. As much as the Bible is all-sufficient in matters of faith and conduct, it is not the be all and end all of worship or relationship: it is, truly a means to an end and not the end itself. It is a timeless and perfect record of God speaking to people, but it's not God himself (notwithstanding John 1:1-14).

Why is that an issue? Well, I fear some folk turn the Bible into a stand alone textbook instead of a tour guide. Their fascination begins and ends with words on a page rather than the destination. They place purely intellectual pursuits of grammar and language on equal or superior footing with experience, but I ask, "What is more important: to know God or to know about him?" Jesus apparently thought the former. I think we should be able to know God like we know anyone-- intimately, personally, experientially. It's what the scriptures were given to show us the way to.

When the Bible is made an end in itself, it ends up the domain of the intellectual and learned, but not so much the simple or ignorant. Nothing I find in the scriptures themselves (this for instance) would encourage such a course. Please understand me, I'm in no way discounting the work of the scholar, the linguist, the historian or archeologist. They all have roles to play in making sure we have the most dependable, accurate copies of the word available and I believe God oversees their work. But Jesus isn't discovered or known because one thought deeply enough, studied harder, or was smarter than the average bear.

Jesus is discovered through Holy Spirit conviction, the wooing of God, and the expression of faith. The word informs that, but stops at the threshold of the actual experience of it. The Bible teaches us to listen to Christ's voice and be led of the Spirit. Even the ignorant, the unwashed, and the simple are capable of doing that. Such was the bulk of the early church before the canon was settled upon! The scriptures give us an infallible map of how to venture into the experience of God. They are all-sufficient in telling us what to expect along the way, and how to stay on course and not be distracted or deceived. What they can never do, however, is substitute for the sufficiency of God.

A bit more needs to be said...