By Rev. K. D. Macleod
A REPORT from Church of Scotland’s Panel on Doctrine to this year’s General Assembly confirms that the Church as a whole is determined to continue disregarding the authority of God’s Word. The Bible must remain the central source for Christian faith, the report states, but not everyone should necessarily have the same view on its interpretation. Though highlighted in the press as the outcome of a two-year study, this report does not seem to represent anything very new. Instead it displays the heretical trends which for so long have been the bane of the Scottish Church. It advocates the doctrinal free-for-all which has done so much damage to souls, and will continue to do so until once more the Church submits to the authority of the Master she professes to serve.
It may seem encouraging to have the Bible given a central place, but that is not enough. The fact is that the Bible is the only source of knowledge in matters of religion. It is a revelation from God, and unless we view it in this light we will not learn what will be spiritually profitable; in particular we will not learn the way to eternal life. The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses the matter thus: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men”. But this report states that the Bible is “the only authoritative witness to the word of God today”. No. This is a totally inadequate statement; from beginning to end the Bible is itself the Word of God. It was the philosophy lying behind this statement that brought about declension in the Free Church of the last century and resulted in the Declaratory Act of 1892, forcing the formation of the Free Presbyterian Church as a separate body to preserve a clear witness to the truth of Scripture and to the doctrines contained in it.
And the reference in the report to differing views on the interpretation of Scripture is misleading. It is perfectly clear that even godly men will not agree on the meaning of every verse of Scripture, but a much greater latitude seems intended here. It is a latitude which is totally unscriptural and prevents the Church of Scotland from presenting to her people clearly and consistently the revelation given her by the Lord of glory. And until the Church returns to a sincere acceptance of the whole Bible as God’s revelation to a lost world and therefore totally reliable she cannot hope to be a real force for good in the world.
The report goes on to state: “The gospel cannot be expressed by means of sound bites or proof texts. If our faith does not involve development, growth, sometimes change, it bears little relation to the faith of the Apostles.” Sound bites are one thing: proof texts another. Proof texts are portions of the Word of God used to prove a particular doctrine. So if the Scriptures are infallible, and they are, whatever doctrine is founded on them “by good and necessary consequence” must also be truth. It cannot be too much emphasised that, while our understanding of the faith may increase, the faith itself is unchangeable. The faith which the Apostles proclaimed was solid; it was a revelation from heaven, and therefore it was true. John in particular was at pains to emphasize the factuality of what he had written in his Gospel: “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). And because the gospel of Jesus Christ was a solid and reliable foundation, the Apostles could rest on it the whole weight of their guilty souls. And so may sinners today, for the gospel has not changed – and it never will.
It is interesting to note in the report the admission that “preachers sometimes feel they are protecting their hearers, whose faith may be shaken by what is commonplace in the colleges. They feel that the suggestion [that] something is not what it seems will open the floodgates to a fatal loss of faith.” But this is exactly what has been happening for a very long time; well over 100 years have passed since unbelieving scholars began to open the floodgates. Colleges of divinity have been taking away from future ministers any confidence they might once have had in the reliability of the Bible. Multitudes of ministers have therefore not been able to preach a gospel in which they have any confidence themselves; yet many of them apparently find it necessary to hide from their congregations the full extent of the unbelief in which they were trained. No wonder the Church is still losing influence, in spite of all the efforts that have been made for over a century to bring churches together. And no wonder the Church of Scotland has to complain about the lack of knowledge about the Bible, not only outside the Church but also inside.
Church of Scotland committees complain about decreasing numbers of members and of children in Sabbath schools. But this is not surprising when she has no confidence in the authority, truth and relevance of the Scriptures. Indeed, what effect can the Church expect to have on society if she has no gospel? The Church can only flourish if there is a return to the Scriptures. But what need there also is to cry to the Lord that He would apply the truth by His Holy Spirit to those who come in contact with it.