Infallible in Every Part
When the discussion concerning the infallibility of Scripture troubled several denominations a few years ago, a great amount of the discussion centered on the question of whether Scripture was infallibly and verbally inspired in all its parts, or whether Scripture was inspired only as to its central idea. Those who maintained the latter insisted that although the main ideas of Scripture were surely inspired infallibly, nevertheless one would not be surprised to find errors in God’s Word with respect to some of the minor details. Thus, e.g., there would likely be errors in grammar, errors in historical details, errors of scientific fact, etc. And indeed, these errors could be pointed out. This idea was supposed to be some new insight into the doctrine of infallibility, and it was often accepted as being the true doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture.
Reading recently from a book entitled “Evidence of Christianity,” undersigned found a paragraph where this problem was discussed. Strikingly, this book was written over 106 years ago, in 1836 to be exact, by a Prof. Archibald Alexander. The author was for many years a professor of theology in Princeton Theological Seminary. This was the seminary which trained ministers of the Presbyterian Church, which over the years had become thoroughly modern, and from which J. Gresham Machen split away on the question of modernism in the early 1940s. But in the days of Prof. Alexander, the seminary was still a bulwark of Calvinism.
While we would probably state the matter in stronger terms today, nevertheless the author of this quotation is right to the point in condemning any such tampering with the doctrine of infallibility on such a vital question.
Some, who do not deny the inspiration of the sacred writers, in general, have thought it necessary to make concessions on this subject which are not called for from the nature of the case, and have thus involved the cause which they defend in real difficulties. They have granted that, while, in all matters of real importance, the penmen of the Scriptures were guided by a plenary inspiration, they were left to their own unassisted powers in trivial matters, and the relation of unimportant circumstances; and in such matters have, therefore, fallen into mistakes in regard to trivial circumstances. No evil or inconvenience would result from this hypothesis if the line could be definitely drawn between the parts of the book written by inspiration and those in which the writers were left to themselves. But as no human wisdom is sufficient to draw this line, the effect of this opinion is to introduce uncertainty and doubt in a matter concerning which assurance is of the utmost importance. And it is in itself an improbable supposition, that the Spirit of God should infallibly guide a writer in some parts of his discourse, and forsake him in other parts. If we find a witness mistaken in some particulars, it weakens our confidence in his general testimony. And could it be shown that the evangelists had fallen into palpable mistakes in facts of minor importance, it would be impossible to demonstrate that they wrote any thing by inspiration.
The church of today is very concerned about its obligations to be “relevant.” By this is usually meant that the “gospel” which it preaches must be applied specifically to the problems of the 20th Century. All the old forms of the gospel, all the out-dated aspects of the gospel have to be discarded so that the church can speak “to the modern man.” Usually, this implies that the gospel is stripped entirely of its theological content, the Bible is renounced as being worn out and irrelevant, at least in its literal form, and the confessions are discarded as dusty expressions of a church of bygone years that have no application to the church of today. In its haste to be relevant, the church loses the truth of God’s Word, denies that the Bible is the Word of God, and destroys the distinctive characteristics of the Church of Jesus Christ. All kinds of modern innovations are introduced which make the church anything but the gathering of believers and their seed and the gospel anything but the means of grace.
Two startling examples of this have recently come to my attention.
The first example concerns the Episcopal Church. A Rev. Charles F. Greene was appointed by the National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church to conduct a new experiment in an eight county area in central South Dakota. The main idea of this program is to abandon completely church services on Sunday in church buildings, and substitute weekday gatherings in private homes. In explanation and justification of this project, Rev. Greene said,
The church must speak the language of today. We are trying to minister to people who don’t want to go to church, who are bored with sermons and who like to travel on weekends. The parish type congregations are still needed, but not for the majority of people. This is the space age and the church is still using horse and buggy methods.
The church also will be able in this way to provide more extensive services to people. It hopes to be able to .make help available for medical, psychological and legal needs as well as spiritual needs.
The other example is a new experiment tried out recently by the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. This concerns religious commercials on the radio, and presently to be adapted to TV. They are not an attempt to promote any one particular denomination, but rather intended to do missionary Work on the broader level of stirring up interest among people in religion in general. A sample commercial, quoted from Christianity Today follows:
First voice: Look, I’m quite self-sufficient . . . I made myself what I am, thank you.
Second voice: But don’t you think all of us, occasionally, could use a little divine . . . uh . . .
First voice: (Ahem) Gee, I’ve got to run . . . here’s my card anyhow . . . I’m a vice-president now . . .
Second voice: Well good . . .
First voice: Yes indeed.
Second voice: But your name . . . it’s just penciled in here.
First voice: (Ahem) Well, there’s a big turnover in personnel. You know how it is.
Second voice: Uh-huh. Well, that’s just about how it is in life, isn’t it?
First voice: Pardon?
Second voice: We’re all just penciled in.
“Where’d you get the idea
You could make it all by yourself?
Doesn’t it get a little lonely, sometimes,
Out on that limb . . . without Him?
It’s a great life, but it could be greater—
Why try and go it alone?
The blessings you lose may be your own.”
And this is supposed to be the preaching of the gospel that gathers the Church? It is rather blasphemy that is not only a perversion of the true religion, but mocks with things most holy and sacred.
THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
The third session of the Second Vatican Council began last month in Rome. There will be many news reports about this session in many daily newspapers and church journals; and the Standard Bearer will carry another complete evaluation of the Council by Rev. VanBaren in future issues; but we want briefly to point out some major developments.
The first two sessions were pretty disappointing in the eyes of all those who care about “renewal” in the Romish Church. This was because the council met during both sessions for several weeks, engaged in extensive debates, but did nothing concrete except pass a decision that the liturgy in the Romish Church could be read in the vernacular instead of the Latin.
There is more hope for this session—which is predicted to be the last of the Second Vatican Council. Those who are supposed to know claim that many things will be accomplished, and in a record time. These hopes are based upon a general streamlining of all council activities. For one thing, all delegates must submit their speeches five days in advance so that all repetition can be weeded out. Secondly, six schemata (papers defining the desired changes and put to the vote) will simply be submitted to the council on a take-it-or-leave-it basis—be put to a vote at the council without discussion. Thirdly, although there were originally 71 schemata submitted to the council at its first session, these have been pared down to nine. Fourthly, the cardinals who chair the meetings are exercising more power—keeping the delegates in for longer sessions, taking away the coffee pots from surrounding rooms, keeping members down to lo-minute speeches, and cutting the prelates off when speeches begin to wander into the thickets of irrelevancies.
One matter already passed is a schemata that gives a share of the authority of the church to the bishops. As the papacy developed in power during the Middle Ages, all the ruling authority of the church was gradually centered in the pope. This has continued until the present; But the council has now decided to give the rest of the clerical hierarchy a share of this rule so that bishops will exercise authority with the pope. This does not mean that the pope as the successor of Peter is no longer the infallible voice of Christ; he still claims this distinction; and the church still concurs. But it does mean that the bishops are the successors of the apostles, and therefore, with the pope, also speak infallibly. Just how this will alter the ruling structure of the Church has not yet been made clear, but already it is conceded that the bishops will have more authority to decide on problems on their own without having first to consult the Vatican for approval.
Two matters that are still up for discussion, but stand pretty good chances of passage are:
The matter of freedom of religion. Roman Catholics in the Roman Curia at the Vatican as well as Catholics in Spain, Columbia, and other countries where the Church is strong are dead against this schemata. But the reformers within the Church especially from the U.S. are all for it. The idea is to give everyone the right in the eyes of the church to believe what he wants to. Atheism, heathenism, Mohammedanism, Protestantism in all its many shades, all will have equal rights now. This has not been the traditional stand of the Romish Church. Long has the church maintained that there is no salvation outside Roman Catholicism, that no one has the right to believe and confess anything else but the Romish religion. But it is the spirit of our tolerant times; and the Romish Church is about to go along. The result will be that every kind of religion under the sun will have its “liberties” except the true religion—the true worship of God which will always be hated, despised and persecuted.
Secondly there is the matter of the Jews. The Romish Church has lately been accused of anti-Semitism. This was especially true, it is said, of Pope Pius XII who was accused of giving at least partial support to Hitler in his massacre of the Jews. At the last session, a schemata was presented (although not voted on) which condemned all anti-Semitism and even exonerated the Jews from blame in killing Christ. This type of thing made the churches in the Middle East furious, for these churches hate Israeli with a passionate and undying hatred. A new schemata on the same subject has now been presented which is considerably toned down. It still warns against calling the Jews an accursed people and acknowledges that Christianity has its roots in the religion of the Jews; but it does not condemn those who speak of the Jews as those who killed Christ the Son of God. Further, it expresses a desire for the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. This has now made the Jews furious, and they are protesting vehemently against the adoption of such a decision. So the Council is, politically, on the spot.
I am sure that Luther would still have some very choice remarks to make about the Romish Church and all its efforts to reform. And he would insist as loudly today as he did then about the need of the Reformation.