In the covenant mercy of God, there is among us Protestant Reformed Christians a sound doctrine of Holy Scripture. With creedal fidelity, we all confess the 66 books of the Bible to be “holy and divine writings” (Belgic Confession, Art. 3); we all receive these books as the only, infallible rule of faith (Articles 5, 7); with child-like humility, we believe all things contained in the Scriptures, without doubt or criticism (Art. 5); and we hold that the doctrine of Scripture is perfect and complete in all respects (Art. 7).
Of special importance at the present time is our conviction that the Bible is clear, so that every believer is able to take Scripture in hand and understand it. The subtlest, and therefore most dangerous, attack on Scripture today takes the form of the denial of Scripture’s clarity. It is freely acknowledged that Scripture is inspired. The difficulty with Scripture—and a very serious difficulty it is—is that Scripture cannot be understood. It cannot be understood by the church-member; but neither can it be understood by the ordinary pastor. The problem is not in the believing reader, but in Scripture itself. The Bible is an obscure book. To figure it out requires new, exotic tools of interpretation, accessible to only a few. Only a few scholars truly understand the Bible; and their explanations are tentative, not certain. This is to attack Scripture in respect to that particular, essential quality of Scripture which Reformed theology has called “the perspicuity of Scripture.”
It is the clarity, or perspicuity, of Scripture that is challenged by the new methods of interpreting Scripture. If Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 (and Romans 5:12ff.!) do not; in fact, teach a historical Adam and Eve, unrelated genetically and biologically to the brutes, but formed directly by the hand of God, in the one case from the dust, and in the other case from a rib of her husband, the Bible is not clear, but dark and confused. Invariably, if you pursue the question, why Scripture is unclear, so that its mysteries can be unlocked only by the new methods of interpretation, you will discover that the reason is that Scripture is not totally the Word of God, but is, in part, the words of men. Denial of Scripture’s clarity is the denial of inspiration!
Scripture, however, does not suppose itself unclear. It is striking that in those outstanding passages in which the Bible describes itself, Scripture stresses its clarity. Scripture thinks that its meaning is plain to every believer, apart from—and long before!—the new methods of interpretation. Timothy could, and did, know the Scriptures “from a child” (II Timothy 3:15). This was not an exception due to Timothy’s genius, but the rule for covenant children on account of their upbringing, the work of the Spirit, and the clarity of Scripture. The apostle Peter describes the prophetic word of Scripture as “a light that shineth in a dark place,” as it must be if the elect saints are to take heed to it (II Peter 1:19ff.). Already in the Old Testament, God praised His Word as a lamp and a light (Psalm 119:105). When God speaks to His dear children in the darkness of this ignorant and depraved age the Word that is necessary for salvation, the Word of eternal life, He does not speak obscurely, but clearly and distinctly, so that, by the Holy Spirit illuminating their minds to the plain sense of Scripture, they readily and certainly understand Father’s Word.
This, we confess! Scripture is clear! And if you trace this confession to its source, you will discover the heart-felt belief that Scripture is, in its entirety, the written Word of God, and not at all the words of man.
God makes Himself “more clearly and fully known to us” in the written Word (Belgic Confession, Articles 2, 3). Such is the brilliance of Scripture’s light that “the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling” (Art. 5). God may stutter in the Bible, as Calvin wrote, with reference to God’s condescension to our childish comprehension; but He does not mumble, much less deceive us with mythical tales purporting to be history.
Our good confession concerning Scripture is a wonder. It is increasingly a rarity, even among the churches that profess the doctrine of Scripture found in the Belgic Confession, or in the Westminster Confession of Faith. That an entire denomination of churches maintains this confession, that it is the unquestioned basis of the preaching and pastoral work of all the ministers, that it is not undermined in the Seminary, that it is the foundation of the instruction of the children in the homes and Christian schools—this is a rare and wonderful thing in 1988.
The importance of our confession of Scripture cannot be overestimated. On the basis of this confession, we preach Scripture’s message, “the pure doctrine of the Gospel,” as the Belgic Confession calls it in Article 29, administer the sacraments as instituted by Christ, and exercise church discipline in dealing with sin. Thus, and only thus, is Jesus Christ acknowledged as the Head of our churches; and thus, and only thus, are we clearly identified as true churches of Jesus Christ in the world. Likewise, on the basis of this confession, the members direct their lives according to Scripture as their rule, or standard, believing on Jesus for salvation and walking in obedience to His will. Thus, and thus only, are we clearly identified as true Christians.
Their confession of Scripture binds God’s people to their only Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Always, criticism of the Word of God, from the “Yea, hath God said . . . ?” in Eden, to the “Yes, has God written . . . ?” in Amsterdam or Grand Rapids, is the assault by the gates of hell on the foundation of the Kingdom of God, and the seduction of God’s people from the God Who is their life.
To call attention to this good confession is not to boast. For one thing, confessing Scripture to be the Word of God is the church’s basic duty. What child brags because he recognizes and acknowledges his parent’s voice? Besides, our confession is itself the gift of God to us. The confession of Scripture is the conviction and expression of faith; and faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). Grace empowers the churches to stand defiantly against the spirit of our age and faithfully towards Him Who said, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Grace enables our young people to see the arrogance of the human wisdom that presumes to sit in judgment over God’s Word and the folly of evolutionary science that would have them interpret “in the beginning, God’ as “from endless ages, time and chance.” Grace causes men and women who are foolish, proud, doubtful, and blind to be wise, humble, trusting, and seeing, so that they receive Scripture as Divine. “Because it is given unto you to know . . . but to them it is not given.”
Nor may the fact of our faithful confession of the doctrine of Scripture become the occasion for complacency. On the contrary! Exactly because we know the Bible to be inspired and exactly because we confess Scripture to be clear, we are required to be diligent students of the Scriptures, more than others. The great passages in the New Testament on the doctrine of Scripture appear in the practical setting of the necessity of the believer’s reading the Scripture. Because Scripture is inspired, it is useful and profitable for the man of God, thoroughly equipping him for every good work (II Timothy 3:16, 17). Peter assures us that Scripture is God’s own light shining into our dark world, so that we will take heed to it (II Peter 1:19ff.).
If the Bible is the Word of God, and clear to us all, children and adults alike, we ought to be like the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). There is a practical denial of Scripture, as well as a doctrinal denial: neglect of Scripture.
The Bible must be an open book among us.
Chiefly, this must continue to be the case in our worship services and catechism classes. Every sermon and every lesson in the catechism class must be the explanation of Scripture. I learned from one of the books of Jan Waterink that the teacher should bring this home especially to the little children in catechism by saying, at the beginning of the class, “Today, I am going to teach you God’s Word from this passage of the Bible,” and by opening the Bible at the same time before their eyes and laying it on the lectern. As it is the pastor’s calling to teach Scripture, so is it the people’s duty to be present and to learn.
The Bible must also be the light that actually shines in our homes and personal lives by being opened there. How often is it not the case that we stumble in the darkness of our own fears and self-will, because the only rule of faith and life is left closed on the shelf?
But my special concern is for the “societies” and other classes of Bible-study that have recently resumed meeting as part of the educational ministry of the churches. Because the Scriptures are studied in these meetings, they have, and ought to be thought to have, an important place in our church-life. Our societies should be well taught. The leader need not always be the pastor. Especially if the church is large and if there are many classes, requiring the pastor to lead all the societies may put too heavy a burden upon him. Besides, there are others who have the gift of teaching; and opportunity ought to be given to them to use their gift. But the teacher (leader) must be a member who is knowledgeable and sound in the Faith. He should always be well prepared, ready to guide the discussion in the track of the passage that is to be studied. He should allow for, and encourage, discussion by the group; an hour’s lecture by the leader is detrimental to the purpose of the societies among us. Gently but firmly, he must insist that the group make progress in their study; it becomes wearisome, if the society as a rule spends the whole evening on one verse. At the end of the discussion, he should be able to bring the study to a satisfactory conclusion, summing up the consensus, or giving his own interpretation, especially if there has been difference of opinion. Most members dislike going home with everything left up in the air.
Our people should attend, if this is at all possible. Society can be the occasion for a more careful, more systematic, and deeper study of the Word than is usual. In the discussion, the saints, prophets and prophetesses all, exercise their office, instructing each other and sharpening the countenance of their friends, as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). Questions about the Faith, and about the Christian life, can be raised here, with the expectation of good, sound answers. Friends and relatives can be invited to these meetings, to introduce them to our doctrine and fellowship. This says nothing of the communion such meetings afford, communion that is delightful exactly because it is grounded in the Word, communion that is also experienced in the prayers and singing that are part of these meetings.
It is disquieting that interest in these mid-week meetings lags among us.
It is discouraging to the church when few attend.
It is doubly discouraging, if members shun the classes provided by their own church, but frequent the “interfaith” classes that are springing up today.
Do we need an incentive to meet with like-minded believers for the study and discussion of God’s Word? God Himself takes note of all such meetings and keeps record of the attendance! “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name” (Malachi 3:16).