Rev. Kamps is pastor of the Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
(Correction: An error in editing in Rev. Kamps’ article in the March 1 issue not only confused the meaning of a sentence, but also left it not a sentence. The correct reading of the sentence in the middle of the center column on page 255 should be as follows: “If only men would learn that the New Testament, which declares to us the great victory of Christ Jesus over sin, guilt, death, and Hell, testifies that this victory was accomplished for the elect of God alone, they would have no problem confessing the unity of Scripture.” Our apologies to Rev. Kamps.)
The Reformed church manifests itself as the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, above all other manifestations of itself, by its earnest confession of the sufficiency of sacred Scripture. This is no little matter. Any “church” that would question or deny the sufficiency of Scripture would by that very fact forfeit its claim to be the church of Jesus Christ. Every “church” that claims the necessity of revelations of God in addition to that recorded for us in sacred Scripture is really a sect and therefore a false church. Many thousands and even millions of people hold for truth, given by God, the so-called revelations claimed by various persons who were the founders of new religions. Every sect is identified by its insistence upon extra-biblical revelations. The sects do not consider the Bible as sufficient for the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus unto salvation. It is one of the outstanding characteristics of sectarian groups that, with a great show of piety and religious zeal, they claim direct revelations of God by means of dreams and visions. On the basis of these so-called revelations of God they enslave millions of persons to the control of charlatans, who themselves are enslaved by the lust for filthy lucre.
The apostle Paul condemns all these deceivers inTitus 1:11: “Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things that they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” Paul describes these false prophets and their end as those who “through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” (II Pet. 2:3). The love of money and all that wealth brings motivates men to corrupt the Scriptures and deny the sufficiency of the Bible.
But the Reformed church is committed to the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. The Presbyterian fathers confessed this truth: “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 maybe deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men…” (Westminster Confession, I, 6). Consider also the confession of the Reformed saints of Europe in the sixteenth century: “We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein…” (Belgic Confession, Art. 7). Read those confessional statements over again and take special notice how absolutely our fathers expressed their confidence in the Bible. Nothing may ever be added to these Scriptures. They do fully contain the will of God. And “whatsoever” ought to be believed, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein.
The Reformed church, of course, makes this confession on the basis of God’s Word. Paul called down the curse of God upon anyone who would bring another gospel than he had preached: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
What does the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture imply positively? Scripture is all we need in order to know God in Christ Jesus as the God of our salvation. The Bible is the book of salvation. There is no other. When our fathers figuratively designated God’s revelation in nature “as a most elegant book” to the believer, they did not intend that we should see this book alongside of and altogether separate from Scripture, nor as something whereby men may challenge the testimony of Scripture. But, rather, as a book subordinate to Scripture and one that can only be properly “read” in the light of Scripture (Art. 2, Belgic Confession). Revelation is one, and the sacred Scriptures reign supreme in the Kingdom of God. Theology is the queen of all sciences.
We must be careful to point out that the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture must not be used as a basis to deprecate the church’s task topreach the Word. This has often been done. But it is rooted in a misunderstanding. Romans 10:14-17makes very plain that salvation is ours upon the wings of the preaching of the gospel by one sent of God to stand in the service of the living Christ. The Bible is sufficient as it forms the content of the preaching of the Word.
In close connection with the above we must not lose sight of the fact that the Scriptures receive their saving power through the operation of the Spirit of Christ Jesus (and not apart from Him). This is not to demean the Scriptures in themselves, but only to emphasize that the Scriptures are the Word of the Spirit of Christ. Apart from the gracious operation of the Spirit of the exalted Christ in the heart of the reader, Scripture does not save, but kills. Calvin writes: “The letter, therefore, is dead, and the law of the Lord slays its readers where it both is cut off from Christ’s grace (II Cor. 3:6) and, leaving the heart untouched, sounds in the ears alone” (Institutes, I, 9, 3). The sufficiency of sacred Scripture for our salvation, therefore, must be understood in the context of the truth that Scripture forms the content of the message of the Spirit of Christ and is His means to the salvation of the elect of God. Calvin concludes this section on the Word and Spirit in the Institutes with a most beautiful declaration: “For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we in turn embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognize him in his own image, namely, the Word.”
The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture has ever led the Reformed church to disallow the attempts of vain men to supplant the preaching of the Word by intruding their vaunted opinions and theories. One dear aged brother in our congregation in Redlands often expressed this conviction with these words: “Man’s word goes six feet under.”
Nor may we ever claim a spiritual necessity for the use of Christian symbols, other than the Sacraments, in the worship of the church. The demand for Christian symbols as a part of the worship of the people of God is rooted in a lack of appreciation for the truth of the sufficiency of Scripture and the centrality of the preaching of the Word.
In faithfulness to its confession of the sufficiency of Scripture, the Reformed church is compelled to reject the many evil innovations which men would introduce as new and entertaining ways to present the Word of God. I have in mind the so-called liturgical dance and Christian movies, among other innovations, which are used to supplant the preaching of the Word of God. The Bible calls for preaching alone, whenever men would stand in His service to bring the Word. God in His Word has given to preaching the exclusive right to be the conveyance of the gospel. This is not to deny the proper place of songs of praise and prayers in the church; but these serve only as a response to the glorious presence of God, who comes to us through the Word preached.
We must note carefully that our confessions limit this sufficiency of Scripture. The sufficiency of Scripture is limited to matters of salvation and sanctification of life, that is, to faith in Christ to the glory of God. Some wish today to pervert this doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture by claiming that when Scripture makes various statements supposedly not directly related to matters of salvation, then the Bible sometimes gives “misinformation.” Supposedly in these areas the record of Scripture stands in need of the “light” of secular luminaries. Unbelieving men, who allegedly have been informed by God’s general revelation through the operation of the Spirit of grace common to all men, can shed light upon the pages of Scripture. We reject this theory as false doctrine. Never is Scripture to be corrected!
Besides, it is false to assert that certain portions of Scripture have nothing to do with salvation. What portion would that be? Some of the accounts of Jesus’ miracles? One or two of the accounts of God’s works? Has the account of creation nothing to do with our salvation? Paul declares that we know the origin of all things by faith. That is the only way one can know this reality. I believe that everything recorded in Scripture has something to do with the salvation of God’s people. I cannot think of one event, person, or circumstance recorded that could be considered incidental, irrelevant, insignificant, and totally unrelated to the church’s faith. There are, of course, a multitude of facts recorded in the historical sections of Scripture concerning, for example, various kings and soldiers, both of Israel and of heathen nations; there are chronologies, genealogies, and numerical facts; and many of these facts may have little to do with our salvation. But that is not the same as saying they had nothing to do with the salvation of the saints of the old dispensation, for all the facts of Scripture stand inseparably related to the salvation of the church of Christ. These facts have more to do undoubtedly with the salvation of individual saints of the old dispensation than directly with us of the new dispensation, but they are not for that reason unimportant or insignificant to us in regard to our faith in Christ Jesus. God’s redemptive work is the redemption of a church. We must not be individualistic and say that if it had nothing to do with myredemption, then it is of no spiritual significance. What was inseparably a part of the redemption and salvation of other saints, of the old dispensation according to Scripture, is a part ofmy redemption.
By way of example, Howard VanTill takes the position that certain facts recorded in the Bible are, indeed, irrelevant to his redemption. He writes: “And finally it must be noted that much(emphasis, MK) of what we find in many parts(emphasis, MK) of the Bible is merely incidental information of little importance or relevance to its gospel message. I open my Bible randomly and happen on I Chronicles 20:6, for instance, in which I am informed that there was a man from Gath who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four digits in all. Now that’s interesting, but not particularly important or relevant to my redemption” (The Fourth Day, p. 7). Please be careful to note that according to VanTill (and presumably many others who approve of “his reading of scripture”) much of what we find in many parts of the Bible is irrelevant to his redemption. In itself this may appear to be a very innocent observation on the part of the professor. But he is setting up his readers and students to accept the idea that the creation narrative of Genesis 1 “makes little or no impact on our experience of redemption.” Allow me to quote the professor fully that I may do him justice: “Such information is incidental to the principle themes of Scripture and is drawn solely from human experience. This includes information about the persons, (such as the man from Gath who had twenty-four digits), information about events, information about the material world expressed in the pre-scientific language of the day. Such information may be relevant for academic study of one sort or another but makes little or no impact on our experience of redemption. Taking the Bible seriously does not require us to treat such matters as the product of divine revelation; on the contrary, taking the Bible seriously requires, I believe, giving such incidental information the lesser status that I have suggested” (p. 13). Note carefully the progression in thought. To say first that the narrative re the man of Gath is irrelevant to redemption, and then to proceed to the narrative of creation and draw the same conclusion, is calculated to get the student/reader to accept VanTill’s rejection of the historic Christian doctrine of creation. Besides, note the progression frommy redemption to our experience of redemption.
I wonder if Pilate’s having the tomb of Jesus sealed shut with the Roman seal and the stone placed before the tomb opening was a similar incidental element of the narrative and not particularly significant for my redemption experience.
Can we divorce the redemption gospel themes of Scripture from the historical circumstances of God’s revelation, when the historical circumstances were ordained and determined by God to serve as the background for the revelation of Himself? The answer is an emphatic No! Let no one be deceived!
But men are determined today to drive a wedge between the gospel (matters of salvation) and the events and circumstances by which the gospel of God is revealed to us in Christ Jesus. This is an evil work, for by it they violate the apostle’s warning not to take from sacred Scripture (Rev. 22:19). The apostle John, in his gospel narrative, records many historical facts in connection with the ministry of Jesus. Are any of these unimportant and insignificant so that we may regard some of them to be “inaccurate” or non-factual? Is the account of John in need of correction by means of the discoveries of various scholars? John declares with regard to his whole narrative that “… these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30).
We must receive the Scriptures in their entirety believing that they are alone sufficient to give us the knowledge of God’s will and of our salvation. We have the testimony of Jesus Himself, in that most significant passage on the sufficiency of Scripture, Luke 16:29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” If one will not hear God speaking in the Scriptures, which alone are sufficient to give the knowledge of salvation, he lies under the wrath of God.
One can defend the sufficiency of Scripture in regard to the church’s redemption and salvation only by holding to the truth that the historical facts recorded in Scripture as background to God’s revelatory works are essential to the infallible record of revelation.