Saturday, April 28, 2007

The All-Sufficient Word

John MacArthur in his book, Thinking Biblically, argues:

In fact, to suggest that the Word of God alone is insufficient is to espouse the very opinion that lies at the heart of virtually every cult that pretends to be Christian. The one thing nearly all of them have in common is the belief that people need the Bible plus something else--the writings of some "enlightened" prophet or seer, the edicts of church tradition, or the conclusions of science and secular philosophy. So, to deny the sufficiency of Scripture is to espouse an age-old heresy. But Scripture consistently teaches the complete holiness of the believer is the work of the all-sufficient Word of God (cf. John 17:17). (25)
Those who argue that the silence of the Scripture is hardly prohibitive always seem to ignore the fact that the Scriptures are indeed all-sufficient, teaching Christians all they need to know spiritually for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). If the whole truth (John 16:12, 13) and the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) was given to the apostles and provided for us when the faith was once for all time delivered to the saints (Jude 3), then the one faith and the one gospel is a closed system. Since there are clear prohibitives against editing the revealed Word or teaching of Christ by addition or subtraction, it seems clear that departure from the all-sufficient Word leads to heresy.

Now this is what makes the silence of the Scripture prohibitive in regard to many things. We do not teach purgatory, because it is a later innovation and cannot be found in the all-sufficient covenant God made with Christians. We may right urge a prohibitive for sprinkling and for infant baptism on the same basis. We do not celebrate Christmas or Easter as a religious holiday for the same reasons. We deny the papacy and denominationalism because it is innovation. We infer (rightly) from Scripture that innovation denies the all-sufficiency of the text.

When instrumental music comes along, one brother, not finding any evidence in the Scripture for it in Christian worship, relied upon some type of direct guidance from the Holy Spirit. In his mind the Holy Spirit led him to believe it was all right to innovate, even though Jesus spoke against self-made religion (Matt. 15:8-14). John 16:13 teaches that the Holy Spirit did not speak on his own initiative. If this is the case, how is that the Holy Spirit is revealing in this 21st century what He did not reveal to the apostles? Either the man is self-deceived, thinking the Holy Spirit has given permission for the innovation of instrumental music in Christian worship, or the self-deceived apostles failed to fulfill the instructions of the Holy Spirit in the first century by not using them.

When God gave the instructions about worship and many other things in the first century, He gave the whole truth (John 16:12-13). Nothing was omitted--this is why we can know when people are adding or subtracting from the Word. Once all the truth was given and God hushed, there is never authority or need or approval for any man to add more. God does not need an editor.

What makes silence prohibitive? The all-sufficiency of the Word.



Anonymous said...

With this reasoning, as logical as it is, how do we answer those who would say that we are to legalistic?

Bob Cox

Phil Sanders said...

Dear Bob,

When people have run out of arguments, they generally turn to the practice of name-calling.

I have never argued for the kind of legalism that makes laws where God has not made them. Indeed, I have been criticized as much for not being willing to give in to some humanly-devised "traditions" as I have for pressing the point that we must observe what God has given to us.

The Pharisaical judgmentalism (Mt. 7:1-5) was because they judged others on the basis of their own traditions (Mt. 15:1-14). Jesus taught us to judge according to righteous judgment (John 7:24). The first practice is legalism; the second is mature discernment.

James Bales said, "I would rather be a legalist than an illegalist."

There is no shame or stain to asking people to do what God says to do, and to refrain from doing what God condemns. Building your house on sand (not doing the words of Jesus--Mt.7:26-27) leads to a great fall. If I love someone, I will tell them about the difference of rock and sand.

I contend for what I call loving lawfulness. We obey out of love not legalism (John 14:15, 21, 23). Jesus set the example of love for the Father in John 14:31 by doing "exactly" (NASBu, ESV, NIV) what the Father commanded. We can and should do no less.


Phil Sanders said...

Scott Taft wrote:

Great answer Brother, I like the term "loving lawfulness"... that really gets to the heart of the matter. It is a matter of the heart and love to want to obey the Lord... it must be done with the right spirit. After all, He has done so much for us, the least we can do is to do what He asks us to do and not improvise on it. I firmly believe that God does nothing without a PERFECT reason, and so who am I to question it, or God forbid not want to obey what He says?

I need to remember the term "loving lawfulness" the next time I am called a legalist for wanting to "not go beyond what is written".

Phil, my mother died yesterday, please keep me and my family in your prayers.

In Christ,

Phil Sanders said...

Dear Scott,

Thanks for your kind note. Our hearts and prayers are with you and your mother at this difficult time. May the Lord bless you and be with you.


Richard said...


Isn't it amazing that these folks who claim that they are led by the Holy Spirit, as the person you mentioned in your article, always find that the Holy Spirit leads them where they wanted to go? Funny how that works. :)

Keith Brenton said...

Yet we as Christians do many things that are not authorized by scripture, and in fact do not do many things that we are told to do. We meet in church buildings we have built or purchased for that purpose, when early Christians met in homes, synagogues or rented lecture halls. Our women do not wear veils when they pray. Why are some things in our fellowship adhered to, but not others?

Phil Sanders said...


I think you question is a good one and shows that you are thinking. The first half of your question (church buildings,lights, pews, etc.) is answered by understanding the freedom we have in the area of expediency. There are some things that God allows us to do in the fulfillment of His instructions by the use of our own wisdom and capability. The Bible that you read from is just such a case. While there is no explicit instruction to translate or to copy the Bible, this is a necessary action if we are to evangelize the world. God gives men the freedom to do His will by the most expedient means available. This is why I use email, webpages, television, printed matter and audio CDs. There is Biblical precedence for expedients. In Acts 16:9-11 Paul received his Macedonia call and got on a ship. Now the ship was not mentioned. "Come over" was the broad instruction, and a ship was the best means to do what God's vision told him to do.

As for veils, 1 Cor. 11:16 calls the veils a custom.

Thanks for your comments.