The recent now-deleted tweet by Andy Stanley, son of famed pastor emeritus of the First Baptist Church, Atlanta, reads:
“The Christian faith doesn’t rise and fall on the accuracy of 66 ancient documents. It rises and falls on the identity of a single individual: Jesus of Nazareth.”
Stanley’s tweet was taken from a sermon he preached on March 6 at Browns Bridge Church in Cumming, Georgia.
When first reading the tweet on social media, I was saddened and sickened. This kind of statement was all too familiar to me. I had often heard it made by the moderates and liberals who were in control of the Southern Baptist Convention back in the '80s. I had defended the faith against this kind of approach to the Scriptures in the Baptist Associations where I had served — a time when my support for the Bible as divine and totally without error was in the minority and marginalized.
This kind of doctrinal error is what conservatives worked and sacrificed to save the Southern Baptist Convention from and succeeded. Moreover, other denominations that embraced what Stanley was teaching ended up on the trash heap of spiritual impotence or blatant apostasy.
It was, therefore, quite painful for me to hear a prominent preacher with the considerable influence of Stanley, one who has affirmed his own belief in inerrancy, declare something so contrary to that affirmation.
Unfortunately, Stanley’s view of the Bible is not uncommon today in many seminaries and various mainline denominations that were once faithful. It holds if one argues for the highest view of Scripture as the Church did in the past, then one is in danger of a form of idolatry, elevating the Bible above Jesus, and therefore, guilty of the sin of Bible worship. In other words, you can make the Bible even more important than Jesus. You can give the Bible a prominence the Lord himself didn’t give it.
This is a seductive and harmful argument for those who may not know any better. It’s really a departure from the doctrine handed down by the Church, which has always maintained Christ, the Living Word, so identified himself with the Written Word, the Holy Scriptures, that no teacher can diminish the authority of one without also equally diminishing the authority of the other.
No one ever held a higher view of Scripture than Jesus did. In fact, over and again, Jesus encouraged everyone to judge his entire person and work by what the Scriptures said. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared he didn’t come to oppose or supersede the Scriptures, but to fulfill them exactly — completely — to fulfill every “jot and tittle” (Mt. 5:17-20).
Years ago, after leaving the pastorate to become the Christian Action League’s executive director, I joined a church where a man came before the congregation as a pastoral candidate. First, the candidate made a general statement about his doctrinal beliefs and church polity and then fielded questions from the audience.
One statement the candidate made was a red flag for me. He said he believed Southern Baptists had elevated the Bible above Jesus. So, before the entire church, I asked him to please explain what he meant.
To the point of embarrassment, the candidate kept avoiding a direct answer to the question by talking about things that weren’t pertinent. When he finally got around to addressing it, he did so in vague generalities, which essentially amounted to no answer at all.
At last, I sought to pin him down and asked: “Please tell us plainly. Do you believe the Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God? Yes or No?” His response was honest, but revealing when he replied, “No, I don’t.”
At this point, the candidate became very angry and began to attack my person with insults, declaring he believed the Bible as much as me. I responded that not only did he not believe the Bible as much as me, but he didn’t believe it as much as the people in that church. I then said to him, “You believe the Bible contains the Word of God, but you don’t believe it’s all the Word of God. Correct?” He acknowledged my assessment of his beliefs was accurate.
“Well, I agree with the candidate,” one lady said as she jumped to her feet to defend him. “He’s right! I think our denomination has wrongly given more prominence to the Scriptures than to Jesus.” To which I replied to her, “Please tell me how any of us can know anything authoritative about Jesus outside of the Bible?”
The candidate then replied, “I know! By experience!”
“Experience?” I responded. “And by what standard shall we measure the reality or truth of one’s experience without a Bible that does not err, and is authoritative in everything?” I asked. “How can we tell whether our experience is from God or the devil? Are we to believe our experience can never lead us astray — that our experience will never lead us to a counterfeit Christ?”
No one said anything further and the candidate withdrew his name for consideration, saying he could never be in a church with someone like me. Others, however, argued that I had just saved the church from many troubles and possible failure.
The crux of the matter is abundantly clear for those willing to think and look to the Scriptures. What Stanley espouses is not what Jesus believed and taught about Scriptural authority. Let’s not forget Jesus Himself submitted to the Scriptures. Our Lord so identified Himself and his ministry with Scripture that he affirmed to the degree that one accepts the Scriptures is the degree to which one may know Him.
It should trouble us greatly anytime someone holds a different view of the Written Word than the one held by the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. It ultimately leads to making our own opinions, beliefs and experiences the authority rather than God’s revelation. Such only leads to error, compromise, and a falling away from the faith.
Originally published at Christian Action League of North Carolina.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.