27 June 2014

The word and the Word: do not sunder what God has joined

by Dan Phillips

Ask a group of Biblically faithful Christians how God is known. Some will likely answer, "In Christ." Others, "Through the Bible." I had just such an array when I asked the other day, as we have been studying how God reaches out to us and how we must respond.

Well, which response is right?

Broadly, one could say that three answers have been given in the history of the Christian church. Taking "A" as representing "In Christ," and B as "Through the Bible," we can treat them thus:

A, not so much B. This would be broadly the view of Christianoid liberalism of all stripes. Like virtually all false teachers, they do want to be seen as on the Jesus bandwagon, so they would claim Him. "Christ, not doctrine" would be their rallying cry. It might be neo-orthodox shaped with a sprinkling of existential spice, but it would amount to this: "We must encounter the living Christ. The Word witnesses to this Christ, but it is just the words of men witnessing poorly and fallibly to the Christ. It is inadequate. All that matters is the soul's contact with the living Christ, a contact that can't be tied to dogma or reduced to doctrines."

This is useful, of course, because this "living Christ" usually fits in pretty well with wherever the professor wants to go. This "living Christ" gets down with the world just fine. He's for evolution, "a woman's right to choose," "marriage equality," "social justice," "empowering women"; He's green, He voted for Obama, He loves Huffington Post, He's not so sure about literal Adams and Jonahs and falling walls and man-swallowing fish. In other words, He pretty much hates and loves what the world hates and loves. The  professor need not deny himself, much less take up anything as distasteful as a cross.

Machen killed this monstrosity decades ago but, like Freddy Krueger, it just keeps coming back. Unlike Freddy, it does change its shirt from time to time. But it's always the same nonsense, under the skin.

Both A and B. Many orthodox Christians would sign onto this, and it's a vast improvement. It at least recognizes that Christ and the Word are not opposed to each other. In fact, I wouldn't quarrel too insistently with this answer, as long as its view of B matched B's witness to itself.

However, I think this isn't the best way to put it. It still envisions a parting between the two that doesn't do justice to the role Christ Himself (A) gives to the Word (B). That is better expressed as...

A, by sole means of B. Of course and always, the intent is to know Christ truly and intimately (Ephesians 3:17-19; Philippians 3:10). And this can happen only as we are born of the Spirit (John 3:1ff.), and the Lord opens our hearts (Acts 16:14). But by what means, through what instrumentality, is this accomplished?

As I've been studying closely with my church on Wednesday nights, God has always had but one means of making Himself known, from the first moments when there was sentient life: by His Word. This has always been the case. Adam's first recorded experience of God is of God speaking to him; and so it goes through redemptive history. The grand trans-covenantal paradigm of Abram is that his right standing before God came through his saying "Amen" to the word of God (Gen. 15:6 and context).

Nothing has changed in the coming of Christ. He preached, He preached and preached; He was known as "the teacher." His miracles showed that his preaching had power, but their meaning was known through His preaching. When people came for his miracles, He moved on so He could preach more, say more words about God and His Kingdom (Mark 1:33-38).

This is what He said would be the norm. The mark of someone who was a genuine disciple was that that person continued in His word (John 8:31-32). That person who experienced God and knew God personally would be the person who kept Christ's commands and word (John 14:21, 23). Christ's abiding in the person would flourish by means of His word abiding in him (compare John 15:4 and 7).

And so it continued after He ascended. When Peter was surrounded by inquiring unbelievers, he preached God's words to them and used those words to urge them to salvation (Acts 2). The saved — reconciled to eternal fellowship with God — were those who embraced his word (Acts 2:41). Again and again, Luke describes the spread of Christianity as the spread of the word of God (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 13:49). In fact, how would we today have fellowship with the Father and the Son? Through the words of God through the apostles (1 John 1:1-3).

This is but a brief sample. I could just put it like this. You say the really important thing is to know Christ. I say "amen." And then I ask, "Who is this 'Christ'? Where do we learn of Him? Where do we find out infallibly who He is, what He taught, what He did, what He offers and demands, how I can know Him, and how He wants me to live and think?"

You know the answer.

A, by sole means of B.

Don't sunder what God hath joined.

Dan Phillips's signature


Terry Rayburn said...

Extremely well put! And that's why when I'm neglectful of my Bible, even for a short time, my relationship with the Lord suffers.

It's counter-intuitive in a way, but intimacy with Christ is not an inward mystical gaze (even though He indwells us believers) -- it's letting Him speak to us in the way that He has chosen: through His written Word.

And speaking back to Him in prayer.

Nice, Dan.

Jim Pemberton said...

I daresay each member of the Trinity is involved in Christian epistemology. While the Father is known through the Son by means of the written revelation we find in the Bible, those same scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit who directs believers to what he has caused to be written therein. Any failure of believers to do so, like those who look for some new revelation, or who might vie to make the scriptures mean something other than what they otherwise clearly mean, is a matter of sanctification.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or is the content on this site starting to get sharply clearer and just plain better lately? This is an excellent summary for both sufficiency and perspicuity for anyone who is serious when he claims to know or want to know the real Christ.

George Lutes said...

Thank you for yet another very well done piece.
I must confess my ignorance though of your use of "ff" in the notation on Jn 3:1. I do not know what this means. Can you please help?

DJP said...

"And following (verses)."

Jeri Tanner said...

So very helpful, thanks. "A, by sole means of B." Proclaim it loud, proclaim it long!