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The Bible's Sufficiency
January 28, 2004
I do not often use terms like “God showed me” or “God has been teaching me.” Perhaps it stems from my upbringing in churches where people simply did not speak like that, or perhaps I generally do not stop long enough to consider where God is working in my life. It could be that I grow tired of it being used so flippantly by so many Christians (ie “God told me to leave the established church”). But I digress. God has been showing me something that I would like to share.
He has not been showing me anything new or revolutionary. Rather, he has been pointing me back to the wonder of something that is taught in the Bible and the early church and though it almost disappeared for many centuries, it came back during the time of the Reformation. God has been showing me the infinite value and necessity of the doctrine that has come to be known as sola Scriptura. This is, of course, a Latin term used by the Reformers that translates to Scripture alone. In particular, God has been convicting me of one aspect of this doctrine, namely the sufficiency of Scripture. It seems wherever I look these days I find teaching about the sufficiency of Scripture. In the past two weeks I have read three books, all of which dedicated great detail to this doctrine and its importance. Prior to reading these I studied various translations and paraphrases of Scripture and the same questions and convictions came forth.
What then does it mean that Scripture is sufficient? It means that the Bible is sufficient for the church’s life and work. It is able to draw unbelievers to Christ, to enable me to grow in godliness, to provide direction to my life and to go beyond myself and beyond the church to transform and revitalize all of society. As I read this definition of Scripture’s sufficiency in James Boice’s book “Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace” it was like the last piece of a puzzle fell into place and I finally understood what my primary concern is with so many of today’s churches. These churches have stopped believing in the sufficiency of Scripture.
Almost every church, at least in the evangelical world, would include in its statement of faith that they believe in sola scriptura, even if they do not use those words to do so. And most of these churches do believe in the Bible’s authority, inspiration and inerrancy. However, few would believe and put into practice the idea of the Bible’s sufficiency. The evidence of this is visible in churches all around us. People no longer look to the Bible as being the key to evangelism. Instead they put their trust in music, drama, outreach programs and less imposing but more attractive church buildings. When people do come to church they are not challenged by the gospel.
It is interesting to see how Jesus evangelized. He used miracles, but this did not form the basis of his ministry. What he did more than anything was preach! He would often cease performing miracles in order to preach and share God’s words. In the first chapter of Mark we see Jesus walking away from a crowd of what we would consider seekers, leaving them to go to a new village where no one knew who He was. Why did He do this? “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” His miracles the previous day had drawn larger and larger crowds and more people were coming to be healed, but despite this “success” Jesus moved on because the foundation of His ministry was the preaching of the gospel. He did not want to be known as a worker of miracles when his true ministry was teaching.
How would we react in a similar situation today? I suspect we would consider anything that brought great crowds to our churches to be a success. Yet unless the foundation of our ministry is the faithful and full exposition of the gospel, the crowds mean nothing. God does not call us to gather crowds, but to make disciples by calling people to repentance. People are saved not by being in church and participating in services, but by the Word of God.
I believe it is only through a firm conviction of the sufficiency of Scripture that a church can truly consider itself built on a foundation of sola scriptura. Scripture’s inerrancy, authority and inspiration mean little if we do not also believe in its sufficiency. When we do not believe in Scripture’s sufficiency we must substitute it with something. What we put in its place can never have the power and authority of the Bible. It can never be sufficient.