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Why We Need the Bible
Using the Bible to define doctrine and practice
SECTION 5 Applications
SECTION 6 Relevant Research Sources and Topics
SECTION 7 Assignment 2
STUDY GUIDE (Copyright Truthzone 2001)
1. Structure and Assignments
This study guide is based upon seven weeks of study at five hours each week. The main text is the Bible and the relevant passages should be read as indicated before the notes in the study guide. There are self-test questions to help you to consolidate your knowledge. The scheme can be commenced at any time and be completed within the following seven weeks or longer if you prefer. This allows you to begin at the most convenient time for your studies and allows you to take as much time as you need. There are two assignments and one full week is allocated to each assignment to give time for additional research and writing up. Concise answers are required without unnecessary padding and you should aim to write about 2,000 words.
2. Week by Week Scheme (5 hours study per week)
Week 1 Using the Bible to Define Doctrine and Practice
Week 2 The Revelation of God as Creator
Week 3 Assignment 1
Week 4 The Revelation of God as Saviour
Week 5 Applications in Church, School and Society
Week 6 Further Research Sources and Topics
Week 7 Assignment 2
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4. Weekly Study Guide
Using the Bible to Define Doctrine and Practice
1 Timothy, 1 Peter and Proverbs 1-8
In this unit we will look at using the Bible to define doctrine and practice, the Westminster Confession's biblical method and starting point and what it has to say on the necessity of the Bible. We close by providing an analysis of the first section of the Confession. The method of this study guide is designed to provide a thoroughly scriptural approach to why we need the Bible. We shall shortly look at a summary statement of the doctrine of the necessity of the Bible. This summary has been taken from the Westminster Confession of Faith and it is followed in the Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Savoy Declaration of the Congregationalists. It is used here to investigate the relevant biblical data. There is nothing dubious about a confessional research methodology. There is a kind of modernity that scorns what is old and relegates Reformed confessions to a theological House of Lord's. The confessions are viewed as a forum of the aged, serving as a point of reference outside of the mainstream of the action, but accorded some respect in the debate as long as they do not get in the way of change. We will see, however, that the confession we refer to, far from being of merely historical interest, is new millennium ready and capable of exerting a powerful influence for good as an agent of change. To demonstrate that this is the case the following method has been followed. In this first unit we employ analysis to provide a summary of the teaching of the first section of the Confession and we refer to the relevant scripture passages. In Units 2, 3 and 4 we consider in detail the scripture authority for the content. This scriptural authority for the statements of the confession is summarised by reference to the proof texts, in their Biblical contexts. By setting these texts in their scriptural context you have the opportunity to judge for yourself the scripture warrant for the content of the confession. This follows the practice of the Bereans who received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17.11) In Unit 5 the doctrine is applied to three areas of strategic importance in order to show the contemporary relevance of the scriptural doctrine summarised in the Confession. We consider applications that relate to the Church (ecclesiastical), the upbringing of children (educational) and morality (ethical). By this method it will be shown that the confession investigated is well able to address current issues and to provide leadership at the very centre of the action by helping us to develop scriptural responses. This will show the value of such confessions, when scripturally examined and proved, for exerting a renewed influence in turbulent times, theologically, educationally and ethically.
The Confession's Biblical Method and Starting Point
The Confession of Faith follows the Bible in avoiding any debate concerning the existence of God. There is no attempt to present any philosophical arguments to prove that a Divine Being exists. Moses proceeds similarly in the first book of the Bible. In Genesis Chapters 1 and 2 no effort is expended to prove by argumentation that God exists. The whole of the creation record presupposes that he is (Hebrews 11.6). It sets out, not to prove His existence, but to record His works. As we shall see, those works provide such evidence of the Being of God that not to believe in Him is inexcusable. The starting point of the Confession should be compared with the Epistle to the Romans Chapters 1 and 2 because the proof texts (Romans 2.14-15, 1.19-20) show that the framers of the Confession had this epistle in mind. This letter was intended by the Apostle Paul to provide a systematic exposition of the Gospel which he preached. The theme of Paul's letter to the Romans, as announced after his greetings, is fully evangelical. He is concerned with the Gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1.16-17) Paul is setting out an orderly doctrinal statement of the message of salvation. In this exposition he commences, not with Christ and redemption, but with man's condition as a creature of God faced with a clear revelation of his Maker. This is not incompatible with Paul's missionary task. There is something vitally important about the whole matter of revelation. Whatever knowledge of God sinners might have in their fallen state, that knowledge can only condemn them, it cannot save them. The Confession follows Paul in this starting point. At the very outset there is an urgent question as to where an authoritative saving revelation of God can be found. It is this that leads on to the necessity of redemptive revelation and the preservation of the truth in written form, but first the subject of the revelation of God the Creator is dealt with by the Confession, following the example of Paul. The Confession states the doctrine as follows.
The Confession of Faith on the Necessity of the Bible (Chapter 1.1)
"Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable;a yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will which is necessary unto salvation.b Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church;c and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing;d which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary;e those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.f "
a. Rom. 2.14,15; Rom. 1.19,20; Ps 19.1,2,3; Rom. 1.32, with chap. 2.1
b. 1 Cor. 1.21, 1 Cor. 2.13,14
c. Heb. 1.1
d. Prov. 22.19,20,21; Luke 1.3,4; Rom. 15.4, Matt 4.4,7,10; Isa. 8. 19,20;
e. 2 Tim. 3.15; 2 Peter 1.19, Heb. 1.1,2
Analysis of the Confession of Faith on the Necessity of the Bible
The need for the Bible arises because:
1. The revelation of God the Creator cannot save sinners.
2. The preservation and proclamation of saving truth in the face of the attacks of the world, the flesh and the Devil is better served by a written revelation.
3. Fragmentary revelations of the way of salvation have ceased.
These statements can be further amplified according to the following more detailed summary.
1. The revelation of God the Creator cannot save sinners.
1.1 God is made known to us in various ways.
1.11 By the light of nature
1.12 By His works of creation and providence
1.2 By these different ways Divine perfections are revealed.
1.21 The goodness of God.
1.22 The wisdom of God.
1.23 The power of God
1.3 We consequently have no excuse for not worshipping God.
1.4 This revelation does not make God known as Saviour.
2. The preservation and proclamation of saving truth in the face of the attacks of the world, the flesh and the Devil is better served by a written revelation.
2.1 God has revealed Himself as Saviour in a variety of ways to his
2.2 His purpose of salvation is better served by written revelation.
2.21 It provides for the preservation of saving truth.
2.22 It provides for the proclamation of saving truth.
2.23 It thus provides for the comfort of the Church against:
A. the flesh,
B. the malice of Satan, and
C. the malice of the world.
3. Fragmentary revelations of the way of salvation have ceased.
1. What is the value of studying doctrinal proof texts in their scriptural context?
2. What do we mean by the authority of scripture?
3. What was commendable about the Bereans method of learning?
4. How can it be shown that the Westminster Confession's starting point is Biblical?
5. If an enquirer asked you why we need the Bible, what answer would you give?
6. What evidence does Genesis 1 provide for:
(a) the power of God,
(b) the wisdom of God, and
(c) the goodness of God?
7. In Romans Chapter 1, Paul deals with the sinfulness of our natural condition.
(a) Against what does he say that the wrath of God is revealed?
(b) Why are even those who do not have the Bible inexcusable?
(c) Why had God given up the Pagans of Paul's day to sexual impurity?
8. Why does the revelation of God in creation condemn but not save?
9. What are the advantages of a written revelation concerning God's way of salvation?
10. Give five reasons why the Bible is necessary today.
The Revelation of God as Creator
Genesis 1-2; Psalm 19; Romans Chapters 1-3; and 1 Corinthians Chapters 1-2.
In this unit we look at the light of nature, revelation in the works of creation and providence, the inexcusability of sinners and the fact that general revelation does not give saving knowledge.
The Light of Nature
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another...
(NOTE:- Gentiles: everyone who is not a Jew.)
The common use of the phrase a law unto themselves is not what is intended by Paul. We use such words of those who go their own way and make up their own rules as they go along. Paul is using it in an opposite sense. He is saying that the moral law of God is so firmly embedded in our nature that, despite the corruption of sin, we cannot escape from it. Although the heathen nations did not have the written law of Moses, they nevertheless were found to do many things contained in it. All did not murder others, commit adulterous acts or live by burglary. Consider:
The presence of law in the absence of the Law.
The Gentile nations did not have the specifically revealed law that God gave to Israel through Moses, written upon stone tablets or in the books of Moses, but what is required by that law is written in the hearts of everyone so that our own moral nature includes the voice of conscience which refers to this law within us to commend what is good and accuse us when we do what is bad or evil.
The proof of this is seen in human behaviour.
The Gentiles do by nature the things contained in the law. We have what Professor Murray calls a "native instinct" or "spontaneous impulse" to do certain things the law requires. We do not do all that the Law of God requires, neither do we do anything perfectly; but various aspects of human behaviour show the work of the law written in our hearts. People try to be good and have certain standards about honesty, faithfulness and so on. They look after their families and help friends who are ill.
The personal significance is clear.
Because we are moral creatures, unlike animals which are not, we are not altogether ignorant of God's law. Our consciences approve what is good and accuse us of our evil deeds by reference to this law. Acquaintance with the Bible is not needed for this to take place. Everyone's conscience tells the same story: whatever can be approved of in anyone's life, there is so much that is against the perfect requirements of God. All non-Jews are in the same boat: as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law... (Romans 2.12).
Summary: God is our Lawgiver. We all have some knowledge of His law. None of us can plead the excuse of ignorance when we break God's law. We show by our behaviour that we know in some respect what his law requires. Our own consciences tell us what is good and accuse us for our own misdeeds. Without forgiveness we will all perish. We all need the Gospel.
Revelation in the Works of Creation and Providence
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse...
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
(NOTE:- firmament: "the vault of heaven". Hebrew rahkeeag the expanse spread out above our heads.)
God makes Himself known in the world about us in a way that everyone can see. As the author is known by his books and the architect is known by his buildings so that which may be known of God is seen in the universe day by day.
The characteristics of this revelation
The universe is used by God to make Himself known. The invisible things of him are understood by the things that are made. The older writers spoke of a revelation in things. This revelation is uninterrupted. Ever since the creation (from in a temporal sense), through all history, there has been an uninterrupted testimony from one day to the next, telling out continually the glory of God. The revelation is unrestrained. Each day uttereth speech. The Hebrew is ebn, "flowing", like a stream. We can think of the speech bubbling forth with energetic abundance like that of the mountain spring. This revelation is universal. IIt reaches to everyone everywhere, men, women, boys and girls, whether scholars or without learning. It can be understood by all. Their voice is heard. Dumb creatures surmount all language barriers and effectively communicate a knowledge of God. No nation is exempt from this forceful penetration of truth. That which may be known of God is manifest in them; God has shewed it to them. The invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood. Could anything be plainer?
The content of the revelation is important.
It is the glory of God the Creator which is revealed. The effect points us to the only adequate Cause. The birthday cake arose because of a mother's kindness. Even the wildest explanations of the origins of Stonehenge do not suggest that it arose by chance. The evidences of design point to intelligence. When we see the wrought iron we know that the strong arm of the blacksmith has been at work. Why then should anyone want to deny that "the works of creation and providence" show "the goodness, wisdom and power of God"? The evidence of creation is clear enough and the truth must be suppressed in order to evade the unmistakeable testimony. The universe reveals the Creator's eternal power and Godhead showing:
His eternity as the One beyond space and time.
His almightiness as He who brings out the stars of heaven as an army calling them all by names by the greatness of his might. As he is strong in power; not one fails.(Isaiah 41.26). His Divinity as infinitely perfect, immortal, wise and good.
The consequence of this revelation is very serious.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse... For man in his original integrity, such a revelation would result in deep happiness and blessing. As far as fallen human beings are concerned this revelation results in inexcusability. The emotive complaint that it would be unjust for God to condemn savages in the jungle because they have had no opportunity to hear the Gospel and believe, cannot be allowed to stand. The Apostle Paul says exactly the opposite. Rejection and distortion of the truth about God shows the truth about ourselves. We are fallen creatures who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1.18). The Gentiles, whether educated or uneducated, showed themselves in their true colours, because, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man...(Romans 1.21-23). It all has a very contemporary ring, revealing that, in our natural condition:
We are not objective in our thinking but biased.
We are not ignorant but disobedient.
We are not wise but foolish.
We are not innocent but inexcusable.
We are not in control but condemned.
Rom. 1.32, with chap. 2.1
Who knowing the judgement of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
Paul's three challenges are as follows.
Committing sins make you inexcusable
The truth about our situation has to be faced. Through the created universe God is made known to us in His rich goodness as our Benefactor, in His amazing wisdom as the Architect of the cosmos and in His omnipotence as its Governor. Such sovereign glory demands unceasing praise from us, but none of us in our natural condition worship God properly. Although there is a measure of readiness to accept some concept of an ultimate truth beyond the world and undergirding everything, which the philosopher might call the Absolute, the truth about the real God is consciously distorted. We raised the question in the previous section as to why anyone would want to deny that "the works of creation and providence" show "the goodness, wisdom and power of God"? The answer lies in the fact that God is not only revealed as Benefactor, Architect and Governor but also as Sovereign, Legislator and Judge. The work of the law is written in our hearts, and our consciences are bearing witness to it by approving that which is good and accusing ourselves and one another when we sin. We know that God's requirements are righteous, but in our natural condition we love sin and want to continue in it: ... this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.(John 3.19) The catalogue of evil deeds includes unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, malicious-ness, envy, murder, debate (or strife), deceit, malignity, whispering, backbiting, hating God, being despiteful, pride, boasting, inventing evil things, disobedience to parents, being without understanding, covenant-breaking, being without natural affection, being implacable and unmerciful.(See Romans 1.29-31)
Continuing in your sins makes you more inexcusable
Now whatever we might say, we know what God's judicial reaction to such deeds is to condemn them and we have already an awareness that the wages of sin is death. So Paul characterises the Gentiles in all of their depraved abandonment to sin as those knowing the judgement of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death. Any frank admission on our part, without suppression of what we know to be the case, would lead us to confess that we know that the penaly of sin is death and that God as Judge will consign us to the most terrible penal sufferings in the world to come. What else could a morally pure God do with such wanton sinners? It is precisely because all of us have this knowledge that the continuation in sin is so grave. Even though we apprehend that God is Lawgiver and Judge, that His commandments are righteous and our ways, by nature, evil, yet sinners continue in these sins and approve them in others! They not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. The whole civilisation approves a manner of life which is at variance with the moral excellence of God, notwithstanding the inner knowledge that God will not ignore this flagrant disregard of His law, which renders everyone of us in our natural condition worthy of death. Instead of taking the path of love in saying to sinners, young and old, "Do not ruin yourselves", our society approves what it knows to be worthy of damnation.
By condemning yourselves you are shown to be inexcusable
There are many religious people who would exclude themselves from the sins that Paul lists. They might say, "I have not been a fornicator, I have not been a murderer, I have always, or nearly always, kept my word" and so on. The Jews of Paul's day were like that and looked down on the Gentiles for their gross evils. Paul himself had been self- righteous and knew what it was to judge others for the life which they lived. But here is the point, the man who condemns others is guilty of the same things! Paul goes on to say: thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? How many have turned away from religion as a result of the hypocrisy of those who profesed it. Here is one who sings in the choir, but fiddles his overtime claim. Here is a vicar who runs off with a parishioner's wife. Here are ornaments on the churchwarden's mantlepiece that were stolen from an idol temple he visited on holiday. Anyone who is self-righteous has only to look around their home, read their own diary or review their relationships with others to find plenty of examples of doing those things which we ought not to have done. The conclusion is inescapable. You condemn yourself in judging others because you are not free of the same things. Just under the veneer of a respectable life is a multiplicity of transgressions. Face it, you are inexcusable too! This was the point that Paul had to come to before he could be saved.
General Revelation Not Sufficient to Give a Saving Knowledge of God
1 Cor. 1.21
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
It has always been the confidence of the learned that, if there is a human predicament, human reasoning will be able to resolve it without reference to Christianity and the Bible. So the Deists imagined that the revelation of God the Creator was sufficient to develop a system of belief whereby eternal happiness could be secured. There was nothing new in this. Long before the Greeks and others had supreme confidence in their philosophies. The confessional statement that "the light of nature and the works of creation and providence" are "not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will which is necessary unto salvation" is thoroughly scriptural. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul tackled the subject as follows.
God has discarded worldly wisdom
First century Corinth had much in common with our Twentieth Century world, specifically, "human wisdom rules OK". The opinions of experts are the media's daily fare. It was the same in ancient Greece. Luke tells us that all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing. (Acts 17.21) Paul tells us that with respect to the answer to the question, What must I do to be saved? (Acts 16.30), this human learning is absolutely bankrupt. However relevant in its place our natural wisdom might be, for commerce, navigation, technology and so on, with respect to spiritual salvation it has zero contribution. It is not wisdom but foolishness! Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? (1 Corinthians 1.20) It is as though Paul would say, "Had I lived four thousand years, with perfect liberty to explore the entire creation, probe its mysteries and accumulate the knowledge of centuries, where would I be? Having no hope, and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2.12) No amount of rational theorising must be allowed to dilute the plain force of the apostle's words with respect to the much acclaimed wisdom of this world. It can save no one, and God has given to it no role in the matter of saving sinners.
God destroys worldly wisdom
Far from having something to contribute it is clear that, as soon as natural wisdom sets up in competition with the Gospel of Christ in the matter of where true happiness is to be found, it has become God's enemy. When it seeks to rise above its station in this way, the most refined human learning is on course for destruction. It is God's plan to show that it can do nothing about man's spiritual plight and must utterly fail. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. (1 Corinthians 1.19) This is true with respect to individuals. No amount of counselling will solve the deep personal needs that can only be met by Christ. It is also true with respect to society. Social policies and political action cannot get to the root of our predicament and provide a solution to the natural depravity that afflicts us all. The agencies of the state can restrain evil but they cannot eradicate it. Each passing year witnesses to the fact that strategic, economic and social policies can never be a substitute for the Gospel and that it was a fearfully wrong course that was taken when western society came to the conclusion that it had outgrown the need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was a disaster course and each step down it brings us nearer to the destruction of the whole philosophy of life in some grand catastrophe or abysmal failure. Our social decay witnesses to the need for something beyond natural religion.
God has determined where true wisdom will be found
The failure of human philosophy is not accidental. It arises from the Divine purpose. God never intended that natural religion would save the world. Exactly the opposite is true. God intended to demonstrate the failure of the wisdom of this world in spiritual things, despite its undoubted accomplishments, so that His method of saving sinners would have no legitimate competitor. Despite being surrounded by all of the manifestations of the Divine glory in creation and providence none have come to a saving knowledge of God through the consideration of this revelation. For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Paul goes on to demonstrate that it is the message that sinners reject which is their only hope of salvation. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1.22-24)
1 Cor. 2.13,14
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Paul excludes any prospect of saving knowledge by means of general revelation by showing that his message was God-given, that it was communicated by reference to Spirit-taught words, as opposed to the words of man's wisdom, and that spiritual enlightenment is essential in order to understand the things of God.
The origin of the message of salvation
The things which the apostle speaks of are the things of God which He revealed to him by His Spirit.(1 Corinthians 1.10,11) These things cannot be discovered by human reason. The princes of this world did not know the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1.8,7) No other man can know our secret thoughts. If this is true of humans, how much more must it be the case that no man can know the inner thoughts of God? For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.(1 Corinthians 1.11) What originates in God, must be revealed by God.
The communication of the message of salvation
The apostle makes plain that he did not even resort to the learning of men in order to find the best words in which to communicate the message of salvation. The message that he preached was revealed by the Spirit of God and these spiritual things were communicated by him in an appropriate spiritual way by using Spirit-taught words. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. The wisdom of men could not be more effectively shut out. It has no place. Paul's message did not originate in human reason and neither did the words that he used to proclaim it. The word's of man's wisdom have nothing to contribute to the preaching of the Gospel and would detract from it. My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.(1 Corinthians 1.4-5)
The reception of the message of salvation
So far is anyone from being able to arrive at a saving knowledge of God from the light of nature and the consideration of the works of creation and providence, that he or she cannot even understand the things of the Spirit of God when presented with them! The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him. Despite the clarity of the message and the inspired words in which the apostles communicated it, in our natural condition we just do not understand it. To the unrenewed person the Gospel is both absurd and distasteful. It is not that the Gospel is not true, authoritative and excellent. It is that without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit the natural man is incapable of understanding the things of God neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. An inward change of heart is needed so that beauty and power of the Gospel message can be appreciated and apprehended. To progress in understanding God's way of salvation necessitates spiritual enlightenment.
1. How can it be shown that even those who do not have the Bible know something of what God requires of them?
2. With respect to God's revelation of himself in his creation, summarise:
(a) the main characteristics,
(b) what is revealed, and
(c) the consequence for all of us.
3. List the different ways in which even a religious person could be found inexcusable.
4. Provide a biblical appraisal of the wisdom of this world.
5. Summarise Paul's teaching with respect to communicating and
receiving the Gospel.
Consult writers such as L.Berkhof, Systematic Theology; Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith; A.A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology or other books on Christian Doctrine to which you have access to determine what they have to say about the so called "rational proofs". When you have read several books attempt the following.
QUESTION: Explain how the "rational proofs" of the
existence of God are related to general revelation and the value that
they have in dealing with unbelievers.
The Revelation of God as Saviour
In this unit we consider what redemptive revelation is, the benefits of a written revelation, the necessity of the Bible and the cessation of former methods of revelation.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets...
The testimony of Christianity is that God has spoken "to reveal himself, and to declare ... his will unto his Church." This special revelation is necessary and its nature needs to be understood in relation to general revelation and written redemptive revelation.
The necessity of redemptive revelation
Something that neither appeals to idle curiosity with fanciful tales nor to lust with filthy licentiousness needs to be commended to people today. Medical self-help manuals might not be best sellers but if they supply answers to chronic ailments those who are aware of their sickness will read them. The revelation of God the Creator is "not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation", but it is sufficient to leave us inexcusable. Our problem as sinners is plain but the remedy is not everywhere apparent. But God has revealed himself as Redeemer, in a variety of ways in ancient times.
The nature of the ancient redemptive revelation
In former ages at sundry times and in divers manners God spoke to the fathers by the prophets. The Originator of what the prophets had to say was God. The ancient prophecies were not men's ideas about the way of salvation. The revelation came from God. It was gradually imparted over centuries in different portions by theophanies, audible voices, typical persons and actions, dreams, visions, the Urim and Thummim, emblematic actions, laws, parables, songs and prophecies. Despite the different times, places and methods, the same way of salvation was revealed as God expanded that first statement of it to the serpent: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed aand her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.(Genesis 3.15)
The Purposed Benefits of Written Revelation
That thy trust may be in the LORD, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee. Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?
God had a purpose in giving his Word in written form as Holy Scripture and it is our duty to consider the intended benefits so that we do profit from them. We may summarise these as the preservation of the truth, the perseverance of the saints and the propagation of God's Word.
The preservation of the truth
Here is an emphasis on the written Word. Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge. Godly teachers were often commanded to write. The Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. (Exodus 34.27) Jeremiah was commanded by the LORD: Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee ... (Jeremiah 36.2) When Jehoiakim burnt the scroll the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah saying, Take thee again another roll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah hath burned.(Jeremiah 36.28) We have here one of the clearest examples of the Divine intention to preserve the Word of God in permanent written form against all comers so that heavenly wisdom might be preserved on earth.
The perseverance of the saints
The "establishment and comfort of the Church" is near to God's heart. He loves his people and would have them to know him and his ways. That thy trust may be in the LORD, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee. ... That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth. Victorious trust arises from sound knowledge and reliable knowledge of Divine things is obtained from Scripture. The faith which takes this route to wisdom will be a triumphant faith because God's Word written can be relied upon.
The propagation of God's Word
Heart and mouth go together. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10.10) Our testimony is not to depend upon uncertain memory or speculative opinions but on objective, propositional, recorded revelation. Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge ... that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?
It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
(NOTE: in order (kaqexhs) includes logical order as well as chronolgical order. Luke is not limiting himself to time sequence but he is being systematic.)
The establishment of the Church
Luke wants his readers to understand that he has written his Gospel for the "establishment" of God's people. A written record makes this "more sure" than what would be attained by reliance upon memory and oral accounts. He has written so that Theophilus and others might know the certainty of those things in which they had been instructed. The time would come when eyewitness testimony would be no longer available, although it was by such oral witness that the truth was initially delivered to the church. The things most surely believed were delivered by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word.(Luke 1.1-2) The Apostle John also used written communication to ensure that believers would have a joyous assurance: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled , of the word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (1 John 1.1-4) Such witness on the basis of eyewitness evidence was to be an unrepeated experience. There could be no future oral eyewitness testimony to the life, teaching, prayers, miracles, sufferings and death of Jesus Christ once the generation of the days of his flesh (Hebrews 5.7) passed away themselves.
In his infinite wisdom and mercy, God inspired men like John and Luke to write concerning the Saviour so that there might be a New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament witness to the Messiah which we have in the Jewish Scriptures. Luke refers to previous writings emphasizing that the basis of the written records was the eyewitness testimony.(Luke 1.2) Scriptures of this quality of evidence could in the nature of the case be delivered only once, and in the first century, before the eyewitnesses died. All of the books of the New Testament issued from this eyewitness context. This was true of Paul who had not only seen the risen Lord, but who laboured among those who were eyewitnesses and apostles and to whom Paul's doctrine and writings were familiar.(Acts 9.1-7, Acts 15, Galatians 1.15-2.16 and 2 Peter 3.15-16) Never again could these conditions for an authoritative written record witnessing to the life, death and resurrection of Christ be fulfilled. Luke might have said to himself: "It is now or never!" Never again could any supposed revelation claim to have such an eyewitness context concerning Christ in his life, death and resurrection like that of the authentic New Testament Scriptures. The circumstances will never be reproduced. Revelation such as exists in the New Testament is unique. Luke's Gospel partakes of this uniqueness and Luke himself tells us that he pursued his work with thoroughness and care to write an orderly and connected narrative providing a reasonably comprehensive and utterly reliable record. Theophilus had apparently already received some instruction in the truth but Luke writes for him and others like him so that they might have a sure knowledge of both the unshakeable historical facts upon which the Christian Faith rests and the spiritual significance of those facts. Spirit-wrought faith thus founded results in an establishment in the truth that is invincible against the world, the flesh and the Devil.
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
The comfort of believers despite the corruption of the flesh
To be without hope is a most miserable condition. Such is the plight of the hungry, thirsty, lonely wanderer, homeless and fainting. The prisoner manacled in his dark cell awaiting execution falls down under the burden of his helplessness. The terminally sick who not only do not desire food but abhor it are in a desparate case. The brave sailor caught in a great storm is tossed to and fro and staggers like a drunked until all courage fails and he is at his wit's end expecting total loss of cargo, ship and life.(Psalm 107.1-27) Oh to have comfort, to find a dwelling place, to be set free, to be recovered and to have a safe haven! Such is God's provision for those who trust him. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.(Psalm 107.6) There is a resort to him who has revealed himself in the Scriptures. The action of the Word of God written is of mighty effect in every time of need and every sort of need. The frequency of the appeal to the Old Testament Scriptures by the New Testament writers shows their conviction that God had given his Word in written form for the express purpose of answering to life's greatest needs. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. They impart to us instruction for our learning, in order that, empowered for patient endurance with respect to every affliction and comforted and consoled, we might not despair but have a robust hope in God.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
The overthrow of the malice of Satan
The example of the overthrow of Satan by the written Word is set by the Lord himself. It was Jesus who said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. It is not just that Jesus used the written Word of God to repel the temptations of the Devil (tou diabolou, Diabolos, the Slanderer); he specifically draws attention to the fact that this is his method so that the authority of the Scriptures for this purpose might be recognised by his assailant and by his disciples. Three times he uses the expression gegraptai (perfect passive indicative of grafw, "I write"), "it has been written and remains so." The writing was completed in the past and stands as the final authority on the matter. It must have the last word. God has spoken (Hebrews 1.2). Against this word Satan (satana, "the Adversary") cannot stand. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. This power to despatch Satan is in the authoritative Word of God, whether in the hand of Christ or the weakest saint. The power remains in what is written, irrespective of the weakness of the one who uses the Word. It served for the perfect Christ and it serves for imperfect saints. The Scriptures as the God-breathed word are the source of our life in the deepest and fullest sense for it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Isa. 8. 19,20
And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
(NOTE: Them that have familiar spirits: "those possessing the spirit of witchcraft" where the dead are supposed to speak. Wizards:supposedly "knowing" and wise because possessing a soothsaying spirit; and using chirping noises purporting to be the noise of underworld bats.)
Victory over the World
God gives the precedence to his revelation of himself which he was pleased to "commit" to "writing". When we are encouraged to seek guidance in the ways "of the world", at the most extreme, looking to them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter; God commands his people to seek him where he may be found, in his written Word, saying: to the law and to the testimony. All of the people of God are competent to resort to this rule, which from its inception became the standard to determine the nature of supposed revelations. If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. No prophetic gifts are needed in order to distinguish light from darkness, the Scriptures are our sufficiency. Those who would live by another guide remain in their corruption and now and in the future will not see the light of the everlasting day. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts...(2 Peter 1.19)
The Necessity of the Holy Scriptures
2 Tim. 3.15
And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
The Scriptures are the repository of saving truth
The word of God written is holy scripture. The holy scriptures, ' iera grammata, "sacred writings". Writing or "script", as we would say of our handwriting. In 2 Corinthians (3.7) Paul uses the same word for "letters" of the alphabet. Scripture is thus a very exact word to use to translate the original Greek. Timothy had early exposure to the Old Testament and this was of great advantage to him because the scriptures have the power to make us wise unto salvation. In order to have heavenly wisdom the scriptures must be believed. They make wise to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. There is now no other source of such redemptive revelation God having appointed his written word expressly for the purpose of giving that instruction which to life eternal.
2 Peter 1.19
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts...
The Scriptures are to be resorted to for saving truth
Peter pays tribute to the scriptures when he refers to them as a more sure word of prophecy than God himself speaking audibly from Heaven.(2 Peter 1.17-18) We cannot imagine any kind of spoken revelation now that could rival such a miracle. But as to enduring accessibility, the Bible excels such revelation because of its permanence of form. This written word of God is now a surer confirmation of his will than the voice which Peter heard because it remains with us. It has the excellence of the letter over the telephone conversation. We can return to the letter again and again to confirm precisely what was said. There is none of the weakness of relying upon our memory or the memory of others. The scriptures are thus indispensible and are commended to us for our attention in the command whereunto ye do well that ye take heed. If we would have light we must seek it in this light that shineth in a dark place or we will continue in the darkness of sin and stumble and fall irretrievably. There is an urgency about the necessity of Holy Scripture which we must not overlook.
Former Methods of Revelation now Ceased
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds...
There is a finality about about the revelation in the Bible; the "former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased." There were other methods of God making Himself known but these have been replaced. God, who ... spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son. The keynote of the superiority of Christianity over Judaism which runs through the letter to the Hebrews starts in the opening words in connection with revelation. The old is outworn. It has served its purpose. The ancient revelation was preparatory, incomplete, obscure and progressing and has found its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son come in the flesh. The record concerning Him contains the fulfilment of the prophets, it is complete, clear and final. Further revelation is superfluous. In a nutshell:
The prophets have been overshadowed by the Son.
The preparation has been succeeded by the fulfilment.
The partial has been replaced by the complete.
The obscure has given way to the clear.
The progressing has reached its finalisation.
1. Using a concordance if necessary, find one text for each of the following ancient forms of revelation: (a) theophany, (b) audible voice, (c) typical person, (d) typical action, (e) dream, (f) vision, (g) Urim and Thummim, (h) emblematic action, (i) law, (j) Old Testament parable, (k) song and (l) prophecy.
2. What examples can be given of benefits to the Church arising from the provision of a written revelation of saving truth? (Provide relevant proof texts for your examples.)
3. What is unique about the New Testament record of Christianity?
4. How is the Christian helped by having the written word of God?
5. Why are the scriptures indispensable in connection with being
Applications: Ecclesiastical, Educational and Ethical
In this unit we apply the doctrine that we have already considered and found to be scriptural to ecclesiastical, educational and ethical matters.
God has given a supernatural saving revelation of himself and his will to his church. Formerly it was given part by part in different ways. Latterly a completed revelation has been given through Christ and the whole finally committed to writing. With the cessation of visions, dreams, audible voices and so on, the word of God written has become the only source of authority for the regulation of the Church. As the rule of faith and practice it is unique, complete, clear and final.
The scriptural evidence considered above makes the situation with respect to evangelism very clear. It is not the task of evangelism to prove that a personal Creator exists. The evidence is being daily presented that there is a Creator, independent of his creation who is eternal, infinitely wise, almighty, good and righteous. These invisible things of God are understood from his creation. God is known as the personal Creator, Architect, Benefactor, Preserver, Governor, Legislator and Judge. The Church goes out into the world to those who are inexcusable for their denial of the truth and suppression and distortion of the facts, but it does so with a message of hope. Although general revelation makes no discovery of the way of salvation, God's special revelation does, and the proclamation of this message is absolutely necessary to salvation. The inexcusability of sinners and the insufficiency of general revelation add an urgency to the evangelistic task at home and abroad. No amount of reasoning on the basis of the revelation of God the Creator will lead a condemned sinner to an understanding of the way of salvation. The materials for such an understanding are not to be found by a consideration of the light of nature or the works of creation and providence. We may not adopt a complacent attitude like Deism which maintained that such consideration would be sufficient to provide a knowledge of God's being and will producing eternal happiness. Sinners need to know about God's gracious provision of forgiveness in Christ and it is only in the scriptures that this is now revealed. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? ... So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.(Romans 10.14,17) The task of the Church is not to entangle itself in worldly wisdom or methods. The content of its message is scripturally defined, it is the preaching of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18); and the method of communication is scripturally defined, it is by the foolishness of preaching, ...not with excellency of speech or of wisdom (1 Corinthians 1.21, 2.1). Ministers of the Gospel are not philosophers, commentators, entertainers or salesmen. They spearhead the witness of the Church to the world by expounding God's word written. Only so can they be faithful to the apostolic message and method.
With respect to worship we consider prayer, preaching and praise.
Prayer cannot be attained by the dictates of nature. Scripture reveals the only mediator through whom sinners can approach to God. Intellectual attainments by heathen philosophers in natural or moral philosophy could not teach them how to call upon the name of the covenant God. Consequently Paul could not approve their devotions but declared Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein... preaching to them their need to repent of their ways.(Acts 17.23-24,30)
General revelation has relevance to the preaching of the gospel. Shaw identifies the following purposes of the knowledge of God the Creator and Lawgiver:
It witnesses to God's goodness.
It shows us our duty.
It convinces us of sin.
It restrains from extreme wickedness.
It excites to seek a clearer revelation of God.
It prepares for the preaching of the Gospel.
It vindicates God's actions as Judge.(Shaw, p.4)
Such revelation does not require us to seek to formulate rational proofs for the existence of God. The insufficiency of general revelation does not lie in an inability to convince sinners of the existence, power, wisdom, goodness and justice of God; but in the fact that it does not make known how sinners can be saved. By the light of nature people can recognise evil in the world but they cannot find the remedy to guilt, corruption and judgement. For sinners the problem with general revelation is not that it is unclear but that it is too clear. To evade its force requires suppression of the facts. Our task is not to prove that God exists but to expound from his special revelation the way of salvation including why sinful man's reaction to general revelation is what it is.
The nineteenth Psalm opens "the books of God": the "book of creation and providence" and the "book of inspiration".(Brown, p.46) The opening verses of the psalm are as follows in the metrical psalter.
The heav'ns God's glory do declare,
the skies his hand-works preach:
Day utters speech to day, and night
to night doth knowledge teach.
There is no speech nor tongue to which
their voice doth not extend:
Their line is gone through all the earth,
their words to the world's end.
In them he set the sun a tent;
Who, bridegroom-like , forth goes
From's chamber, as a strong man doth
to run his race rejoice.
From heav'n's end id his going forth,
circling to th' end again;
And there is nothing from his heat
that hidden doth remain.
God's law is perfect, and converts
the soul in sin that lies:
God's testimony is most sure,
and makes the simple wise.
The statutes of the Lord are right,
and do rejoice the heart:
The Lord's command is pure, and doth
light to the eyes impart.
The fact of God's existence and certain perfections of his being may be known, are manifest in us, and have been shown to us by God, being clearly seen and understood. An education which studies the universe and leaves out the Creator must, therefore, necessarily suppress fundamental facts. Such an education is part of the culture that falls under the Divine censure: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1.18). Such a culture is under the judgement of God and His righteous condemnation and prevents the experience of true happiness and blessedness. It is to this that the youth of our nation are consigned when education serves the interests of false religion or irreligion and man-made idols. The root of idolatry is in the imaginations of man's heart which find expression in the intellectual inventions which are the foundation of his culture and society. When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools... (Romans 1. 21-22). The imaginations or reasonings of fallen man are destitute of solidity and consequently vain and empty. The absense of true understanding brings a shroud of darkness and when men in their degenerate state profess to have unlocked the secrets of the universe they become fools because there is no reality to their claims. This is more fundamental than the outward expressions of idolatry which emerge in consequence.
Christianity has no quarrel with legitimate science as long as its limitations are recognised. Founders of modern science such as Sir Isaac Newton proceeded from a theistic basis in the investigation of the universe. Our awareness of ourselves and of things about us provokes thought. We investigate creation in detail by the scientific method including observation, classification, the formulation of theories and the testing of our hypotheses. But when we consider the vasteness, complexity and regular order of the universe there is an inevitability about reasonable creatures such as we being faced with the invisible things of God. "The more that we know of these works, we are the more sensible that in nature there is not only an exertion of power, but an adjustment of means to an end, which is what we call wisdom, and an adjustment of means to the end of distributing happiness to all the creatures, which is the highest conception that we can form of goodness."(Hill's Lectures, vol. i. p.9 quoted in Shaw, p.3) Most education not only does not proceed on this theistic basis but is antagonistic to it. (1) It stops at the stage of investigation by the scientific method and refuses to draw the necessary conclusions concerning the Creator's eternal power and Godhead. (2) It is however prepared to present unproven theories as evidence against God's special revelation in the Bible as in the case of theories of origins. (3) In this way genuine scientific enterprise is distorted to give an account of the cosmos that does not require the Creator. (4) This attempt to provide an account of human origins without reference to God, not only goes against the knowledge of God that results in us all by observation of the universe (Romans 1.20-21), but it goes against reason and the scientific method itself by attributing design to chance. We now know just how complex many biological systems are and the levels of interdependence required within them demonstrate amazing intricacy of design. (5) In the name of objectivity, theorising on the basis of quantitative data is applied to the social sciences, resulting in rationalistic conclusions about human behaviour which distort reality. The theoretical "Economic Man" would be one example, which, when applied in practice results in the market-place determining, not only prices, but outcomes that require moral decisions. Christians are not alone in questioning the objectivity of such educational foundations. They arise in fact from the bias to which Paul refers which seeks an interpretation of life at variance with the truth to which we are all exposed concerning the Divine Architect, Benefactor, Moral Legislator and Judge.
It is important to understand that the influence of Positivism in the educational curriculum is far more extensive than origins affecting, not only the sciences, but economics, management studies, ethics and so on. Positivism is an extreme form of rationalism which denies any place to God and morality. It is assumed that there is no reality beyond the world of sense. True objectivity according to such a view involves leaving out any such considerations and accepting only what can be demonstrated by that scientific method which uses observation, classification, hypothesis framing and testing and so on. It presupposes that no positive affirmations can be made about God, because, even granting his existence, there is no revelation of him, and were there such a revelation we would not be capable of benefitting from it so as to recognise him. Such an approach is diametrically opposed to Christianity and involves a suppression of the most important part of the evidence that confronts us. Investigation of the universe leads to only one valid conclusion. The invisible God has revealed himself in his creation in such a way that the truth of his glory is manifest in everyone, everywhere, all of the time, being understood by the things of the created universe. Only by suppression can this unmistakeable testimony be evaded. As soon as any department of the positivist curriculum claims to provide a sufficient explanation of life within the sphere of its competence it comes under the scriptural censure of foolishness. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? We have no quarrel with the technical facts of the physical and social sciences within their proper domain, but it would be a denial of Christ to pretend that when atheistic human theories purport to give an accurate description of the origin and meaning of life that this is some neutral zone. Any pretended competence to comprehensively fit the young or adults for a good life while ignoring the Creator and Redeemer is destined to be brought to nothing. It will not meet the needs of the individual or society. Britain has its own witness to this. Increasing technical competence has been accompanied by social decay as morality in medicine, education, business and society has become more confused. There is now, in various quarters, a degree of concern that Positivism has promoted a very narrow view of human life as a biological system, unit of labour, rational choice consumer and non-ethical agent. This is necessarily so because the very objectivity claimed by Positivism involves a bias that necessitates suppression of the moral dimension of human life so obvious in the fact of the existence of God.
Christian education is not about converting the school or college into the church. In the case of both child and adult education it is about the claims of truth and service to God. The denial of God's existence goes against the witness of our own consciences. This universal and indestructible witness which has persisted throughout all generations arises because of our relation to God as our Lawgiver and involves our personal accountability to him for the lives that we live. There is no inconsistency in accepting the witness of conscience to our moral accountability and, at the same time engaging in science. There is in fact a perfect consistency between the two because genuine science depends upon the fact of Divine creation. It is because the universe manifests order and design that it can be the subject of rational investigation. There is thus no necessary obscurantism in Christian education as the achievements of Christians in education and science demonstrate. The important fact is that there is no future for a culture dependent upon a technically-based education that lacks moral and spiritual reference points. This message has come through into education from Futurism and Deep Ecology. Without relevant values social decay is inescapable. But those who have discerned something of the problem cannot provide adequate answers without reference to Divine revelation in the books of creation and inspiration. Romans Chapter 1 shows the inevitable degeneration arising from the denial of the true God. Paul describes some major steps in the degeneration in Romans 1.18-32. But cultural collapse in the case of the Roman Empire took place over centuries. There was a dying before the death. By comparison our lives are short. Paul did not live long enough to see the demise of Roman Paganism. For how much longer Western Society will crumble under God's judgement of worldly wisdom we cannot tell, but it is written that he will destroy the wisdom of the wise. Its different theories have their day and pass from the stage of history, sometimes in catastrophic ways. In the midst of such degeneration, Christian education can be a beacon light testifying to the consistency of the witness of the Church with genuine science, technology and sociology. Christian schools and colleges provide an opportunity to nurture an environment where legitimate scientific enterprise can proceed consistently with God's general and special revelation producing a full-orbed view of the world. Secular establishments will never foster or produce such wisdom for the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Christian education was very seriously addressed by the reformation churches and remains a challenge for Christians today.
Without Christianity and the Bible people understand that they are moral beings. This is the natural condition of us all. Even the worst of sinners are not amoral animals and perfectly sane people can be extremely wicked. The heathen idolaters with all of their vile affections, fornication, covetousness and murder knew the judgement of God against their sins (Romans 1.21-32). Though fallen and without God's special revelation in his written word they had a moral consciousness. Our study to this point enables us to state the following propositions concerning Paul's ethical teaching.
1. We all have a knowledge of right and wrong arising from the demands of the Divine law inscribed within us: the work of the law written in our hearts. God's law is so embedded in us that we cannot escape from it.
2. We have a conscience which, without reference to the law of Moses, can refer to the work of the law written in our hearts approving what is good and accusing us concerning our wrong doing.
3. We show by our behaviour that we have a knowledge of what God's law requires and that this knowledge exerts an influence upon our conduct. However corrupted, this natural instinct to do the things contained in the law cannot be completely erradicated.
4. We have an awareness of the judgement of God and know that the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6.23) However we may go against it we know the judgement of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death.
5. These are all relevant to mature sane humanity.(See exposition of Romans 2.14-15 above)
The morality described in the previous paragraph is Theistic. It is based upon the existence of God (Greek qeos, theos, hence "Theism"). Theism accepts that the Divine Lawgiver prescribes what is good and what is evil according to his own character which is holy and righteous. The atheist (a-theist, "not theistic") denies the existence of such a personal God and must rely upon human reason to arrive at a basis for life. The judgement of scripture on atheism is uncompromising: The fool has said in his heart, There is no God (Psalm 14.1). The atheist's own conscience and daily obsevations witness against his denial. As we have seen in the previous section, conscience is not on the side of Atheism but of Theism. Its witness is that there is a God, that God is a Lawgiver, that the work of his law is written in our hearts and that by reference to it our conscience can approve what is good and condemn what is evil. Philosophical attempts to frame an alternative system of ethics without reference to the God of revelation require the identification and application of a moral principle or principles that can be applied to determine what is a good action or the good life. Reference might be made to virtues, pleasure, happiness, motive, obligation and so on. No particular approach has commanded universal support and moral consensus has been lost. G.J. Rossouw has explained how the moral consensus of the Middle Ages, based upon Aristotle, gave way under the pressures of the Renaissance and Enlightenement. This led to a new scientific criterion that rejected ecclesiastical authority and sought validation on the basis of empirical investigations. Kant's response was to locate authority in the rational individual but to require that whatever moral laws the individual decided upon, that same individual should be prepared to accept that everyone would have to keep them. This provided for a rational source of authority and universality. Other approaches chose other starting points within the modernist rationality resulting in dissensus. This provided the opportunity for Positivism to confine rational investigation to statements that could be verified by empirical investigations. Moral statements were reduced to no more than moral opinions leading to ethical relativism. That this has now worked its way through into the schooling of children is evidenced by Dr Nick Tate, the Government's chief curriculum adviser who warned of the "dragon of relativism" that must be slain. Post-modernism has drawn attention to the Positivist rationality as reductionist and restrictive and seeks either to secure integration through dialogue; or, accepting the cultural and moral diversity, seeks to utilise it for moral development through rational dialogue. One cannot deny the impressiveness of the intellectual labour expended in these rationalistic projects but, in so far as the writers contribute anything solid, it derives from the work of the law written in their hearts. It is this natural moral consciousness that provides the awareness of right and wrong that results in doing the things contained in the law. This provides a meeting point between believers and unbelievers with respect to defining moral conduct but a rationalistic ethic, being restricted to general revelation, has no solution to the problem of sin. Ethics involve willing as well as knowing and it is only by reference to, and believing acceptance of, God's special revelation that we are empowered to live out God's law with a willing heart. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8.2-4)
1. What place should the Bible have in the order and worship of the Church?
2. What is the significance of general revelation for preaching and evangelism?
3. What should be the Christian's approach to science?
4. How does Christian education differ from secular education?
5. How does the approach to ethics differ between the Bible, modernist rationalism and Post Modernism?
Relevant Research Sources and Topics
NOTES AND READING
This unit is devoted to your application of what you have learned to some specific matters.
Consult Matthew Henry An Exposition of the Old and New Testament on Psalm 19. (This is in Volume III in the James Nisbet & Co. Limited edition) With respect to attitudes to the Bible consult the books on doctrine, history of doctrine, church history and philosophy to which you have access. Answer the following questions on the basis of these two areas of research.
Discuss what Matthew henry has to say with respect to:
1. What we can learn from creation.
2. Why we can be confident in the Bible
3. The devotional applications made by David before he closes the psalm.
4. Identify and discuss the attempts made to undermine the authority of Scripture during the last 2000 years among those who profess to be Christians.
5. Identify and discuss the attempts made to undermine the authority of Scripture during the last 2000 years among those who make no claim to be Christians.
You are required to prepare a report to be issued to members of your congregation presenting a clear Biblical argument as to why the Bible must be applied not only in the Church but in society at large as well. Pay particular attention to the authority of the Bible for the ordering of the Church and its worship and social ethics. Explain how the Bible relates to the educational curriculum. Provide scriptural evidence for all of your conclusions and relate what you have to say to contemporary issues in church and society.