Shortly after getting married and returning from our honeymoon, my new bride and I took a trip to IKEA to furnish our first apartment. It was a sort of kid-in-a-candy-shop experience. The practicality and affordability of their products creates a double threat that makes it no surprise the newlywed IKEA trip is more universal than unique. It’s almost a rite of passage for those of us in the West to celebrate adulthood by bringing their products into our first home. I know our apartment wouldn’t have been complete without them.
In more ways than one, there is a parallel between IKEA and the Reformers of the 16th century. Just as modern technology has made it possible for IKEA to make functional and reliable furniture affordable, the technological advances preceding the Reformation made it possible to put the Bible in the hands of all people. It was the conviction of the Reformers, in the face of opposition from the Church of Rome, that—just like with home decor—no house was complete without a copy of the Scriptures in its own language.
The importance of the Bible for faith and practice in the life of a Christian cannot be understated.
The Scriptures are indispensable for those who would follow Christ, for apart from them we don’t know who he is. They speak with clarity to those who read them in faith with the aid of the Holy Spirit. They are enough to know all that is necessary to be made right with God. Most of all, they are the sole authority God has given to govern his church, the vessel used to dispense his grace in the world.
This pneumonic device, ICEA (how I’d love to add an “N” and make it “NICEA!”)—regardless of its shtick—can help us remember the fourfold attributes of the Bible.
Four Weighty Attributes of Scripture
#1 – Indispensable
One of the many grievances Martin Luther raised with the church of his day was the lack of emphasis on the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith.
By overemphasizing human works, through the sacraments and the sale of indulgences, there was a widespread loss of the means of salvation. Much of mankind, without access to the Scriptures, was being misled to believe that by jumping through hoops of performance laid out by the Roman Catholic Church they would be made right with God and earn salvation.
It was upon reading Romans 1:17—“the just shall live by faith”—that Luther’s eyes were opened to see that the means of salvific grace were not earned but rather received freely by faith. Just how does one respond in faith to God? That too is revealed in the Scriptures:
Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:17
Here we see that the Bible is indispensable in matters pertaining to faith. In order to reconcile mankind to himself, God sent Jesus Christ to incur his wrath upon the cross. Jesus then rose from the dead miraculously, exhibiting his victory over sin and death. The mystery of Christ is revealed only through the Scriptures (Eph. 3:3-4).
Without hearing the words of Christ, contained in the Scriptures, mankind is incapable of hearing the gospel and responding in faith. Their importance cannot be understated.
The Reformation’s recovery of the indispensability of Scripture can be visibly seen in worship services today. Whereas the Roman Church places communion at the center of its worship, the preaching of the Bible is the center for those following in the Reformation tradition for: How are they to hear without someone preaching (Rom. 10:14)?
Saying the Scriptures are indispensable, however, isn’t enough. When we start to uncover the mysteries contained within, we might be inclined to think only a professional—a priest or pastor—is capable of comprehending them. But the Scriptures themselves tell us all believers are part of a “royal priesthood” and are called to proclaim (i.e. preach) the excellencies of Christ (1 Pt. 2:9). For this reason, the Scriptures aren’t simply indispensable, but clear.
#2 – Clear
Another key to IKEA’s success may be its instruction manuals which manage to be (mostly) helpful without being confined to the usage of written words. But anyone who’s ever assembled a piece of their furniture knows the frustration that ensues when you can’t comprehend the idea the little cartoon-mime is trying to convey. Praise God this can never be claimed about his Word!
When we say the Bible speaks with clarity on matters pertaining to faith and practice we bring three presuppositions to the table. First, we assume those turning to its pages for wisdom and guidance have trusted in Jesus for salvation and have been born again by his Spirit (Jn. 3:3); for his sheep hear his voice (Jn. 10:27) within its pages.
Second, when we say that Scripture is clear we don’t mean that everything contained within is easily understandable. We simply mean that God’s Word is not cryptic or meant to confuse its readers.
Finally, we do not mean we have the correct insight into the meaning of every sentence of Scripture. Some look at the differences in interpretation between different sects of Christianity as evidence the Bible is unclear and untrustworthy. I maintain that the things of ultimate importance in regards to faith and salvation are free from obscurity and those passages over which there are disputes are not what Paul calls “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
After clearing these hurdles, we are left with a Bible that is clear and the only means God has left us with to discover truth about himself. Because the Reformers were convinced of Scripture’s clarity, they fought against a two-tiered Christianity in which only clergy were allowed access to the Word of God. Because Scripture’s clear and accessible to all who have received the Spirit of God, it should be placed in every Christian’s hands.
Here’s a few reasons why:
- For when we have insight into the revelation of God, we cannot be deceived by Satan, even when he is masquerading as a priest of the light (2 Cor. 11:14).
- It is the duty of every Christian to weigh what pastors and preachers teach by the light given in the Bible (Acts 17:11).
- The clarity of the Scriptures give us access to the only weapon (Eph. 6:17) we need for our spiritual battle (Eph. 6:12).
#3 – Enough
While saying that the Scripture is clear and indispensable, we have not yet grasped the totality of its importance. It is possible that by stopping here, we could view it as a good place to start, but later abandon it in search of some further revelation from God. However, Scripture is enough for the Christian life.
The totality of Jesus’s work in securing salvation for sinners is chronicled within the pages of Scripture. Jesus now sits at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:3) because his salvific work is complete (Jn. 19:30). The work now done by the Church is not done to secure salvation; it was already secured by Christ. The Church’s work, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to spread the good news of what Jesus has already completed on our behalf.
For this reason, we should diligently guard the sufficiency of Scripture. We have all we need in its pages. When this truth is undermined by adding the sacraments to salvation or by lifting tradition or papal decrees to the same level as biblical canon, we must turn back to Scripture to correct false teaching (2 Tim. 3:16).
On the other hand, by saying the Bible is enough we confirm the Reformation mantra “semper reformanda” (“always reforming”). In other words, one of the living Church’s endeavors is not clever innovation, but bringing itself into further alignment with the teaching of Scripture.
The historical innovation of indulgences was to be refuted by Scripture during the reformation, and this same principle guides the Church and protects her purity today when “new” false teachings arise.
Because the Bible is enough, doctrinal novelty should never be sought. When a modern-day preacher or “prophet” presents some teaching that lies outside the clear instruction of Scripture, a Christian is under no obligation to believe or obey it. Scripture is enough, and its teaching is complete.
#4 – Authority
The Reformers believed that the truth claims of Scripture command nothing less than our total obedience. I’ve been careful thus far to avoid using the term “Protestant.” That is because it was not Luther’s intent to protest the Church at Rome, but to bring it into submission to the Word of God. Only after its refusal to hear his appeals, did it become necessary to break away.
As Luther famously stated during his refusal to recant, his “conscience was captive to the Word of God.” It was his conviction, like the Apostle Paul, that God would be true even if every man on Earth were a liar (Rom. 3:4).
One of the blocks that drove the wedge between the Reformers and the Roman Church was the question of Scripture’s authority. It was the fiery conviction of Luther that the Scriptures alone were the final authority on matters of doctrine and faith and stood above papal decrees or tradition.
The Roman Church fired back that the canon of Scripture itself was determined by the Church and couldn’t be separated from tradition. In contrast, the Reformers rightly concluded that the Church did not determine what writings were Scripture but simply recognized the clear voice of God within them (Jn. 10:27).
Peter, reflecting back upon his mountaintop experience with Jesus where he saw Moses, the author of the Law, and Elijah, the chief of the prophets, appear in all their glory, concluded that the Bible was more trustworthy (2 Pt. 1:19). In other words, even the most magnificent miraculous experience pales in comparison to the trustworthy authority of Scripture.
You Can Never Upgrade Scripture
As my wife and I became more financially stable we dispensed with our IKEA furniture, upgrading to something better. We can never do this with Scripture because it’s indispensable for the Christian life. Even the parts that we don’t fully understand now, we one day will have insight into (1 Cor. 13:12).
Sean Nolan (B.S. and M.A., Clarks Summit University) is the Family Life Pastor at Christ Fellowship Church in Forest Hill, Maryland. Prior to that, he served at a church plant in Troy, New York for seven years and taught Hermeneutics to ninth and tenth graders. He is married to Hannah and is raising an army of toddlers. He blogs at Family Life Pastor.
You can read all of Sean’s articles here.