This continues our series on Core Values — this one reflects on The Word.
We are people who believe that the Word of God is inspired and authoritative. We seek to speak the truth in love and be obedient to God’s commands. There are two sides of valuing the Word: being careful to accept and be changed by the Word as we read it (or as it reads us) and to avoid adding to it. This of course is what Paul is getting at in
II Timothy 3:15-17 when he tells Timothy to continue in what he has learned from the Scriptures that make one wise for salvation and which are God-breathed and profitable for teaching, correcting and training in righteousness so that one is thoroughly equipped for every good work. Proverbs 30:5-6 declares:
“Every Word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”
This is a caution against elevating my thoughts to the same status as Scripture; in short, asking others to grant my ideas (or my interpretation of Scripture) the same authority as Scripture itself. So, we let Scripture read us and where it seems to conflict with the broader culture, we trust Scripture is true and our culture is flawed.
On the other hand, I understand that I bring my personal “culture” to Scripture. I must allow the Word to challenge and change my prejudices and assumptions even if I believe that I have theological reasons for holding them. This is what our EFCC forefathers meant when they said “Where Stands it Written”. Arnold T Olson reminded us that early Free Church leaders wanted to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a Believer’s Church in their homes.
The State Lutheran Church mandated that only an ordained Lutheran Priest could serve the elements and only in a Lutheran Church. Early Free Church leaders had no patience with theological systems and rules that could not be supported from the Word so they asked “Where Stands it Written”?
If clergy couldn’t give satisfactory answers for their theological practices, traditions and rules, then Free Church believers felt no compulsion to be bound by them. In effect they stood on Proverbs 30:5-6. They reverenced the Word of God enough that unless a truth was crystal clear, they would not pretend to speak authoritatively on an issue, for fear of being found “a liar”.
This is the reasoning behind the EFCC motto, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, in all things Jesus Christ.” We believe that the Word is clear on those issues linked to the gospel that define who we are in Christ. Yet there are other issues that Christians who have held equally high views of Scripture have disagreed upon. On such issues, we will not elevate our interpretation of the Word to the same level as Scripture itself. We will allow brothers or sisters to disagree with us and we will still worship, fellowship and serve with them.
This leads us to “carefully handling” the Word of Truth: to avoid understating or overstating the certainty of His truth. And we first allow it to change us. Yes, we construct our theology from the Word, but the Word is first a “light to my feet and light to my path”. It introduces me into relationship with its Author and shows me how to live wisely, conforming me to the image of His Son. The Holy Spirit helps me understand the Word and changes me by it. I then speak its truth to others but I have no mandate to use it as a tool with which to beat people.
When we use it to construct our theology we are careful to hold to the healthy “red-necked” scepticism of our Free Church forefathers. We demand to know “Where Stands it Written?” So, at times we do challenge tradition and accepted theologies – because of the Word. We do re-evaluate things like who can serve the Lord’s Supper and where, whether it is just to own a slave, whether inter-racial marriage is right or wrong, whether selling indulgences is a legitimate practice, whether preferential purchased seating for the rich pleases God, and so on.
And above all we remember that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. When we look at the Son we see the fullness of God and His Word. May we be a people who are conformed to the image of His Son as we allow His Word to renew our minds!
Serving with you,