The Bible

The Bible

Written by David B. Garner |
Friday, February 24, 2023

Machen took comfort that the Bible is absolutely a “true account” because the One “whom the Christian worships is a God of truth.” If God is truth, then His Word—all of it—is truth. This doctrine of plenary inspiration (all of Scripture is the very Word of God) is the sure testimony of Scripture itself and of Jesus Himself. Scripture alone is the final seat of authority.

Though the Reformation battles over justification by faith alone were intense, it has been rightly noted that the fiercest battle with the Roman Catholic Church concerned authority. Underlying the questions concerning the pure gospel of grace lay a fundamental question: “Who says?” This authority question did not hide in the shadows. For generations, Rome had plainly positioned its voice as the final infallible arbiter of truth, deciding how the church should interpret the Bible and tradition and delivering the final word concerning faith and understanding. To Rome, the final and infallible voice belongs to the Magisterium (the authoritative teaching of the bishops and pope), with special distinction for the pope when he speaks ex cathedra (from the chair).

The Reformers voiced their own protest, and with divine reason. The church and her officers must not sit in judgment over Scripture. The church is a creatura verbi, a creation of the Word. So understood, the church and all its officers sit under the Word of God. But Rome had usurped authority that belongs to God’s Word alone, converting and perverting the church’s derivative authority into definitive authority. The Reformers, therefore, uniformly spurned Rome’s claims that tradition and the Bible speak with voices of equal authority, rejected its tiebreaking magisterial voice, and repudiated its claims to infallibility. The Bible alone (sola Scriptura) suitably holds the infallibility moniker and serves alone as supreme judge (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.10).

Rome’s assumption of magisterial authority is only one manifestation of mankind’s persistent refusal to bow the knee to God’s Word. In the early twentieth century in the United States, J. Gresham Machen faced a new and formidable Word-defying foe: theological liberalism. While this opponent bore a different face from the one before the Reformers, its voice was loud, its clout strong, and the stakes high. Machen knew what he was up against, and with a Luther-like resolve under the conscious authority of Scripture, he valiantly asked, “Shall we accept the Jesus of the New Testament as our Saviour, or shall we reject Him with the liberal Church?”

Theological liberalism was in the very air of post–World War I modernism. And the mainline church had inhaled. Scandalized by the Scopes “monkey” trial, fundamentalist Christianity had become a cultural laughingstock, a resource-rich target of mockery for the educated and sophisticated. Harry Emerson Fosdick’s famous 1922 sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?,” while contending for a supreme law of tolerance, not so subtly asserted his perception that the doctrines of the historic Christian faith were inane. Fosdick pleaded for everyone just to get along.

But it was not that simple. How marvelously tolerant were Fosdick and his liberal companions.

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