Is the Bible the Church’s authority or guide? Churches aspiring to be `seeker-sensitive’ might be inclined to present it as the latter, but could find themselves cutting the price so more will buy and thus losing spiritual integrity. Our anti-authority, morally chaotic Western culture is radically different from the outlook that produced the magisterial hymn:
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through his barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand.’
That was written at the height of the Welsh evangelical revival in the mid-eighteenth century. Its prayer for God’s guidance contains a robust view of his almighty sovereignty and our total human dependence on him. However, for twenty-first-century Western church-goers, a guide is someone who can show us the route on our walking tour through life but we the paying customers have the ultimate say.
That is not to say that Christians have to adopt a Koranic view of the Bible. The New Testament, presenting Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of the Old Testament’s civic and ritual regulations, has no equivalent of Sharia Law to be imposed on contemporary society. Nor does the Christian Bible present a template for the regulation of temporal human society that rules out political debate. Under the authority of the Bible we Christians need to make informed and godly choices if we are to be fruitfully obedient to God’s revealed truth.
But the spiritual and moral principles set forth in the Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures are authoritative, not merely consultative. Because the Bible is the Word of the one true and almighty God, it is to be obeyed in matters of faith and morals. To think otherwise denies the authority of the God who speaks through the Bible. In the current philosophical climate, an evangelical church that presents the Bible as guide rather than authority is unfortunately liable to find that the customer becomes king and the LordJesus Christ gets pushed to the margins.