Inerrancy And The Local Church

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By the time you are reading this, I will be in Sun Valley California Inerrancy-Summit-300x300attending The Summit on Inerrancy the 2015 iteration of the venerable Shepherds’ Conference, the pastor’s conference hosted every year by the staff and members of Grace Community Church. [1]

Normally, the Shepherd’s Conference is a three day event that, really, at the end of the day, focuses on being an encouragement to pastors and elders from around the world. Because the conference usually focuses on shep4the encouragement and care of pastors, especially those who are weary and wounded from the battle, there has never been a central thematic focus of the conference. Typically the plenary sessions are general encouragements, reminders or exhortations to prayerfulness, faithfulness, and reliance on God. The seminars focused on a variety of topics: current theological trends and controversies, improving your preaching, and other practical helps in ministry.

This year is very different, the conference extended by one day, the number of seminars greatly reduced, and a laser like focus on one topic, the inerrancy of Scripture. In a time like this, we need to focus on inerrancy. Never before has the doctrine of inerrancy been under such fierce attack from inside and outside the church.

bart ehrmanBart Ehrman, professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, and History Channel favorite, often screams much of the New Testament is forgeries.

Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church (Grandville, Michigan) cum Oprah endorsed spiritual guru, recently rrob belleferred to the Pauline Epistles as “2000 year old letters” and went on to say they are non-authoritative when they don’t match our perception of reality.

Perhaps most puzzling of all, Perry Noble, the leader of the largest Southern Baptist congregation in the world said perry noble“I take teaching the Bible very seriously and desperately want to always put forth my best effort as I really do believe that when God says “don’t” in Scripture it is more like Him saying, “don’t hurt yourself,” because, as a friend of mine often says, “choose to sin, choose to suffer.”

Notice the subtlety of the argument. “I take teaching the Bible very seriously…I really believe that when God says…it’s more like Him saying…” One might assume he is saying, in essence, God is unable to clearly communicate through His Word. In other words, in order to teach the Bible he has to fix the errors so it can be more applicable to people’s lives. 

Less than 40 years after the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy was signed this battle must be rejoined, and the doctrine of inerrancy(and by extension the authority of Scripture) defended and returned to its rightful place in the church.

I’m not much of a theologian, I am a small church pastor, but this doctrine is tremendously important to me, the health of my church, and the health of your church too. Here are a few reasons why inerrancy matters to the local church.

  1. Without Inerrancy There is Nodark_church Authority In The Church.

If there are errors in the Bible then there can be no objective standard for the church. [2] If the Bible contains errors, then there is really no way to know where those errors are, and thus all positions of the church are negotiable.

  1. Without Inerrancy There is No Authority in Preaching

Every week I walk up to the pulpit and preach. I preach my heart out IMG_20121012_174546after long hours of studying with all of my might. And I do that for one reason, so my people might hear the word of God and live transformed lives. And sometimes I say things that, quite frankly, people don’t want to hear (and truth be told at times, neither do I) because biblical preaching holds up the mirror of God’s word to our lives and calls us to die to sin. If someone would say to me “why should I listen to you?” I can truthfully say “you shouldn’t, but you must listen to the Word of God.” If we allow the notion that Scripture is errant into the church, then deciding truth from error becomes a matter of subjectivity.

And one thing has become crystal clear as we observe the trend of churches that have jettisoned inerrancy. The errant, fallible portions of Scripture are always the ones that call people to stand against the prevailing winds of culture.

  1. Without Inerrancy There Is No Basis For Biblical Counseling

In his landmark work A Theology of Christian Counseling Jay Adams states:

“Theology is the attempt to bring to bear upon any given doctrine all that the Bible has to say about it…it is necessary to have a theological orientation toward Scripture to avoid misleading counselees, to correct errors in thought and practice [and]…to communicate truth authoritatively.”

If Scripture errs then, as a pastor, I cannot confidently develop a counselingcomprehensive theology, or be confident that my counsel will lead those I counsel. Moreover, if inerrancy is rejected in the pews then those who need counsel will gravitate away from seeking biblical counsel, and worldly counsel does not provide  or ever produce a truly transformed life.

Inerrancy truly is, and always has been, the life blood of the true church. And as someone who loves the church, and especially the local church the Lord has entrusted to me, I see this fight, not as one for theologians, but one for Pastors and elders. If we lose inerrancy we have lost the very basis of church ministry. Paul’s charge to Timothy was to preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2), Jesus prayer for His people was that they would be sanctified in truth, and truth is the Word of God (John 17:17). The word of God is perfect and pure (Psalm 19:7). Every pastor, elder, and believer must rally around and defend this truth. Inerrancy is a local church matter serving as the foundation to the pulpit in the local church.

 

[1] You can live stream the conference here, shepherdsconference.org

[2] When we refer to the Bible being inerrant, we mean in the autographs or the original manuscripts. This is why textual criticism is so important. We’ll have to leave textual transmission and canonicity for another post.

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This entry was posted in Bible Interpretation, Church Ministry, Counseling, Theology by John Chester. Bookmark the permalink.
John Chester

About John Chester

John serves the saints of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket Virginia, as their shepherd, a position he has held since 2012 and hopes to serve in the rest of his life. Prior to being called to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. John is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and The Grace Advance Academy. He hails from The City of Champions, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and is unbelievably blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra.

  • Pastor Darren Paulson

    Pastor John, when you state that there are “no errors in the Bible,” you mean it is “perfect with respect to purpose,” correct? I ask because that statement can be … well, misinterpreted. In other words, “without error” doesn’t mean that each and every number and/or statement is literally true. (The size of a mustard seed, etc.) … or does it?
    This is why the inerrancy discussion is so difficult — everybody defines the word differently. I would insist that just because Jeremiah writes (15:8), “I have made their widows more in number than the sand of the sea,” that although this statement is “literally” false, the use of hyperbole doesn’t mean the Bible is untrue.
    We must also (in my opinion) always make sure that we state “the original manuscripts” are without error … because the Bible I hold in my hands today most certainly contains things which the original author(s) never intended or included. (John 8:1-11, for example.) Thoughts?

    • I appreciate the comment, but you are just erecting straw men to knock down. The doctrine of inerrancy has always allowed for rhetorical hyperbole & figurative language; but yes I affirm that scripture (in the autographs) is entirely without error. I do so unapologeticy and without qualification. inerrancy is the word and the doctrine.

      • Pastor Darren Paulson

        Sorry, I must’ve come across differently than I’d hoped. I wasn’t attempting to argue against your point of view — with straw men or otherwise.
        The reason why I don’t really like the word ‘inerrant’ is because it means “without error.” Too many Christians believe that the book they hold in their hand(s) is and must be taken literally at every turn … because they’ve been taught that the Bible is ‘inerrant’. And so if you argue that a mustard seed isn’t the smallest seed on earth, you question the “inerrancy” of Scripture. My point is most of us don’t mean it in the way it’s so often perceived.
        We acknowledge that the book in our hands has errors in it. We realize this doesn’t change the fact that God has and always will deliver His message of deliverance without mistake. The Bible is “perfect with respect to purpose.”
        That’s all I was attempting to say — most Evangelicals have very little issue with the doctrine once it’s terms are defined.

        • Darren, I apologize if I misunderstood you (and for the delay in responding, I didn’t have much media time in the past week). The defining down of inerrancy from “without error” to “perfect with respect to purpose” is what the germans of the 19th century called shprecht speilen, word games. I don’t acknowledge that the bible has any errors in it, not one. If you say Christ saying that the mustard seed is the smallest seed is an error (which in all honesty is not a very serious thing to say) then you have to acknowledge that Christ was not perfect, if He was not perfect, He cannot be the spotless Lamb of God, and if He is not the spotless lamb of God, there is no salvation found in Him at all. (and the same holds true if Gene 1-11 is non-historical, because Jesus viewed them as historical) Inerrancy is a gospel issue.

          You say “we acknowledge that the book…has errors in it” and you say that most evangelicals have very little issue with the doctrine once defined thusly. I would say you have defined yourself out of the pail of orthodoxy and stripped the gospel of the power to save, of course most people accept a doctrine that puts them in a position of superiority over the scripture, because then they are free to chose what portions of scripture are authoritative and binding.

          Shprect speilen always leads to heresy and apostasy. Inerrancy is the stake that biblical teachers drive into the ground, and we live or die chained to it.

          • Pastor Darren Paulson

            Well … if we’re going to agree that the Bible has no errors – first, we probably need to define the word ‘error,’ correct? I would claim that rounding up/down of numbers, using descriptive, yet technically incorrect language (like Jesus with the mustard seed), etc. etc. — these things are not errors in the sense that they’re meant to misinform or negate truth. I would also claim that any claims of ‘without error’ be restricted to the autographic (original) text of Scripture … do we agree on those two points? (When I made the statement that the ‘book has errors in it’ – I meant the book we hold in our hands today.)

          • Pastor Darren Paulson

            Another thing (probably better for another discussion) is the idea of Jesus’ perfection. Although I believe that Jesus was altogether perfect, this doesn’t mean He never intentionally exaggerated or said things that weren’t technically incorrect (the mustard seed example again) in order to make a point. He would’ve assumed his audience realized this.
            I would also claim that nothing ‘strips the power of the Gospel to save.’ Thankfully, the power of the Gospel to save is entirely the work of the Spirit in the lives of those reading it/hearing it. I can assure you that something as small as a mustard seed error would never strip such a power.
            What does the term inerrancy mean to you? Do you agree with the Chicago Statement? Disagree?

          • My question would be, do you affirm the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy?

          • Pastor Darren Paulson

            I agree with much of it – but it’s incomplete, in my opinion. Leaves too much “up in the air.”

          • Pastor Darren Paulson

            I need to confess right from the jump that the idea of “if one doesn’t interpret/read the Scriptures like Theologian xyz does, (usually in the most literal sense) then he/she cannot trust Scripture on any matter, especially salvation.”
            With all due respect, I think that’s nonsense. I believe a person might interpret the Creation account, for example, in a very non-literal way, yet trust the Scriptures completely in regard to its message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

          • Well if you wouldn’t affirm the Chicago Statement you wouldn’t minister in any capacity in the church I serve. We’ll have to leave it there.

          • Pastor Darren Paulson

            John, I sense that I’ve offended you somehow (?) I’m attempting to dialogue with you on this topic in what I feel is a very respectful and peaceful way … I’m not sure why you’re not even attempting to answer any of my questions or discuss the issue. Why would you just want to “leave it there.”?
            I didn’t say I wouldn’t “affirm” it (the Chicago Statement) – I just think it’s an incomplete document that leaves much up in the air. Again, sorry if I somehow irritated you — I thought the blog(s) were written in an attempt to encourage dialogue.

          • You haven’t offended me at all. The reason I don’t answer your questions is because if you read anything on the doctrine of inerrancy, the question of round numbers or rhetorical hyperbole has been dealt with thoroughly. I said we’ll have to leave it there because inerrancy is a bright line for us, if you are on the other side of it or still need to work out where you are, our leadership’s position is that you are unfit to minister. That may seem harsh to you, but we believe that is the loving position.

          • Pastor Darren Paulson

            Oh good – glad I didn’t offend.
            I was just looking to knock the topic around a little — I believe the issue of inerrancy is an important one as well. But I think there’s lots of room for discussion … what does it mean, exactly. What doesn’t it mean? For example, you and I understand that an “inaccurate” number doesn’t make something ‘in error.’ But many people don’t understand that …
            🙂 I wasn’t looking for a job – lol – I’ve got one … so I respect your hard-line approach to your staff, but I’m unsure of what that has to do with our conversation. Again, I was just looking to converse on the topic, not immediately determine necessarily where we stand on it.

          • Darren I say this in all love, the reason it is a bright line for us (it’s not my staff it is the church’s that is a key difference) is because every thing flows out of a church’s views of scripture. If the princetonian and the ICBI definition need “knocked around” the problem is not with the articulation of the doctrine. If you’ll equivocate here you will equivocate on anything. (And I don’t think there are any inaccurate numbers in scripture, that’s just more sprect spielen.)

          • Pastor Darren Paulson

            What we’re currently doing is “knocking it around” in my opinion. 🙂 We’re discussing the doctrine. That’s all I meant by the term — it’s how we learn from each other.
            I’m not attempting to use ambiguous language or deny truth … simply trying to discuss inerrancy with you. Lol. What I’m saying is it’s entirely possible to believe the Bible to be completely true, yet have a different opinion of inerrancy. I don’t even know if you and I do (have a different opinion) – I’m just sayin’.
            Curious, so when your Bible states a number like 22,000 men – are you saying then that the number of men being described was/is 22,000 on the button – not one more, not one less?