Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A first wrong step. . .

“In the case of every errant course there is always a first wrong step. If we can trace that wrong step, we may be able to avoid it and its results. Where, then, is the point of divergence from the “King’s highway of truth”? What is the first step astray? Is it doubting this doctrine, or questioning that sentiment, or being sceptical as to the other article of orthodox belief? We think not. These doubts and this scepticism are the outcome of something going before.

“If a mariner, having to traverse an unknown sea, does not put implicit confidence in his charts, and therefore does not consult them for guidance in steering the ship, he is, as anyone can see, every moment exposed to dangers of various kinds. Now, the Word of God—the Book written by holy men as they were moved by the Spirit of God—is the Christian’s chart; and though, in a ship’s company, some of the men may have little critical knowledge of navigation, the captain is supposed to be well instructed therein, and to be able, by consulting the charts, to steer the ship aright; so in reference to ministers of Christ’s gospel, and pastors of Christ’s church, which he hath purchased with his blood. The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching. “To the law and to the testimony,” is his appeal concerning every doctrine. He esteems that holy Book, concerning all things, to be right, and therefore he hates every false way. But let a man question, or entertain low views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and he is without chart to guide him, and without anchor to hold him.” — Robert Shindler, 1887, writing about the life and influence of Charles Spurgeon.
I know not much of Robert Shindler but of this quote.  It is a great quote.  It draws attention to the Word of the Lord that endures forever and its particular place at the core and center of the life of the Church and its foundation -- if the Church is to have a foundation.  Certainly this is at the source of the Great Reformation.  It is at the source of any reform movement -- even if this one did create an unintended schism.  It remains the single most profound difference between Rome and the churches of that Reformation -- the central place and role of the Word of God.  As we come near the day when Lutherans will recall that Reformation again, we cannot afford to minimize or draw attention away from the fact that this Reformation was at its heart a renewal movement born of the Word of God. 

The timing of this Reformation was not coincidentally the time when the Word of God was at the forefront of scholarship and teaching.  Think here of Erasmus and his critical editions of the Greek text and of Luther's early and, some might say, most profound act of translating the Scriptures into German.  Yet this has also been the undoing of the very heirs of Luther who would claim his name but shy away from the Word of the Lord when it speaks what they wish not to hear.  The disarray among Lutherans is due more than anything else to a crisis over the Word of the Lord. 

What was a very catholic understanding of the Word has become a Protestant and private understanding of that Word.  What was by its nature a submissive posture to that Word has been replaced by the deliberate dominance of so-called science, reason, and, above all, presumption.  What was the great hope of this Reformation has become its great disgrace as Lutherans have led the way to analyze, revise, and dismiss that Word (thereby surrendering their claim to be Lutheran).  What was once the power of the Word has been replaced by a culture that has caved into modern values so at odds with the Scriptures, with the desires of culture seeking entertainment more than salvation, and with the focus of culture upon the moment instead of eternity.  What was once an understanding of that Word as a means of grace (extending even to preaching and to teaching) has become an understanding of a Word that simply reported the past and that with error and prejudice.

So as we come to celebrate a great Reformation anniversary, we cannot forget that just as our past was, so our future (if we have one) will be built upon, shaped by, and accomplished by the power of that Word.  The Word of the Lord endures forever. The Word does not return to the Lord empty handed but accomplishes His purpose in sending it.  The Word was made flesh and we have beheld its glory.  Faith comes by hearing the Word.  The Church is sent forth into the world with the Word meant for all nations and all peoples.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

So true indeed. The first grave and often fatal step a person can take towards unbelief is to doubt the word of God. Once this happens, Satan has knocked out the first brick in the wall of protection around one's spiritual house.

Carl Vehse said...

"The Down Grade," written by Baptist minister Robert Shindler, was published anonymously by the English Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, in the monthly Sword and Trowel in two parts. The first article in the March 1887 issue and the second article was published in in the April 1887 issue. The quote from Shindler comes from the second article. Spurgeon had footnoted his personal endorsement in the first article.

In "The down Grade" Shindler presents his overview of the history of abandoning Calvinism and the decline of Puritanism in England. Shindler blamed church leaders.

The Down Grade articles led to a crisis for Spurgeon and the Baptist Union, which was described in an article, "The Down-Grade Controversy" by Mark Hopkins (Church History, 1991, Issue 19), and in an article, "Spurgeon and the Down-Grade Controversy," excerpted from Ashamed of the Gospel by John F. MacArthur, Jr. (Wheaton: Crossway, 1992).