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Friday, October 4, 2019

Formed and Informed by the Bible

Alice C. Linsley

The person who professes to be a follower of Jesus, the Son of God, must also profess to believe the truth of Holy Scripture concerning Jesus. St. Jerome wrote, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The Spirit of God breathes through the inspired pages of the Bible, a unique book. God has superintended these texts through many ages so that the Church may test every doctrine by the written Word of God.

We cannot dismiss Church Tradition when attempting to understand difficult Bible passages. For the most part, these have been studied by persons of great wisdom and spiritual discernment and a consensus has been reached on what the passages mean and do not mean.

Schisms have arisen when "strange doctrines" and extra-biblical innovations have been imposed on Christians. Anglicans insist that in the spectrum of Scripture-Tradition-Experience, the Bible is the foremost authority. This is articulated in Article 6 of the Articles of Religion:

Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation. Consequently whatever is not read in Scripture nor can be proved from Scripture cannot be demanded from any person to believe it as an article of the faith. Nor is any such thing to be thought necessary or required for salvation. By holy Scripture is meant those canonical books of the Old and New Testaments whose authority has never been doubted within the church.

St. John Chrysostom warns that, “The ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff and a deep abyss; to know nothing of the divine laws is a great betrayal of salvation. This has given birth to heresies, this has introduced a corrupt way of life, this has put down the things above. For it is impossible, impossible for anyone to depart without benefit if he reads continually with attention.”

Heresies arise when some insist that their experiences of God are as valuable as the written Word of God. Such claims often result from individual experiences that resemble trance like states attributed to the Holy Spirit. This has been the case from the earliest days of the Church. The Church Fathers frequently warned people of this tendency.

In an 1866 sermon, the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote:
I have no right to expect that the Spirit will reveal truth to me without the use of a book when I can find it out for myself with the book. “The Holy Spirit helps our infirmities,” but not our idleness! He is given to us on purpose that He may help us when we are weak, but not that we may be indulged where we are slothful.

The serious seeker after truth will read the Bible as a discipline of life and gradually be formed by the biblical worldwide. This can make one seem odd to those who are being formed by the shallow values and fleeting glories of the world. The one formed by the biblical worldview will face scorn and even persecution, yet this is endured for the surpassing joy of experiencing the love of God through Jesus Christ.

In this life, spiritual yearnings can be satisfied by what we find in the Bible. They will be fully satisfied when finally we enter into His perfect peace. Until that day, we are to dwell on the biblical texts which are "given by inspiration of God" and are "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" so that Jesus' followers may be made "complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16)

Through Bible study one discovers the path to communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We gain confidence in the redeeming work of the Savior. We embrace assurance of the gift of immortality through Jesus Messiah. We find healing of the broken heart, a wholesome environment for spiritual growth, the correction of hardness of heart, the satisfaction of forgiveness, and hope in dark times.

The Bible informs us about the Trinity, the purpose of life, the faith that endures, the subtle nature of sin and evil, the necessity of repentance, and the ultimate victory of Christ our God.

John of Kronstandt reminds us that, "In the Holy Scriptures, we see God face to face, and ourselves as we are" (My Life in Christ, Holy Trinity Monastery, 1971, p. 2). Seeing ourselves in the true light of God's written Word is a necessary part of our salvation.

Ignatius Brainchaninov, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, exhorts, "Never cease studying the Gospel until the end of your life. Do not think that you know it enough, even if you know it by heart." (The Arena, Diocesan Press, 1970, p. 15)

In his instructions to the young evangelist Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote, "Till I come, give attendance to reading.” (1 Timothy 4:13) The Scriptures to which Paul referred were what we know as the Old Testament, texts available to Timothy mainly in Greek. Today, the Bible or portions of the Bible are available in nearly every written language on earth. That cannot be said about any other book.

Great effort, sweat, and blood have gone into preservation and dissemination of the Bible. To millions the book is precious, a source of light in a dark world. As Psalm 118:15 reminds us, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."

Archbishop Foley Beach wrote, "You and I are blessed to have the written Word because of the sacrifice of others who literally gave their lives, preserving it, translating it, and printing it – so we could read it ourselves."

Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the Book of Common Prayer, encourages us to pray:
“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Amen. Amen. Amen.

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