“All Scripture …”
“… the sixty-six books of the Bible, thirty-nine written before Christ came and twenty-seven after, are together the record, interpretation, expression, and embodiment of his self-disclosure. God and godliness are the Bible’s uniting themes.” 1
—J. I. Packer
One of the dynamics of being in the field of biblical higher education is developing the ability to summarize and synthesize the subject matter that is being taught into manageable “sound bites.” These must summarize the material faithfully but not download so much material that students find themselves drowning in the minute details of a doctrine or Scripture text. The task of the teacher (or the preacher) is to dive deeply into the material, summarize the salient learning on the subject, and apply the truths. This takes time, reflection and discussion. The famous American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., spoke of this process as finding “simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
In many ways, that is exactly what the team tasked to refresh our Statement of Essential Truths has done. Our task has been to review, suggest, discuss, frame and reframe this document. It needs to reflect our historic beliefs as a movement and prove helpful for our PAOC family in the days ahead of us.
In our refreshed Statement of Essential Truths, as in our previous statements, we recognize the foundational importance of the Bible. In this short paragraph, we underscore a number of points that are really non-negotiable for our Fellowship:
“The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the written revelation of God’s character and saving purposes for humanity and for all creation. The entire Bible is true and trustworthy, and is the final and absolute authority for belief and conduct. The Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible enables it interpretation and application.”
In a popular milieu where the value of the Old Testament is increasingly questioned, it is significant to note we affirm that the Bible consists of two Testaments—Old and New. In both, God reveals His character, and we see His saving purposes for all mankind unfolded. In the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah), we see God as both Creator and Redeemer, creating for Himself a unique people whom He called to reflect His glory to the nations. The Prophets (Former and Latter) chronicle the development of the nation of Israel, its disappointing failure, and the subsequent consequences for not keeping their covenant with the Lord. The Wisdom Books teach us much about the practical aspects of living as servants of the Lord. The Gospels in the New Testament reveal the Messiah predicted in the Old. The Book of Acts and the Epistles help us understand the work of Christ in redemption, its impact on our lives, and how to live as God’s Spirit-empowered people in a post-resurrection world. The Book of Revelation unveils Jesus as the Lord of history, bringing to completion all of God’s saving purposes for the world. A bow is wrapped around all of history, so to speak, with the coming of the new heavens and the new earth representing merely “the end of the beginning” of all of God’s purposes for the world He created.
Our affirmation also recognizes that we did not gain our knowledge of God through our intuition or by means of some “inner light.” In other words, we did not come to an understanding of God and His work in creation and redemption by ourselves. God has chosen to tell us about Himself. This self-disclosure through the pages of the Bible is often referred to as “revelation.” We do recognize the existence of something often referred to as natural revelation. This is where, as Paul says in Romans 1:20, we can come to understand something of the glory and power of God through the world He has created. However, for a complete and saving understanding of God, we are dependent upon His words about Himself. We understand who God is through the pages of the Old and New Testaments. That disclosure finds its culmination in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the One through whom God has fully and finally spoken to humanity (Hebrews 1:1-2).
We affirm that the entire Word of God is true. Historically, as people spoke of the truthfulness of Scripture, they utilized the term “inerrant.” This term points to the fact that it contains no deception or falsehood. It is rooted in the character of God, who does not lie (cf. Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18). As well, a biblical standard for those who claimed to speak for God, such as the prophets, was the absolute truthfulness of their message (Deuteronomy 18:22).
We also assert that Scripture is trustworthy—it can be depended upon. The language of “infallibility” points to this characteristic of the Bible. We can rest confident in the sure promises of God it contains. We can place our lives in the hands of the Saviour it reveals. We can build our lives upon its teaching and respond in repentance as we sense the Spirit applying its truths to our hearts.
As the final and absolute authority for a believer’s life and conduct, we affirm pride of place for the Word of God in our lives. Our text of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) stands as God’s complete revelation for us. During certain seasons in the history of the church, some people have endeavoured to supplement or even supplant the teaching of the Bible with their own “words from God.” As timely as some of these may have been, they must ultimately submit to the scrutiny of the Bible as the final authority.
We also affirm the role of the Holy Spirit in the formation of Scripture. We recognize that the words of Scripture have their source in God: they have literally been “breathed out” or “inspired” (2 Timothy 3:16). In 2 Peter 1:21 (ESV) we are also reminded of the Spirit’s role in this process: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 1:16, for example, Peter recognized the role of the Spirit in speaking through David concerning the fate of Judas (see also 4:25).
We recognize that the Holy Spirit is still active as we interact with Scripture at every level. It is the Spirit who draws our attention to particular passages as we regularly read the Word of God. He also guides our understanding and application of those words to our lives. It is the Spirit who empowers the proclamation of God’s Word in preaching and teaching. It is the Spirit who uses the words of Scripture to convict and draw people to Christ. The author to Hebrews put it so well: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV). Over 100 years ago, it was through a study of the Book of Acts that the Holy Spirit drew the attention of praying believers to the fledgling church’s experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He created the hunger through the Word of God, they sought God and were filled, and the rest is history.
I began this article with a quote from J. I. Packer on Scripture. Another seems like a fitting “bookend”:
“What Scripture says, God says; for, in a manner comparable only to the deeper mystery of the Incarnation, the Bible is both fully human and fully divine. So all its manifold contents—histories, prophecies, poems, songs, wisdom writings, sermons, statistics, letters, and whatever else—should be received as from God, and all that Bible writers teach should be revered as God’s authoritative instruction. Christians should be grateful to God for the gift of his written Word, and conscientious in basing their faith and life entirely and exclusively upon it.” 2
Dave Demchuk is the president of Summit Pacific College in Abbotsford, B.C.
- J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1993), 21.
- Ibid., 21, 23.
This article appeared in the October/November/December 2021 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2021 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos ©istockphoto.com and AdobeStock.