An opinion in search of a defence?
What does it mean for us, as evangelicals, to argue that the Holy Scripture is the only rule of faith and conduct? Only the other day, I quoted the Westminster Confession:
Chapter 1. VI: The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
What does it mean to say ‘by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture?’
The first thing we have to say is that it is an admission: an admission that not every circumstance we will meet is covered in Scripture. Even more so now than when the WC was framed, life has changed beyond recognition. We cannot reasonably expect Scripture to say anything about (for example) embryo research, and it doesn’t. But it is extremely dangerous to argue, therefore, that Scripture is an inadequate guide in this area (or any other). We admit things have changed; and we look for principles and the necessary consequences of those principles.
The second thing it means is that we must deduce our conclusions from the Scripture, and not impose them upon the Scripture. It is too easy to decide first that something is wrong and then go looking for Scriptures to defend our opinion. Because we are sinful and our logic/reason is flawed along with the rest of us, we may well find such a defence.
Let me give you an example. Suppose I held the opinion that football (soccer) is sinful. (I don’t hold that opinion. I hold it to be boring. I hold it to be pointless. I do not hold it to be sinful.) I then want to impose my view on the church here at MBC, and perhaps on the church at large. I need to prove my case from Scripture. Here goes.
1. There is no instance of soccer or any ball game (I might want to be careful with that if, for example, I want to allow snooker or tennis as legitimate) in the Bible; that alone ought to give us cause for concern.
2. Our own society is so obsessed with football that the language of religion is used about it; Bill Shankly’s famous comment that ‘it is more important than life or death’ is only one example.
3. The very fact that ‘the world’ is so obsessed is all the proof that the spiritually mature need: we are not to love the world. We are told of those who do love the world that the love of the Father is not in them.
4. Those gifted at football may be taken very young and sheltered from real life and then emerge, still in their teens, into a job whose pay and life-style is virtually guaranteed to ruin them.
5. The moral lives of many of those who do play football just underline for us the enormous danger of this sport – see some of the racier tabloids, almost any day of the week.
6. Football gives rise to, and is supported by, an enormous gambling industry which is in itself sinful and should be shunned by anyone following after holiness.
7. Vast amounts of time and money are spent on the game – by professionals and amateurs alike. But we are commanded to redeem the time because the days are evil; and we are to be good stewards of our money (which is the Lord’s money).
QED, therefore: football has no place in a Christian’s life.
If we want to rub it in, we can easily show (or claim) that past worthies did not indulge in sports at all. We can also, probably, point to one or two people who have fallen into sin as a result of football. (‘Eee, our ‘Arold never drank at all until ‘e got into that footballing crowd. Now ‘e’s an alcoholic with two broken marriages and no end of affairs behind ‘im….’)
Then we point out that, if none of the arguments are convincing on their own – well, surely, the cumulative effect must be? Are you so stubborn, so blind, that you can’t see or won’t admit the very obvious?
Now then, dear reader. Are you going to give up football, then? No? Why not?
Because the argument isn’t Scriptural. It doesn’t become Scriptural just by quoting a few Scriptures. And it doesn’t become a strong argument by piling one piece of nonsense on top of another.
But nobody argues like that, do they? No? Sure? Back tomorrow.