Today, many churches observe ‘Reformation Sunday’. More than 500 years ago, the Reformation took place and we are familiar with individuals like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Zwingli and others. Luther in particular expounded justification by faith, and subsequently the protestant churches evolved under the ‘banners’ of Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, Sola gratia and all for the glory of God.

Over the years following the Reformation, many changes have taken place but what is of vital concern is the diminishing authority of the Scriptures in the churches today. The Reformation has upheld Sola Scriptura – the authority of Scriptures above ‘tradition’ but over recent years, much has happened to undermine ‘Sola Scriptura’ in ways which may not appear so obvious to the average Christian. It is with this in mind that we need to review some of the means that have contributed to the dissipation of the authority of the Bible.

The first obvious one is the antiauthoritarian stance that is currently endemic, not only in the western world but also in other parts of the world. We see this especially manifested during the current viral global pandemic where such a stance becomes prominent and causes concerns among authorities seeking to control the spread of the virus. We forget that the Bible portrays true freedom not as absolute but as freedom from sin.

On the subject of authoritarianism, two unhelpful situations take place. The first is a new love of authoritarianism among some believers; they do not feel safe and orthodox unless some leader is telling them exactly what to say, do, and think. This inevitably brings some power lovers to positions of religious leadership, supported sometimes by a theology that ascribes “apostleship” or some other special charismatic enduement to them, at times by a theology of churchmanship that makes each leader a ‘pope’ – the claim of ‘infallibility’ then follows, spoken or otherwise. Let us not be mistaken – such leaders may even affirm the authority of Scriptures but an observer can note and sense that these self promoted leaders characteristically elevate their opinions over the Scriptures, often in the name of the Scriptures. The genuine churches cry out for leaders who proclaim Scriptures with unction and authority from God, while simultaneously demonstrating that they stand under the authority of Scriptures themselves. But these self promoted leaders appear to do likewise but in reality, they are lovers of self, lovers of power and they seek to build their own ‘spiritual’ kingdoms.

The second unhelpful situation: This gives rise to a conservative swing that does not appear to be characterised by brokenness and contrition, so significant in the eyes of God. It is characterised by a ‘can do’ mentality not very far different from arrogance, promoting ‘self glory’ rather than the glory of God. Many of the respected leaders among us in this century or last are those who project an image of total command, endless competence, glorious success, formulae cleverness, accompanied by mega churches, movements, and ‘know all’ methodology of church growth, evangelism and missions. These are those who claimed to be experts in all these related areas. The cost is high: some of these churches and movements ‘fizzle out’ with a limp; others lose the sense of indebtedness to grace – they no longer cherish total dependence on the God of grace and the need for the Comforter and paraclete – slowly but surely the spiritual principles of self-sacrifice, servanthood, the cross and discipleship are rejected and in place of them we see courses on successful living and ministry, and what it means to attain successful ‘spiritual’ leadership in the church.
We forget that the God of the Bible looks to the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and who trembles at His Word (Isa. 66:2).

Let us not make a mistake with regard to the following: mere conservatism must not be confused with godliness (we need to beware of legalism); mere discipline must not be equated with discipleship (danger of equating godliness with rigorous keeping of objectives); mere assent to orthodox doctrine as contrasted with wholehearted delight in the truth (danger of being spiritually inflexible in interpretation and application of principles).

Another serious development that undermines the authority of Scriptures: The use of exegetical and philosophical sophistication that enables the ‘preachers’ and ‘teachers’ to make Scripture support almost anything they want. An observer looking on may conclude -” these various ones do believe in the authority of Scriptures; after all, they do quote Scriptures vigorously.” They misuse Scripture in order to champion as biblically true what in fact does violence to Scripture. Here is a call for vigilance and to follow the example of the Berean Jews who received the Biblical message with great eagerness and examined the Scripture every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts17:11). Some so-called leaders may end up using the Scriptures to say just about whatever they want – they hunger to be masters of the Word much more than hungering to be mastered by it, and they may even disengage some parts of the Bible from the rest and declare them as less authoritative in order to fulfil their personal agenda.

Some of the problems that arise from diminishing authority of Scriptures: This is reflected by the increasing divorce rate among Christians and even among the clergy themselves, with little sense of shame and no entailment of their ‘ministries’. Using so-called exegetical skill, some even evangelical leaders publicly abandon any mention of ‘sin’, claiming that this term no longer communicates (ignoring the fall, the wrath of God and judgement). The list goes on – the teaching on homosexuality, the subject of ‘headship’ in male/female relationships and so on.

The diminishing authority of the Scriptures is happening among those who claim to be evangelical. It is taking place not only among those who depreciate the consistent truthfulness of Scripture but also among those who defend it. There is a great need to pledge ourselves to repentance and faith to learning and obeying God’ most holy Word. The preservation of the authority of Scripture cannot be solved by just intellectual powers, even among Christian scholars, but by only humbling ourselves on our knees to ask God to do it and to manifest His power that has moved men to initiate the Reformation and to uphold ‘Sola Scriptura’. In fact, so-called scholars of the Bible may be foremost as ‘culprits’, manipulated by the evil one, and by personal scholastic pride, in eroding the authority of the Scriptures. Spiritual warfare has always plagued the church since the beginning – here is a call to vigilance, prayer and dependence on God, in humility, contriteness and even continual repentance as the need arises.