The Bible still has its ancient power if read with open heart and receptive mind

There is in modern theology a strange and growing reluctance to refer to the Bible as “the Word of God.” This reluctance has gone so far that many speak of Holy Scripture as merely a human book. While they acknowledge that it bears witness to Christ as the incarnate Word of God, they deny that Scripture is actually God’s Word written. Ignoring the mass of biblical evidence equating Scripture with the utterance of God, and passing by Christ’s own authentication of its divine character, they reduce it to a human work. Others see it as no more than a book that through the agency of the Spirit has the potential of becoming the Word of God in the experience of those confronted by it.

If conservatism has at times slipped into an almost docetic view of Scripture that so stressed its divine character as to forget its human side, liberalism has gone to the opposite extreme of overlooking the truth that Scripture, while indeed written by men who retained their human characteristics and abilities, is nevertheless God-breathed and therefore originated under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The modern attack upon the reality of Scripture as the Word of God runs counter to the Church’s unbroken testimony to its complete integrity. It does no honor to Jesus Christ to minimize the written Word that he, the incarnate Word, so constantly taught and relied upon. It is indeed passing strange that so many in this generation relegate to mere human effort the book that the apostles, church fathers, Reformers, and the greatest missionary leaders, evangelists, and preachers have all accepted as the Word of God. Had Luther considered Scripture only on its human level, he never could have declared, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God,” and there would never have been a Reformation. Similarly, had not Calvin accepted both the Old and New Testaments as God’s Word, as the Institutes abundantly indicate, there would never have been a Reformed theology.

The Bible is too great and dynamic a book to be shorn of its power by untraditional and unacceptable views of its nature. It is the Word of God, and regardless of what men think of it, it will remain so even though heaven and earth pass away.

The written Word can do what no other writing does. When it enters the human heart and is believed, darkness is dispelled and the light shines. It is the incorruptible seed whereby souls are born again. Its acceptance brings conviction of sin and cleansing of life. In it one learns the will of God. The Bible is the sourcebook of Christianity. Compared to it, all other writings, whether of saints, theologians, or scholars, are of secondary value and subsidiary authority. Rather than being just one among many religious writings, it stands apart from all other books, in a class by itself.

Only grievous harm can come to the Christian community when doubt is cast upon the unique authority of Scripture. To persuade a man that the Bible is not the Word of God and thus prevent him from taking it seriously is to take from him his spiritual capital. Every great revival in Christian history has been related to the Word of God. Even today, authentic Christianity in Red China survives through small meetings in homes where Christians at personal peril gather round the Scriptures. And if the English-speaking peoples of the world are in a state of moral decadence, it is because they are no longer actually the people of the Book.

The Bible is the Word of God. It still has its ancient power if read with an open heart and receptive mind. To insist that the Church today and its individual members, including its ministers, must get back to the Bible is no mere cliché. It is a call to face disturbing and imperative truth which, if honestly considered, makes radical claims upon the individual and upon society.

William Lyon Phelps once said that every Bible ought to have written on its cover these words: “Highly explosive, handle with care.” The Word of God is dynamite. Its truth can revolutionize life. Obedient to its teaching, men and women have left home and family to carry its message to the uttermost parts of the earth. But whether at home or abroad, those who take it seriously face the prospect of judgment upon their selfish ways and of being led through new paths of witness and service into the joys of their Lord.

A book that has such effects upon human life cannot be merely human.

China Revisited

In view of reactions the last time around, the National Council of Churches’ World Order Study Conference showed a certain boldness when it asked the United States to stop blocking Red China’s path to the United Nations (see News, p. 44). But boldness is not enough, and the seven years since the last World Order Conference have provided fresh evidence that Red China is a hoodlum nation with no legitimate interest in a world organization dedicated to peace.

Proponents of a seat for Mao’s China grasped at Pope Paul’s recent U. N. speech for help, but the Pope had merely expressed hope that all nations would “merit” admission. Red China’s “credentials” include an unyielding and unprincipled foreign policy that seeks to impose Communism through subversion, revolution, and armed force, as in Tibet.

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The churchmen were even more presumptuous in offering advice on a situation as murky as that in Viet Nam after only hasty debate. Superficial treatment was guaranteed by a crammed, catchall agenda.

The NCC General Board will be faced with the problem of endorsing the sticky conclusions of the World Order Study Conference when it meets in Madison, Wisconsin, next month, and it may stress that the conference documents are not official. But official sanction is implicit in the St. Louis statements.

These activities, designed to give the NCC an upbeat image, have only tarnished its reputation. They are bound to cause discord, inasmuch as many sincere Christians cannot agree with the pronouncements. The secularized context in which the issues were debated suggests that the conferees were using church prestige to bolster prior political commitments, rather than injecting Christian principles into the secular sphere. Worse, their conclusions lend support to churchmen who are involved in social affairs to the neglect of proclaiming the Gospel of redemption.

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