Shut Up and Let God Speak

“We need to defend the Bible about as much as we need to defend a lion.”

– Charles Spurgeon

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The pulpit at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC.

INSTRUCTIONS FROM A BIBLE HEAVYWEIGHT

I remember when Sinclair Ferguson was training my intern friends and me about how to lead in the worship service. One of the things that struck me was this: he told us that when we got up to read the Scripture passage, we were not to preface or append the reading with phrases like “This is God’s inerrant, infallible word.”

His rationale? The Scripture, he insisted, is self-authenticating. It holds its own power and authority, to which we add nothing by our qualifications and affirmations. So many times, he reasoned, we take great pains to affix our evangelical boundary markers and identity badges to the Bible. But do we take care as readers, as preachers, as worshippers, to be utterly mastered by the passage at hand? Do we read, preach, and hear with a posture (and not just with slogans) that testifies to that authoritativeness?

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A TEST CASE: MY ‘OOPS’

One time I concluded the Scripture reading not with an evangelical slogan, but with another Bible passage: “The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” I figured that was different. Nope. He sent one of his associates to tell me that this was also a no-no. Why? Because it was still a defense of the Bible in the middle of a worship service—a context in which we await the Scripture’s self-attestation or, better, it’s raging power and surgical precision.

A BETTER TESTIMONY

Now that I’m planting a church, I’ve realized the wisdom of good ‘ole Sinky B. The best thing we can do for our fledgling congregations, and the best thing we can do for our neighbors, is to believe the Bible right there in front of them. To anticipate the torrent of its tidal surge of grace in their hearing. To bow under its authority, and under the mighty right hand of the One who speaks it afresh into our lives.

There’s a time and a place for arguments and defenses with respect to the Bible. But most often the best defense is a worship gathering that waits upon the Lord to speak, a neighborhood group that delights to hear Jesus, or a small, natural report to our neighbor that God has changed us by speaking in his word.

Can we regularly say that we have heard God speak clearly, believed his gospel, and begun in earnest to obey his specific commands? This will go much further than our slogans in demonstrating that we believe that God speaks in his word by his Spirit. This is not the same thing as the Scripture attesting to its own authority. But it does provide our community with a transcript of God’s reckoning with us through his word.

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4 thoughts on “Shut Up and Let God Speak

  1. Interesting thought. We always say, ‘This is the Word the Lord / Thanks be to God!’ in response to our readings. It’s not meant to be a defence of the Bible, but instead a sort of confession of faith and confidence in the Word, and our delight and joy in receiving what God has given us.

    • Hey Jake. We actually do the same thing. Except some of our lectors goof it up and say “This is the word of God”, which drives all our crypto Anglicans batty. 😉

      SBF encouraged us to say “This is God’s word” or “Let us hear God’s word” or the like.

    • You’ve got it, Scott. I feel the same. Subtle. It’s another one of those pesky instances where “practice” trumps, or at least matches, “preach”. Even in the practice of preaching.

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