This week the church Life group which my wife and I attend considered the introduction to and the first truth, “1. The Holy Scriptures,” in the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador. All eight who attended regularly in 2014-15 were present. Only Robert, my son, was absent, his not getting home from work until the study was almost over.
My wife, Leonora, opened with our theme song, “We’re Together Again,” another song (I forget its name), and prayer. I distributed a sheet containing a summary of my presentation and made the presentation, our discussing throughout it the questions which I posed in it (see below). Ray, who leads our study of Romans on alternate weeks, took prayer requests and led us in prayer. We closed with lunch, which consisted of apple pie, topped with ice-cream, and something to drink.
Introductions to the PAONL and Related Statements of Fundamental Truths
The Bible is our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. Hence this Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths is intended as a basis of fellowship among us (i.e., that we all speak the same thing, 1 Corinthians 1:10; Acts 2:42). The human phraseology employed in this statement is not inspired or contended for, but the truth set forth is held to be essential to a full Gospel ministry. No claim is made that it contains all the truth of the Bible, only that it is a systematic synopsis of these fundamental truths.
After reading the above, I asked, “What does the introduction to the Statement seem to be intended to do?” The main idea put forward was that it emphasizes that the Bible is our authority and the Statement is just intended to be a basis of fellowship among us, its setting forth the essentials of what we believe, and not intended to replace the Bible as our authority.
I observed that although the introduction to the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths is almost the same as the introduction to the Assemblies of God (AG) Statement of Fundamental Truths, the introduction (”preamble”) to the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths is much different. It says:
The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada stands firmly in the mainstream of historical Christianity. It takes the Bible as its all-sufficient source of faith and practice, and subscribes to the historic creeds of the universal church. In common with historic, evangelical Christianity, it emphasizes Christ as Saviour and coming King. It also presents Christ as Healer and it adopts the distinctive position that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence when Christ baptizes in the Holy Spirit….
Again I asked, “What does the introduction to the Statement seem to be intended to do?” Our discussion brought out that besides stressing the authority of the Bible, as does the introduction to our Statement, the Statement emphasizes that the PAOC holds to the “foursquare gospel”—that Jesus Christ is our Saviour, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, Healer, and Coming King—the first and last being held in common with other evangelical Christians and the middle two being distinctive beliefs of Pentecostals. Thus the Statement seems to be intended to show how the PAOC is similar to and how it is different from other evangelical Christians.
I intended to ask, “Why do you think that the creators of the PAOC statement didn’t just use the introduction to the Assemblies of God statement, as the creators of the PAONL statement did, instead of creating a different introduction?”, but for reasons of time didn’t.
1. The Holy Scriptures
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is infallible, absolutely supreme and sufficient in authority in all matters of faith and practice. The Bible does not simply contain the Word of God, but is in reality the complete revelation and very Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. Christian believers today have special illumination to enable them to understand the Scriptures, but God does not give new revelations apart from or beyond the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15,16; I Peter 2:2).
After reading the above, I observed that the Statements of both the AG and the PAOC open with a similar truth about the Bible. Actually the above and “1. Holy Scriptures” in the Statement of the PAOC are based on “1. The Scriptures Inspired” in the original AG Statement, but both were expanded to clarify some of the terms used.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is infallible, absolutely supreme and sufficient in authority in all matters of faith and practice.
I observed that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” comes from the KJV of 2 Timothy 3:16 and asked, “Why do you think that the verse and the truth begin with ‘All Scripture’ instead of with ‘The Scriptures’?” The group responded that they did so to stress the importance of all parts of the Bible. That this is the reason is demonstrated by the Assemblies of God’s inserting “both the Old and New Testaments” after “All Scripture” when it revised its original statement in 1961 and by the PAOC’s specifying that “divine inspiration extends equally and fully to all parts of the original writings.”
I noted that “is given by inspiration of God” translates a single Greek word which literally means “is breathed out by God” and is rendered that way in some modern versions; observed that there are various views of the way in which God breathed out or inspired Scripture; and read the descriptions given in Stanley M. Horton’s Systematic Theology (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1994) of the five basic views: natural intuition, special illumination, dynamic guidance, verbal plenary, and divine dictation (pages 97-98). I asked, “Which view fits best the Biblical picture of inspiration? How do the others fall short?” The group identified verbal plenary, the view that “the Holy Spirit not only guided the writers’ thoughts or concepts, but also oversaw their selection of words for all that was written, not just for matters of faith and practice” (John R. Higgins, in Systematic Theology, page 97).
I defined “infallible” as being free from error; observed that the PAONL demonstrated the importance that it places on holding that the Bible is infallible by issuing a position paper affirming it in April, 1983, “The Inerrancy of the Scriptures”; and shared the following from a section in that paper called “Validation of Inerrancy”:
The Bible’s witness to its own inerrancy. Second Timothy 3:16 (NIV) uniquivocally states: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”. All Scripture is part of God’s revelation….
Some verses stress the permanent nature of the complete Scriptures. Matthew 5:18 (KJV) asserts, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot (the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet) or one tittle (a minor strike distinguishing certain Hebrew letters) shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”…Even the slightest detail of Scripture is important.
The New Testament witnesses to the veracity of the Old Testament. The gospel writers often remarked, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the prophet…” (Matthew 1:22, KJV). The fact of fulfilled prophecies, written hundreds of years before the event, cannot be overlooked in a defence of inerrancy….
Jesus affirmed inerrancy. By declaring that “…the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35, KJV), Jesus—the incarnate Word—vouched for the veracity of what was written. On many occasions Jesus said, “It is written” (Matthew 2:5, KJV…). We note especially His appeal to Old Testament Scriptures during the temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).
The witness of the Church. The Church’s witness to an inerrant Bible cannot be disregarded. …While the Church can, and has, erred, it is folly to oberlook the consensus of opinion among theologians that the Bible is free from error.
The witness of God’s character. God’s character demands inerrancy. The Scriptures’ presentation of the attributes of God shows truth personified…. The Scriptures emanated from God. By suggesting that the Bible contains errors is to cast aspersion on God’s character.
I asked, “How should we deal with alleged mistakes and discrepancies in the Bible?” After we discussed the question, I shared the conclusion of “The Inerrancy of Scripture” (see above):
We do not deny that there are obvious technical problems in Scripture (egs., the 23,000 and the 24,000 of I Corinthians 10:8 and Numbers 25:9; and David’s numbering of the people—II Samuel 24:1-2; I Chronicles 21:1-2). Neither do we naively believe that completely satisfactory answers have been found to each problem. However, when problems do arise, we trust the Scriptures—God’s written revelation—rather than our fallible minds. Moreover, if all inherent difficulties were reconciled, this would make void the element of faith.
I defined “authority” as having the power or right to direct the actions or thoughts of others and identified the following rivals to the Bible in religious authority: the church, creeds and other church documents, personal encounters with God, manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and other religions. I observed that in a 1979 Gallop Poll a larger number of people between 18 and 29 said that in testing their religious beliefs they would turn to what the Holy Spirit said to them personally before they would turn to the Bible, and I asked, “Which would you turn to first? Why? What is the role of the other?” The group members said that they’d turn to the Bible first and that the Holy Spirit’s role was to illuminate the Bible (see below).
The Bible does not simply contain the Word of God, but is in reality the complete revelation and very Word of God [and] God does not give new revelations apart from or beyond the Bible.
I defined “revelation” as “something that is revealed [made known] by God to humans” (Merriam-Webster) and distinguished between general and special revelation. General revelation consists of God’s making Himself known through nature, human history, and human nature (particularly the conscience). Special revelation consists of God’s making Himself known through supernatural acts, the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures. I asked, “In what way is the Bible a ‘complete’ revelation of God?” The group answered that the Bible contains all that we need to know about faith and practice.
Christian believers today have special illumination to enable them to understand the Scriptures, but God does not give new revelations apart from or beyond the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15,16; I Peter 2:2).
I defined “illumination” as making something clear and asked, “How can we receive illumination in Bible study?” The group suggested prayer, the Holy Spirit, other people such as pastors, and study helps such as books and the Internet.
I closed by referring to the four characteristics which Wayne Grudem identifies in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) as ones that the Bible ascribes to itself—authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency—and giving his explanations of the last two:
The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws. (page 116)
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (page 127)