Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chapter One: Of the Holy Scriptures

The Westminister Confession of Faith in Plain Language
1.  Deep down inside, people can tell from the way God created and rules the world that he is good, wise, and powerful.* Since everybody should be able to see this clearly, nobody has any excuse for sinfulness.  On the other hand, what is not so clear is how people can be saved from their sinfulness.

So God was pleased to reveal this more clearly in many different ways during Bible times.**  Over many years, he spelled out in writing everything he wanted us to know.  He put it into written form so that it could be preserved easily, spread around the world, and passed on from one generation to the next. That way it can be readily available to strengthen us against the evil influences of Satan, the world, and human sinfulness.  Since God has put everything he wants us to know about himself in the Holy Scriptures, he has stopped revealing these things using any other methods.

2.  The name Holy Scripture refers to all of God’s Word that has been written down in the books of the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First and Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon,  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

The New Testament books are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, First and Second Peter, First, Second, and Third John, Jude, and Revelation.

God produced these books in order to communicate to us what we should believe and how we should live.

3.  Some people mistakenly believe that some other books, called the Apocrypha, are also God’s Word.  However, these are not a part of the Bible and are no different than any other human books.  They were not given by God to tell us what to believe and how to live.

4.  We ought to believe and obey the Holy Scripture, not because people say so or the church says so, but because God says so.  He wrote it.  He is Truth.  We should believe and obey it because it is his Word.

5.  What the Church says about the Bible might convince us that it is God’s Word, but it is not the main reason we believe it.  And several other things might also convince us.  For instance, the Bible speaks of spiritual things in a way that captures the imagination. What it teaches has real impact on people’s lives.  It is beautiful to read.  It all fits together perfectly from the beginning to the end—in fact, it is perfect in every way.  Absolutely nothing else can compare.   But these are not the main reasons we believe the Bible to be the Word of God.  The faith to believe the Bible is the Word of God comes only from the Holy Spirit.  Deep down inside, the Holy Spirit convinces us as we read the Bible that what we are reading is totally true and should be obeyed because it comes from God himself.

6.  The Bible contains everything we need to know about how to glorify God, how to be saved, what to believe, and how to live.  These things are either stated plainly in the Bible or we can figure them out by using common sense.   Since the Bible already contains everything we need to know, nothing can or should be added to it.  No one can come along later and claim that God has revealed something different from or in addition to what he has already said in the Bible.  They also cannot place human traditions on par with what the Bible says.

Even though God has revealed these things clearly, the Holy Spirit still has to open people’s eyes and ears for them to understand enough to be saved.  And the Bible is not a handbook that spells out how to handle every situation.  For instance, there are some practical things about how to worship God and how to organize the Church that God expects us to figure out using common sense.  But at all times he expects us to be wise and to never go against what the Bible teaches.

7.  Not everything in Scripture is easy to interpret.  Some things are much more difficult to understand than other things.  However, what the Bible says about salvation is clear enough for all to understand, regardless of whether or not they are educated.  It does not take any unusual skill or intelligence to understand what the Bible says we should know, believe, and do in order to be saved.

8.  The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, which was the language of the Israelites.  The New Testament was written in Greek, which was the most widely used language in New Testament times.   God directly inspired these original language versions of the Old and New Testaments and arranged for them to be preserved down through the ages. The Church should use them to settle any disputes about what it is supposed to believe.  However, not everyone knows these original languages, so people have the right to have them translated into their own languages.  That way they can obey God’s command to study the Scriptures.   Once they have the Scriptures in their own language, they will know how to properly worship God and can receive the hope that the Scriptures provide.

9.  The only foolproof way to interpret the Scripture is to compare Scripture with Scripture.   The only true meaning of Scripture is the one intended by God.  When the meaning of a passage is unclear, one should rely upon other passages of Scripture to shed light upon it.  

10.The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Scriptures, is the only one who can settle religious disputes between people who disagree. The Holy Spirit trumps the opinions of Church authorities, ancient theologians, Bible teachers, and private individuals. 

*This is called General Revelation—God reveals certain things about himself through nature and through our consciences.  However, general revelation does not contain the Gospel.  It only contains enough information for humans to know that they have sinned against God and have no excuse. 

**This is called Special Revelation—God reveals himself and his plan of salvation more specifically by directly communicating details.  During Bible times, special revelation took different forms—for example, God spoke through voices, prophets, and angels.  However, God eventually set down all his special revelation into one form—the Scriptures.  After he did this, all the other forms stopped, generally speaking.  

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