Posted by: stpowen | August 1, 2015

Losing Hold of the Bible

Jeremiah 23:28-29. ‘”What is the chaff to the wheat?” Says the LORD. “Is not My word like a fire?” Says the LORD, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”‘

In the July/August edition of the Banner of Truth magazine, there was an important article by Iain Murray entitled ‘How Scotland Lost Hold of the Bible.’ The emphasis is on Scotland because the national church of that nation is about to allow practising homosexuals into ordained ministry. However, the principles contained in the article have relevance for all nations and denominations and so, despite its length, I would encourage every evangelical Christian to read it carefully and prayerfully.

The gist of the article is that over a relatively short period of time, the 19th Century Free Church of Scotland {1} lost hold of the Bible by downgrading the Scriptures from being the very word of God to containing the word of God, and downgrading the Westminster Confession of Faith, to which the denomination was committed, in the same way. This seemingly small change enabled liberal theologians to drive a coach and horses through the beliefs and practices of the F.C.S. to the point where it completely lost its evangelical bearings and combined with the Church of Scotland, eventually leading to the tragic position today.

The issue therefore is not homosexuality, ‘gay clergy’ or same-sex ‘marriage.’ These are merely the symptoms of the underlying disease- the abandonment of the Bible as the word of God.

I have written before that it is not sufficient for a church or denomination merely to say, “We believe the Bible.” It is necessary to state clearly what the church believes the Bible to teach. The Free Church of Scotland in the 19th Century (like its successor today) hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith, a document produced by Presbyterians in 1646. The confession is extremely detailed, and right at the front, in Chapter 1, Article 1, there is a statement on the Holy Scriptures. Article VI reads, ‘The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.’ This might seem to be quite comprehensive, but when the early Particular Baptists wrote their confession in 1677 (published in 1689), they felt it necessary to add at the very start of the Confession (I:1), ‘The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.’ These confessions provide a firm protection for a church or denomination so long as they are maintained and as long as all church leaders are required to sign up to them. But as soon as the organization relegates the confession to merely ‘containing’ its beliefs, and as soon as the ministers and other officials of the church are allowed merely to pay some sort of lip service to it, then a downgrade in doctrine and church practice is inevitable as has been seen in multitudes of denominations down the years.

Another danger to churches, denominations and missionary societies is those modern confessions that relegate Scripture merely to ‘containing’ the words of God or being the ‘supreme’ rather than the ‘only’ authority for faith and practice, or which deny the ‘sufficiency’ of Scripture. This was also the problem with the XXXIX Articles of the Church of England. Art. VI states, Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation,’ which is fine as far as it goes, but history shows that it left the door open to multitudes of unscriptural practices. My own church adheres to the FIEC Declaration of faith, and whilst I wish it was more detailed in certain places, on the question of the Bible it seems to me to be satisfactory.
God has revealed himself in the Bible, which consists of the Old and New Testaments alone. Every word was inspired by God through human authors, so that the Bible as originally given is in its entirety the Word of God, without error and fully reliable in fact and doctrine. The Bible alone speaks with final authority and is always sufficient for all matters of belief and practice. The words ‘every,’ ‘entirety,’ ‘alone’ and ‘sufficient’ seem to bolt the door to those who would seek to avoid having the Scriptures for their final authority. Every church leader in the FIEC is required to give his assent to the Declaration each year.

Again, I urge my readers to read Iain Murray’s article and, if they belong to a church that does not have a clear and Biblical statement of faith to endeavour to bring one in, and if they are prevented from doing so, to ask themselves if they ought to remain.

{1} The current Free Church of Scotland is a Bible-based Presbyterian denomination formed by a remnant of the former body when it merged with the Church of Scotland..


  1. In point of historical detail I think your footnote is not quite accurate. The majority of the 19th century Free Church joined to form the United Free Church, and the majority of the United Free Church later re-united with the Church of Scotland. However a minority of the 19th century Free Church did not go that way, and in 1904 the House of Lords ruled that this minority was the rightful Free Church of Scotland, from which the current Free Church and Free Church (Continuing) are continuations.

    This of course does not detract from the well-made points in your post.

  2. This is probably one of the reasons Ferguson came back to Scotland to prevent the possibility of the downgrade of the Free Church of Scotland as well.

    Speaking of Ferguson, in light of this topic, he gave a very good sermon on the Primacy of Scriptures at the Knox 500 Day Conference last year, where he preaches from 2 Timothy 3:1-5

    But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

    and continuing on to 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5:

    But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

    All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

    I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

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