CONCERNING THE SCRIPTURES
To set the stage for this chapter, we must travel back in time to the Protestant Reformation. Of course, there was no one thing that sparked the Reformation. But a central element was certainly the issue of authority.
For Roman Catholics, ultimate authority resides with the pope. From their perspective, the pope is seen as Christ's representative on earth.
Protestants, on the other hand, have exalted the Bible as the highest authority. Believing the Bible to be inerrant and infallible, reformers like Martin Luther and Jan Hus wanted the Church to evaluate all of its traditions based on what they perceived as the higher authority of the Scripture.
And so went the debate. In the above woodcut, the figure to the left points to Scripture and declares, "Thus says the Lord." Meanwhile the figure to the right declares, "Thus says the Pope."
It is important to keep this debate in mind as we turn our attention to Robert Barclay. Barclay is a third voice in this debate, rejecting papal authority and holding a view of Scripture that falls well outside the Protestant mainstream. Barclay was very willing to say that Scripture is authoritative. But he is not willing to say that the Bible is the foundation of our faith.
Barclay certainly holds the Scriptures in high esteem. He calls them, "the most excellent writings in the world." He declares that the written words of Scripture accurately communicate Christ's vision for the church. By reading those words, we may know what Christ intended to teach the church.
Since we have this written guide, Christians should turn to the Scriptures when they disagree. In the words of Barclay, the Bible "is the only fit outward judge of controversies among Christians."
In fact, Barclay goes on to say that, "whatsoever doctrine is contrary unto their testimony, may therefore justly be rejected as false. And, for our parts [as Friends], we are very willing that all our doctrines and practices be tried by them... as the judge and test."
Because the Bible is a product of God's leadership, those led by God today should never find themselves at odds with Scripture. The Bible can serve as a judge and test in matters of faith.
But the Bible is not the author of our faith. The Bible is not the foundation of our faith. The Scriptures point to something outside of themselves. As Barclay points out, the Scriptures themselves bear witness to the authority of God's Spirit. For example, I John 4:13, declares, "We know we live in God and God in us, because God has given us of God's Spirit."
Ultimately, it is the Spirit of God who stands as the foundation of our faith. After all, the Scriptures were first assembled by the authority of God's Spirit. And the Scriptures have power in us only when the outward words are brought to life in us by the power of God's Spirit.
As for the Scriptures, Barclay writes, "Because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principle ground of all truth and knowledge."
As a Quaker, Barclay is unwilling to let anything take the place of God's direct guidance. It is God and God alone who must stand at the center of our faith. God is not some remote being who speaks only through the historical record of Scripture; God is a present teacher, guide and friend. Although God has provided us with the Bible, the dialogue does not end there! God can speak to us as God spoke to the prophets and saints of ancient times. And by listening for what God is saying today, the ancient words of Scripture come to life in us.
In that sense, the Scriptures can become like a mirror: we can see ourselves more clearly by looking into them.
Barclay writes, "This is the great work of the scriptures, and their service to us, that we may witness them fulfilled in us."
The Scriptures are a unique and valuable tool. And used appropriately, they are a faithful aid in our spiritual journey.
Here are some questions to consider:
1. What role has Scripture played in your spiritual journey? Have you ever witnessed them "fulfilled in you?"
2. How does has present guidance of God empowered you to apply the general truths of Scripture to the particulars of your current situation? For example, how do you know if you are called to some particular ministry?
3. Do you think there is any real danger that the Bible could eclipse God at the center of someone's faith?
Continue to Proposition Four