Suppose, for the sake of argument, that most Evangelical pastors accept the authority of the Bible, however they would interpret that phrase. Most will probably say, at the very least, that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Suppose then, that it is their job to teach/preach/sermonize on Sunday mornings and at other times during the week.
Given these suppositions, wouldn’t you then conclude that these Evangelical pastors carefully examine the passages they reference in their sermons, checking their interpretations against the remainder of the Bible (I am also assuming they believe no one passage is more inspired than another)? Wouldn’t you also conclude that these pastors & teachers operate in “fear and trembling” lest they misrepresent the Word of God?
You’d think so, wouldn’t you? James even says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” However, I doubt very much that this is the case. All you have to do is listen to about 10 minutes of “Christian” broadcasting (radio, TV or the internet) to conclude that they must rank their own authority, or the authority of their own “revelations” above the authority of the Bible.
Here’s the deal: if pastors would take the authority of the Bible seriously, they’d probably have to spend about 10 times as long on sermon prep, and, they’d run the risk of finding Scripture that pulls the rug out from under their main point. Trust me, I know from experience. There’s nothing worse than having a great point, then running into a passage that argues against it, especially if you’ve just invested a few hours of study time. Plus, it could mean rethinking your entire approach, which could really be costly.
The authority of Scripture is dangerous, as the author of Hebrews warns: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) It’s not only sharp on the leading edge, but you’ve also got a heck of a sharp edge pointing back at you.
I think it’s interesting that the more traditional churches, who devote more time reverently reading scripture as a part of worship also traditionally have the shortest sermons. It makes me wonder who it is who really believes in the authority of the Bible …
(For more thoughts on this subject, check out an old article of mine, Spinning the Word.)