Greetings Bible Advocate readers! I hope you’re enjoying this year’s twin Reforming-Transforming theme. You’ve already received the March-April “Sola Scriptura” issue, and the May-June “Sola Fide” BA is off to the press and heading to the post office (and Internet) in two weeks. That puts us at the halfway mark — already — for our six 2017 publications.
In this space between our last issue and the next, I hope to build a foundation for the upcoming “Faith Alone” issue by discussing its intimate link with “Scripture Alone.” The affinity between these chief Reformation solas could not be closer, and it is not exaggeration to say that the health of the Church of God can be measured by her success at holding these two together.
The fundamental bond between God’s Word and our faith is best expressed in the familiar passage from Paul: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17, NKJV). A strong, mysterious attraction exists between word and faith. As Paul explains, the one follows directly from the other. But as we’ll see, the Word too advances as faith is born and shared.
This symbiotic relationship is illustrated well in the growth of the church as reported in the book of Acts: “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). This correlation is critical: The Word of God defines and carries the good message, and disciples are made and cultivated when hearers respond with the obedience of faith.
Jesus is at the heart of each of these solas and connects both. He’s the subject of Scripture and also the object of faith. Because Jesus is the center, there is power in the Word to affect faith in hearers and also power in faith to affect sharing of the Word. What is immediately clear is the necessary role of living agents like you and me to bridge the gap between storied page and human ear. This is Paul’s concern in Romans 10:
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14, 15, NKJV).
Paul, drawing on Old Testament prophets Joel and Isaiah, explains the need. If “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 13, NKJV; Joel 2:32), someone must first step up and preach the gospel to them (Isaiah 52:7). Who will take and share the message? Someone in whom there is word and faith!
Don’t be intimidated by the word preacher. This doesn’t refer to the expert in the pulpit but to one who will publish and proclaim the story. Preachers come in a variety of packages. I recently heard the testimony of a taxi driver in Nigeria who came to saving faith in Christ from a gospel song he heard on his car radio. Around the same time I heard a professor from an American university share how she came to faith by sitting down and reading the Bible.
A song, a Bible, a magazine, an online post: These and others are useful vehicles to mediate the good news, but the most powerful agent of all is you! The person who carries the Word, stimulating faith in others as they live it in public, is the best vehicle of all. “How beautiful are the feet of those,” say Paul and Isaiah.
Finally, disciples as witnesses grow faith in others and spread the grace and truth of the Word in the process. It is an ongoing loop of Word to faith, and faith to Word, and it needs you and me to endure.
But this raises a final concern. The greatest challenge of our time is not if Christians will share the story but if they know it in the first place. Can we give what we don’t have? If we do not know the life-giving Word, how healthy is our faith? Biblical illiteracy is an urgent concern for the church because it results in anemic faith. This kind of faith can’t reproduce itself because it has lost its right yoke to the grace and truth of God’s Word.
The challenge is before us. We need not be scholars to know and love the Word of truth and its Author, our Savior. We need not be theologians to live and share this story, His story of creation and redemption in Jesus. Nevertheless, the risks are clear: Faith that is not grounded in the Word of God will be not only barren but also easily subverted and overwhelmed by the world and its affections.
I believe that the Church of God is up to the challenge, but think about it while you finish reading “Scripture Alone” and wait for the “Faith Alone” issue. While not everyone who hears the Word will respond to it in faith (Hebrews 4:2) it’s critical for the sharp, powerful Word of God to be understood, experienced, and proclaimed clearly for those who will (Hebrews 4:12, 13). This is our health in Christ: a faith in God ordered by and rebounding to the Word of God.
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
May this praise for a lived and shared Word and faith be true of us also!
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.