“What is it that the Church can decide that has not already been decided by the Scriptures? (Dr. Martin Luther, Sämmtliche Schriften, St. L. XVIII, 1678).” This was the question Luther put to the heretic Erasmus over the debate for the authority of Scripture. In other words, it is as if he asked, “What is it that man can decide that has not already been decided by the Scriptures?”
The answer to the above questions is most certainly nothing. When it comes to doctrine, what the Church believes, teaches and confesses, there is nothing that can be voted on. We are the clay and as such are subject to the formation of the Potter. Think about the first one to question the authority of Scripture: Who first thought that it was not enough to have God’s Word stand alone? Who first thought to displace God’s word from being the judge of all things said, believed, taught, preached, sung and confessed? Who first switched the order and subjected doctrine to the opinion of man? It was the devil who put the suggestion in the mind of Eve and of Adam.
It is the devil who works with the sinful Adam. Among us, devils fill the earth and they are anything but silent. They come forth in tongues of deceit and voices of enthusiasm, “Did God really say anything against that.” Then it begins. The weeds are sown among the good seeds. Treachery comes not from outside of us but is born from our inmost being (Matt. 15:19; James 1:13-15). Our emotions grip us, our hearts lead us, and our sinfulness takes over. We replace the truth of God’s Word for our feelings, lies, and sin. Then we are like a reed shaken in the wind. When individuals or congregations embrace religious enthusiasm they fall for everything and stand for nothing.
From the fall of man to the papists to the Protestant revivalists, the battleground has always been, “what did God really say?” Religious Enthusiasm focuses heavily on the subjective notions of man as if any one man or men have been endowed with a spiritual passion of God, which determines what truth is or could be. This type of enthusiasm doesn’t take God’s Word as it stands but offers itself as the interpreter based on emotions, which the believer feels comes from the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah 29:16 says, “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
When we begin to vote on doctrine, practice open communion, remain silent on sins like divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and even join other religions because it feels right we are essentially saying, “God has no understanding.” This is not a new issue facing the Church and Christians. As briefly pointed out in the introduction Luther too faced much opposition to the authority of Scripture being the sole rule and norm. The devil works to encourage the old Adam to rear its ugly head in the way of good things. As Luther went up against the pope his hope was that Scripture would return to its rightful place as its own judge, interpreter, rule, and proclaimer of the Gospel. Yet, why is there not one united Church, but many different denominations all believing different doctrines?
The word of God does not cause division in the Church. It is our sinful Adam who divides and splinters the unity in confession by desiring ungodly fellowship and/or ungodly practices. It is easy to point fingers at the pope as he is robed and paraded around as the supreme pontiff, demanding to be heard, reverenced, and respected by all because he is believed to be the successor of St. Peter.
It is more difficult to look in the mirror. No fancy clothes, but your sinful Adam has either now or in the past been elevated as the supreme pontiff and author of what is right and true. As a pastor, I find this most typically through the voice of enthusiasm. We have turned things upside down. Ignored the clarity of Scripture. Replaced the certainty of the Gospel for a feeling inside that one can neither explain nor defend.
Why can it not be defended? Because it comes from the Spirit? No, Quakers and other enthusiasts believe such nonsense. Because it’s a movement of faith from the inner soul? No, not that either. As Luther says, “God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit- without the Word and Sacraments – is the devil himself (SA Part III, Article VIII, 10).” Because it’s what you believe a loving God would want? That cannot be right either, for there is only one LORD and one God, who has revealed himself in plain words that even a child can understand. “’I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:2-3).”
There is no other explanation than sin. God does not arm us with our own beliefs based on emotions. He does not exult our wisdom and knowledge to be above His. He most certainly does not give us clear words of Scripture so that they can be muddled and reduced to what are grains of sand in the ocean. His Word is the ocean. His Word brings to us a confidence that cannot be found elsewhere because His Word is the only thing that is sure and true. God’s Word is not like ours, it gives to us life, brings us forgiveness for our arrogance and many sins, it clearly gives to us what Jesus Christ has won on the cross. God’s word is the proclamation of truth delivered to us by the Spirit of the Living God. It is the unmistakable voice that preaches the Lamb of God who died for our sins, suffered the punishment of death on our behalf and was raised on the third day for our justification.
Therefore, when God through His clear word silences the voice of enthusiasm that has been inherited from the Old Adam, He is also silencing the voice of the devil. He is silencing doubts, ambiguity, uncertainty and false hope. That may not feel very good or right. But in order that you may hear His word, He must silence your sinful passions and the spirit of the antichrist, which would exalt anything above God and His clear Word taking the honor away from Christ (2 Thes 2:3,4; 1 John 4:3). His desire is for you to listen to His words of promise. Those words do not focus on your inward desires, but on the external mercy He has had on you. It’s plain and simple. “27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand (John 10:27). This may feel truly great and wonderful causing the heart to be overjoyed, but God’s Word is not true because our hearts rejoice. Rather, our hearts rejoice because God’s Word is true. The sheep follow because they only hear the voice of their Good Shepherd; it is not their inner voice, their own inner feelings, their own opinions, or their own sinful thoughts. It is just one voice that calls them by name. This is the work of the Holy Spirit who calls them by the Gospel, enlightens them with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps them in the true faith. I am speaking of you.
God has given to us Holy Scripture so pure and certain that it goes beyond our emotions so that, whether we feel happy or sad, alone or together, safe or in danger, God’s promises will stand. Enthusiasm is not sent from God; your passions, desires, and feelings do nothing to save you. Honestly, most of the time they seek to manipulate the truth and to lead us astray. Sometimes, even causing us to despair over God himself. The Lord’s external preached Word does not manipulate, but converts the sinful heart and brings us back to the waters of regeneration in Holy Baptism. His word drowns the sinful Adam with all its boastful pride and brings forth the spirit of humility. It does not leave us wondering whether or not God loves us, instead, it proclaims the greatness of His compassion in sending Christ to die for us. It does not open itself up for interpretation but instead declares both the Law to kill our sinfulness and the Gospel which is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the sinner. Here there can be true joy which is not fabricated or used for interpretation, but as a response to what God has caused you to realize by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I recognize that this is counter-cultural. It flies in the face of the world that tells us to dig down deep inside to find out the truth of who we are or who we were made to be. All that has been written above comes across as foolishness to this world, though it is the one truth. It is a fact that God does not point us inside ourselves for truth. Rather, he sets our eyes outside ourselves for truth by leading us to hear, read, mark and learn the Truth as He has spoken it. He has shown that Scripture is the sole authority for anything. What Scripture has decided is not then opened for man’s mutilation. What we then speak, believe, teach, preach, sing and confess should be unmistakably that same Word of God. In all things, letting Scripture plainly speak on what God has declared is truth.