BY JERE D. PATZER
few years ago I had the privilege of preaching a major series of meetings in a part of the world where not too many years ago there were headhunters. Then missionaries arrived, and Bible societies were established. Now many are Seventh-day Adventists because of the power of the Bible.
Coming out of that country is a great story that speaks to the power of the Scriptures to unite God's people in truth and practice. It seems that one day a U.S. soldier came upon an old chief seated by his mud hut reading the Bible. The soldier asked him what he was reading. Holding up his Bible, the man replied, "I'm reading God's book."
"Aren't you a bit out of date?" the soldier scoffed. "Back in my country we've found the Bible to be irrelevant; it's just a book of fables."
The chief paused thoughtfully and then replied, "Maybe you don't believe in the Book in your country. But this Book made me a good man. Before this Book came to my country, I'd have eaten you; the Book changed me. Tell me, soldier, do you want me to throw away this Book and eat you?"
The soldier waved goodbye to the old man and muttered, "Keep your Book, and keep reading it."
That Book in Your Hands
There's power in this Book, not only to change a headhunter into a saint of God but also to meet the needs of your life and mine. Let's take a look at this Book, or should I say this library. You see, the Bible is really 66 books written at different times by different authors over a period of 1,600 years. Forty-six people wrote these books, and yet there is complete unity. This agreement can be explained only by the fact that they had a common source of inspiration. More than 2,500 times in the Bible we find such expressions as "thus saith the Lord," or "God said," or "the words of the Lord, which he spake by the prophet." Peter wrote, "No prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21, NRSV).
According to 2 Timothy 3:16, the Bible is inspired. Does that mean the Apocrypha too? Let's look at a sample from the Apocrypha: "And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead. . . . It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins" (2 Maccabees 12:43-46). These texts are to support the doctrine of purgatory and praying for the dead, beliefs inconsistent with the testimony of the official canon of Scripture.
None of the prophets quoted from the Apocrypha, and Christ totally ignored these spurious writings. Notice this statement by Frederic G. Kenyon: "It is noticeable that while there are many quotations in the New Testament from each group of books in the Old there is not a single direct quotation from the Apocrypha."
Ellen White wrote concerning the supremacy of the Scriptures: "He who has a knowledge of God and His word through personal experience" "does not test the Bible by men's ideas of science; he brings these ideas to the test of the unerring standard. . . . There can be nothing contrary to the teaching of the word; since both have the same author" (The Ministry of Healing, p. 462).
Thankfully, our church has rejected what is referred to in religious parlance as modernism (evolutionary theory along with a biblical perspective shaped by higher criticism) and thus has saved itself from disaster. The temptation to embrace pluralism (the acceptance of multiple and contradictory interpretations of Scripture) for the sake of apparent unity in the body is misleading. In the end it leads to significant disagreement and ultimate disunity. The prophet Amos asked, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3).
Averting a Crisis
Bradley J. Longfield, in his award-winning book The Presbyterian Controversy, writes about the fact that, in general, mainstream churches in America (and, we would add, elsewhere around the world) are facing a crisis. The Presbyterian Church, representative of many denominations, lost 1.2 million members during a recent 21-year period. Longfield points out that while adherence to doctrinal pluralism has maintained institutional unity, it has left the churches "devoid of a clear theological voice."
Notice Paul's words: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16).
How did so many Christians--even conservative ones--get to the point that they place the authority of modern science or archaeology over the biblical record?
Let me tell you about my friend Pastor Neil Watts. In 1999, as president of the Western Pacific Union Mission (now part of the Trans Pacific Union Mission) of Seventh-day Adventists, headquartered in the Solomon Islands, he was a passenger on a small commuter plane when it crashed into the ocean. Seven people died. Six survived the crash. The survivors were many miles from shore, but eventually they saw the lights of Port-Vila.
1. How has your life been changed or enriched by reading the Bible? How has the Bible been your guide through difficult times?
2. What is your favorite way to read the Bible? What is your favorite version of the Bible?
3. Are there dangers in reading the Bible only to prove a point? What are they? What should always be our primary focus in studying the Bible?
Sharing his experience, Watts said, "I was close to exhaustion. I figured I would probably die, and wondered what it would be like. I thought that others in the group might also not make it and that they could die without knowing Christ. I'm sure the Lord prompted me, and I reminded them of some of the wonderful promises of Jesus that tell us that no matter what happens to us, if we believe and trust in Him, we can have the assurance of eternal life.
"Only one man had a life jacket, and it had a light on it. Six of us decided to keep together. We focused on that light and kept saying to one another, 'Don't drift apart, keep together, and keep close to the light.'" After approximately six hours in the water they miraculously arrived safely on shore.
That's the key. Staying together and focusing on the Light. Yes, there are those who advocate a lessening of the authority of Scripture. Feeling that the apparent contradictions between science or other disciplines and the Bible are irreconcilable, they choose apparent truth over the eternal truth of Scripture. Our essential faith is grounded on our belief in Christ--the Word made flesh--and on the Scripture as the inspired record of what He's done for us.
A Central Focus
The writer of Hebrews stated: "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors. . . . By faith, we see the world called into existence by God's word, what we see created by what we don't see" (Heb. 11:1-3, Message).
The Bible is more than just an authentic history book. It is more than a book about our origins. It is more than an archaeological record. The central focus of the book is the account of what happened on the old rugged cross 2,000 years ago. Of all the holy books of the major world religions, the Bible is the only one that states, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Perhaps the greatest evidence of the Bible's authority is its power to change lives. That power is wrapped up in one person, Jesus, who loves us so much that He died for your sins and mine.
That's what the Bible is all about. It all points to Jesus, who said, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39, NKJV).
The Light Still Shines
Down through the ages every effort that humans or demons could invent was used to malign, pervert, or destroy the Bible's testimony. As late as the 1860s Pope Pius IX wrote in his encyclical Quanta Cura: "Socialism, communism, clandestine societies, Bible societies. . . . pests of this sort must be destroyed by all possible means" (in The Great Controversy, p. 688).
Still there were those who dared by faith to believe the Bible to be the supreme Word of God despite being hunted, betrayed, tortured, left to rot in dungeon cells, forced to flee to mountain fortresses, or martyred for their faith. These faithful people continued to believe, protect, and share God's holy Word. They were kept together through the Word. The same Word can and will keep God's remnant people united to the end in proclaiming His message to a perishing world.
Jere D. Patzer is president of the North Pacific Union Conference in the North American Division.