The Apostle Paul wrote to an early New Testament Church these inspired words,
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”Colossians 2:8
The Apostle was concerned that this beloved Church’s mind would be shaped and molded by ideas and texts beyond God’s Word. He warned the Church against blindly following philosophical speculation and human tradition if they in any way contradicted or usurped the Word of God. In providing this pastoral guidance Paul distinguished between two contradictory methods for developing wisdom and knowledge. On the one hand is a God-centered approach, what we might call a theonomous approach. This approach is bound by God’s Word and seeks counsel from Scripture for all decisions in faith and life. Under this approach, God’s Word becomes the filter for all ideas in order to determine their truth and validity.
When referencing ‘philosophy’ and ‘human tradition,’ in the above quoted verse, Paul is describing another approach to seeking wisdom, what we might call an autonomous approach. When men behave or think autonomously, they are acting as one detached from God’s revelation, all alone, like a lost buoy bobbing on a vast sea, directionless, and anchorless. Relying on their own minds they grasp at knowledge and make bold declarations of truth, but having no fixed foundation for reality to stand upon, nor direction to aim towards, their ideas are never more than passing fads at best or wild speculation at worst. According to Paul, this kind of godless philosophy is nothing more than empty deceit.
When we speak of Scripture’s sufficiency, we are stating the belief that all things that are necessary for humanity to know, in order to honor God, obey his commands, and live by godly wisdom, are found within the pages of Scripture. Over the centuries this doctrine has been radically challenged by a wide array of opponents. The Roman Catholic Church rejected Biblical Sufficiency in their belief that the true interpretation of the Scriptures can only be provided by the Catholic Magisterium. In other words, it was the leadership of the Church that had the final word, not the text itself. This false belief has led the Catholic Church into any number of ostentatious errors over the centuries. Against this false belief, the great Reformers of the 16th and 17th centuries held to the battle cry sola scripture, a Latin phrase which means Scripture alone. In other words, we do not rely on Scripture and tradition but rather we permit Scripture to be its own interpreter and submit all attempts at interpretation to God’s Word. This does not mean that there are not legitimate authorities outside of the Bible to which we can appeal in this world: pastors, theologians, creeds, etc. However these authorities only find their legitimacy as they are submitted to the ultimate authority of God’s Word.
The Church of the 21st century once again must determine if they will hold to the historic doctrine of Biblical Sufficiency. What we refer to as the West, in general are those nations that were largely built upon Christian presuppositions. This is not to say every country in the west lived out the Christian societal ideal without difficulty or error, but it is to say that many of the societal norms and expectations of modern Western culture are gifts bequeathed to us by our Christians forebearers who shaped society from the Bible up. Where did the notion of the nuclear family originate? Where did the notion that a society ought to care for their elderly and vulnerable originate? Where did a justice system that believes in innocence until proven guilty originate? Where did the desire to educate every child originate? Where did human rights and the belief that a king or governmental leader is not above the law originate? These ideas, and many more like them, are so deeply embedded in the Western psyche that most of the population simply takes them for granted, assuming the false notion that all people have always believed these principles to be true. But this could not be further from the historic truth. The ideas that have shaped the West for centuries, are fruit that arose only from Biblical soil
Today’s Church is living in an increasingly post-Christian world. Much of the tension we feel over cultural questions is a result of this rapid adjustment of culture. Many Christians feel disoriented, attempting to navigate the everchanging moral landscape. Increasingly, a felt pressure has been placed on the Church to submit their Bibles to external ideologies such as Scientism, Marxism, Radical Feminism, Transgenderism, Post-Modernism, Progressivism, etc. In an effort to play nicely and not disrupt the cultural status quo, many Christians often unintentionally have borrowed ideas from the various ism’s above and read them into the Scriptures. This is precisely what Paul warned the Church against when he said, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
The opportunity is before us to demonstrate the fruit of a true Biblical worldview. As we watch, our culture is beginning to bear the toxic fruit that is being produced by their new Bible-less cultural soil. Inevitably, the ism’s of our cultural moment will rise and fall, many of them with a cost of immeasurable tragedy. But here in this moment of ours, we have a blessed opportunity to return to the battle cries of the Reformers before us who truly believed in Scripture alone. We must filter every idea, no matter how neutral or positive it may sound at first, through the grid of Scripture, and permit the Scriptures to once again be our sole authority to which all other lesser authorities must submit. We must do this work relentlessly and unapologetically, as if eternity depended on it, because for many it does.