The Bible does not give specific or detailed guidance on every moral and spiritual dilemma and issue. If it did, instead of having one book we can carry with us, we would have a library of volumes that we could never read in a lifetime. This is why the God’s Word gives general principles and guidelines for us to apply to our specific situations. The Westminster Confession (and the Baptist Confession of 1689) summarizes the Bible’s teaching about itself:
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture (WCF 1.6).
What this means is that while we may not find a specific verse about our specific problem or need, we will always find a principle or guideline, which we can apply to our situation. However, rigorous thought and prayer are necessary. We must not just sit around waiting for a voice or a vision. We must read Scripture prayerfully, seek the relevant principles, and by “good and necessary consequence,” not by leaps of logic and irrationality, apply them to our situation.
For example, take the question “Whom shall I marry?” The Bible does not tell any of us the specific answer to this. There are general principles for the Christian to follow. It must be “only in the Lord.” Christian patience must be exercised. Your husband or wife should be willing to accept the roles and responsibilities that Scripture outlines. By “good and necessary consequence,” by prayerful reasoning with these principles you can find the answer.
What about the Church? There is much the Bible explicitly tells us about order in the Church. There is much we can work out or deduce by prayerfully reasoning with biblical principles. However, there are some things that God has not said anything about in His Word, either explicitly or implicitly. For example, the Bible does not give us plans for building churches. It does not tell us how many services to have, when to have them, or how long they should be. It does not tell us how many times we should sing, pray, or read from the Bible. The Westminster Confession (and the Baptist Confession of 1689) puts it like this:
There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed (WCF 1.6).
We decide these things using sanctified common sense, always acting under the general rules of the Word (1 Cor. 14:40).
It is in this latter area that I believe some sincere believers are going wrong. Over-reacting to attacks on the sufficiency of Scripture, they are going to an unbiblical extreme sufficiency position, claiming for the Bible what it does not claim for itself, and thereby denying themselves many of God’s riches. The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that we should shun every non-biblical source of knowledge or wisdom, not even in some areas of worship and church government. John Piper works this out in his article Thoughts on the Sufficiency of Scripture:
The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scripture is all we need to live obediently. To be obedient in the sciences we need to read science and study nature. To be obedient in economics we need to read economics and observe the world of business. To be obedient in sports we need to know the rules of the game. To be obedient in marriage we need to know the personality of our spouse. To be obedient as a pilot we need to know how to fly a plane. In other words, the Bible does not tell us all we need to know in order to be obedient stewards of this world.
The sufficiency of Scripture means we don’t need any more special revelation. We don’t need any more inspired, inerrant words. In the Bible God has given us, we have the perfect standard for judging all other knowledge. All other knowledge stands under the judgment of the Bible.
John Calvin used the illustration of spectacles to explain this (Institutes 1.6.1). He said that the Bible is not only what we read, but what we read with. We use its pages as spectacles to view and read the world and the knowledge God has distributed throughout it. He developed this further in Book 2 of the Institutes:
The human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. . . . We will be careful. . . not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears (Institutes 2.2.15).
If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole foundation of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? . . . No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. But if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths (Institutes 2.2.15-16).
Regarding salvation, it is expressly set down in Scripture. Regarding sanctification, it is expressly set down or may be deduced from Scripture. Regarding knowledge in this world, it must be checked by Scripture, or read through the lens of Scripture. It is in these senses we have “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).
For example, the Bible has some explicit instruction on eating and some principles that we can deduce. But the Bible does not tell us all we need to know about eating. So we learn from nutritionists (even non-Christian, evolutionary nutritionists) about how to eat in ways that will improve our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual well-being. We read this knowledge through the lens of the Bible. The Bible is sufficient to keep us from falling into error as we read this world.
Same goes for time-management. We are given some principles in the Bible about time, some of which are explicit and some of which are deduced. But we can be greatly helped to redeem the time by reading modern books on time-management and organization. Again, never leaving our spectacles off, but rather reading and checking this knowledge with the Bible.
The same goes for counseling. Some problems are, of course, entirely spiritual in nature and can only be solved by the Bible. But often the problems we face in counseling are such a mixture of the spiritual, the mental, the relational, the social, the financial, and the physical. In some cases the Scriptures will be explicit. In others we can deduce helpful principles. But in some areas we need to use our Bible as spectacles to read and learn from the knowledge God has distributed and deposited in the world.
The Bible is like a map. It tells us where we have come from, where we are, where to go, and all the essential markers to get us there. But there are details along the way, which we may read through the lens of Scripture to benefit us on our journey, as long as we do not leave the Scriptural path.
Picture: 2007 © Michale Flippo. Image from BigStockPhoto.com