–November of 2009
“Back to the Bible”
In the June 21, 1900 issue of The Revivalist Martin Wells Knapp laid out his case for starting a new Training School for Christian workers. The heart and soul of his argument was the need for a school devoted solely to the study of God’s Word. Knapp decried the “deplorable ignorance” of most Christians (including ministers) of the Bible. Knapp went on to say that in this new school the Word of God, “will be honored as the great Mississippi River of research and spiritual culture, into which all others (academic studies) are but tributary streams . . .” The school’s motto, Back to the Bible, was prominently displayed on every brochure and building alike. It became the central focus of education on the Hilltop.
Knapp was not the first one to make this appeal. Erasmus, the great Renaissance scholar and reformer, lifted the cry “ad fontes – back to the sources.” Erasmus wanted the pure Word of God unencumbered by the abuses of a wayward Church. Other reformers, like Martin Luther, sought to untangle the Church from unscriptural traditions so that it might once again rest on “sola scriptura – scripture alone”. These are but two examples of the many who have called the Church back to the Bible in areas of faith and practice.
The Church has always had a tendency to collect extra baggage along the way like a boat collects barnacles on its underbelly. This is not the result of evil intent but the result of good people zealously trying to live out their walk with God and guard the faith for future generations. It happens when, out of a proper concern for truth and sound doctrine, good people become unable to distinguish between matters of primary importance from matters of secondary importance. Nevertheless, the end result can be a church that has replaced the authority of God’s Word with the deadening weight of traditionalism or worse just trivia.
On the other hand, there is another ditch the church has fallen into that is quite the opposite of the one described above. It is the work of misguided zealots who seek to cleanse the church of all forms of tradition, regulation and application of scripture. Their dislike for “the traditions of men” and appeals to “grace alone” can actually create an environment of disdain for scriptural authority and end up yielding chaos, ambiguity and a state of “every man doing what is right in his own eyes.”
Neither extreme promotes spiritual health or progress. The answer for both lies in Knapp’s motto, “Back to the Bible.” In my next article I will explain what that entails.