Ask Steve: Theological Controversies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is the Bible’s authority on theological controversies?

Answer: Theological differences arise from different readings and interpretation of Scripture. Theological controversies also happen when the traditions of men and human reasoning are placed on equal or higher authority than the Bible. As I explained in the previous questions, the Bible clearly states that it alone is authoritative and infallible in a person’s life. Thus, it must be the final arbiter in all theological and doctrinal disputes.

Theological systems define what churches and denominations believe about topics of the Bible or what is the dominant framework of the Bible (e.g. Covenantal Theology, Dispensational Theology). However, theological systems can never be on par with the authority of Scripture. Unlike the Bible, theological systems and doctrinal statements are not inerrant and infallible. The Word of God is the only authority over the church and the world, therefore it needs to be the standard to which every theological controversy and difference is measured against. Jude 1:3 points to the importance of contending earnestly for the faith and standing up for the truth when false teachers attack the sufficiency and purity of Scripture. Theological errors and controversies are to be clarified using the words of Scripture alone, which provide the answers to theological controversies that may have arise because of fallen reasoning, human wisdom, or sinful personal motives.

Because God is sovereign and authoritative over the world (Rev 4:11; Ps 22:28), He is the ultimate Judge, and His verdict is supremely binding (Ps 119:89; Jn 10:35). Because the Bible is God’s Word, the Bible is supreme and binding against all other authorities. All proper formulation of doctrines and theological systems must be derived from Scripture and not from personal opinion, subjective feelings, humanistic theories, competing world religions, or cultural traditions. To go against Scripture in such manner would be to compromise the faith and could cease to be Christian. A proper understanding of Scripture can be reached through grammatical-historical hermeneutics, which is a timelessly tested way to read Scripture and decipher its God-intended meaning. Some false theological systems and controversies arise when one reads Scripture using poor hermeneutics or misreads with an impure motive.

However, 2 Timothy 2:24 instructs Christians to “not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition…” The end goal is not to win a debate or display prideful knowledge over another, but to tell the truth in love, and keep the spirit of fellowship. There are times when theological disputes will be over peripheral issues and not over central beliefs of the Christian faith. In such cases, discernment is advisable so as to keep unity within the church. But when opportunity allows for doctrinal refinement in peripheral issues like modes of baptism or rapture theories, then Scripture must be the arbiter to test, define, and formulate the beliefs and practices of the church.