God’s authorship of Scripture implies not only the absolute truthfulness of Scripture but also the authority of Scripture. Scripture is authoritative over all areas of our lives. Friendship’s statement of faith confesses of Scripture: “It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” These statements mean that Scripture is the authoritative standard for how God will judge us. It also is the standard by which we are united to fellow believers in a local church, and it should be the standard by which we evaluate all truth claims that we encounter.
Scripture: The Standard for God’s Judgment
Scripture reveals God’s righteousness. God judges people according to the standard of his perfect righteousness. One Bible passage that teaches this is Psalm 98:7-9,
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together,
before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
Scripture reveals God’s righteousness. It teaches us that God will judge with righteousness, as in Psalm 98 (cf. also Pss 9:8; 72:2; 96:13). As Paul reminds us in the New Testament, “God shows no partiality” (Rom 2:11). God will judge all people perfectly fairly, and Scripture shows us the perfect righteousness of God by which he will judge the world.
Scripture also presents God’s commands for us, according to which we will be judged. In Romans 2:6-8, Paul teaches, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” The New Testament repeatedly instructs us that God will judge all people according to their works (2 Tim 4:14; 1 Pet 1:17; Rev 2:23; 20:12, 13). Scripture is the standard for righteousness. God’s law is in Scripture. Scripture is the standard, then, for God’s judgment.
Scripture: The Standard of Christian Unity
Scripture is also the standard for Christians’ unity within a local church. For Christians to have fellowship with one another in a local church as fellow church members, they must have a common understanding of how Scripture defines the church. Friendship Baptist Church gladly confesses with our fellow Southern Baptists that Scripture has clear standards for church membership and church governance, which our church strives to maintain.
Scripture puts two basic requirements on people for church membership: repentant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 3:10; 1 Tim 3:15) and baptism as a public profession of that faith (Acts 8:12; 16:14-15, 30-34, 40; 18:8).
The New Testament also teaches that each local church is autonomous under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 8:1-5; Rev 2-3). Each church democratically determines its doctrine (Rev 2:6, 14-15, 20), membership (1 Cor 5:1-2, 4-5, 7, 12-13), and leadership (1 Tim 5:19-20).
(Future blog posts on Article VI of Friendship’s statement of faith will defend the above biblical definitions of church membership and governance.)
Scripture: The Standard of Our Judgments
If John 3:16 was the most widely-known Bible verse in 20th century America, then Matthew 7:1 may be the most widely-known Bible verse in 21st century America: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” People devoted to religious pluralism latch onto that verse more than any other in the Bible, often in order to combat a Christian’s obedience to the Bible (e.g., in evangelism or confrontation of sin). But as Friendship’s statement of faith affirms from the outset, Matthew 7:1 does not forbid all human judgments. Rather, our human judgments should be based on Scripture, which is the “supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”
The subsequent context of Matthew 7:1 is vital for not misapplying that verse. Multiple Christian thinkers rightly remind us: “a text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.” And the context of Matthew 7:1 shows that Jesus was not prohibiting all judgments but a particular kind of judgment. Matthew 7:1 was but the introductory sentence of a full paragraph that runs through Matthew 7:5.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Jesus was warning his disciples not to be too severe (v. 2) or hypocritical (vv. 3-5) in their judgments of others. Certainly Jesus’ statement did not mean that Christians should expose sin. Rather, Jesus’ statement was telling Christians to expose sin in a certain way: lovingly, and only after they have examined their own hearts for the very same sin. In fact, the commitment of Article I to judge everything according to the standard of Scripture is obedient to Jesus’ command, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
As Friendship’s statement of faith reminds us, we should judge “all human conduct” by the standards of Scripture. We should evaluate behaviors by Scripture’s teachings. We should apply timeless Scripture to time-bound cultural practices of 21st century America.
We should also judge “all human … creeds” according to Scripture. We should evaluate everything we believe about God, salvation, humanity, the world, etc., according to Scripture. Whenever we find a contradiction between our beliefs and Scripture’s clear teaching, we must submit to Scripture. Creeds and doctrinal statements are good, but they (even the Baptist Faith and Message!) must be measured against the ultimate standard of Scripture.
Finally, we should judge “all human … religious opinions” according to Scripture. Certainly, if we evaluate Christian beliefs against Scripture, we should certainly critically appraise non-Christian religious beliefs against Scripture! When another religious system confronts us and seeks to entice us, we must reject its claims on the basis of God’s holy word, the Bible. We should seek to share the true gospel with the other religion’s adherent with whom we are speaking.
The Bible’s authority is the ultimate standard, not only of God’s judgment of us, but also our unity as a church and our own judgments of all things in life. Based on truly biblical principles, the Baptist Faith and Message helpfully articulates our belief as Southern Baptists that we ought to conform every aspect of our life to the standards of Scripture.