There have been brief conversations in all our lives that have resulted in the most life-changing consequences. Conversations in the Bible are typical of such chats. Eve and the serpent, Jehovah telling Abraham to leave Ur, Joseph’s brothers deciding to sell him into slavery in Egypt, Jesus speaking to the woman of Samaria at the well of Sychar, the Lord engaging Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Did any of them last more than five minutes? Yet their consequences were life-changing. I want to tell you about a conversation that changed my life.
Two books to make me think
The first significant one took place in my last year of school, 1958. I was waiting to leave Lewis School for Boys in Pengam to attend Cardiff University. A boy in school called John who lived 100 yards away from me and attended an Anglican church talked to me one afternoon. ‘Do you know that when you get to uni you will meet two Christian organisations? One is called the Student Christian Movement and the other is called the Inter Varsity Fellowship.’ ‘Why then are there two?’ I asked. ‘I have a couple of books that will explain the difference,’ he said, and John proceeded to loan me Fundamentalism and the Church of God (Gabriel Hebert, 1957, SCM) and Fundamentalism and the Word of God written by (J.I. Packer, 1958, IVP). John told me of the order of their publication and so I read first Hebert’s book, quite carefully. He argued that men in the church wrote the Scriptures, and church councils decided what books should be included in the canon of Scripture, and so the church was the ultimate authority in telling us what to believe or disbelieve. It seemed to make sense. Then I proceeded to read the 190 pages of Packer’s book. I had never attended a church where the preacher explained Christian doctrine and warned of error. This was the first book I had read which did that, and I found it gripping reading.
One book I can fully trust
When a Council held in Rome in 382 gave a complete list of the canonical books of the Bible it was not that the chairman Damasius said one afternoon to the men present, ‘Right, gentlemen, let’s decide what books we’ll make scriptural. How many of you vote for Matthew? 98%. Good. We’ll put in Matthew, and Mark? 99%. Great. And Luke, almost 100%, Terrific! And John? 100% again! Attaboy!’ It was nothing like that at all. This gathering, 300 years after Scripture had been written, did not give authority to what the apostles had written. Those men simply recognised the Holy Spirit’s influence in what had been recorded by the men Jesus had called to this office, to whom he had given the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth as they wrote the gospels and epistles, Acts and Revelation. In his book Packer concluded that:
Scripture has complete and final authority over the Church as a self-contained and self-interpreting revelation from God. Hebert does not mention Christ’s teaching on biblical authority at all. But this is what Evangelicals are concerned above all to maintain. What Scripture says, God says; and what God says in Scripture is to be the rule of faith and life in His Church.
Packer gave me the Bible as a book I could trust wholeheartedly. This kept me in the three years I studied Biblical Studies in Cardiff University where I was taught a very different view of Scripture as ‘containing’ the word of God but not being in its entirety the Word of God. Those lecturers had no code that could tell anyone what bits were divine and what were not, except a person’s own feelings. It was in my first year in Cardiff that the Christian Union invited Packer across from Bristol to speak for us and his text was Romans 5:1: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ That peace is still daily strengthened by the message of the whole Bible.
Next in this series: A gift from a girl in college »