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Does evangelical emphasis on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible strengthen or diminish the authority of Christ and the Bible? 

By Joseph Bayly, 1968.

If there’s been one doctrine strongly taught and defended by evangelicals during the past several decades, it’s the inspiration of the Scriptures. Among many, perhaps most, who taught the doctrine, verbal inerrancy of the original manuscripts has been upheld.

Now with all this emphasis on inspiration and inerrancy, you’d think that young people who have grown up in an evangelical milieu would be firmly grounded in the Bible’s authority.

They’re not. In my experience, at least, I don’t usually find the reflex, “The Bible says it and so it must be true,” among young men and women.

The reaction of a student in a Christian college, from an evangelical background, on being reminded that the Bible forbids premarital intercourse, is rather typical of the attitude I’ve found. “Maybe the Bible says it, but if it does, that isn’t what it means.”

The element of doubt about what the Bible teaches in areas of less emotional involvement is also significantly high among our evangelical teens and students. Does God have purpose in human suffering? Is God powerful enough to act today? Will Christ return to this earth? For a large number of evangelical young men and women, such questions are not settled by what the Bible says.

If my impressions are correct, we are in danger, period, since it is questionable whether morality and ethics—even faith (Rom. 10:17)—can stand, apart from the support of accepted biblical authority.

How do we explain this weak attitude toward the Bible’s authority? Have we unwittingly undermined confidence in the Bible?

I think we have got things out of the right order, at least as far as ordinary Christians—especially the young—are concerned. We have stressed the Bible’s inspiration and assumed that authority would take care of itself. But it hasn’t.

Theologians may conclude that inspiration is the ground of authority, and therefore must come first. And they are probably right in a theological context.

J. Gresham Machen once said that theology begins with the doctrine of inspiration, while apologetics ends with it. I suspect, if this is so, that we have made the mistake of treating our young as theologians rather than as potential converts or young Christians.

I believe that the debate about biblical inerrancy during recent decades has had the unfortunate result of weakening the Bible’s authority in the minds of the young. The possibility or impossibility of infinitesimal error has tended to obscure the great, overarching areas about which there is no question.

By arguing about whether there is dust on the piano, or whether the kitchen floor is completely clean, a husband will lower his children’s overall impression of their mother’s faithful loving service and diminish her authority in their eyes. When they are older, the children may see things in true perspective; then they are likely to blame the picayune, judgmental father. But meanwhile the harm has been done.

So it may be with the authority of the Scriptures in the eyes of the young. We argue about whether 3,000 or 30,000 soldiers fought in a battle and we lose a greater battle.

Children, teens, and students need to be brought into Christ’s kingdom by faith, by their own personally exercised choice. From a human standpoint, they need examples, adults who say and live the principle, “I believe the Bible.” And I think this is the really important thing to communicate to the young—complete submission to the Bible’s authority—rather than, “I believe in the inspiration of the Bible.”

I know that full conviction of the Bible’s authority over all of life comes through the Holy Spirit’s work. But it is often, perhaps usually communicated through the Christian community.

Perhaps this low view of Scripture’s authority is related to a low view of Christ’s authority. We may be reaping the results of recent decades when we appealed to young to “receive Christ as Savior,” bypassing His demand of absolute Lordship and doing violence to His Person.

A fresh breath of submission to the authority of Christ and the Scriptures in the Church, and in the lives of Christians—especially the young—could be the catalyst needed to change the world’s drift toward anarchy and nihilism.

And I am not usually a prophet of doom.*

*Note: Have the intervening 42 years proven Bayly right or wrong?

Joseph Bayly, “Out of My Mind,” Eternity, August 1968,  37 . Bayly’s column ran continuously from October 1961 to October 1986.

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Can Our Circular Arguments Deliver Us from Judgment?

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

My favorite spot in Washington, D.C., is the Lincoln Memorial. I like to visit it at night.

One Sunday night last May, I walked the long steps in the warm darkness, and came out into the great open space before that compassionate white stone, the statue of Mr. Lincoln.

Some oddly garbed students, probably left over from the previous day’s demonstration at the Ellipse,* stood silent before the statue.

On the left-hand wall, carved in stone, is the Gettysburg Address. I walked over to read it. I remembered how my second grade teacher didn’t believe me when I said that my grandmother shook hands with President Lincoln after he spoke. But she did; she was a little girl who lived just outside Gettysburg.

Then I walked to the opposite wall and read his Second Inaugural address. The students were there, reading it.

“‘Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe too Him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid with another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Disturbing words. More disturbing than yesterday’s demonstration . . . Is God concerned with nations, or only with individuals? Is the state—the United States—subject to moral law?

Jesus is coming back. The mess our nation is in doesn’t concern us Christians. We’ll escape all judgment.

But what if that isn’t for 200 years?

Look, the Jew is back in Palestine, there are earthquakes all over the place, wars and rumors of wars. It can’t be 200 years.

What if it is? The Bible is pretty clear that God judges the nations.

That’s Old Testament. And Israel was a theocracy, which the United States isn’t.

A lot of Christians treat our nation’s history as if it were. And react as if critics of the government were touching something unholy.

Well, the Apostle Paul in Romans 13 says that “the powers that be are ordained of God.” So we ought to realize we’re not exactly pleasing God when we criticize our government.

Does that “powers that be” include all government?”

Of course.

Russia and China and Poland? Should Christians in those nations accept what their government does as something holy?

No, because it isn’t. It’s atheistic.

Then our government really is a theocracy.

No, but let’s get back to where judgment is found: in the Old Testament. And there God judged his own nation.

He also judged other nations: Syria and Egypt and Babylon, Edom and city states like Sodom and Gomorrah.

But we’re living in the New Testament age, the age of grace.

Do you mean that God’s different today, that He’s gone soft? Will He let the United States get away with things He didn’t let Egypt or Babylon or Sodom and Gomorrah get away with?

I mean that God deals with individuals today, not nations.

So the United States really is above God’s laws. We Christians can relax whatever happens. Amos isn’t profitable to us for doctrine and rebuke. The United States is even better than a theocracy.—But what about Rome? Its downfall was after the New Testament was written. And France. Russia.

Nations fall, even today.

Even the United States?

Let’s go over to the Jefferson Memorial.

It’s closed for repairs. Sinking into the ground. Do you remember Jefferson’s words? “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.”

He wasn’t a Christian.

Joseph Bayly, “Out of My Mind,” Eternity, August 1970,  41-42. Bayly’s column ran continuously from October 1961 to October 1986.

*Thursday, April 30, 1970: President Richard Nixon announces that the “Cambodian Incursion” had been launched by U.S. combat forces.  Monday, May 4: Four young people were killed and nine were wounded by gunfire from the U.S. National Guard during a protest at Kent State University. Friday, May 8, New York City: Hard Hat Riot. Saturday, May 9: The demonstration to which Bayly refers, the Kent State/Cambodia Incursion Protest. Sunday, May 9: Bayly makes his visit to the Lincoln Memorial. Click the following links for an NBC audio report on the May 9 protest and for information on the documentary Street Scenes, which focused on the New York riot on May 8 and the protest on May 9.

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My big brother John and I were great pals. In fact, our whole family was close, including Mom and Dad, my sister, the brother I’m telling you about, and me. We were close in a way that you find few families today.

Breakfast was always a special time. We sat around this round oak table with a red-checked cloth on it. Mom almost always served the same thing: steaming hot oatmeal with brown sugar cooked in it (we piled a lot more on top of it, too), and milk. A big white pitcher full of milk.

We’d talk about what we were going to do that day, and maybe we’d joke some. Not that we had a lot time—we didn’t, but we had enough to talk some before Dad went off to work and us kids went to school.

John and I were two grades apart in school. That was sort of hard on me, because the teachers who had him were always comparing us when I got into their class. And the comparison wasn’t too flattering to me.

Don’t get me wrong. John wasn’t a teacher’s pet or bookworm. He was a regular guy, and the kids all liked him, including the girls. Maybe one guy who was sort of bully didn’t, but everyone else did.

Life went on like that—breakfast of oatmeal and milk, walk to school, classes, walk home, chores, supper, study around the kitchen table—and you never thought about anything else. Except vacation. Vacation was always stuck in your mind.

You know the kind of life, day after day when it’s so great you hope it never ends. Maybe you cry at night sometimes if you ever think of your Mom or Dad dying—you know they will someday. But then you go to sleep, next to John, who’s already sawing wood.

It was Christmas vacation, when I was in sixth grade and John was in eighth, that it all suddenly came to an end. Actually, it was two days after Christmas.

John and I had gone to ice skate on Big Pond. It was a real cold day, cold enough so that your scarf got ice on it from your breath. I put on my skates in a hurry and sailed out to the middle of the pond.

I thought I noticed a slight cracking sound from the ice, but it wasn’t much and I wasn’t worried. It had been pretty cold for about a week. So I showed off some for John, who was still lacing up his skates, sitting on a log, and then I headed for the opposite shore.

John stood up and went real fast right out to the middle, too. Just as he got there, I heard this sickening cracking noise, the ice broke up, and John fell through.

I got a long branch and went out as far as I could on the ice. But I couldn’t see John anywhere. He had just disappeared. I yelled for him, and I went even farther out, but he just wasn’t there.

I must have panicked, because first thing I knew I was running into the house shouting for Mom, crying my eyes out, yelling that John was in the pond. It was awful.

They found his body later that afternoon.

A few days after the funeral, we were sitting at the table, eating breakfast one morning. Nobody was saying anything, but all of us were thinking about that empty chair over against the wall.

You could tell Mom was trying to talk. Finally she just sort of blurted out, “Look, we all miss John, terribly. We loved—love him, and we’ll always miss him. Now I have suggestion to make. Do you remember how he liked oatmeal and milk?”

“Do I!” I said. “I sure do. He used to pile on the brown sugar until—”

“That’s enough. He liked his oatmeal sweet and so do you. What I want to suggest is this. Let’s think about John every time we eat breakfast. Let’s remember him whenever we eat oatmeal and drink milk. Let’s talk about him—”

“Yeah, like the time he and I went swimming in Big Pond and . . .” I know before Dad spoke that I had said something I shouldn’t have. Everyone was sort of choked up.

“Time for school,” he said. “We can continue this later.”

Well, we did. And we agreed with Mom’s suggestion. So each morning, when that big pitcher of cold milk went on the table, and our bowls of steaming oatmeal were set in front of us, we’d talk about John.

It wasn’t sad talk, but happy. Remembering. I don’t mean we never said anything that made us choke up—other people besides me did. But mainly it was happy talk. And we still talked about what we were going to do that day, and even—after awhile—joked some.

One day, some months later, Mom said, “You know, I don’t think what we’re doing is quite respectful enough for John’s memory.”

“Respectful?” I said. “Why it’s fun. Sometimes it’s almost like John is here with us. I like it.”

“So do I,” Mom said. “But I think we’re too casual about it. So I think we ought to set aside a time when we’re not rushed like we are at breakfast. Let’s say Saturday morning. And we’ll remember John in a more fitting place than the kitchen. We’ll sit in the parlor, and we’ll have a special time worthy of John’s memory.”

“Aw, Mom,” I said. “John always liked breakfast in the kitchen. Lots of oatmeal with plenty of brown sugar on it. And milk. Why make a big deal out of it?”

“That’s enough, son,” Dad said. “We’ll do as your Mother says.”

So every Saturday morning, after we had eaten our regular breakfast in the kitchen, we went into the parlor and remembered John.

Mom had gotten some little silver cups for the milk, and some tiny teaspoons for the oatmeal.

Later we only went into the parlor once a month, instead of every week, and now we only do it every three months. It doesn’t seem right to me, but I’ll soon be leaving home so it doesn’t much matter.

I still wish we had never begun that “fitting” remembrance, and had just kept on remembering John every time we ate breakfast.

Joseph Bayly, “Out of My Mind,” Eternity, May 1973,  45-46. Bayly’s column ran from October 1961 to October 1986.

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“A few weeks ago, when we started our classes in psychiatry,” a medical student told me, “the professor said that even if we don’t specialize in the field, we’ll still have an awful lot of people come to us with their problems, wanting help.

“‘But don’t get proud when that happens,’ this professor said. ‘In a previous generation they’d have gone to their minister.’ It’s their loss of confidence in the ministry that makes these people come to the doctor today for counseling.”

If the psychiatrist was correct in his diagnosis (and I believe he was), why have so many people today lost confidence in their ministers? How has the situation changed from earlier years? And can anything be done about it?

Here are some of my suggestions, based upon observation and a brief recent exposure to the problems of the pastorate.

(1) The ministry today is staggering under an ever-increasing weight of organization, meetings, activities. It’s hard for a minister to keep his head above water, let alone do an effective work of preaching and counseling.

Of course, the ministry isn’t the only part of modern life to be confronted with the problems of increasing complexity and organization. But doctors, for example, have resisted pressures that might have removed them from their primary work of healing by turning administration of their hospitals and organization of their business affairs over to professionals trained in these fields rather than in medicine. And it seems to me that the ministry must adopt the same policy, for which New Testament precedent is found in Acts 6:2–7.

Dr. Harold Englund tells of his first meeting with the consistory of a church in Midland, Mich., to which he had just gone as minister.

They had two things to say to the new pastor. “First, we want you to be a good example to the people in our church, and that means you won’t be out every night of the week, away from home. And second, we don’t want you to do anything in the church here that we can do.” Dr. Englund says that the willingness of men in that church to assume all sorts of responsibilities freed him for a spiritual ministry.

We mustn’t be content to be “Jack-of-all-trades” ministers, but must recapture the New Testament and Reformation principle of the universal priesthood of believers. Surely the Spirit of God has His gifted men even in the smaller congregations, but they must be sought out and trained.

(2) Ministers today are too busy for their own good, and for the good of their wives and children and the good of their people.

Nothing discourages counseling and personal relations more effectively than an “I can only spare a minute, make it brief” kind of attitude. Few of us would say this, but we give the impression nonetheless.

A minister friend of mine was concerned when two of his three sons began to stutter. He made an appointment for them to see a speech therapist (who was also a psychologist), and later had a conference himself.

“That psychologist literally cursed me,” the minister said. “He told me I was responsible for that speech defect, and that I was ruining my boys’ lives.

“‘When did you last take your family on a vacation?’ he asked me.

“Well, it had been a long, long time. I was too busy to take time with my family. I remember I used to say that the Devil never takes a vacation, so why should I?—And I never stopped to think that the Devil wasn’t to be my example.

“I went out to that man’s office, got a camping trailer, and in a few days we were headed West. The second day out my wife nudged me, and I listened to the conversation on the back seat. (more…)

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Kenneth Kantzer, one-time editor of Christianity Today, once expressed to me his regret that he had failed to make a single, significant scholarly contribution. I quickly re-directed my teacher’s thoughts to the incalculable impact of the wise instruction that filled his regular columns in CT. Their effect surely was greater than that achieved by most of the learned tomes accumulating dust on library shelves.

The same thing may be said in describing the works of Joseph Bayly. Through his pen, Joe Bayly has profoundly influenced the way I and many other people view and react to the world.

Pride of place among Bayly’s writings must be given to his regular column, “Out of My Mind,” appearing in Eternity magazine from October 1961 to October 1986. In these columns, Bayly repeatedly challenged the church with a prophetic call, a call that endures to this day.

A generation has passed since Joe Bayly last put pen to paper. So, on November 4, 2010 I began to preserve these columns for posterity here. Starting with my first post, A Note from One of My Closest Friends I Never Met, I have planned to transcribe Bayly’s columns sequentially and accurately.

While reading these columns, one must keep in mind that an author’s viewpoint and vocabulary are bound to the culture and time in which the author lives. We all “drive” through life with “blind spots” that only future generations will discern. Opinion pieces like Bayly’s, read 25 – 50 after their composition, then, will contain elements that may be judged to be confusing, anachronistic, or even offensive. For example, some readers likely will make that judgment of Bayly’s fourteenth installment (November 1962, 42 – 43), the one I reproduce in this post.

Please read, ponder, and test Joseph Bayly’s words, examining the Scriptures, in order that you may hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21 – 22). If you do, I am confident that you, like me, will come to welcome eagerly the words of him, who, though dead, through his faith still speaks (Acts 17:11; Hebrews 11:4).

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For a number of years, speaking, writing and editing, I have espoused the cause of (more…)

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When the Revised Standard Version was completed in 1952, a call to arms resounded throughout Fundamentalism. A new test of orthodoxy was forthwith introduced: continued use of the King James Bible.

Copies of the new translation were burned in pulpits. Granted, such instances were few and far between. But even fewer were the critics within Fundamentalism of such blasphemy.

Serious arguments ranged from the “lost majesty of the King James English” to the liberal bias of the translators.

Doubtless the objectors had their grounds. Hebrew and Greek scholars are not generally best qualified to communicate in modern written English. (Prime example: the Berkeley Version.) A case could be made for the inclusion of skilled writers, of the same professional caliber as the Greek and Hebrew scholars, on every translation team. Surely writers, as well as translators, are God’s gift to the Church.

But on the other hand, a skilled writer is not a translator. Many people received enlightenment from the freshness of J. B. Phillips’ paraphrases (especially Letters to Young Churches, his first and best). But why do author and publisher now call this a “translation”?

For a few years after the Revised Standard Version was shot down in flames, no Bible in modern English existed to satisfy any desire these people might have for something fresh. And so demand built up behind the dam erected by Fundamentalism’s leaders. Some Christians did not want the Kings James replaced in the pulpit, but personal Bible reading was another matter.

And so, when new translations and paraphrases appeared, demand rushed through the dam’s floodgates. Williams (republished), Verkuyl—Berkeley, Phillips, Amplified, New English Bible: each appeared in turn and was either accepted acritically by Fundamentalism’s arbiters, or was subjected to criticism mild by Revised Standard Criteria.

The Revised Standard Version may be (more…)

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When the Vatican Ecumenical Council is convened on October 11th, and the heirs of the Reformation converge upon Rome to “discuss the unity of all Christian churches,” I hope that some pointed questions will be asked. In all likelihood they will not, just as pointed questions were avoided at the organizing sessions of the United Nations 17 year ago.

For to ask pointed questions at such a time is more than embarrassing; it probably would destroy the spirit of unity while it is aborning.

But here are the questions I’d like someone to ask. And since this is imaginary anyway, here too are the people I’d like to have in Rome on October 11th to ask the questions.

Martin Luther

MARTIN LUTHER: Does the Roman Church now hold that the Gospel of Christ is the Treasure of the Church? Does God mercifully give righteousness to the sinner, and does the sinner receive this righteousness by faith, and is the sinner thereby justified in God’s sight? Or does the Roman church still cling to its man-made traditions? One other question, does the Roman church now accept and teach the Petrine doctrine of the priesthood of believers?

John Calvin

JOHN CALVIN: I believe that the Scriptures—the Old and new Testaments—are the only way to a true knowledge of God. The Written Word is our guide, and without it we are lost in the labyrinth of man’s opinions. Is this now the conviction of the Roman Church? The reason I am particularly concerned is that during the past century three new dogmas have been proclaimed by the Roman Church—dogmas that were not accepted even in my day. These are the immaculate conception of Mary; the infallibility of the Pope in his ex cathedra pronouncements; and the assumption of Mary into heaven.

John Knox

JOHN KNOX: Is the present Pope willing to renounce his claims to authority and jurisdiction over the affairs of nations? And is he prepared to make his renunciation ex cathedra?

A WALDENSIAN: Some of the documented incidents in Colombia during the past 30 years have a familiar ring to us—they remind us of the massacre at Vassy, when the Roman church incited soldiers to storm the barn in which we were worshipping . . . and of Meaux, where 14 were tortured and burned for having celebrated the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament manner. Does the present Pope condemn (more…)

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