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When you are discussing a topic with someone, especially a controversial topic, what do differences of opinion really boil down to in the end? It is not really the actual topic, but the source of reliable authority behind the topic where we get our ‘beliefs’, ‘facts’ or ‘truths’ from.
For example, if you are discussing what happens to people when they die, are they annihilated and cease to exist, or are they reincarnated, or do they go to heaven or Hell, etc.? What it boils down to is really where we get our authoratiative teaching on the matter.
Very often people will say “My religion teaches” this or that…. In other words, their church or religion is the authority on the matter. Or people will say “science proves…” or “science disproves…”. Someone may say at the end of a long conversation on a topic, “well, I just believe…” In other words, after hearing all the evidence, they are the final authority and they have judged that this or that is the case. Or again, we hear people say “Everyone knows that…”, where public opinion is held up as the ultimate authority on the topic.
What do we say? Should we say “I believe…” as a purely personal opinion? Should we say “My church teaches…” this or that, with our church as the authority? Or should we say “God says in the Bible…” and therefore we believe.
When discussing difficult or controversial matters, we should never give the impression that it is merely a difference of opinion between us and someone else. Our individual opinion doesn’t matter that much, in the big scheme of things. Instead, it is helpful to try to get people to see that their opinion is what it is because they haven’t accepted the truth of God’s Word, but have accepted some other belief or teaching instead; another church, another religion, another philosophy, their own thoughts or public opinion on the matter. If we really want to get someone to accept the truth on a topic, we need to tell them where we are getting our truth from – the Bible.
This raises the question of how reliable the Bible is. As a fellowship, we believe in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. But that doesn’t mean that we always take it literally! The Bible is not meant to be taken literally, all the time. When Jesus said that he is the gate for the sheep, he didn’t mean us to think that he is made of wood. Similarly when he said that he is the bread of life, we don’t believe that he is bread either. There are different genres of literature in the Bible, such as; historical narrative which should be taken literally virtually all of the time (except on rare occasions, such as when numbers are used symbolically instead of mathematically, e.g. to count years of a king’s reign); parables are to be taken as fiction that teaches truths which are to believed; poetry has poetic license to use words in an artistic way, e.g. “you are the apple of my eye”; and allegory such as where visions represent concepts or truths that are difficult to communicate otherwise (e.g. much of the content in the book of Revelation).
Yet, we believe that the Bible is authoritative, reliable, and inerrant as it was originally given (subsequent translations can err, however, although differences are relatively minor and don’t impact the core doctrines of Scripture). But we don’t take it literally, all the time. This is one characteristic of Evangelicalism, while Fundamentalism tends to take the Bible literally, even in places where it should not (e.g. in common with Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Chrisitans wrongly believe that there will only be only 144,000 people in heaven with Lord).
The Bible is not simply authorative in matters of faith, but also in everything that it contains. On matters of history, the Bible is reliable too. In matters of science, the Bible is reliable. The earth is described in Job 26:7 as being suspended over empty space, implying a spherical figure. Isaiah 40:21-22 and Proverbs 8:27 refer to the “circle” of the earth, which indicates, or can be used to prove, the spherical nature of the earth. The Bible was accurate about the physical globe of the world long before the flat-earth idea was rejected. Sometimes we don’t read the Bible correctly on matters of science – but the problem is one of interpretation, not accuracy.
Why is the Bible’s inerrancy and reliability important? Because when we are desperate and struggling in life, we want something or someone to rely on, that will be absolutely dependable. We don’t want pious platitudes, or hollow words, such as “it’ll be alright in the end, believe me!” We have no reason to believe such unfounded promises, even if well meant from our closest friends or family. We need to depend on promises that are reliable, which will stand the test of time. The Bible, therefore, if it is not reliable, cannot hold out much hope for us.
Thankfully, the Bible is reliable. More than that, the God of the Bible is reliable. He has proved his love and grace in the past by keeping his promises/prophecies in history, especially with the birth/death/resurrection of Jesus Christ to save sinners. He has fulfilled his promises in the lives of believers who trust in him alone. He has given us promises for the future that can be relied on, based on his impeccable track record.
God’s Word is what we can depend on when we are in times of trouble, doubt, or need:
Direction: “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105, NLT)
Encouragement: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, NLT)
Presence: “But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1–2, NLT)
Dependence: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.” (Psalm 46:1–3, NLT)
Persistence: “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, NLT)
Fear: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NLT)
Material needs: ““So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:31–34, NLT)
Forgiveness: “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1–2, NLT)
Assurance: “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1, NLT) “This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10, NLT)
Priase God for blessing us with the Bible, God’s word.
For more info, see our statement of faith which has this line regarding the Bible:
We believe in the Holy Scriptures as originally given by God, divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy; and the supreme authority in all matters of faithand conduct.
This topic is too large to cover in a short summary or introduction to a sermon. And when considering arguments from opponents of the Bible, we must bear in mind that they are not neutral but are biased against God (Matthew 12:30), and that many of their points are superficial (such as percieved contradictions which are more often than not simply slightly different reports of the same event, not contradictions at all). While other arguments may at times be more difficult to address, they are nevertheless not conclusive against God’s Word. There are many websites containing much helpful information on this topic, such as this one by former agnostic Josh McDowell.