An original version of this article was published on this site in July of 2015, following the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Our world is profoundly confused on matters of authority. The Church of Jesus Christ must not be. Jesus tells us, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). Every true disciple of Jesus recognizes – and desires to submit to – the authority of Jesus. But to recognize the authority of Jesus (or Scripture), we must reject the “authority” of culture.
Here are three reasons why Scripture, not culture, must be our authority:
1. Scripture is transcendent; culture is not. God revealed himself through his Word in one specific place over one specific period of (at most) 1500 years. But the truth of Scripture has been proven to transcend that specific place and time. The gospel of Jesus Christ has advanced, through history and around the globe. The central locus of God’s people was once the specific place where God revealed himself, but no longer, because the truth of Scripture transcends any one place or time.
Western culture is not transcendent. You might argue that the geographic breadth of what we would consider Western nations is large, and that the period of history we would consider Western history is long, and you would be correct. But try to transplant the ideals and values of modern Western culture into ancient Japan or China, or modern Sudan or Palestine. You’d have chaos. The assumptions, truths, and ideals of our culture don’t have the power to transcend their natural place and time. But the gospel is growing in Japan, China, Sudan, and even Palestine, because the power of God’s Word is transcendent.
2. Scripture is consistent; culture is not. In 2008, Barak Obama ran for president on a platform that opposed same-sex marriage. By 2012, he had famously “evolved” on that issue. In the 1950’s, Luci and Desi slept in separate twin beds on their television show; today nudity and sex are commonly aired during prime time. Culture changes, rapidly and profoundly. What is culturally acceptable today might not be culturally acceptable tomorrow, and vice versa.
But God’s Word is unchanging. The gospel of Jesus Christ is unchanging. Jesus himself is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). The God who speaks through his Word does not change (see Psa 102:25-27; Mal 3:6; James 1:17). The psalmist tell us, “the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psa 33:11). While the winds of culture shift, causing waves to rise and fall, the Lord and his Word are an immovable anchor.
While the winds of culture shift, causing waves to rise and fall, the Lord and his Word are an immovable anchor.
3. Scripture delivers on its promises; culture does not. Culture offers great promises – joy, peace, fulfillment, and everything in between. Scripture offers even greater promises – the peace of God (Phil 4:7), adoption to sonship in God’s family (Gal 4:4-6), permanent freedom from condemnation (Rom 8:1), and eternal life (John 5:24), to name a few. Show me the person who has found culture’s promises to be truly fulfilling, and I will show you a Sasquatch – he might exist, but he is rare. As I minister to people in the hospital, or on hospice, or on their death bed, no one ever rests in the promises of culture in those moments. People rest in the promises of God, because we know – by God’s grace and through His Spirit – that God will keep his promises. His plans stand firm forever, and if he has promised us life and joy and peace, he will deliver.
At the end of the day, one of the most important questions you will answer is a question of authority. Our culture claims itself as authority by rejecting all external authority (“No right, no wrong, no rules for me…I’m free!” sings the Disney princess). Christians must know that God alone is the authoritative and just judge of the universe, and that he has spoken though his Word. Thus Scripture, and Scripture alone, is our authority.