The Reformers fought courageously to give the Bible to the "common people." They saw this both as the high privilege of all the people of God and an utter necessity. Listen to the words of William Tyndale as he answered one of his ministerial critics:
"Exposed Naked to Satan"
Geoffrey J. Paxton*
"Exposed naked to Satan"! Hurled "into most certain destruction"! According to William Whitaker, this is the result of taking away the Bible from the people of God. His words are as follows
Those, therefore, who take the Holy Scriptures away from the people leave them exposed naked to Satan, and hurl them into most certain destruction.
If God spare my life, ere many years pass I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.
It may be that Tyndale recalled the words of the humanist, Erasmus, who declared in his Novum Testamentum (1522):
The Scripture of Christ should be translated into all tongues that it may be read diligently of the private and secular men and women. . . . I would to God the plowman would sing a text of the Scripture at his ploughbeam, and that the weaver at his loom with this would drive away the tediousness of time. I would the wayfaring man with this pastime would expel the wearisomeness of his journey. And to be short, I would that all the communication of the Christian should be of the Scripture.
Yes, the possession of the Scriptures by all the people of God was the heart's desire of the fathers of the Reformation, and because by the grace of God that was so, it is one of the great features of true Protestantism.
But what of today? Do we cherish the possession of the Scriptures and their diligent investigation by all the people of God? Is this Protestant heritage jealously guarded by evangelical men and women of today?
We believe that, contrary to superficial evidence which would suggest otherwise, there is a taking of the Holy Scriptures from the people, thus hurling them "into most certain destruction." Evangelicals are in great danger of being "exposed naked to Satan." The purpose of this article is to bring this soul-destroying confiscation into the light and thereby sound a serious warning to those who would unthinkingly surrender the priceless treasure of an open Bible.
Satan's ways are subtle. He seeks to cover up a most serious illness with would-be evidence of health. How dare we speak of a confiscation of the Scriptures in an age of unprecedented proliferation of Bibles and their spectacular distribution? Who has the gall to speak of a snatching away of the Word to the evangelical who proudly carries his Bible under his arm on the way to church?
Yes, the ways of Satan are subtle. The father of darkness and despair comes as an angel of light and bouyancy. Beware, believer!
We dare to suggest that the present-day confiscation of the Scriptures from the people of God is a confiscation more subtle and, if possible, even more dangerous than that of taking away the material Bible from men and women. This devilish confiscation takes place while the Scripture remains in our hands or on our living room tables — yes, even while we are looking through its pages.
What, then, is the nature of this seizure? In what does this Christ-hating and Christian-hating confiscation consist?
The Holy Scriptures are taken from the people of God by rendering them incapable of reading the message from these Scriptures. In so many cases today, when the evangelical comes to the Bible, he comes with a message instead of for the message. The Bible has become the venerated and often eulogized ratifier of alien messages.
The evangelical hugs his Bible and opens it often, but he is blind and cannot see what it is saying. The evil one has robbed him of his sight and hearing, but still permits him to look and listen.
Looking without seeing, listening without hearing! Once people could not see because they could not look (pre-Reformation era). Now they can look, but they cannot see. A plague is devastating evangelicaldom while there is singing in the churches.
The time is for weeping. The time is for the beating of the breast and for sackcloth and ashes. Our eyes have been gouged out!
How has Satan brought about such a devastation? How has he stripped us of our clothing and made us to stand before him naked and defenseless? He has done it by a re-ordination.
At the time of the Reformation and through the preaching of the Word, God, as it were, ordained all believers to the priesthood. Naturally, this was (and still is) most disturbing to a group of priests who believed that they had special entree into the counsel of God. Under the caption of "The Priesthood of All Believers," one huge ordination service took place by the preaching of the Word and the power of the Holy Ghost.
But the archenemy of God and His people dedicated himself to the task of again reordaining a select few to a special priesthood. However, he vowed that he would be more subtle this time. His priests would have just as strong a stranglehold on the people, but they would be fervent advocates of the priesthood of all! Those being strangled would have all the disadvantages of being strangled, but would think themselves the most blessed of all men.
Who are these newly reordained priests of Protestantism? Who are these who have been set aside from the common members of the body of Christ?
First, there are the high-priestly critics. Though they are hated and scorned by the common priests of evangelicaldom, yet they exercise a decisive though subtle influence on the church. Such high priests have worked their way into evangelical colleges of Bible and theology, and have taken on the grand role of dictators of the curriculum. True, they are scorned in those colleges, and their works are "answered" from the lectern by the professors. But that is just the point! For this leaves little time for the real task of training in the proper use and ministry of the Word. Answering critics and intensive preparation in the proper use of sacred writ do not go too well together, as most "theology" will testify.
Such influence is exercised over the people by the high-priestly critics that they have taken prior attention to the Word itself. The Word is snatched away from the one in training by men who have a demonic stranglehold over educational leaders. These high priests have demanded recognition and precious training time as a sine qua non of accreditation.
This is not a plea for obscurantism or unscholarly theological education, but for a more intensive application to the meaning of the Word and its effective communication to the people of God who sit in church with uplifted eyes in the direction of the pulpit. Can we not see how Satan is exposing believers by this predominance of critical material in our training colleges?
Second, there are the high-priestly champions of holiness. Here is a castle of priests who resemble the champion athletes with whom we are familiar. They have distinguished themselves in the race of holiness; they have breasted the tape of the inner sanctuary of the Lord. These men are held up before the great masses of Christians in training as examples of superior humility and athletic ability. They exert a twofold tyranny over the people — the common people — of the Lord:
1. They are the examples of a superior "blessing" to that of the common Christian. With astonishing humility, they have found the secret of a "deeper" experience which all may have if only the cost will be met (cf. They Have Found the Secret, by V. Raymond Edman). The result, of course, is a two-layer Christian community — the rich and the poor, the spiritual champions and the great mass of athletes. Thus is developed a new set of mediators who speak out of the depths of their own conquests — conquests which are the more powerfully communicated by disclaiming that they are "of us" at all! — and seek to lead the masses into a like stratum of achievement.
2. More serious still, such high priests usually go into print (some quite prolifically) and hold forth on the text of Scripture. The great proportion of their writing is characterized by two elements: the "experience" is determinative of the exposition, and, as we might expect, there is a very bad use of the Bible. The text is pushed and battered into the mold of an alien message. (This writer has begun to examine again some of this literature, and examples of a devastating use of the Bible are as follows: Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua, by Alan Redpath; The Saving Life of Christ, by W. Ian Thomas; Born Crucified and Crowded to Christ, both by L. E. Maxwell; and Rivers of Living Water, by Ruth Paxson.)
The tragedy — and the reason for raising this matter at all — is that the great mass of sincere evangelical Christians are influenced by such books in their reading of the Bible. These books form the literary medium through which the Bible is read. The Word is snatched away from the common members of the Body by the new system of exposition which these high priests have brought to the church.
What are some of the features of this new exposition?
a. There is an almost complete disregard for sound principles of biblical interpretation. The Bible is handled, not according to sound hermeneutical principles, but in accordance with the preconceived message that the expositor wishes to illustrate from the Scriptures (cf. Redpath's exposition of the meaning of the book of Joshua). The fact remains that the Bible is not primarily an illustrative source book. If the message is not in the text, it ought not to be in the exposition.
b. The central message of justification by faith is minimized and relegated to a starting-point status in Christian experience. The all-consuming interest is a sanctification which is not a reality in the great majority of believers. (Redpath says, "We may be justified, but we may not be sanctified." — Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua, p. 248.) This sanctification has been provided by God in Christ and is intended by God for all, but is only "realized," "made effective," "appropriated" by the half-clothed believer.
c. The result, of course, is that the whole Bible is clapped into the iron mold of the new modus operandi. Many Christians find it well-nigh impossible to see the text other than as it is treated — maltreated! — by the new high-priestly expositors. The "new sense" is superimposed on the "sensus literalis" of the Scripture itself.
"Exposed naked to Satan"! Cast "into most certain destruction"! Alas, the time for repentance is here. We have lost the Word. We have been blinded by a light that is not from God. Let us make our way to the grave and weep over the buried Word!
The problem which faces modern-day evangelicalism is of frightening proportions. We have to hack our way through a veritable jungle of books and pamphlets to reach the Word of the living God. Perhaps we ought to have a mass burning and start afresh. Who knows the liberation that might thus come to the church!
Our contention is that the people of God have been once again robbed of the Scriptures by a Satanic re-ordination of certain priests to a high-priestly ministry. We have spoken of the high-priestly critic and the high-priestly champion of holiness. Both, in their own way, are being satanically used to bring about a dearth of sound biblical knowledge. We call for widespread repentance!
In conclusion, the influence of these high priests — particularly of the latter class — is evidenced by the fact that to speak as we have done in this article is considered to be something "not done." These high priests are regarded as so sacrosanct that to claim they handle the Bible incorrectly is well-nigh unheard of. It is not that no one knows the Bible is being butchered, but that almost all realize that great unpopularity may be expected if "sacred cows" are spoken of in anything but glowing terms. Yet the fact remains that Scripture is supreme and all have to be brought to the bar of the Word. We invite the reading public to see this article as a challenge to test by the clear word of Scripture the writings of those we have mentioned. And what we ask of them we willingly submit to ourselves. True repentance will mean coming out into the open and asking afresh, "What saith the Lord — in His Word?"
*Geoffrey J. Paxton is an Anglican clergyman and president of the Queensland Bible Institute. Brisbane, Australia.