Dr. Mike Horton has an excellent article on the latest issue of Modern Reformation entitled The Gospel and the Sufficiency of Scripture — Church of the Word or Word of the Church. It's always nice to see Horton writes out some of his stuff presented in his lectures, so that we can digest the material better.
John Calvin complained of being assailed by "two sects" — "the Pope and the Anabaptists." Obviously quite different from each other, both nevertheless "boast extravagantly of the Spirit" and in so doing "bury the Word of God under their own falsehoods." (1) Both separate the Spirit from the Word by advocating the living voice of God with the inner speech of the church or of the pious individual. Of course, the Bible has its important place, but it is the "letter" that must be made relevant and effective in the world today by Spirit-led popes and prophets. Radical Anabaptist leader Thomas Müntzer taunted Martin Luther with his claim to superiority through a higher word than that which "merely beats the air." The Reformers called this "enthusiasm" (literally, "God-within-ism") because it made the external Word of Scripture subservient to the inner word supposedly spoken by the Spirit today within the individual or the church. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul's letter-Spirit contrast refers to the law apart from the gospel as a "ministry of death" and the gospel as the Spirit's means of justifying and regenerating sinners. Gnostics, enthusiasts, and mystics throughout the ages, however, have interpreted the apostle's terms as a contrast between the text of Scripture ("letter") and inner spiritual knowledge ("spirit").
If only it were that easy to identify the "two sects" in our day. Tragically, "enthusiasm" has become one of the dominant ways of undermining the sufficiency of Scripture, and it is evident across the spectrum. Rome has consistently insisted that the letter of Scripture requires the living presence of the Spirit speaking through the Magisterium. Anabaptists and Pietists have emphasized a supposedly immediate, direct, and spontaneous work of the Spirit in our hearts apart from creaturely means. Enlightenment philosophers and liberal theologiansalmost all of whom were reared in Pietism — resurrected the radical Anabaptist interpretation of "letter" versus "spirit." "Letter" came to mean the Bible (or any external authority), while "spirit" was equivalent not to the Holy Spirit but to our own inner spirit, reason, or experience. By the mid-twentieth century, the synods and general assemblies even of denominations historically tied to the Reformation began to speak of the Scriptures as an indispensable record of the pious experiences, reflections, rituals, beliefs, and lives of saints in the past, while what we really need in this hour is to "follow the Spirit" wherever he/she/it may lead us. And we now know where this spirit has led these erstwhile churches; but it is the spirit of the age, not the Spirit of Christ, that has taken them there.
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