Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Anabaptism, Scripture and the Word of God

But the Bible is to the natural man simply lifeless ink and paper until the Holy Spirit enters into his heart and quickens his understanding. Then and then only can he understand, according to Scharnschlager, the true meaning of the Scriptures.

— William R. Estep, The Anapbaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975, 1996), p. 194-5

I have been reading this work on the Anabaptists. However sympathetic it was written, I could discern the many errors of the Anabaptists, even the so-called "biblical Anabaptists, " with all of them so far being biblicists — embracing Solo Scriptura or Scipture only. In this quote, it seems that some Anabaptists have embraced the spiritualist error of dichotomizing between the Scriptures as written and the Word of God, a move which pre-dates Barth by a few centuries, showing us that there is nothing really new under the sun.

The main error of those who concoct this false dichotomy is the failure to reckon with God as Creator. God as Creator is the creator of language, and therefore the usage of words is suitable to express God's truth which He intends to give to us. The denial of the written word as the Word of God is the implicit denial of the doctrine of Creation; a denial that nature can be adequate to express the things of God.

It is true of course that the Holy Spirit is necessary to understand God's truth. But the Holy Spirit does not take what is lifeless and alters it to what is living. Rather the Holy Spirit takes what is objectively alive and applies it to make it to us subjectively alive. The Anabaptist (and Neo-Orthodox) version of the work of the Holy Spirit with respects to Scripture follows the Roman Catholic view of grace overcoming nature, whereas the biblical Reformed view is that of grace transforming nature. In this Anabaptist view, the Scripture (nature) is lifeless ink and paper. Grace in the Holy Spirit is necessary to come along to overcome nature and make it living. In the biblical view, the Scripture (nature) is ink and paper which is however the objective expression of God's truth also. Grace in the Holy Spirit transforms nature by taking the objective Word of God and making it come alive subjectively in us.

In this, the Anabaptists can be shown to move against the Reformation current, and is rather a return to a form of Medieval spirituality found in the ideas of the Spiritual Franciscans. Whatever Anabaptism is, while it interacts with the Reformation for sure, it is as far away from the Reformation as the pre-Tridentine Roman Catholicism of that era was.

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