The Bible sounds a consistent note regarding the source and substance of the church’s message: it is the Word of God alone. For example, addressing the churches of Galatia, Paul wrote: “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things” (6:6). The clear implication of this imperative statement is that the Word of God alone must be communicated or “shared.” The simplest and most powerful imperative in this regard is Paul’s command to Timothy: “Preach the word” (II Tim. 4:2). Added to these statements are the many references to “the truth,” a term often used synonymously with the Word of God. Among such is the damning condemnation found in Romans: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (i.e., who suppress the truth); “who changed the truth of God into a lie
. . . . For this cause God gave them up . . .” (1:18, 25a, 26a). We would search the Scriptures in vain to find any authorization to preach or teach something other than the inspired Word of God. The Bible emphasizes this fact by identifying and warning against some of the philosophies and theories that men have substituted for the simple Word of God. Among them are the following.
“Philosophy.” The Colossian letter (2:8) provides a list of erroneous substitutes for the Word of God concerning which the believer should “beware” lest he become “spoiled,” or “seduced.” Philosophy lies in the area of human wisdom that owes nothing to divine revelation but purports to deal with God and the purpose of life. Mere human wisdom has no place in the pulpit, nor should it serve to determine a believer’s view of God, his decisions, or his pattern of life. Paul calls such notions “vain deceit.”
“The tradition of men.” Such philosophy, Paul writes, finds its source, not in Scripture, but in “the tradition of men.” In most societies, tradition is a force to be reckoned with. Paul reveals that tradition not rooted in Scripture lacks authority. All human traditions should be discarded if contradicted by the Word of God. Even (especially?) church traditions lacking Scriptural authority should be discarded as destructively seductive.
“The rudiments of the world.” A comparison of Colossians 2:20-23 with the fourth chapter of Galatians indicates that this term refers to the error of preaching the necessity or efficacy of various religious ordinances and human works as opposed to the grace of God. To preach the law today is contrary to preaching the Word of God, for in this dispensation, the church is not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14, 15). A religion of works denies the teaching of the Word, leaving men lost in sin.
“Science falsely so called.” It is tempting to identify this phrase exclusively with evolution—a false science. But here Paul warns against error in broader terms. Though it may well include evolutionary theory, the phrase describes any avowed human knowledge that fails the litmus test of the Word of God. Peter warns against religious charlatans who “allure” with “great swelling words,” that appeal to “the lusts of the flesh” and result in “wantonness” (II Pet. 2:18). This “knowledge” pervades popular media ministries today where preachers twist and distort the Word in order to appeal to the flesh and bring into “bondage” (v. 19) those who “were clean escaped” (v. 18).
“Vain words/jangling/babblings” (Eph. 5:6; I Tim. 1:6; 6:20; II Tim. 2:16). The Word of God is not complimentary of human oratory devoid of the truths of revelation. Preaching the Word does not necessarily entail highfalutin language or polished rhetoric. Certainly, linguistic polish and hortatory flourish that serve to exalt the speaker or merely “tickle the ears” of the hearers are vain words. Impressive speechifying is a damnable substitute for preaching the Word of God. Paul’s words hold true for us: “though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). Faithfulness to the Word is not an option before God.
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