2. A church based on the Bible

The Bible is very important for every kind of Christian church. But our own
particular church traditions were shaped out of a time when there was a great
renewal of interest in the Bible. Through a time called the Reformation (which
stretched over a long period from the end of the fifteenth century to the end of
the seventeenth) some Christians began again to study the Bible texts in their
original languages (Greek and Hebrew) and to make new discoveries about
them. Some also argued, at a time when literacy was expanding, that everyone
should be able to read the Bible is his or her own language and so translations
began to be made. Some feared that ‘ignorant’ people reading the Bible would
lead to no good and wanted to protect the Bible from being misinterpreted, but
our particular forebears were firmly on the side of opening it up to everyone.
At the same time they wanted ministers to be well educated in the things of
God so that they could help people understand the Bible. Even at the beginning
of the development of the printing press printed Bibles in local languages
became available in many homes and churches amazingly quickly. Bibles, Psalm
books and commentaries were highly valued amongst the church communities
from which we have come, although they remained controversial in some
countries and in some time-periods for quite a while.
With this emphasis on reading and seeking to understand the Bible goes the
strong principle that the ‘highest authority’ for our believing and living is
‘God’s Word in the Bible’. Notice that the Statement does not simply say that
‘the Bible’ is the authority, but ‘God’s Word in the Bible’. Jesus, described in
John’s Gospel as ‘the Word made flesh’ is the supreme authority. We believe
that reading and interpreting the Bible is not necessarily straightforward,
that God speaks to us as we interpret and that we need the help of the Holy
Spirit. It is this reading under the Holy Spirit that we believe offers our
surest hope of working out what is God’s will for us. We know, from looking
back over history, that faithful people have not always read with wisdom and
insight (we see with sadness how some Reformed Christians in South Africa
believed that the Bible taught them authoritatively that apartheid was God’s
will). So we do not assume that we can read without having to work and pray
as we do so. But we trust that it is reading the Bible in a prayerful spirit and
with God’s help, above all else, that will help us to work out what we should
believe and do. We would listen to what other Christians have said and still
say as well. We would listen hard for the witness of our own experience and
to what our own thinking and puzzling suggest – but God’s Word in the
Bible is the first source of wisdom for us and we would turn to it first.