You may have noticed that there are different ways to approach Scripture from denomination to denomination.
I will try to explain a little bit about that, mostly from a Reformed Protestant point of view, which is what I am. During the Reformation, when Protestant groups like Lutherans, Presbyterians and Baptists split off from the Catholic Church, many took issue with things the Catholic Church was doing. Catholics place a high value on tradition, whereas my tradition said we needed to place a higher value on Scripture. “Scripture Alone” was one of the Protestant slogans, and it was the backbone of how Protestants came to live life before God and one another.
For those in the Reformed tradition, we build our faith first on what Jesus said. We get this from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and a few sentences at the beginning of Acts. Then we build our faith on the whole of the New Testament. Next we build our faith on the entirety of the Bible, and then we depend on the saints who have gone before us.
For Reformed folks, we have a number of creeds and confessions, the best known of which are the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Last, we depend on our own opinions.
For example, what we believe about Jesus comes first from His own lips: “I and the Father are one.” Next we look at the New Testament, which reiterates that belief repeatedly. Then we look at the Old Testament to see what the Jews were looking forward to in a Messiah, to see if Jesus fit those prophecies. Last come creeds and confessions and our own opinions.
People sometimes get turned around because their own beliefs come to be more important than the other building blocks. But that ought not be. Our own opinion doesn’t trump Jesus’ words, the New Testament, the Old Testament and the saints who have gone before us.
Now some churches do things differently – they raise tradition or reason or experience to the same level as Scripture in order to understand God, ourselves and other moral conundrums. This is how different churches arrive at different positions on all sorts of moral issues.
For us, we are always to be grounded first in Scripture and last in our own ability to understand the world. I am bent and broken by sin. Because of that, my opinion of the world is less valuable to me than is Scripture in understanding who I am before God (His kid, His servant) or the other issues that we all deal with.
The Rev. David Moore is pastor of Union Presbyterian Church of Los Altos, 858 University Ave. For more information, call 948-4361 or visit unionpc.org.