by Bob Burridge ©2017
There is an interesting connection between little toy soldiers made out of lead, and the basic approach of Reformed Theology.
When I was very young my Dad, my brother, and I made our own army of little toy soldiers. We put chunks of lead into an electric melting pot, then poured the melted metal into molds to make soldiers of various shapes. When the lead cooled we opened the molds and had dozens of little warriors to play with.
Out behind our two-story house in South Buffalo, New York my Grandfather had ordered some gardening soil. It sat there in a low mound for awhile which made a perfect battlefield for our freshly made soldiers. My Grandfather saw how much we loved the play area so he ordered more for his garden and that one became my official “dirt pile”.
My soldiers engaged in hand to hand combat and encounters with toy tanks. After a few rough battles some of them became a bit mangled up. Lead is soft and bends easily. But we were the makers of the soldiers so there was no problem. After awhile we just put the mangled soldiers into the melting pot and poured them back into the mold again. They had become misformed so they needed to be re-formed.
There is a similar process when we work with the teachings of God’s word. Our Theology comes from the mold of God’s written word. As long as our Theology is in the shape given to us in Scripture, we have the truth as God revealed it to us.
Like the soft lead of my toy soldiers, our books, lectures, and debates can become misshapen when we battle with other ideas. Since we are finite creatures with imperfect minds not fully free from sin and misunderstandings, we often mangle God’s truth on our own as we bring our own human assumptions into the mix of God’s truth.
Truth has always been the target of evil and the victim of our fallen human nature. All through Scripture we see that there are some who twist things around to fit their culture or their fallen assumptions about God and about themselves. Prophets were sent to correct the misshapen ideas that slipped in among God’s people in ancient Israel. Jesus and his Apostles often confronted false teachings which some believed were true ideas. After the Apostolic Era there were segments of the Church which introduced beliefs and practices contrary to those taught in the Bible.
In the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers challenged the church to return to the Scriptures alone as the source of what they believe and practice. The Theology of the day needed to be Re-formed, poured back into the mold of Scripture to restore it to the form given to us by God himself.
God directed Moses to write a warning to the people about false prophets. What God had directly revealed is the test of truth. If a teacher is not teaching things completely consistent with what God had said, he should not be believed or honored.
Deuteronomy 18:20-22, “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’– when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”
In Acts 17 the Berean believers were called “more noble” because they searched the Scriptures daily to test what they heard from the Apostle Paul. They tested it against the only objective authority available to them as a standard, the Scriptures.
Acts 17:10-11, “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
In Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy Scripture is directly cited as the reliable test for truth.
2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
The historic Reformed Confessions of Faith were not to be used as a standard for what we should believe and practice. They are unique in that they point to Scripture alone as the source of truth. The first article in the Westminster Confession of Faith is titled, “Of the Holy Scriptures.” There it immediately says that the Bible is the only foundation for truth.
WCF 1:9, The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
WCF 1:10, The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
Later in chapter 31 the Westminster Confession makes it very clear that it was not written to be a source of truth. Scripture alone is our teacher. The Confession is a helpful but admittedly fallible teaching tool which is to be tested against God’s infallible word.
WCF 31:3, All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.
We should never stop evaluating what we believe and practice to be sure it has not become misshapen. We need to keep pouring our Theology, all our beliefs, back into the mold of the Bible to restore it to the form preserved for us by our Creator. That’s what “Reformation” means — Re-Forming things back into the form God gave us. Scripture alone is the test for what is true about God and about us. It defines how we worship, what constitutes marriage, family, human life, the limits and duties of civil governments, and all else in life.
May we all be reformers, prayerfully and carefully studying the Bible to bring all things into agreement with what God himself says is right and true.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.