“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”II Timothy 3:16-17
“How can we be sure that we are doing the will of God on the mission field and that our works will remain?”
“Is there a litmus test by which we may evaluate our activities, and if necessary, make appropriate corrections?”
These questions have been answered in the affirmative in the greatest confessions of the church. The litmus test for every thought, word, and deed; the standard by which every missionary endeavor must be judged is the inerrant and infallible dictates of the Scriptures. Both the Westminster Confession and the 1689 London Baptist confession state unequivocally:
“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.”1
To have confidence on that Final Day we must cling tenaciously to the ancient doctrine that gave birth to the Reformation—Sola Scriptura. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is one of the Five Solas of the protestant reformation together with Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola gratia (grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory). It is a Latin phrase that is best translated, “Scripture Alone.” It is the belief that the Bible contains all the truth that is necessary for faith and practice, and that all our doctrine, ethic, and ministry must be founded upon the clear statements of Scripture or be drawn from them by valid reasoning.
It is important to understand that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is founded upon two great truths. The first truth is the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Scriptures—the Bible is God-breathed, without error, and incapable of error. Therefore, it is entirely trustworthy. The second truth is the sufficiency of the Scriptures—that the Bible is sufficient to instruct us in every matter of doctrine and faith, and to equip us for every good work that we have been called to do. Both of these doctrines are drawn directly from the Apostle Paul’s letter to his young disciple Timothy:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”2
The infallibility and the sufficiency of the Scriptures are intricately related like two sides of the same coin. Consequently, one cannot be lost without the other. For this reason, in the Apostle Paul’s most straightforward declaration regarding the inspiration of the Scriptures, he also affirms their sufficiency in all matters of doctrine and practice. In the first half of the text, he tells us that the Scriptures are literally God-breathed,3 and therefore inerrant. In the second half, he tells us that they are profitable to make the man of God adequate, equipped for every good work.4 The word “adequate” comes from the Greek adjective ártios, which means, “fitted” or “complete.” The word “equipped” comes from the Greek verb exartízo, which means to furnish thoroughly or completely. The truth to be gleaned is that the inspired Scriptures are able to make the minister well fitted and thoroughly equipped for every task of ministry in the church and the Great Commission.
The inspiration and sufficiency of the Scriptures serve as both a great encouragement and a great warning to all who would seek to minister in Christ’s name. The great encouragement is that the Scriptures are sufficient to equip us for mission work and to guide us with regard to the strategies or methodologies that we should employ to accomplish that work. The great warning is that the further we stray from the Scriptures, not only with regard to doctrine, but also methodology, the more likely we are to err and to be a hindrance rather than a catalyst in the advancement of the Great Commission. It is with regard to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and the sufficiency of the Scriptures that we come to the fork in the road. It is here that we make the decision regarding how we will order our steps in the Great Commission. Those missionaries who submit their lives and ministries to the Scriptures can be confident that they are doing the will of God and that their work will remain. However, the further we stray from obedience to what is written and the more we incorporate the doctrines and strategies of men, the more we are in danger of laboring contrary to the will of God and seeing our work consumed in the fires of judgment.5
- The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, X.; The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, X.
- II Timothy 3:16-17
- The word “inspired” is translated from the Greek word theópneustos [theós = God + pnéo = to breathe].
- This designation is not to be limited merely to those men specially called into the ministry of the church, such as pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc; but should be extended to all believers in every aspect of ministry.
- I Corinthians 3:12-15
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer