The Accusation of Bibliolatry

Posted by Matt Postiff April 21, 2011 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Cults, Etc. 

Recently an anonymous person accused our church of being full of Bible-worshippers, by which I think they meant people who worship the Bible instead of the God of the Bible. But how they mean this is not very clear, since God's word and God Himself are so closely connected (Psalm 138:2).

Regarding the definition of Bibliolatry, I found that has a helpful definition. Let me quote a couple of key parts of it here:

“Typically, the accusation of bibliolatry is used as an attack on those who hold to the inerrancy, infallibility, and supremacy of Scripture. It is often employed as an inflammatory and derogatory attack on believers who hold to ‘sola scriptura’ and/or a literal interpretation of the Bible.

“It is important to note that the charge of bibliolatry does not claim some Christians literally bow down before a Bible and worship it, as if it were an idol. While there may be some strange cult out there that literally worships the Bible, that is not what bibliolatry is referring to. The accusation of bibliolatry is that some Christians elevate the Bible to the point that it is equal with God, or to the point that studying the Bible is more important than developing a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.”

For those who make the accusation of bibliolatry against another, might I suggest some cautions? In my experience, I have found people who make such an accusation are frequently those who do not participate fully in the church's meetings and activities. That is unfortunate, because they do not see or understand the full range of what I will call godly devotion that is exhibited by the church members, and so cannot make an accurate evaluation of their spiritual character (Proverbs 18:13 comes to mind here). For instance, if the accuser only comes for the weekly meeting that is heavy on preaching and teaching, they will miss the earnest prayers of the saints in the mid-week prayer meeting. They do not have an accurate picture of the church's devotion as a whole.

Another caution for the accuser is to ensure that they are not expecting all believers to have the same kind of pietistic or emotional display of devotion that they themselves exhibit. Some believers may be more withdrawn or reserved, but be just as fervent in spirit as others who are more outgoing.

But what about the person who receives the accusation? It is easy to dismiss such a charge out of hand as blatantly false or to consider the source as a wacky believer. Both may be true, but it is profitable to stop and examine ourselves to make sure we are not pridefully exalting intellectual knowledge of doctrines (1 Corinthians 8:1) at the expense of a real personal relationship with Christ. I happened to be reading Gordon Fee earlier today and he expressed a similar thought this way from Philippians 3: “For [Paul] Christian life is not simply a matter of 'salvation' and 'ethics'; it is ultimately a matter of knowing Christ. So too with resurrection; Paul's focus is not on 'everlasting life' or anything else such. The goal of the resurrection, the 'prize' for which Paul strains every effort in the present, is Christ himself” (Paul's Letter to the Philipppians, NICNT, p. 337).

At the same time, this kind of self-examination has to be balanced with the understanding that eternal life is to know God and His Son Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Knowing God is only done through faith, and faith only comes by hearing the word of God delivered by a herald (Romans 10:13-17). Further, the word of the gospel, which the Bible is, is instrumental in our regeneration (James 1:18).

I guess what I'm saying is: Don't make the charge lightly, and don't take the charge lightly.

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