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Who Has the Final Word About God?
March 13, 1977

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

2 TIMOTHY 3:16-17

Who has the final word about God? When we're looking for certainty, when we're looking for some kind of assurance, when confronted with conflicting demands upon us, where do we find the final word? Where is our authority? We're continuing to look at the heroes and heroines of our faith. Today, we look at Huldreich Zwingli whose name appears in our sanctuary at the base of the pulpit, along with Luther and Calvin. Zwingli was one of the major reformers of the 16th century. Zwingli has made a large contribution to our understanding of the Christian faith. The word that I would lift up in relation to Zwingli for you to remember is “scriptural authority”. Who has the final word about God? The Bible. 

Huldreich Zwingli was born in 1484. Therefore, he was a contemporary of Martin Luther, but older than Calvin. Zwingli was a Swiss reformer. We associate Luther with Germany, we associate John Calvin with France and then Geneva, Switzerland. Zwingli was the Swiss reformer. Zwingli believed that only the Bible was binding upon Christians, not decrees of the Pope, not decrees by the medieval church of that time, not decrees of councils. Only the Bible is binding upon Christians. Therefore, he broke away from the Catholic Church. Reformed churches call Zwingli their founder. The Reformed Church, such as in Ripon, call Zwingli their founder, and the Evangelical and Reformed branch of the United Church of Christ, of which John and Marilyn are members, call Zwingli their founder. The United Church of Christ is a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed and the Congregational Church. The Reformed Church is a major part of Protestantism. 

Besides this, Zwingli has two descendants in Manteca. The other day I was calling and stopped at the home of Elizabeth Sallman. I don't know if she's here today. She owns and operates the Sallman Goat Dairy on Louise. She's an immigrant from Switzerland. Staying with her now is her nephew from Switzerland who is staying with her for three months. They are descendants of Zwingli.Their roots go back a long way. She showed me a picture of a little church. In her home area in Switzerland, there were two little villages by the name of  Amriswil and Sommeri. These little villages only had one church each. When Zwingli preached, some of the Swiss followed him and formed Zwingli Protestant churches. Some of the Swiss remained Catholic. In her home community, it was so small, (but relations between the two groups are so friendly) that from the time of the 16th century, the Catholics have an early service in the building, and the Protestants have a later service in the same building. That must really be unusual on the face of the earth! So Zwingli has descendants here in Manteca. 

Zwingli was greatly influenced by Martin Luther, but he differed from Luther over the question of the Sacrament. Martin Luther said that Christ was present in the wine and in the bread, but Zwingli said Communion was a memorial, a remembrance of the last supper. They fought over that and they didn't like each other very well. 

But Ziwingli’s major contribution to Protestantism lay in his assertion that Scripture, the Bible is our authority. Only that which is authorized, only that which is commanded in the Bible is binding upon Christians. Most of us Protestants would agree with that—only that which is in the Bible is binding upon us in terms of faith. But Zwingli went one step further, which most of us do not go along with him, and said that not only is that which is in the Bible is binding upon us, but only that which is in the Bible is allowable in the church. It has to be in the Bible, or it is not allowable. Therefore, the inspiration and the leadership of God ended with the writing of the Bible. For example, basketball nets and a basketball court would not be acceptable in a true Zwingli church because there was no basketball in the Bible. Therefore, it could not be a Christian practice today. That’s a Zwingli belief in the strictest sense. 

But, to Zwingli we do owe the belief, our authority, the final word is the Bible. As Methodists, we build our belief systems—we use tradition, we use reason, (we think our beliefs should be reasonable), we use our experience. But the final word, the ultimate test is the Bible. The Bible has popularly been called the Word of God. This is not a very old tradition. In my understanding, the reformers did not use that term. They did not say that the Bible is the Word of God. The belief that the Bible is written by God, without error, infallible, that everything in it is literally true is a new idea in Christendom. Only within the last 100 years, fundamentalists have propagated the idea that the Bible is the Word of God, written by God without error and infallible. I do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God in that sense. 

Consider the inadequacy of human language, the fallibility of human language. We believe God's desire because of God's love is to reveal to us the truth, his love, his concern. So the question is, how does God do this? How does God speak to us? How does God make himself known to us? Would he use words in a book? Look at the fallibility of human language. When we want to communicate with one another, words, spoken word, or written words, is one of the most ineffective means. If you've been married very long, you know that's true. You can be married for 20, 30, 40 years and still get in a misunderstanding because you didn't communicate what you really meant in words. Or, I can tell you that when I was in Japan, I enjoyed drinking macha. Now macha is like green tea. It’s a tea, but it's not like green tea. It's thicker and it has more of a bite to it. It's stronger. It's kind of like gravel, but it isn’t like gravel. I can go on using human words but I will never convey to you what macho tastes like. I can't communicate it because human words are just not adequate. Or we can talk about blue. With 240 of us here, I bet in our minds there are 240 different images of blue when I say blue. For language to communicate ideas between us, the same image must be conjured up in the mind of the speaker and in the mind of the receiver. Before there's communication, the same images must appear in our minds for language to be meaningful. 

Therefore, what medium did God use to reveal? When we read the Bible, we find that God uses our experience and God uses people. How do you convey what love means? How do you convey what justice means, what righteousness means? The only way that you're ever going to know what macha is like is to drink it, to experience it, to taste it. And the only way for us to really communicate what we mean by blue is to say, “That blue is what I mean.” And then point to that blue. Now we all agree and understand what blue I mean. 

And God, to reveal, to convey to us truth, righteousness, justice and love, is to put it in the experiences of people and say, “Here are my chosen people that all the world may see what I mean by righteousness, what I mean by good living, what I mean by truth, what I mean by love.” Through the experiences of these people as they struggled with their lives, God revealed himself to them. Out of common, everyday experiences of life, out of the tragedies, out of the joys, God became real to them in their experience, grounded in their experience, grounded in their history. Then they wrote down what that experience meant. They wrote down human words of that experience. But they didn't lay aside their personalities. They didn't become robots and puppets. They preserved their own identity, they preserved their own personalities. They had their own culture, they were victimized, they were imprisoned by their own understandings of the world. Therefore, when we read in the Bible, in the first chapter in Genesis, and throughout the Bible, that the world is flat, that the world is flat with heaven above and hell underneath, that is not binding upon us. Our reason, our experience and our understanding of the world has gone beyond that. We know the world, the universe is not put together that way. And for some people to try to force Genesis on the public school system, that they should teach Genesis instead of evolution just misses the whole point. The science of the people who wrote the Bible is not binding upon us. But what God's Word to them in their situation is what is binding upon us.

But, supremely God revealed himself to us in a person, in Jesus Christ. God took a flesh and blood real person and said, “This is what I mean. This is what it's all about. This is what life is all about. This is what my love for you means.” In the person of Jesus, we see the ultimate revelation. John in the Bible calls Jesus the Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God in the first chapter of John. Jesus is the Word God spoke. But the only way we know about the Word is by reading the Bible. That's the importance of the Bible to us. The Bible is the source book of our beliefs. The Bible is the book in which the events and experiences of God’s people and of Jesus are recorded, with all the frustrations. Supremely, this is the book that tells us. 

We also learn about God and about Christ in our own experience, but that must always be tested and validated by this book. We can do things that are not in the Bible. We can believe things that are not in the Bible, but it must enhance the spirit of the Bible. It must not be an offense or in contradiction to the spirit of the Bible for the Bible is our final word about God. The Bible is the source book of our beliefs. The Bible is inspired. 

We read in the New Testament lesson, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be completely equipped for every good work.” The Bible is not written by God, but inspired by God. We know it is inspired because people through all the centuries, including you and me, by reading this book, by reading of the struggles of people as they dealt with inadequacy, guilt, death, sorrow and depression. Life has not changed. They dealt with the same things that you and I deal with, and as they found God in the dealing, so we can find God. God can speak to us through this book. We know this book is inspired because it inspires us. We know this book leads people to God because we have found God through it. That's why the Bible is our final authority about God. God will meet anyone through this book who will study it, read it, and open themselves to it. 

Therefore, read the Bible. Open yourself, study it. Don't rely on what you learned in Sunday School about this book when you were a child, study it now. Trying to be the church without the Bible is like trying to be the United States without the Constitution, by putting the Constitution up on the shelf or on the coffee table for people to look at when they come to visit. Trying to be a Christian, trying to lead a fulfilling, happy life without the Bible is like trying to tune a sports car without a manual, trying to be a lawyer without ever opening the law books. Trying to live an adult Christian, fulfilling, happy life without studying the Bible, without making it current in your life is like a doctor relying on his medical school training and never reading a journal. Trying to be a Christian without the Bible is like trying to be an artist who only knows how to use the primary colors, who has never learned how to mix, never learned about the effect of light and all the beautiful, wonderful world of color. He is not open to it for he is content with his elementary training. Trying to be a Christian without the Bible is like trying to be an accountant on an eighth grade math education. 

The Bible is a treasure book, filled with wisdom, filled with inspiration. It is impossible to get to the point where we know all there is to know about this book. It's impossible to get to the point where we no longer will be inspired by the study of this book. It's impossible. It's that kind of a book. It's our basic book. It's our source book. It's inspired by God. In the Bible, we find all that we need to live a Christian life.

© 1977 Douglas I. Norris