Can a 2000-year-old book alone be trusted for a faithful and God-honoring church ministry? Every faithful gospel-preaching pastor may face a crisis in his life when he questions the sufficiency of the Bible for his pastoral ministry. This is especially true in our nation where it is common to see worldly wisdom being used to “do” church, grow numbers, and make ecclesiastical decisions.
In such an unfavourable environment, the pastor must remind himself that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not only a matter of the head and the heart but also a way of functioning as a church. Such a ministry philosophy is beautifully illustrated in the Book of Acts where we can see how the early church depended on the word of God alone. The book of Acts tells us how the early disciples of Jesus viewed the Scriptures, and how they applied them in the church. As we make a few observations from the book of Acts, we are going to see how the Bible not only teaches the sufficiency of the Scriptures, but also illustrates it.
1. Scripture was Sufficient to be Preached and Taught in the Church
From the beginning of the church in Jerusalem, we see that the proclamation of Scripture was an important aspect of Christian discipleship. We read in Acts 2:42 that the church in Jerusalem “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This apostles’ teaching was not just the apostles sharing their personal wisdom, but Acts 6:2 and 4 clarify that the apostles preached the Word of God. This continues in the book, and we read that Paul and Barnabas taught for a year in the church in Antioch (11:26), and Paul taught the Word of God to the church in Corinth for a year and a half (18:11). As churches were planted, Scripture was sufficient to build them and grow them to maturity.
2. Scripture was Sufficient for the Church to Pray
Considering that the Jesus movement was in its infancy in the decades following Christ’s ascension, it is no surprise that the early church was a praying community. We read about the church praying on numerous occasions (for example, 1:14; 2:42; 12:5; 13:3; 20:36), but don’t have many examples of what exactly they prayed. One of the examples that we have is in Acts 4:24-30, where the believers pray for boldness in the face of persecution. Having addressed God as the sovereign creator, their prayer quotes Psalm 2:1-2 as they reflect on Jesus’ crucifixion, and then goes on to pray for courage to preach the gospel. This example shows us that Scripture was not only preached, but it was sufficient to teach the church how to pray even in the face of adversity.
3. Scripture was Sufficient to Guide the Church
The reason Scripture was preached and prayed in the early church was not just because they found it to be practically useful, but because they recognised the authority of Scripture. This is illustrated very clearly at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, when the church was faced with the issue of whether or not Gentiles needed to become Jews first to become Christians. After Peter had shared his experience, and Paul and Barnabas had shared their experiences, the matter was settled when James quoted Amos 9:11-12 to show that the Gentiles had always been a part of God’s plan. Since Scripture was seen to be authoritative, there was no further dispute. Scripture was sufficient to decide the matter.
4. Scripture was Sufficient for Evangelism
Along with using Scripture within the Christian community, the early church also used it when reaching out to non-Christians. Scripture is heavily quoted in all the evangelistic sermons, starting from Peter in Jerusalem in Acts 2, all the way to Paul in Rome in Acts 28. When the audience was Jewish, Scripture was quoted explicitly. For example, Peter quoted from Joel 2, Psalm 16, 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 89, and Psalm 110 in Acts 2, and Paul quoted Psalm 2, Isaiah 55, Psalm 16, and Habakkuk 1 in Acts 13. When the audience was predominantly Gentile, the content was still based on Scripture even without verbatim quotations. For example, Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 teaches about creation, sin, idolatry, and judgment without making explicit quotations. Is it a surprise that God’s Spirit was pleased to draw so many people to himself when his Word was being proclaimed? Scripture was undoubtedly sufficient to change hearts.
5. Scripture was Sufficient for Defending against False Teaching
Along with Scripture drawing people into the church, Scripture was also used to protect those who were inside the church. We see this taught by Paul in his parting message to the Ephesian church elders in Acts 20. His final words to them included a warning for them, concerning false teachers (Acts 20:29-30). So how could the Ephesian leaders protect the church from the attack by these false teachers? Paul reminds them of the things he taught them, and commends them to God and His Word (31-32)–meaning that He is entrusting them to God and His Word so that they will be equipped to protect the sheep from savage wolves. The Scriptures would be sufficient to protect the Church from the devil.
Dear student of the Word! The life of the early church was saturated with the Scriptures because they knew that the Head of the Church would exercise His lordship over his body through the Scriptures. It was as if the Lord Jesus Christ was telling them, “I am with you. I have not left you as orphans. I am going to speak to you, direct you, reveal my will to you, through the Scriptures.” And remember: even though these early Christians didn’t have the complete canon, they found the available Scriptures to be sufficient for all areas of their lives. How much more sufficient should the Scriptures be for us? We have both the Old and New Testaments, the complete package, something that our first-century brothers did not enjoy. How much more dependent should we be on the Scriptures than them!
As we lead Christ’s sheep, let us trust his Word, knowing that it is sufficient for all of our needs. Let us preach Scripture, let us pray Scripture, let us allow Scripture to lead us, let us reach others with Scripture, and let us protect our churches with Scripture. And as we depend on Scripture in the task God has given us, may God build his church.
Roshan Ouseph is a seminary student and shepherds the youth of Chembur Biblical Baptist Church, Mumbai. He is married to a loving wife and father to a funny toddler.