The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: Article 2

Article two of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy reads: “We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture. We deny that Church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.” This is an affirmation consistent with the Reformational doctrine of sola scriptura, or Scripture alone, and a denial of Roman Catholicism’s doctrine of Scripture and Tradition, and thereby a denial, in principle, of its doctrine of the Church. To understand the direction the implications of this statement take us, we need to unpack the features of the relationships expressed by the article. These relationships revolve around the word authority.

Given the anti-authoritarian age in which we live, it is no surprise that there is not only much confusion regarding what is meant by authority in any given matter in which the term and concept is used, but also an outright attempt to deny authority altogether. But this latter move is literally absurd. Authority is an essential aspect to life. One is certainly free to deny authority in principle, but that does precious little in doing away with it. Authority is to human living what oxygen is to it—a necessary and constituent aspect of it. This is not to say that everyone’s exercise of authority is always done rightly. Far from it. It is to say that anyone whose fundamental orientation to life is to live in rebellion against authority is going to find that they have a very rough go of it. You might as well try and walk by chopping off both your legs.

The term and concept of authority expresses both power and responsibility in some sphere. Article two fundamentally asserts that God’s written word is that rule and power by which God binds every human conscience. Since God’s church is made up of—you guessed it—people, God’s church has neither the power nor responsibility to bind the consciences of others. Therefore, the leaders of every congregation, denomination, or branch of God’s church should not presume to try and bind the conscience of anyone. God, through his Word and Spirit, binds and obligates all people, and we therefore are, ultimately, answerable to God for everything.

What lies at the basis of such statements is the truth that the Triune God is the Creator, Judge and Redeemer. As his creatures, all people are ultimately responsible to God alone. This is not to say that we do not have responsibilities to other people. Rather, it is to say that all these other responsibilities are to be understood as the expression of our ultimate responsibility to God. No one on earth has absolute unqualified authority, not even church leaders.

Truly, the shepherds of God’s people have a daunting task. God’s people have been told “[Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). Church leaders must interpret and implement God’s word within the church in order to watch over the souls of God’s people. During his earthly life, Jesus gave his chosen apostles the unique supernatural power and authority to write, interpret and implement Scripture in an unerring way for the church. Such men had to have been eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry, death, resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:21-22). Once those men completed the writing of the inerrant word of God, God’s covenant people would always be dependent on the Holy Spirit’s illumining and empowering men in every generation of the church to minister his lifegiving word to them. Yet such men are finite, fallen and therefore fallible.  

All of God’s children, even and especially, the leaders of the church must “grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Peter 3:16) and should not say that they “have no sin” and thereby “deceive” themselves, for to do so is to show that the “truth is not in” them (1John 1:8). Instead, all God’s people, even and especially, the leaders of the church must confess their sins knowing that Jesus is faithful to forgive those sins and cleanse from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9). This is a lifelong activity that is rooted in continuing to abide in God’s word, which is the truth that through the work of God’s Spirit sets all God’s people free from sin (John 8:31-32; 1Cor. 2:6-16; Rom. 8). Thus, it is the written text of Scripture and the ministry of God’s Spirit that alone bind the consciences of God’s people. The church is not the Holy Spirit. There is one Master, our Lord Jesus, to whom every Christian must answer and he is able to make all his servants stand (Romans 14:4).

May God’s children live joyously and thankfully knowing that God, who is Truth, causes his children to know truth through his chosen means of revealing it.

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.   



David Smith