Kevin Bauder, the President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, would certainly disagree with me. He has written an article on the Perspicuity of Scripture available online. Perspicuity, which means “clearness or lucidity, as of a statement” was a major tenent of the Reformation. The Reformers argued that one could read and understand the major teachings of the Bible without any help from the Roman Church. The RCC, on the other hand, maintained, that they, and only they, could properly interpret the Scriptures.
So which is it? Is the Bible unambiguous or is it open to a variety of opposing interpretations?
In the article, Bauder makes the following admission:
In some circles, one finds a naïve belief that a solitary individual, given no prior instruction, can simply sit down with a Bible and discover the entire Christian faith. The problems with this view are manifold. The first and most obvious is that no one has ever actually done this. The second is that God never intended anyone to do so—God’s plan was for those who had been taught to commit what they had learned to faithful people, who would in turn teach others (2 Tim. 2:2). The third is that wherever people have tried to start from nothing and interpret the Bible for themselves, they have (almost?) invariably produced error and even heresy.
I applaud him for this honest admission. However, prior to this statement, he writes:
In other words, the aspect of Scripture that can be understood by anyone is its saving message. Any truth that is essential to salvation is clearly and comprehensibly revealed "in some place of Scripture or other." Anyone can learn the way of Salvation by reading the Bible.
It is no small matter that the way of salvation has been revealed in language that any person can understand. We do not have to rely upon sophisticated intellectual tools. We do not have to rely upon specially-endued ecclesiastical spokesmen. If we can read the Bible in our hands, then we can know how to be saved.
So, while he would not say that the entire message of the Bible is perspicuous, he does believe that the basic message of “how one is to be saved” is crystal clear.
I completely disagree with his contention. If the way of salvation is so clear and obvious in Scripture, then why is there not unanimous or at least nearly unanimous agreement among those who accept the Bible as the Word of God on how one is to be saved?
I think you could make the point that the New Testament says clearly that one needs to believe (have faith) in Jesus in order to be saved (e.g. John 3:16). But there is still a host of questions:
1. What exactly is faith?
a. Is it merely intellectual assent? Members of the Grace Evangelical Society answer in the affirmative. On their website, one reads:
Faith is the conviction that something is true. To believe in Jesus (“he who believes in Me has everlasting life”) is to be convinced that He guarantees everlasting life to all who simply believe in Him for it (John 4:14; 5:24; 6:47; 11:26; 1 Tim 1:16).
No act of obedience, preceding or following faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, such as commitment to obey, sorrow for sin, turning from one’s sin, baptism or submission to the Lordship of Christ, may be added to, or considered part of, faith as a condition for receiving everlasting life (Rom 4:5; Gal 2:16; Titus 3:5). This saving transaction between God and the sinner is simply the giving and receiving of a free gift (Eph 2:8-9; John 4:10 ; Rev 22:17 ).
b. Is it intellectual assent plus submission to the Lordship of Christ? John MacArthur and many strict Calvinists would say, Yes.
MacArthur writes that faith
‘encompasses obedience,’ and that obedience is ‘an integral part of saving faith.’ Indeed, obedience is bound up in the very 'definition of faith,’ being a constitutive element in what it means to believe.’ Thus any ‘concept of faith that excludes obedience’ must be rejected because obedience is ‘indivisibly wrapped up in the idea of believing.’ In fact, ‘the character of true faith’ is nothing less than the ‘higher righteousness’ of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-11.8. MacArthur even suggests that obedience is ‘synonymous with’ faith. (See The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith?, pp. 173-176)
2. Is faith alone enough for salvation?
MacArthur and the Grace Evangelical Society and most evangelicals would say, “Yes.” However, other Protestant groups, such as those who trace their lineage to Alexander Campbell (including the Churches of Christ, the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Evangelical Christian Church in Canada, and the Christian Church [Disciples of Christ]) would say, “No.” Campbell, a former Baptist, became convinced that the Bible demanded baptism in order to receive forgiveness of sins. So faith alone was not enough. Listen to the churches of Christ website:
You should know that by baptism:
•You are saved from sins (Mark 16:16 1 Peter 3:21)
•You have remission of sins (Acts 2:38)
•Sins are washed away by the blood of Christ (Acts 22:16; Hebrews 9:22; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:21)
•You enter into the church (1 Corinthians 12:13; Acts 2:41,47)
•You enter into Christ (Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:3-4)
•You put on Christ and become a child of God (Galatians 3:26-27)
•You are born again, a new creature (Romans 6:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:17)
•You walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-6)
•You obey Christ (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 10:48; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
These groups believe they are following the clear teaching of Scripture. Campbell’s maxim was: Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.
In addition to the Campbellite churches, many Lutherans believe that baptism is an integral part of what is required for salvation.
3. How does one acquire faith?
a. Calvinists (monergists, i.e, salvation is solely God’s work) say that it is a gift from God. "Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God's gift of salvation - it is God's gift to the sinner, not the sinner's gift to God.(See here.)
b. Arminians (synergists, i.e., man cooperates with God in salvation) say that faith originates in man. "The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God's Spirit and be regenerated or resist God's grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit's assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man's act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner's gift to God; it is man's contribution to salvation.”. See here.
c. Lutherans as alluded to above, say that the seed of faith is implanted in the infant at the moment of baptism and that seeds need to be nurtured until it blossoms into saving faith. See here.
4. What is the necessary object of faith?
In other words, must one have faith in God or must that faith be specifically in Jesus Christ in order to be saved? Evangelicals for the most part would answer it must be in Jesus Christ although many of them leave the door open for “those who have never heard the gospel” to have some type of belief in the God of nature and thus be saved. As one author put it:
Most evangelicals believe that conversion involves explicitly recognizing Jesus Christ as God's Son and the mediator of salvation. Thus one's loyalty and trust is properly placed in Christ himself as the one true locus of faith. An alternative model, however, suggests that the key to conversion is not the conscious recognition of who Jesus is and what he does, but rather has to do with the heart's disposition toward the true God, however God is apprehended. And according to this model, since God has revealed Godself in a variety of ways throughout the world, one can hope and even expect that many will enter eternal life without ever hearing of Jesus Christ.
Clark Pinnock has argued for this position in A Wideness in God's Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions.
5. If one has to believe specifically in Jesus Christ in order to be saved, the next question is what must one believe about him?
a. Must one acknowledge that he is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father or may one believe that he is somehow a notch below God the Father, albeit still divine. Virtually all evangelicals would say the former because this debate was fought in the early church and Athanasius defeated Arius(see here ).
But why was there a dispute in the first place if the Scripture is perspicuous? And was Arius some evil man who denied the Bible? No, he was following what he honestly thought the Scriptures taught.
b. While evangelicals pretty much insist that one accept the full deity of Jesus in order to be saved, there is still disagreement among themselves as to what happened to the deity of Christ during the incarnation. Some say he laid aside some of those attributes, which in effect would make him not deity during his time on earth.
Other evangelicals would insist that he merely laid aside the use of those attributes, albeit, still possessing them. Granted, the more educated evangelicals seem to agree that he did not lay aside any of his attributes, but the popular exposition of the subject by many preachers claim that Jesus did all of his miracles not by his own power but as an ordinary man aided by the power of the Holy Spirit (for example, John R. Rice, Commentary on Luke and many charismatic preachers). Can a person be "really saved" if he/she has that view of Jesus Christ?
So, there you have it. The Bible is crystal clear on how one is to be saved. Anyone can just pick up a Bible start reading and “get saved.” Yeah, right. I have to agree with the Ethiopian eunuch when Philip approached him in Acts 8:30-31:
Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?"
It seems to me that if the Bible were really the Word of God, it would be clear and unambiguous throughout but at the very least it would be plain on how one is to be saved.