Becoming enveloped in movies, books, and other forms of entertainment can be a great part of culture. Of course there are down sides to being overwhelmed with entertainment, but as a whole most of us really enjoy good story telling. But what happens when we are presented with another story that is supposedly “like” one that we already enjoy? Sometimes it holds up, and often times it does not. But even more offensive than failed attempts to be “like” stories that we enjoy is mistaken identity of a good story. A Star Trek fan is going to be a little chapped if you mistake their beloved series for a Star Wars movie. And no self-respecting fan of the Chronicles of Narnia is going to let someone get away with mistaking it for some other generic mythos. When I was a child I was a big fan of the Power Rangers, and due to the popularity of that show there were a lot of knock-offs that began surfacing. But no matter how much the tv network tried to get me to like the Big Bad Beetleborgs, they would never replace my beloved power rangers (it almost hurt to type that). The point is that if we are to be devoted to an original work, then we must be able to identify the difference between that work and other things that may be a little similar. This brings us to chapter 1, paragraph 3 of the 1689.
“The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings.”
THE WHAT NOW?
If you have never heard of the apocrypha, then allow me to briefly explain. It is a collection of uninspired writings that have been printed between the Old and New Testaments along side inspired texts in some Bibles. You most likely won’t find the apocrypha in Bibles today unless you are specifically searching for it. It contains some recorded history of the Maccabean Revolt, which is no doubt a very important event in history. This is not the only thing found in the apocrypha, but possibly the most significant.
So is the apocrypha evil and to be completely avoided? No. That is not what the confession is saying at all. The point of including paragraph 3 is to make clear that the books listed in paragraph 2 are the only inspired books. No other writing, even the apocryphal writings, are inspired by the Holy Spirit and considered the very words of God. The apocrypha may read somewhat like the Bible, but it is not the Bible. We should not look to it in the same way we look to the scriptures for life and godliness, but rather we should treat it just like any other human writing. Even the 1689 confession itself is human writing that seeks to summarize the doctrines of the Bible, but we are never to treat it as the Bible. Just like a being able to tell the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek (or whatever narrative you are passionate about), we need to be able to tell the difference between the Bible and all other books.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER BOOKS?
We can apply this further by making some distinction between books that are simply uninspired versus books that are heretical (meaning that they are not only “not the Bible”, but actively push back against the truths of the Bible). We are blessed to have lots of resources that are “about” the Bible. These include commentaries, study notes, Bible studies, and books on Christian living. These can certainly be a great help to us, given that they actually teach and affirm the things in the Bible. But this is where we must be watchful. There are many “christian” books out there that do not seek to proclaim biblical truth, but rather seek to twist the scripture to a fit their own narrative. It would be like someone taking some things out of one of your favorite stories and attempting to insert them into their own story. Cheap imitation versions of biblical truth are sprinkled through many books from people claiming the name of Christ (yes, even at Christian bookstores), and we must be guarded against them. The best way to do this is to know the Bible well and with even more intensity that you give to your favorite fiction book, movie, or tv series. This will protect you against heresy in all of its subtle and not so subtle varieties. There are more “not so subtle” books out their such as the book of mormon and the nwt version of the bible (Jehovah’s Witness) that would seek to lead us astray, but the principle remains the same for guarding against these books. Read and know the 66 books listed in chapter 1, paragraph 2 of the 1689, and you will be more alert to the imitations that come up.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER SO MUCH
When we miss the gospel by adding things to it that do not belong, then we are doing great damage to ourselves and others. It’s not just missing the mark by a little bit, it’s aiming at a totally different target. In writing to the Galatians, Paul was dealing with this issue. He tells them this, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV) When we get the gospel wrong then we are actually bringing a curse upon ourselves. The true gospel of Christ says that Jesus took our curse upon himself that we would be made right with God. The true gospel says that the wrath of God was poured out upon Jesus, and that those who trust in him are justified. But when we change this message by adding to it or taking away from it, then we bring the curse upon ourselves. That is why we must know the word and consider it exclusive from all other literary works. It is the difference between life and death.