"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Grace under Siege 65: Why we stood up

    This past Sunday Jerry and I stood up in the middle of Lou's sermon. Some of you noticed and wondered why.
     We have sensed for some time that standing for truth might require us to physically stand against lies coming from the pulpit. Much of what is said sounds wonderful, although it may be extra-Biblical or unBiblical. But we knew if Lou said something ANTI-Biblical we could not let it go.
     For the last four Sundays Lou has preached on unity. This Sunday someone read Ephesians 4:1-16 aloud and then Lou preached on part of that passage. As usual much of what He said was beautiful, eloquent, even true. Also as usual, about 3/4ths of the way through his message he slipped in a one-sentence zinger that contradicted a foundational, non-negotiable teaching of the Bible in a major way. This time he contradicted the commands throughout the Bible to value, seek and know truth.
     His subject was Living into Your Calling. He asked, "What does it look like to faithfully perform our part as God's called people?" Answering the question, he said, "Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:1-3: 'As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. . . . walk worthy of your calling with all humility and gentleness.'"
     Then he said, "None of that involves knowing the right doctrine. None of that involves understanding the correct meanings of theological terms and Greek words." It isn't the first time he has dismissed Bible study as irrelevant and even mocked it.
     So Jerry and I stood up.
     Doctrine means teaching. Lou said in effect that right teaching is not important. He implied that knowing and understanding truth is one of the "non-essentials" of the faith. His repeated negation of the necessity for knowing and anchoring our attitudes and behavior in the truths of  Scripture is appalling.
      Let me assure you, Jesus Christ takes strong exception to that view! He speaks truth, His word is truth, He is truth. He is all about truth.
     The apostle Paul, too, would take exception to Lou's emphasis on the importance of unity while blowing off truth. I can't imagine Paul talking about unity without sooner or later pointing out the need to balance unity with truth--and sure enough, if you keep reading the rest of Ephesians 4:1-16 after Lou stopped expositing, Paul says that church leaders are to equip believers for service not only to bring about unity but to bring about knowledge. Knowledge of the Son of God.
    "As a result," Paul writes in verses 15-16, "we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
     If we have no solid Biblical teaching about who Jesus Christ is, Paul is saying, we will not mature and we will be vulnerable to false doctrines. That is where our church is. Our leaders do not ground us in true teaching so we are tossed about by all kinds of theories and philosphies and can not even recognize false teaching. Teaching truth, accurately dividing the word of God right down to the definitions of individual words keeps us anchored, keeps us from being vulnerable to lies.
     "The plenary [absolute] inspiration of the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit guided men into truth and away from error. In this process the Spirit of God used language, and the units of language are words and thoughts. The thought is the thread that strings the words together. Therefore, our very exegesis [critical interpretation of a text] must commence with a study of words and grammar, the two fundamentals of all meaningful speech." Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp. 54ff.
     Quoting this passage from Ramm, J. Dwight Pentecost writes, "Inasmuch as God gave the Word of God as a revelation to men, it would be expected that His revelation would be given in such exact and specific terms that His thoughts would be accurately conveyed and understood when interpreted according to the laws of grammar and speech." Things to Come, p. 10
     What is the alternative? What happens if church leaders neglect "right doctrine" and "correct meanings of theological terms and Greek words" regarding the knowledge of the Son of God? Paul says that the alternative is to 1) remain spiritual infants, 2) be tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching, 3) to be defenseless against the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Vulnerable to lies.
     The alternative is where our church is right now. We are not taught sound doctrine. In Life Groups we discuss the Bible, everyone sharing their own opinions and interpretations, which are all given equal value. (Very tolerant, very post-modern. As Jesus Eyes, one of our pastors/edlers, explained to a church member who has since left, "Well, you know, we are in the post-Christian era.") There is no right or wrong, no "Thus saith the Lord!" in our church.  There is no "studying to show ourselves approved to God," no "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
     We have no plumb line. A plumb line is "a line (as of cord) that has at one end a weight and is used to determine verticality." To know error we have to have a plumb line, a standard of truth against which to measure ideas. How can we recognize and reject the counterfeit unless we are rooted and grounded in a knowledge of the true? Scripture is the plumb line to which we must compare every teaching that seeks to take root in our minds. If we don't study the Bible and are never taught facts about Jesus Christ, Paul says, we don't grow and we don't fit into our place in the body of Christ so it can grow.
     But Lou gives us no plumb line and indicates that we don't need one, that truth doesn't matter. Once more, Lou is devaluing God's Word by discouraging us from taking it seriously and from devoting ourselves to reading, studying, and understanding it.

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