Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Scripture: Can We Pick-and-Choose?

If Christianity was ever “trendy,” it certainly isn’t today. Rather, many find it highly offensive. Why?

1. It criticizes many of our lifestyle choices.
2. It tells us that “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
3. It also tells us that the only remedy is through Christ: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father EXCEPT THROUGH ME” (John 14:6).
4. To add insult to injury, Scripture adds that “all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thes. 2:12).

This is just too much for the person who embraces the values of the prevailing culture. Because of this, some have completely rejected Christ. Others try to retain Christ without all of His teachings. After all, if Scripture isn’t fully God-breathed, trustworthy, and authoritative, the middle-of-the-roaders have some wiggle-room to pick and choose. In support of this notion, one theologian, the late Clark Pinnock, wrote,

“Conservative evangelicals find it difficult to accept the evidence that God in his written Word has stooped to our infirmity and given us a Bible with human limitations.”

Why might we believe otherwise – that the Bible is free from human error, at least as it was originally written? For one thing, Scripture contains many safeguards against the entry of uninspired material:

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. (Deut. 13:1-5)

God has always been in the business of safeguarding His Word. Therefore, everything that would be regarded as His Word had to conform to prior revelation, even if counter-revelations came with a miraculous side-show. In addition to this, the prophet had to establish his divine credentials by prophesying correctly 100% of the time:

You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. (Deut. 18:21-22).

This same principle has been carried over into the New Testament. It wasn’t enough that an Apostle or a Prophet had been charismatic. He had to carry with his teachings the Lord’s authenticating miracles:

“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:3-4)

Jesus stated that this principle pertained even to Him:

“Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:37-38)

Jesus and the Apostles were also quick to demonstrate that Scripture itself attested to their teachings. In many ways they proclaimed that their teachings were and what had been written before them was Scripture and therefore fully authoritative:

• Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy NEVER HAD ITS ORIGIN IN THE WILL OF MAN, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
(2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 Peter 1:10-11).

In so many ways, the Holy Spirit is identified as the ultimate author of Scripture, and therefore, Scripture is fully God-breathed, fully the product of God and not “human limitations”:

• ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
(2 Tim. 3:16-17).

It is only because Scripture is fully the product of God – and therefore totally trustworthy and authoritative – that Paul could assert that it will enable us to “be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” If Scripture included “human limitations,” then we would have to make ourselves into the ultimate authorities by trying to distinguish between human error and divine guidance. And if we have the wisdom to be the ultimate arbiter, then who needs Scripture!

Instead, of a fully trustworthy set of Scriptures, Pinnock claims,

“What keeps us sound in the faith will not be our strenuous rationalistic efforts to make the case for the Bible air-tight. It is the Spirit of God in mighty power moving through the church.”

According to Pinnock, the church could exercise Spirit-led group discernment to determine what is truly trustworthy. Although the Spirit can work in this manner, what happens when the group hits an impasse? One elder claims that the Spirit is leading him in one direction, while another claims another direction? Ultimately, the Spirit gave us His Scripture as the final objective authority on all such disputes.

Jesus (nor any book of Scripture) even said anything to suggest that Scripture might not be fully trustworthy. Instead, He consistently affirmed Scripture:

• I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…
(Matthew 5:18-19)

According to Jesus, every letter and every commandment was God-given and couldn’t be altered. Everything had to be fulfilled, because it all had its origin with God. He explained this to His doubting followers on the Emmaus road:

• "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and ALL the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in ALL the Scriptures concerning himself.
(Luke 24:25-27)

If He knew that Scripture contained errors, He wouldn’t have been able to call upon “ALL the Prophets… [and] ALL the Scriptures.” Nor would He be able to assert that everything had to be fulfilled:

He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:44; also John 10:35)

In contrast to this, Pinnock asserted:

“It is important to insist that the Bible is a merely human text – written, copied, translated, and interpreted by fallible people. It contains all manner of internal contradictions, moral blemishes, legend and saga, inaccuracies, and the like. It is a collection of intensely human documents and is not an authority beyond criticism or correction. To regard it as God’s written Word is an idolatrous perversion of belief which must be dethroned.”

Instead, Jesus taught that to abide in Him was to abide in His Word (John 15; 14:21-24). If we are “idolatrous,” then Jesus also was! If we are to take Jesus, we also have to take His teachings, which He commanded to be taught to all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Besides, He Himself submitted to Scripture. When He was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, He consistently resorted to Scripture:

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on EVERY word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)

Life and maturity are a matter of taking “every Word” as authoritative. Scripture uniformly testifies that the Spirit transforms us through the Word:

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thes. 2:13)

Paul asserts that his writings and teachings are also Scripture, but he also asserts that it works miraculously and transformingly within those of us who believe. When we fail to take Scripture as it is intended, we loose out.

During years of enduring a thick blanket of depression and panic attacks, I found that there was only one thing that could dent these totally debilitating afflictions – the Word of God. Often, I was so afflicted that I couldn’t even read it, but at other times, a simple statement of Scripture would miraculously take on life. For instance, on one occasion, the simple assertion, “And God heard him,” burst upon me like an explosion of light. It lasted no more than a second, but it left me changed. It not only drove away my depression, but it also taught me profound truths – God was with me; I was wondrously in His hands; He knew what I was going through and in His time He would rescue me after He had accomplished His blessed purposes. Even in the midst of my pain, I was left with a growing confidence that nothing else could have provided.

The depression would return, but so would the lessons. I wonder whether we know what we are sacrificing when we prioritize our life-style choices above Him and His Word. Do we know the riches that we surrender to the passing fads of social acceptability?

My depression is largely a thing of the past, but I thank God for His severe training (Psalm 119:71). It has taught me the supremacy of His Word, and that’s what pleases Him:

You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:14)

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