If Scripture is the Word of God, we are not free to interpret it in any way that might feel right to us. Peter warned:
- That no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Had prophecy originated with man, we would be free to interpret according to our own whims. However, since prophesy came from God, we are constrained to interpret it according to His intent. Jesus denounced the Pharisees because they consistently failed to properly interpret Scripture (Matthew 22:29), but taught it as if they had. Through their teaching, they had “taken away the key to knowledge” (Luke 11:52) that would have unlocked the door to salvation. And they were culpable for this! They weren’t making honest and innocent interpretive mistakes.
Many pastors and teachers of Scripture are also taking “away the key to knowledge,” causing others to stumble in their pursuit of truth. I just heard one pastor teaching about Eldad and Medad who “prophesied in the camp” (Numbers 11:26-29). However, Joshua, Moses’ assistant unjustifiably protested, “Moses, my lord, stop them!" However, Moses corrected Joshua:
- “I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" (Num. 26:29)
The pastor surmised that Eldad and Medad hadn’t been included in the in-crowd and concluded that Moses was dishing out a lesson in the radical inclusiveness of any lifestyle, even in regards to the ministry.
However, this interpretation is entirely unwarranted. The two men had been “listed among the elders” and “the Spirit also rested on them.” Besides, Joshua’s protest focused on the fact that they were “prophesying in the camp" and not where the others were prophesying. It seemed to have nothing to do with their being outsiders.
Even worse, the pastor’s reasoning went like this:
- If Moses refused to judge Eldad and Medad, we shouldn’t judge others. If he didn’t prevent them from ministering, we shouldn’t prevent others from ministering.
However, such an interpretation is Scripturally impossible! Scripture is filled with many examples of judging and excluding:
- Jesus’ teachings on eternal punishment. (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:9; Matthew 23:15; Matthew 23:33; Mark 9:43; Mark 9:45; Mark 9:47; Luke 12:5)
- The many OT denunciations of false prophets. (Jeremiah 23:17-18, 31; 14:14; 5:31; 29:31; Zeph. 3:4; Micah 3:11; Isaiah 28:7; Ezekiel 13:2, 4, 10; 14:9; 22:28)
- The many NT denunciations of churches that either allowed sin or false teachers in their midst (Rev. 2:14, 20).
- Teachings on church discipline. (1 Cor. 5:5-6; Mat. 18:15-20)
- The qualifications for elders and deacons. (Titus 1; 1 Tim. 3)
Clearly, the Bible isn’t teaching in favor of the radical inclusiveness of any lifestyle. Consequently, the pastor’s preaching cannot be the result of an honest mistake. This pastor of many years couldn’t have been ignorant of these verses and hundreds more like them.
Jesus judged! He warned us to beware of false teachers. (This does not pertain to immature Christians!):
- "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-16)
Jesus counsels that we should “recognize them” by their fruit. This is especially true regarding the fruit of their teaching. If they have “taken away the key to knowledge” (Luke 11:52), the church must be warned of this. However, many well-meaning Christians feel that we shouldn’t judge in this matter.
However, this pastor who taught radical inclusiveness, even in the face of unrepented sin, has “taken away the key to knowledge” in favor of a false but comforting hope. In this, he is following in the steps of the false prophets:
- “They [the false prophets] keep saying to those who despise me, 'The Lord says: You will have peace.' And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, 'No harm will come to you.' But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word?...The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart…I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” (Jeremiah 23:17-22)
Preaching peace in the place of repentance is murder. The false prophets and pastors should instead “have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” However, their minds have been co-opted by a false understanding of love, which equates love with indulgence.
We cannot twist Scripture so that it will agree with our philosophy of life. Peter had warned that when we culpably and knowingly twist Scripture, we are preparing for our own funeral:
- He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)
If “destruction” is at stake, must we not warn, even cry out, even when we are accused of spreading “hate?” We are not free to interpret Scripture and to speak of God according to our whims. God was angry with Job’s three friends because they did not speak “of Me what was right” (Job 42:7-8).
My prayer is that I might always interpret Scripture correctly. It is His Word, and He deserves no less. It is also an act of love.