“Roll reproach and contempt away from me, for I have preserved Your Testimonies” — Psalm 119:22
Saturday, March 14, 2015
In Augustine’s time, controversies between Christian partisans were all too often “settled” by the sword, not by the Word of God—the carnal sword, not the Sword of the Spirit. This was repeated in Luther’s and Calvin’s and Knox’s day. True also in the days of the Arminian Remonstrance in the Netherlands in the early 1600s, in the Thirty Years’ War, during the English Revolution and Cromwell’s day around mid-century, during the Dutch Afscheiding of the 1830’s, on so on, and many episodes in between. It’s an old and pervasive imperial habit.
Although in the 18th to 19th century American republic a sea change was taking place, especially along the frontier, not until late 19th century did free churches start abounding in Europe.
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I’ve been trying for years to scare up a conversation about some central issues of the faith. I’ve peddled my stuff around to churches and pastors. I’ve sent these pieces around for nearly eight years now—since Pentecost season of 2007. I crave high-level friendly exchanges where I can learn why my findings and discoveries seem to contradict so much of theology and dogma. I did get some heartening responses, but mostly silence (and, of course, a few rebuffs, which I only expected).
Then I started a blog site, “The Premial Atonement,” to rouse some conversation. It has just passed its Third Anniversary—March 11th. Yet I have only received about a dozen blog responses total. This is fine with me from one perspective: I can continue to load up my years of exegetical notes and systematic musings in peace and tranquility. Plus, I can even go back to correct and tweak whatever I’ve written. I can post “Papers” at the top of the site and revise them to my heart’s content without embarrassment.
However, pastors are too busy to broach the reading of my stuff. Professors have burdensome loads of papers to grade, their own lectures to prepare, and graduate students to supervise. But bloggers? They want something more “sexy” to read than my jargon and idiosyncratic approach. I get that.
Yet nobody takes time to dig into the Word these days! [Okay, okay—just a bit of rhetorical exaggeration there.] Even with the inestimable boon of computerized Bible search engines of extraordinary capabilities and vast libraries of biblical and theological reference works and commentaries at our fingertips, few take the time to exploit the treasures.
Now, granted the deleterious effects of electronic media on the emerging generations, I suspect that more fundamentally we need a sufficient reason—something with solid threat value—to stir us to action. Many of my writings would pose such a threat to traditional doctrines—doctrines formulated in days preceding development of our modern study tools. Since that day, their dogmatic errors, despite numerous and able objectors, have become enshrined and entrenched beyond criticism. Like the Talmud, which often tended to bumped the Torah in authority, they serve to divide the unity of Christ’s body into sects/“heresies” mutually contending for territory and human souls, on the lookout for “converts,” or at least pew sitters, to give some semblance of truth to claims to be “growing.” But growing up and growing fat are very different processes.
The early church at Jerusalem saw fit to make room for people willing and able to devote their time and skills to serving up the Word of God. Jesus himself was a rabbi, as scholars are coming to agree. [See Rodney Stark, “Jesus and the Jesus Movement,” Chap. 3 in The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion (New York: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2011), pp. 49-70] Thus he established this genetic code for his disciples/learners, and hence for the church at large.
Study of God’s Word—close examination—is normative for churches of God, in fact definitive. It is what makes us followers and “disciples”/“learners” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not sermons. Paul argued the Gospel from synagogue to synagogue, and even his epistles to churches are arguments. Being in that sense “argumentative” is not a bad thing…just so long as we keep up the argumentation over Scripture in sincerity, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and “believing all things” good (1 Corinthians 13) about one another, instead of fragmenting into sects and “fighting over words” and casting each other out of the church—think only of Diotrephes (“Zeus-nurtured”—thunderbolts and all!) in 3 John. Let God’s Word prevail among us. All progress starts when we heartily believe we might be wrong! For to believe that is to remain always repentant in mood. To be unwilling to engage fellow “fallibles” is to harden up, become stiff-necked, and risk “cardio-sclerosis” hard-heartedness. That is a prelude to judgment from God. And as we know, “judgment begins at the house of God.”
So in the spirit of last Sunday’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 13, let us submit ourselves to one another in love and proceed to investigate God’s life-giving Word from Heaven instead of remaining stuck in earthly creeds and confessions and catechisms whenever it becomes sufficiently evident that they have become human traditions that obscure God’s Word (as I now sincerely believe they have).
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The apostle Paul charged that elders of the flock should be “apt-to-teach” (1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:24) presumably the Word of God in preference to “confessions,” “creeds,” or “theology”—doing their own digging instead of retrenching the ruts of fallible forbears, although paying due respects for their efforts.
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You cannot become right unless you believe you might be wrong. Even so, you can’t become righteous unless you believe you might have done wrong and get forgiveness for it. Western civilization, granted its irregularities, has absorbed much of this wisdom. It is the mainspring of sustainable progress.
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If you insist that everyone must agree with all your extra-biblical distinctives and shibboleths in order to stay under your roof, you are, in effect, a schismatic (i.e., a “heretic”) and will divide the one body of Christ, as indeed you have. You have let an imposter insinuate itself into the place of honor that should be reserved for Scripture alone.
Sunday morning adult discussion has been a real comedown for me, because it is never a time for real Bible study, investigation, or exposition. [I understand you have a week night small group where this may happen. Does it?] You tend to stroke your source of separation: confession and catechisms. Creedal assumptions simply shine your shibboleths.
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Harold is, in effect, acting schismatically to insist on parroting the creeds (unless the Apostles’). We can do better. Diotrephes went so far as to expel the saints. If Harold is not a “Diotrephes,” he’s honing dangerously close.
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It is my opinion that well-known mid-20th century evangelical author Leon Morris is guilty of a kind of criminal negligence in the field of theology. Moreover, he is a repeat offender. As I came across these instances I lost my composure and became indignant. Yet the man is highly honored among Evangelicals. J. I. Packer is similarly guilty, yet is still held in highest esteem. This baffles me. Don’t folks study the Bible for themselves? Isn’t the Word of God living among us? How can we be so put upon by such trifling with Scripture? “Them’s fightin’ words” for some fans of these popular authors. But whose indignation is the more justified?