SEANíS STUDY HELPíS
If you have ever been targeted as a salvation candidate by one or more fundamentalists, you should well know the inner turmoil it can cause. A close friend or family member "gets saved" and makes life miserable for all around him who do not enjoy his same enthusiasm. These people donít give up and they donít take no for an answer. They spew a multitude of Bible verses past you at lightning speed. You are left with little or nothing to respond to them. I have been in this situation more times than I care to count. There is no need to fret, though. The Bible they have co-opted really and truly belongs to us. This may be hard to see, depending upon your situation, but take heart. In order to reclaim the Bible back, it is prudent that we start this book with some foundations. Jesus said:
"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock."Matt 7:24-25
We cannot say we hold truth unless we do it from solid ground. St. Irenaeus, the second century bishop of Lyons, wrote
"For we learned the plan of our salvation from no others than from those through whom the gospel came to us (the apostles). They preached it abroad, and then later by the will of God handed it down to us in writings (The New Testament), to be the foundation and pillar of our faith."
Like it or not, we must acknowledge that the concept of Holy Scripture as a foundation is very ancient and we in our modern age should use Scripture as a "foundation." This does not mean we have to become fundamentalist in order to embrace Scripture. The next seven chapters are designed to give us some basic foundations before we get on to the items of dispute. The next two chapters deal with the heart of the matter. That is Holy Scripture. When I studied the writings from various fundamentalist camps, I noticed six common patterns that have led to errors. I am writing these guidelines out for you so you can learn to identify and avoid these patterns.
SEANíS BIBLE STUDY HELPS
1. Every Scripture has a context, both written and historical.
Many times I have read or heard a verse (or partial verse) used to support an assertion. Many times when I look up the verse, I find that by itself, it seems to support the assertion in question, but in context, the support wanes somewhat if not outright contradicts it.
I remember as a child hearing " God does not hear sinners" (probably in an attempt to scare me and correct some naughty behavior I was engaged in). So if I am bad, will God not hear my prayers? This above quotation is probably a slight paraphrase of JN 9:31:
" Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will him he heareth."
Are you scared yet? Look at I John 1:8:
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
All men are sinners including myself! If this is true, God wonít hear my prayers. Now, if you will, please take the time to read from John 9:13-34 and see John 9:31 in context, You will find that John 9:31 is not a Christian teaching but a statement made by the Pharisees in their confusion about the nature of Jesus Christís deity.
As far as a historical context is concerned, we must realize that our culture is different from the cultures that existed during the times of the Scriptures; there are many societal norms that we have and they didnít and vice versa. We in our society (for good or ill) have the policy of separation of church and state. This would have been unknown during scriptural times, yet I have talked with many people who assume this to be the norm in all times, and think it silly or strange when Scripture reports otherwise. There are many historical sources outside the Bible in which one can learn about the societies that existed at or near the times of Scripture and that can give some insight on attitudes, geography, weather, customs, etc., all of which can play a role in shaping a society that makes it unique. We cannot assume our societal norms are shared with all cultures including scriptural ones. My example of St. Peter later in this chapter is a good example of historical context.
2. "All scripture is given by the inspiration of God"(II Tim 3:16). Translations are not.
You must be very careful before you take a verse, put it in your arsenal, and dig yourself into a foxhole with it, that the "plain English" the verse is in is an accurate rendering. Perhaps you have heard, "You must be born again if you are to be saved." This is a paraphrase of John 3:3
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily. I say unto thee, Except a man be born again. He cannot see the kingdom of God."
Well Jesus never really said "born again;" the Greek is more accurately translated "born from above," which could give some different insight to the verse and any theology connected with it and indeed, I will devote a whole chapter to it.
3. Absence of Scripture (or perceived absence of Scripture), though perhaps a cause for concern, is not the basis of sound doctrine.
There is a saying amongst a few of the fundamentalist sects that goes. "We speak where Scripture speaks. We are silent where Scripture is silent." It is not uncommon when the fundamentalists point their fingers at the doctrines and practices of traditional Christians and proclaims their reasons for not having like doctrines and practices, is that they canít find it in the Bible. They can often sound like whiney schoolchildren as they go on and on about their inability to find certain things in Holy Scripture. Though it is true that not a few sects have doctrines and practices that are strange to Holy Scripture, there are many that are not. We will discuss many of these items later in the book. Try this for a quick example. "Tradition" has it that St. Peter eventually settled in Rome and was martyred there. Many fundamentalists cringe at the notion and will exclaim, "You will find it nowhere in the Bible that Peter was ever in Rome." (I guess they maybe theyíre afraid that if it were true, they would have to bow allegiance to the Pope.) The truth is Holy Scripture does place St. Peter squarely in Rome.
The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son. 1 Pet 5:13
You may say wait! It says Babylon, not Rome in that verse. This is true but consider this. In the first century AD, Babylon was a long ruined and abandoned city. Babylon was a well-worn metaphor or code word for Rome. Those who are well versed in eschatological theology know this well. So Scripture supports the tradition of St. Peter being in Rome and itís alleged absence is perceived and not actual.
There are many times when a Scripture I have read a hundred times will jump out at me and present itself in a whole new light, often turning around my whole view of the passage. We must be very careful, before we brand something as a-scriptural or anti-scriptural, that there is some solid scriptural teaching against it.
4. An asserted positive does not always prove a negative
This guideline is a close cousin to the last one. There is another saying I have heard from a few sects of fundamentalism. "What Scripture has laid down is final. All other ways are ruled out" Often I have read where a certain "traditional" practice or doctrine is criticized because somewhere else in Scripture the same topic has another aspect about it asserted. I will play it safe on this one and use an example outside the "traditional" realm. Certain fundamentalist sects despise the Charismatic movement and in particular the use of "tongues" (Although many Charismatics can be placed squarely in the fundamentalist movement). There is a practice or doctrine amongst many Charimatics called "prayer language," that is when you pray "in tongues," you use a particular language outside your native one regularly when you pray unto God. Many fundamentalists are quick to quote:
Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: 1 Cor 14:22
They will exclaim, tongues are for a sign, not a "prayer language." Though it is true the prayer language practice is not specifically spelled out in Holy Scripture, there are a few verses that could arguably support it. I have found no Scripture that specifically argues against it. My position on this matter is neutral. I donít practice it myself but I donít disassociate myself from those that do solely on that basis. To me the jury is still out.
To me, those who practice the above topic, (having an asserted positive prove a negative) put themselves in a precarious position because an infinite number of negatives can be construed from one positive. These people often become more worried about what not to do than what to do. Scripture cannot and does not follow this practice. Look at Mark 5:1 or Luke 8:27; both of these Scriptures report the same incident and speak of a demon-possessed man. If I apply a rule like the one mentioned, it could only be one man. But in Matthew 8:28, the report of the same incident says that there were two men. So such a rule would make Scripture contradict itself. This takes me to the next B.S.H.
5. If Scripture seems to contradict itself, it is probably your understanding and not the Scripture that is contradictory.
The truth is that the majority of fundamentalist will agree with me on this statement. St. Paul taught.
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. 1 Cor 14:33
The problem is that many fundamentalists look at many verses very nearsightedly. In their enthusiasm to prove their point, they will latch on to one or two verses that they can superimpose a meaning onto and forget to consider the total of Scripture. One thing I will have a lot of fun with in this book is to take various assertions and apply different Scriptures to them and show how it would make a contradiction of another Scripture or show the absurdities logical deduction would bring when certain Scriptures are applied to them.
6. If you deduce that an assertion is incorrect, be careful, it may not be one hundred percent incorrect.
There is an adage "The best lies are veiled in the truth." Now I donít want to call any man a liar, but I will point out that though God is infallible, we humans are very fallible, and thus we are prone to mistakes. I have heard and read many people who in an attempt to try to disprove an assertion, become so involved in their quest, that whatever the actual truth is, it will tend to become secondary. One of the definitions for the Greek word for sin is "to miss the mark." (SGD) The truth of the human condition is that we always sin and thus "Miss the mark." I can imagine that my understanding of theology as a dartboard, and when I attempt to explain something I go for the Bullís-eye. Being the fallible human I am, I "Miss the mark," even though I may get close. If I throw a theological dart and miss the bullís-eye by an inch to the left, and my friend throws his dart and misses by one inch to the right, compared to each other we seem far apart, but in relation to the bullís-eye, we are both equally close. Most heresies have some element of truth. If they were a hundred percent lies it would be hard to get anyone to believe them. I have read many times when the writer correctly discerns a heresy, but in his enthusiasm for bringing the heresy to light, often, critical truths are also branded as heresy, thus guilt by association, throwing the baby out with the bath water. More often than not, I have found identifying erroneous doctrine to be a process of separating wheat from chaff. I canít think of one time in which it was one hundred percent one way or the other.
Almost all the erroneous doctrines I have come across can be discerned and identified by following one or more of the above guidelines. I hope they are helpful in your journey.