Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Holding the line

It seems to me that the hardest thing in the world is to preach and believe the Bible as it lies on the page. It is quite easy, by contrast, to depart either to the right or to the left. If we depart to the right, we become one or another variety of fundamentalist, who seek to make the Bible say more than it in fact does, or make it speak clearly about issues on which it either has little to say or leaves freedom for the individual believer's conscience. Thus, fundamentalists warned us against the evils of coffee, games played with cards (even if there was no money involved), Bible translations other than the KJV, songs other than the ones in their hymn book, even non-intoxicating levels of drinking, playing games on Sundays, interpretations of eschatology other than pre-trib/pre-mil, and so on. These warnings elevated matters of either personal choice or conviction to matters of "biblical" obedience, often out of good motives, but nevertheless restricted people's freedom to follow Jesus as He might lead.

We are not, thankfully, in much danger of the evangelical church re-embracing the excesses of fundamenatlism. To do so would be a serious departure from Gospel and one from which I am glad that evangelicalism has largely escaped. But we are, I think, in danger of an equally serious one: departing from the Gospel to the left. By that, I mean all the variety of the ways that we remove from our beliefs that which we no longer wish to discuss or affirm. In some churches, this means not preaching through books of the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament, because that might bring up things we'd rather not discuss. This has led, unsurprisingly, to staggering levels of biblical ignorance as people with no sense of the broad sweep of the Bible don't know how it fits together or why the Old Testament is even there. It can also mean ignoring or minimizing passages that teach contrary to what we want to do. One particular favorite in this regard is 1 Timothy 2:12, which seems to offer a pretty much unconditional prohibition on women having teaching authority over men. Worst of all is the tendency to reduce the Gospel by making it more about serving people and doing nice things than warning them to flee the just wrath of God and embrace salvation and new life by grace through faith in Christ.

Thus the challenge is to hold to the line, proclaiming all that God says with fidelity. It means preaching and obeying the whole of Scripture, not just the parts we find most congenial. It means helping people understand how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament and why that matters. It means neither adding to, nor taking away, by either deliberate oversight or ignorance, what the Scripture has to say. It means especially that we keep the Gospel which saves people from death the center of all things and that we show how living in obedience is connected to that message no matter where we are in Scripture.

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