Friday, July 29, 2016

Abusing the Scriptures

Many in the brotherhood in reading the Scriptures believe they have found authorization to be mean to one another. They have discovered their calling in emulating some of the more aggressive deeds of Jesus. If we study those Scriptures more closely, we would realize that we are not correctly emulating Jesus’ example.

Here is an example verse that Christians sometimes quote against each other when they are hashing out a doctrinal disagreement.
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29, NIV)
This little verse does not carry an implied license to toss the same language at other Christians whenever we suspect them of doctrinal error. They are pretty strong words. Jesus levied them against a group of Sadducees when they tried to trip him up with what they believed was a logical contradiction held in the hope of a resurrection. Jesus explained to them and all the nearby listeners why there was no contradiction and what about the Scriptures the Sadducees failed to understand.

If we take this verse as a license to regularly call people out for error and for not knowing the Scriptures, we should quote it only to people who are advocating that there is no resurrection.

Jesus used strong language with many in his day—language we rightfully hesitate to direct at others. We do not regularly call people “hypocrite” like Jesus did, for example. For some, cleansing the temple and telling people they are are “in error because [they] do not know the Scriptures” are two things Jesus did that they feel most called to emulate. There is more that can be said about these two examples; but space is limited. Before we feel some divine calling to follow them, we should carefully understand them.

We should follow Jesus in his character as it is very clearly presented in the Gospels.
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45, NRSV)
Some people find justification for seek-and-destroy methods in the book of 2 John.
Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person. (2 John 9-11, NRSV)
Do we think this verse means to disfellowship everyone who we identify as holding a false doctrine? We are missing the context. The “teaching (or doctrine) of Christ” is not something Jesus taught. It is a teaching about Christ's nature. Heretics were teaching that Jesus did not come in the flesh (2 John 7)! That is a far cry from two people disagreeing about the meaning of a Bible verse!

Christians - laymen and preachers alike - apply 2 John 9-11 as a recipe for handling anybody who is identified as teaching a false doctrine. They are certain that if everybody read the Bible the same way, there would be no doctrinal variance among the brethren (2 Peter 1:20?). We are told that we should not spiritually interact with anybody who harbors what we believe is a false doctrine. We have no right, some say, to interact with such ones beyond shallow conversations about the weather. They may quote a smörgåsbord of passages (Acts 1:4-5; 2:42; 6:1-8; 20:22-24; 21:1-15; Romans 1:16; 8:14; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-17; Galatians 1:6-12) which are unrelated to the claim but nevertheless give the injunction a sort of authoritative air.

If we cannot work with each other when we have some doctrinal disagreements, we are not the church that Jesus built.
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50, NRSV)
If I am with someone who is a disciple of Christ yet he does not perform his discipleship precisely the way I have studied, I can still have spiritual fellowship with him and I can try to be a spiritual encouragement to him.

We should be looking for ways to minister to believers rather than to burn them.
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9:54-55)

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