Okay, repeat after me, “Based on all the evidence presented, I believe the Bible is saying _______”.
Let’s be honest, what you believe to be true of scripture is limited to your perspectives, what you were taught by others, your depth of personal study and the fact that you weren’t there. In some cases, it’s been predetermined by your denominations prescription for “What We Believe”. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have any of it correct. You may or may not be correct about a lot of things. The fact of the matter is that there have been scores of Theologians who’ve dedicated their entire lives to nothing other than the study and proper translation of the Bible from the original texts and they don’t all agree on “What’s True“. This should show us all that there is more than one possible conclusion that can be drawn from the preponderance of the evidence we have to consider.
If the absolutes were so easy to conclude we wouldn’t have more than one denomination, would we? There wouldn’t be so many factions and fractures among the people of God. Jesus said, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22). We are nowhere close to that are we? We’re not One by a long shot. Sadly, not only do we not agree, so many of us like to puff up and insinuate that those who don’t understand scripture they way we do just aren’t as intelligent or spiritually discerning as we are.
That would be amusing if it weren’t so destructive to the unity of the Family of God.
In traveling across the United States to research 40 Churches in 40 Weeks we encountered many different denominations. Of the more than 100 interviews that we conducted only once did the issue of women in ministry come up. There is a good reason for that. We weren’t researching women in ministry. There was no reason for us to talk about it. We didn’t discuss homosexuality or speaking in tongues or water baptism either. Where a church stands on any given issue is interesting but it isn’t what our project is about. Many, wonderful theologians have studied what the Bible has to say about women in leadership for generations and don’t agree on the conclusions. I am not offended or deterred by those who genuinely believe that the Bible prohibits women from speaking in church or ever holding the position of “pastor”. I just don’t share their position. I see no reason for us to argue about it.
Too many pastors teach that what they preach is an absolute take-that-to-the-bank- factwhen it can’t possibly be in most cases. We’d all do well to stop turning the pulpit into a pedestal. It doesn’t build up the church. Indeed, I believe our arrogance and negative attitudes towards those who disagree with us has become the greatest obstacle to evangelism in the United States.
There is a reason why there are four Gospel writers. Jewish law required at least 2 witnesses testify to the truth before anyone’s word would be accepted. What the Bible has to say about our Savior, Jesus Christ, is supported by prophesy and the testimony of a host of witnesses. On those matters there is no dispute among Christians. Outside of that there are an untold number of things that become arguable points of doctrine. While the Bible may be the infallible Word of God, it’s not wise to insist that one’s perspectives on any of them are.
I’m not trying to change your mind about what you believe the Bible is saying on anything. Each and every one of us should determine what we BELIEVE to be true and live that out with integrity as long as the Lord allows us to remain on this planet. However, just as importantly, we should have the character and humility to admit that we just might have some of it wrong.
Nothing aggravates me more than when one of my brothers or sisters in Christ puffs themselves up and claims to be inerrant in their interpretation of the Bible. I confess, I almost always fantasize having a tall glass of cold water to toss in their face on those occasions. It’s ludicrous. It’s arrogant. It’s the same behavior that got the Pharisees in trouble with Jesus. The Pharisees, by the way, actually did devote their entire lives to the study and interpretation of scripture and according to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, they often missed the point and the meaning altogether.
Recently, I did an interview that was published in an online news magazine. The interview was just an overview of 40 Churches in 40 Weeks; why we did it and what we found. It didn’t go into a lot of detail but it was a pretty good snapshot. At the end of the article guests were invited to leave comments. About 95% of the people who commented were Christians. Of that group, 99% of the comments were about as pleasant as toxic waste. These brothers and sisters in Christ jumped on whatever point of contention they could conjure to spew negative judgments and self-righteous abuse.
Not surprising there were a number of commentators who felt the need to vent outrage that I had ever been appointed as a pastor. One woman posted, “As soon as I read “woman” and “pastor” I stopped reading”. Some copied and pasted scriptures to prove that I’m an affront to true followers everywhere. Some just glibly cited the passage in 1Timothy where the apostle Paul says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man”. I’m willing to bet that the majority of these people have never done a true study of the texts on their own. They were taught their perspectives and have held to them as if it were the defining line between heaven and hell. They see themselves as guardians of the Truth and ambassadors of The Way. What they don’t see is that they are the poison that has made the Christian Community ineffective and sick.
These are the people who give our beautiful Church a bad name. Rather than criticize and pontificate from their wealth of ignorance they should take hold of another scripture; Proverbs 17:28 “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” Or simply live by the words of Augustine, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
In His love and service,