Friday, July 18, 2014

Scripture In The Hands Of An Angry Sinner

κα κυρώσατε τν λόγον το θεο δι τν παράδοσιν μν. And by this you revoke the Word of God through your tradition. (Matt. 15:6) It was during an exchange with the Pharisees and Scribes over the tradition of hand-washing that Jesus issued this stinging rebuke. The controversy began over the ceremonial tradition of washing hands.

Mishnah Yadayim (“hands”) describes the procedure: “[To render the hands clean] a quarter-log or more [of water] must be poured over the hands [to suffice] for one person or even for two.” A quarter-log of water is equal in bulk to an egg and a half,235 which was poured over the hands up to the wrists prior to the consumption of food. Such a small amount of water demonstrates that the concern for washing was ceremonial, not hygienic.”[1]

The Pharisees had taken the law of God much further than even God intended. They mixed their own teachings with the law and even elevated their traditions to the place of Scripture. This is indeed a dangerous practice. The sole authority governing the lives of men is the authority of God Himself. The commandments, traditions, and programs of men are just that: programs of men. But when men begin to elevate their traditions, their personal convictions, and their programs and impose them on others, they enter a domain reserved only for our Creator. However, contrary to what many liberals think, it isn’t only the binding of new laws on men that is the problem. The crux of the problem is that the laws of God are being undermined and misapplied regardless of it is adding to them or taking away from them. The end result is that God’s word is being rejected, invalided, and disregarded. And that is the problem. In other words, the Word of God is binding. Any attempt to relieve the obligation one has to the Word of God is an attempt to relieve oneself from their duty to God. God and His word are inseparable.

The Pharisees’ unwillingness to humbly submit to God’s Word resulted in a handling of the Sacred Scriptures that Jesus said resulted in making null and void the Word of God. For some reason, liberals along with many in the emergent church think that because the Pharisees were religious conservatives that somehow this means only modern religious conservatives could possibly commit the sort of error their supposed counterparts committed in Jesus’ day. I intend to show that if anyone is a modern Pharisee, it is not the typical conservative reformed or evangelical Christian.

In modern American Christianity, more unbelievers, more unregenerate sinners, more unqualified men than ever before involved in the handling of Scripture. What is the reason for this modern explosion of anti-Christian attitudes toward the teachings of Scripture and even the nature of Scripture itself? It really is quite simple: social media, the internet, and self-publishing are the basic ingredients for what is simply an explosion of heretical views challenging what appears to be every basic teaching of Christianity that has ever been established. Everyone now thinks they are experts in interpreting Scripture. And the really big problem is that we now have more unregenerate people than ever blogging, writing, and commenting on Christian teachings. When you couple that with the abandonment of theological training in the Churches for the past twenty to thirty years, what you have is nothing short than a recipe for spiritual disaster. And that is precisely where we are.

The most basic requirement for handling Scripture is that the handler, the interpreter, be filled with the Holy Spirit. Apart from the presence of the Holy Spirit, handling Sacred Scripture is by far the most dangerous endeavor a person could could ever attempt. Calvin writes,

If we desire to provide in the best way for our consciences – that they may not be perpetually beset by the instability of doubt of vacillation, and that they may not also boggle at the smallest quibbles – we ought to seek our conviction in a higher place than human reasons, judgments, or conjectures, that is, in the secret testimony of the Spirit. [Institutes, I.vii. 4, 78]

Far too little attention is given to this truth in modern debates and controversies surrounding the teachings of Christian theology. Indeed the state of affairs is confusing given the very basic requirement of regeneration in the hermeneutical enterprise. It is as if many modern reformed and evangelical scholars have forgotten that one must have been converted to Christ through the preaching of the gospel in order to have a seat at the table of the Christian discussion and pursuit of truth. Essentially, we find ourselves in continual debate with people that aren’t even regenerated by the Holy Spirit about what the Church is and is not, believes and does not believe, confesses and does not confess. The homosexual issue is a perfect example. We would not argue with a whore or a prostitute or and adulterer about the status of their salvation so why do we go back and forth endlessly with the homosexual groups? These are unbelievers that are not interested in Christian truth. They are interested in immorality and self-justification. How should we handle their attacks? I will comeback to that later.

John Calvin was adamant that the Holy Spirit is necessary to understand Scripture. This is surely bound up in a false anthropology but also a very flawed bibliology. Many Christians display a very poor understanding of the nature of Scripture. Without a right understanding of the nature of Scripture, it is impossible to rightly interpret it. A sound theology of Scripture is an essential component of hermeneutics. In addition to that, a sound anthropology and hamartiology are essential components in a sound theology of Scripture. Is it any wonder then that we are giving a wink and a nod to people who claim to know the Bible when the fruit of their life indicates that they don’t even know Christ?

Bavinck is on target when he writes, “The Christian character of truth can be assessed solely because it is rooted with all its fibers in Holy Scripture. There is no knowledge of Christ apart from Scripture, no fellowship with him except by fellowship in the word of the apostles.” [Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. I, 472.] We are liberated from sin and death by Scripture. We are born again by Scripture. We are sanctified by Scripture. We know Christ only by Scripture. Everything we are and everything we know and understand owe to Scripture. Apart from Scripture we remain dead in our trespasses and sins, blind, ignorant, groping about in darkness, filled with wickedness, and violent despisers of all that is holy. Here we see and understand that Scripture is essential for all things Christian.

What then of those who would tell us that Scripture is an open debate? What about those whose hermeneutic is such that it basically rewrites all that Scripture teaches? And finally, what about those whose theology of Scripture is based more on pagan philosophy than of Scripture itself? Do we engage them? Yes, we do and we must engage them. But we must be careful how we engage them. We cannot give the impression to any one that we believe we are talking to a regenerate person unless we have good cause to think it is so. For those who reject the Christian ethic and live in the debauchery of gay sex we have no choice but to lovingly but firmly and sharply rebuke their attempts to force their immoral lifestyles on the Christian community. We may engage them in a loving exchange of the truth but not endlessly. After a few exchanges, once we see they have no interest in hearing the soundness of Scriptural teaching on the matter, we must shake the dust off our feet and resist casting our perils before the swine.

See this article: Gays seek to dominate religion

For example, the Church cannot continually engage Matthew Vine without also calling him out for what he is openly. He is not a Christian, he is not an evangelical, and he does not know Christ. His book is to be condemned and other Christians are to be warned to avoid him and his materials. What we cannot do is pretend that Matthew Vine is a misguided Christian in need to some counsel. He has had a multitude of counsel and nothing has changed. Jesus instructs us to place him out of the community in hopes that he will repent. We must understand that these are not people who are Christians needing guidance. We can no longer allow Scripture to be in the hands of angry sinners. People like this have to be called out for what they are.

“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” Tt 3:9–11

Paul tells us that when factious people arise in the Church challenging the teachings that have been handed down to us from Christ and His apostles, we are to warn them a few times and then we are to reject them.

[1] Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 95.

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