My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6)
I expect to hear it from non-Christians. And I do, quite often. The Bible is not inspired by God, they say. Men wrote down the stories they heard, stories rooted in hearsay, tradition and a lust for political power. God had little – or nothing – to do with it.
I expect to hear that kind of argument from non-Christians. But I am always surprised – and disappointed (angered is probably a better description) – when I hear it from Christians. Especially from Christian teachers, writers and pastors.
In the past few weeks I’ve run across this kind of rationale from three different leaders in the Church. The reason for their dismissal of the full and transcendent inspiration of Scripture runs the gamut from believing the Torah (Five Books of Moses) were not written by Moses because there is evidence of a variety in writing styles among those books, to believing St. Luke wrote his gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem because Jesus’ warning about Jerusalem’s destruction (chapter 21), could not have been spoken by Him before it occurred. St. Luke, they argue, put the words into Jesus’ mouth to make it appear as a prophecy – when in fact, it was simply history. It doesn’t seem to matter to those who say this that their argument makes St. Luke a liar.
Much of what I’ve heard from these teachers in the last few weeks has focused on the words of Jesus in the Gospels. Essentially, the argument goes like this: The gospels were written decades after the Lord lived (which is true), and each writer wrote his gospel to address a specific 1st century Christian community (another true statement). But, they say – and here is where their philosophy goes dangerously off-center – the gospel writers put words into Jesus’ mouth so they could address social problems in those communities by using Jesus’ words as their authority.
Another way of saying it is this: The words of Christ were modified in the gospels to fit the needs of the community to whom the gospels were written. But the problem with that idea, followed to its logical conclusion, is that one can make a valid argument against using the gospels to guide 21st century Christian faith and morals because we live in a different time and culture.
In my nearly 40 years of walking with Christ, I have repeatedly witnessed how denial of the transcendence of Scripture across cultures and across time has always seduced people to ultimately reject Scripture as the foundation for Christian faith and morals.
How can anyone know for sure if God loves us if we can't trust the promises in Scripture to actually be Christ’s words – and, just as vital – that His words reach beyond first century culture and time? How can we believe God expects holiness from us if we can't trust the warnings in the Gospels are really Christ’s words? How can we trust the Church’s teaching that Jesus established apostolic succession through St. Peter if we can’t trust those words in Matthew 16:17-18 were Christ’s, and not a later addition to satisfy an agenda of some religious/political group? If, as is taught by some teachers in the Church, many stories in Scripture are simply allegories to illustrate a spiritual truth, then how can we be certain – for example – the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is not simply an allegory to teach the importance of sharing with others, or how can we know for sure Jesus’ resurrection is not simply an allegory to illustrate life triumphs over death?
Late in September of this year, the Pew Research Foundation published a poll examining the religious knowledge of Americans. Their findings? Atheists know more about Christian faith than either Protestants or Catholics. And equally as telling, nearly half of Catholics polled do not believe the Eucharist is the very Presence of Jesus. They believe, instead, the Eucharist is simply a symbol of Christ’s body and blood.
But how can they be blamed when their teachers tell them – perhaps not verbatim, but by implication – they ought not believe their Bible is the transcendent word of God, but simply a compilation of the philosophies of men who modified Scripture to support their 1st century agendas?
Perhaps the tendency of some to dilute the timelessness of Scripture is one reason the Lord Jesus warned, “. . . everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall" (Matthew 7:24-27).
And St. Paul wrote to the church at Colossae: See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world 3 and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).
(More to follow in subsequent posts to this blog).