Having kidnapped Phil and put Dan on the injured-reserve so I could dominate TeamPyro this week, I wanted to really sew up all the loose ends of the "How to read your Bible" series and the "Should I quit my church" series because a lot of the questions overlap. There's one, in particular, that interests me enough to blog about it and then see where the chips fall.
Some of you have had your gears grinding over these posts because they make you feel uncomfortable. You know: if the Bible has to be read as a whole thing, as one message even if it is a lot of different types of literature, and the church (as a result) turns out to be not optional but necessary (which is different than mandatory, but that's for another post), it may turn out that you're on the hook for a lot of things which, previously, you thought were good and Godly ways of acting.
Well, yeah. That is the point.
"But cent," comes the voice of a sincere fellow who all these has kept from his youth, "your point about the church in Acts seems pretty good on the front side, but they didn’t know all the things we know today. For example, they didn’t know about modalism; they didn’t know about the prosperity gospel; they didn’t know about emergent or Rob Bell. The spiritual environment in the world has changed, and we know a lot more than they did at the time of the Apostles – and we have to be careful not to fall into error. If we stay in a church where they are veering toward these things, we're doing something the Apostles never intended. We have to use all the things we know that they didn’t know to make sure we keep ourselves pure."
My first reaction to this sincere objection is, well, you're actually very pure anyway, are you? I mean, what this imaginary objector is saying is that he's more pure than a pastor who doesn’t understand the difference between modalist theology and Trinitarian theology and in ignorance starts preaching unnecessarily-reductive sermons to try to explain how the Father, Son and Spirit can be three and yet one. He's no more pure than Rob Bell and his symphony analogy or his giving analogy or his "breathe" analogy or his questioning the necessity of the virgin birth.
But factually, none of us have attained a state of grace in which we are not actively sinning every day, have we? I'll admit to you: I'm not there. I sin every day – and the more I uncover one sin and try to route it out, the more I uncover the roots of my own sin digging down deeper. My righteous is not something I know or something I do but something I receive from God by grace through faith, and that righteousness is Christ's righteousness – the obedience He had and has, the perfection before the Father He presents, to which I contribute not even a footnote or a bit of bandwidth.
So the question is not, "which of us is more pure?" None of us – me, the guy who blogs about the Bible and the church as if they are necessary but still sins daily; the other guy, a pastor who maybe isn’t equipped to be an apologist in the broadest sense but only a pastor who handles God's word for the benefit of God's people who is also mostly alone because of the kind of understanding he has of the Bible today who makes an earnest mistake; the imaginary objector – is pure. Pure is not a word that should enter into it. When the rich young man called Jesus "Good teacher", Jesus (who was actually good) told him that only God is good. No man should think about talking about himself or what he does as "pure".
The question is actually, "what does the Bible tell us to do about this stuff?" See: it's a false view of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit did not do what Christ said He would do. Christ said, "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14) And again, "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning." (John 15) And again, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you." (John 16)
And the result of this work of the Holy Spirit, my dear readers, is Scripture. We may not have Apostles among us, but we have Scripture. We have their witness. We have their testimony. And this testimony is all things which we need to grasp Jesus Christ and be what He has called us to be.
We are not smarter than Paul. We are beggars before the wisdom which Paul was given – we do not grasp what he wrote and taught, so we do not do the things Paul (or Peter, or the Evangels, or James, or the others) was exhorting the believers to do.
If we think Paul didn’t know all the errors we face, maybe we ought to go back and look at who and what Paul was talking about as he wrote his letters to the various churches.
In Romans, Paul decries legalism, libertinism, pride, racism, and anarchy – and he was writing to people whom he longed to see, and thought highly of in terms of the faith.
In 1 & 2 Corinthians, Paul decries exalting teachers, intellectual and spiritual pride, lax church discipline, sexual immorality, material squabbling, seeking recourse in secular venues outside of the church, false views of marriage, both idolatry and being a slave to the fear of idolatry, false views about Christian liberty, abuse of the Lord's Table, abuse of common worship in the demonstration of spiritual gifts, false views of the Gospel, church discipline which does not aim to redeem but seeks only to punish, the fear of death, stingy giving, and interestingly those who think they know more than the Apostles do about the Gospel, Christ and the church. His view of what to do about false teachers is especially useful if you care to review it in 2Cor 10 & 11. And these were people whom he himself established in the faith – people who literally got it from the bondservant's mouth.
In Galatians, Paul decries adding works to the Gospel, and showing partiality based on observances, and rejects circumcision as necessary, and underscores the necessity of unity under truth in the church – in spite of the fact that he had to defy Peter to his face to do it! He didn’t say, "and I never set foot in any house with Peter ever again." You know: Peter who got the vision from God, "take and eat"? Nobody abandoning the Galatian church in spite of that.
In Ephesians, Paul expresses the fully-orbed Gospel and uses it to say, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." And leaps off from there to exhort to personal holiness, submission to each other, the true nature of marriage and the roles of husband and wife, the roles in family and society, and the method by which we are girded up against the temptations of the world.
Listen: that's not even all of the letters Paul wrote, and almost all of the problems in the modern church are actively and openly addressed. If you're worried that he doesn't list Joseph Smith or Benny Hinn by name, maybe what you ought to do is see if he mentions you by name and wonder if there are any logical implications to that.
See: the foundational premise of Scripture is not that we should read it. The foundational premise of Scripture is that it is sufficient for our equipping; reading is a consequence of sufficiency. And the equipment in Scripture says that the church is necessary and that this is the place where we first and foremost stand for the truth of the Gospel, and in standing for truth we stand together.
If you are holed up in your study in your robe reading and writing blogs, but you can't find a church that suits you, you are not standing on the sufficiency of Scripture: you are sitting in your robe. If Scripture is sufficient to tell you that Your Best Life Now is a fraud and that no pastor should emulate it to his congregation, it is also sufficient to tell you – and let me make it clear that I mean you personally, you the one who is unable to find one believer over whom you do not have parental authority over with which to fellowship -- that you belong joined together with other believers in a visible and social way which demonstrates the glory of God to the world.
We are not smarter than Paul. We have a lot to learn still from him and his fellow workers in God's field. May God be merciful that we have open ears and open hearts to listen to them, the ones God chose from the womb to be His messengers to the ends of the Earth.