Monday, September 14, 2009

Controversies: Scripture or Men’s Traditions?

There are countless controversies raging among those identified by the generic names of “Christian” or “Church”. Adherents to the various divisions of theology being promoted would all claim to be basing their views on scripture. But how can that be true unless scripture itself is divided and is intentionally contradictory.

It is my view that scripture is NOT the problem. Competing traditions arise when man departs from scripture and adds his own interpretations of what scripture needs to mean in order to confirm his preconceived doctrines.

It is a process that starts at the beginning of our Christian experience. As newcomers to the faith we are particularly vulnerable to the teachings of the church we attend and the particular doctrinal stance they take. It is so easy for us to trust the word of those we consider to be more mature in the faith and we rely on them more than personal study of the scriptures. By the time we do address the scriptures for ourselves, our reading has become coloured by the doctrines we expect to see proclaimed in the bible.

One of the clearest tests to see how our understanding of scripture has been adversely affected by traditional teachings is to assess whether we find ourselves trying to explain why scripture DOESN’T mean what it seems to be clearly saying: when it requires the performance of some energetic intellectual gymnastics to make the written word of scripture conform to our beliefs.

I am seeing more and more instances of spiritual-contortionists in action. Instead of starting with the clearest and simplest meaning of scripture, they start with a belief and search out “secondary” scriptures to “prove” that the clearest meaning of their initial reading can not be the right one.

Examples are found in the Calvinist response to:

1 Tim2:3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men

Nothing could be clearer than the categorical statements that God wants ALL men to be saved and that Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for ALL men. There is no way for the Calvinist to reconcile these statements with their doctrines of “Unconditional Election” and “Limited Atonement”, so they choose their doctrine above the clear and simple word of scripture.

That is merely one example, but almost any area of controversy could be examined in the same way, such as:

1) Spiritual gifts: valid or did they end with the Apostles?
2) The millennium: literal or symbolic
3) Rapture: pre-trib, mid-trib. Post trib or no trib?
4) Hell: eternal suffering, annihilationism or universal salvation?
5) Predestination: of an elect minority or of a collective body who are in Christ
6) Election: to salvation or to service
7) Baptism: essential or optional/ of babies or believers/ sprinkling or immersion

Where do OUR personal beliefs on these issues lie? With what scripture actually reveals? Or with what our tradition has taught us?

What are the simplest and clearest messages given in scripture relating to these issues? Does my belief conform with that clearest and simplest meaning? Or did I obtain my belief from men's teaching? Am I more interested in defending the teaching I received or am I more interested in what scripture says?

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