Every Wednesday we’ll post a message having to do with doctrine and purity. Hope it helps.
The Error That We Breathe
“Inability to distinguish doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is clever and earnest, hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully ‘narrow and uncharitable’ if you hint that he is unsound!” – J.C. Ryle
Bishop John C. Ryle’s warning, quoted above, was written before his death in 1900, so it’s more than a century old. And it couldn’t be more relevant. The ability to distinguish between truth and error, based on a working knowledge of the Bible, seems to be going the way of the dinosaur.
So here we go with another rant, the kind old men are prone to, usually starting with the phrase “When I was a kid —”. That’s a tired, silly way to make a point, because the fact something was done a certain way 50 years doesn’t make it right. So – where was I?
Oh, yeah. When I was a kid, the question wasn’t What seems right? Or Will this sound judgmental? Or How do I feel about this? Or What did So-andSo say about this? It was rather, as Paul asked the Romans, What saith the Scripture? (Romans 4:3)
It’s impossible for some of us – maybe lots of us – to look at what’s taught in churches, books and broadcasts today without remembering a time when we read our own Bibles, diligently and (usually) daily, and were taught the simplicity of the Word, along with our responsibility to test every teaching against it. That was, to us, Christianity 101.
Now some folks rail against the variety of secular, false philosophies available over the television and internet today, but surely that’s nothing new, and both Old and New testaments describe false religions clashing against truth. But here’s what I think is new: The notion we should, in the name of love, refuse to call falsehoods false, and the trend towards discerning truth not by the word, but by emotions, “prayerful thought”, knowing a wonderful person who practiced sin and thereby revising our definition of sin, or modern consensus. It isn’t the prevalence of falsehood today that worries me, but the unwillingness or inability of so many believers to determine truth or error by rightly dividing the Word.
Just one of so many examples: A couple years ago I saw Oprah discussing spirituality, recalling a time she sat in church and heard the preacher say “God is jealous.” “That didn’t sit well with me”, she said, so she thereby determined that part of scripture must not be true.
Giving the lady her due, Oprah has a football stadium full of good works to her credit. But no one has the right to revise the word when it “doesn’t sit well.” If this error was Oprah’s alone I doubt it would stick in my craw. But sadly, she articulated an approach to truth that’s gaining momentum daily. Essentials of the faith are being revised or ignored because they don’t sit well. Or because someone in the past has been too judgmental in the way they’ve expressed these essentials, so today’s believers are reluctant to express them at all. Or because wonderful people may not believe in the essentials, but they’re still wonderful, so doesn’t that make the essentials into non-essentials?
Too many influential leaders are going this route, taking thousands of sheep with them and castigating those who object as cold, unloving Pharisees. And the media, ever in love with a Christian who waters down those rude doctrinal absolutes, makes sure these folks get full coverage.
All of which leaves us breathing error as deeply and regularly as we inhale air. So in the interest of being redemptive rather than simply critical, I’m asking myself today if my work, teaching and life hold up well under the scrutiny of scripture, if I’m open to being corrected when I’m in error, and if my attitude towards those promoting error is loving, respectful, caring. That’s where I’ll start today, and that’s a task that I’m sure will keep me way too busy to go off on those I disagree with.
Because that’s the way we did things when I was a kid.