So I think this is my final comments on the past conflicts we have seen in our push towards unity among Christians in my community.
Unless it isn’t.
So anyways, this lesson comes to us from a letter to the editor responding to my “Unite around the Bible” article that was published by the local newspaper. Here is some of what the letter writer says:
There are many sad things going on in this world and one of them happens to be so called “Christian” churches manipulating scripture to satisfy their own self worth and greed.
They then try to hide this manipulation by promoting a fake sense of “unity” to fool the public into a false belief that their disagreement with scripture isn’t harming them and all these other denominations really agree with their point of view…
So if you want true “Christian Unity” don’t follow the false teachings of the fake unity around us today, but ground your beliefs in the only true source God uses to obtain real “Christian Unity” – the Bible.
–Anthony Scheff, “Unite around the Bible,” in Readers’ View, Fairmont Sentinel, Thursday, October 6, 2014, pg 6
As I have stated previously, we have not sought to water down God’s word or to ignore aspects of scripture, we have pushed to work together towards what God has called us to while not letting those disagreements on secondary issues prevent us from accomplishing the tasks to which He has called us. To claim that what we are doing is “manipulating scripture” is laughable. To think that the push is about making ourselves feel good or lining our pockets is absurd – for the Unity Station fair outreach I contributed hundreds of hours of work, and thousands of dollars were committed to the project, with income from donations covering well below 10% of the expenses.
As the writer of this letter continues, he echoes the criticisms of the local pastor who claims that any short of full agreement with their interpretation of scripture is acceptance of “false doctrine,” which this letter writer equates with being “‘united’ in belief with Satan.”
While some of the rhetoric in this letter goes massively overboard, it is representative of something I have seen more and more in recent years. In any (reasonable) collection of believers and Christ followers there will come disagreements over the scriptures. That is as true among a collection of believers in a church who have agreed to a statement of faith from that church or denomination as it is in an ecumenical collection of believers that crosses denominational and faith-tradition lines. However, more and more I am hearing claims that someone else is believes “unbiblical” or “false” teachings and beliefs.
Just because we don’t agree with someone doesn’t make them a false teacher or heretic!
Church tradition has laid out what we call orthodoxy. Orthodoxy can be defined as a standard of belief that has been carried by those faithful to the one true God throughout history. We do not stand as believers today on our own; we are supported by the faithful around us in our churches and communities as well as around the world, and we are supported by the billions of faithful followers of Christ who have come before us over the two millennia since Christ walked among us. Sometimes opposing viewpoints can both claim orthodoxy: for example, Calvinism and Arminianism both can show support for their respective beliefs from throughout Christian history.
Now to make the claim that any disagreement with one particular set of theological beliefs ignores the breadth of viewpoints from throughout history, as well as the breadth of viewpoints within the lifespan of individual teachers and leaders from history. With careful study you can see how Luther, Calvin, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and nearly any other great teacher from history developed their beliefs over the course of their lives. They did not jump into ministry at 18 years old with a fully developed set of beliefs and a full understanding of the scriptures; God walked these great men through the process of sanctification, teaching them, guiding them and growing them just as he does with each of us today.
Last week I posted an extended quote by Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate. Jerome was passionate about God’s Word, so much so that his life work was to bring a translation to the church that would be the most useful and as accurate possible. Here is a quote from Jerome:
Do not take offence on account of the simplicity of Holy Scripture or the unsophistication of its words, for these are due either to translation faults or have some deeper purpose. For Scripture offers itself in such a way that an uneducated congregation can more easily learn from it, some benefit there, and both the learned and the unlearned can discover different meanings in the same sentence. I am not so arrogant nor so forward as to claim that I know this, which would be like wanting to pick on earth the fruits of trees whose roots are in heaven.
-Jerome (342-420 AD)
“The Christian Theology Reader,” ed. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishing: 2007, pg 88.
Jerome, one of the greatest pure Bible scholars in history, was so impressed at the depth found in the Bible that he claimed it would be arrogance to claim to have full knowledge of God’s Word, even though an uneducated, average, every-day church goer can pick up a Bible and have an insight that would completely blow away long-time pastors and scholars alike.
So my closing encouragement is this: don’t take the Bible for granted. Be reminded of the incredible gift it is, and humbly acknowledge that part of that gift is our lack of understanding and opportunity to seek truth together, knowing that God is passionate about opening His truth up to those who seek after him.
The Lord has said: “ask, and it shall be given; knock, and it shall be opened; seek, and you will find” (Matthew 7:7). So let us study here on earth that knowledge which will continue with us in heaven.