Who would have ever dreamed that in the 21st century the most counter-cultural thing to do in the Christian community would be to take God’s word at face value?
I was having a conversation the other day with a friend who asked, “How do you know that’s what the Bible really means?” It was as if he was looking for some loophole to get out of a decision he knew he had to make. So he prodded me to find out if there was an underlying Greek word in a particular passage that would reveal something other than what that verse was, in fact, plainly saying.
My friend, no doubt, will keep on asking other Christians the exact same question until he finds someone who will tell him what he wants to hear. Unfortunately, I fear, he won’t have to search very long.
A Prophecy Fulfilled
The Apostle Paul warned his disciple Timothy that, shockingly, the day would soon come when there would actually be people who call themselves Christians who…
“…will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 1 Timothy 4:3-4
No doubt when Timothy read those words he said, “No way. Impossible. Who would be so brazenly arrogant and so self-righteous to presume that their wisdom is greater than God’s?”
Years ago my cousin had a dear friend who was a Muslim. One day she told me that he joined her for a church service. As soon as they found their seats she set her Bible down on the ground next to her purse and her cup of coffee. Without hesitation he lunged down, picked up the Bible, wiped off the cover, and held it close to his chest. “Never put this down on the ground, please,” he told her. “This is a holy book.”
Maybe it’s because we have so many Bibles at our disposal that we forget what we’re actually holding. Or maybe it’s because we’ve never been around someone who gives the Bible the respect it actually deserves. I’m not sure.
What I do know is I forget, just like everyone else, what a privilege it is to know exactly what God’s will is for my life, and for our world.
It’s right there.
Literally right there.
Do we realize that?
Two Emerging Paths
In his Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Tremper Longman talked about how the first and second century rabbis would classify canonical books of the Bible as “books that made the hands unclean.” In other words, these books were viewed as containing the very words of God, and consequently they were considered so holy that simply touching them would require rituals of hand washing and care.
What frightens me today, however, is not the casualness with which we handle the Bible, but the casualness with which we discard it. Without hesitation. Without reservation. Without trembling.
“You’re not actually going to believe this,” Paul was saying to Timothy, “but there will actually come a time when people will read a line in the Bible and say, ‘That REALLY doesn’t mean that.’”
That’s why I believe that the lines of demarcation people have used to distinguish Christians in the past have become outdated. No longer do the terms Pentecostal, Calvinist, Non-denominational, Mainline, or Baptist really mean much.
There appears to be only two emerging groups left among Christians today.
Those who believe that what they hold in their hands is actually the very words of God. And those who believe that the Bible isn’t really God’s word until they’ve filtered it through their own experience, ideology, and personal preferences. Whatever comes through on the other side is tentatively considered God’s word, pending peer review.
The gulf between these two groups keeps getting wider and wider.
Just as Paul said it would.