Friday, February 28, 2014

The Bible Says It: Part 2

Last week Zack Hunt posted an article at The American Jesus about bad theology. The article was prompted by the death of Jamie Coots from a snake bite. (If you didn't already know, Jamie Coots was featured on the reality show Snake Salvation on National Geographic Channel.) His death is tragic. I don't plan to criticize Jamie Coots' practices or pretend I'm superior to him in this post. Rather I plan to point out how that "the Bible says it; that settles it" doesn't work for anyone, snake handler or not.

Zack points out that this tragedy is a case where bad theology directly led to death. That's a true point. He goes on to point out that bad theology often leads to harm and death to others, not just those who subscribe to the bad theology. Another true point. A main point of the article is that nobody does just what the Bible says. This summary from the article is spot on and is the point I want to emphasize in this post.
So, never forget that the truth of the matter is you’re not simply doing what the Bible says to do.
You’re doing what you think the Bible says to do.
And that’s a really, really important difference.
This article reminded me that I wrote a post with a similar main point a while back and said I'd write more. As background for the rest of this post, I encourage you to read that post, titled The Bible Says It; That Settles It. I mentioned in that post that I had 30 or so examples of times that many Christians who say they "just do what the Bible says" really don't. Nobody just does what the Bible says. Nobody even just does what the New Testament says. 

We all have times where we say, "The Bible says ..., but that doesn't mean ..." 

So, here are four more examples of "but that doesn't mean". 
  1. Since I began with a reference to Jamie Coots, I'll start with this exception that's invoked by most everyone who isn't a snake handling Pentecostal. The Bible says (Mark 16:17-18) that signs will accompany those who believe, including picking up serpents with their hands, drinking deadly poison without harm, speaking in tongues, and healing the sick. But that doesn't mean that believers can handle snakes, drink poison, speak in tongues, or heal the sick. I'm not arguing for these things. I agree with this exception. I think Jamie Coots is an example that this verse at least did not apply to him. I don't believe it applies to me, either. My point is this: You and I don't just do what the Bible says. (Neither did Jamie Coots; he had his exceptions, too.) An interesting thing about this passage is that in the churches I've been a part of, Mark 16:15-16 applies to everyone for all time (even though it's addressed only to the apostles), but Mark 16:17-18 does not (even though those signs are for believers, not just the apostles). The reasons given that verses 17 and 18 don't apply are complex and nuanced. You have to prove that miraculous powers could only be passed by laying on of apostles hands (impossible to prove). Then, you have to prove that all the apostles are dead and that there were only the original 12 plus Mathias and Paul but no more apostles (not an easy task as we'll see next). You have to prove that the only purpose miracles served was to "confirm the word". And finally, you have to prove that the canon is closed. In short, you need extra-biblical sources to build a complex case that the Bible doesn't mean what it clearly says. And many make this complex argument while claiming the Bible is simple and we "just do what the Bible says." I'm not very familiar with snake handling Pentecostal theology, but it wouldn't surprise me if they more or less ignore verse 16 while building an identity based on verses 17 and 18. The truth is that we pick and choose from the Bible, often choosing some verses while disregarding others in the same immediate context. We all do. You do. I do. As long as a person refuses to admit this, a discussion about interpreting and applying the Bible is a futile waste of time.
  2. The Bible says that Barnabas was an apostle (Acts 14:14), but that doesn't mean Barnabas was an apostle. Some say that there were no more apostles besides the original 12, Mathias, and Paul. Limiting the apostles to these "official apostles" is key to a few anti-charismatic arguments. Some insist that Barnabas was indeed NOT an apostle no matter what Acts 14:14 says. Neither was Titus (2 Cor. 8:23) nor Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) nor Timothy nor Silas (1 Thes. 2:6). Even the mention Junia (Rom. 16:7) may get you burned at the stake. There is no way SHE was an apostle. Some insist that there were twelve plus Mathias and Paul and that is all. In these verses that call others apostles, "apostle" doesn't mean "apostle". The Bible calls those people apostles, but it doesn't mean they were apostles. Some deny that these people were apostles while claiming to "just believe what the Bible says." The arguments against these other apostles require some knowledge of Greek, something you'll only learn from a source external to the Bible. When can we admit that we don't "just follow the Bible"?
  3. Another verse that non-charismatics make an exception for is this. The Bible says (1 Cor. 14:39) "do not forbid speaking in tongues" but that doesn't mean we can't forbid speaking in tongues in our assembly. Speaking in tongues is absolutely forbidden in every church where I've been a member based on a dubious interpretation of 1 Cor. 13:8-13. This interpretation does grave injustice to the theme of the resurrection in Paul's writings. To dismiss 1 Cor. 14:39 based on that forced interpretation of 1 Cor. 13:8-18, you have to prove that the canon was under consideration by Paul in 1 Cor 13. You have to prove that the canon is closed, which is impossible to do without extra-biblical sources. Then you run into the problem of when exactly the gifts ceased. Did they cease when there were no more people alive who had received gifts from the apostles (here we are faced with that messy apostle problem again) or was the Spirit involved in preserving and settling the canon? I hear the same people insisting that spiritual gifts ceased after the death of those on whom the apostles laid their hands also insisting that the Spirit guided the selection of the books to be included in the New Testament. I'm sorry, but you can't have it both ways. Either the gifts stopped and men selected the canon or the gifts continued and allowed the Spirit to select the canon. Anyway, some indeed forbid speaking in tongues, flatly disobeying what 1 Cor. 14:39 says, all while claiming to "just do what the Bible says."
  4. And finally for this post and finally on the anti-charismatic theme. (There probably are more on this theme, but these are all I plan to write about.) The Bible says in Acts 2:38 to repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. But that doesn't mean you'll actually receive any gift of the Holy Spirit. This verse is one that is cut in two by so many. The Christians I know who (rightly, I might add) emphasize the role of baptism quote the "repent and be baptized for the remission of sins" more often than almost any other verse in the Bible, but they typically ignore, stutter, say "um, uh, um," about the "gift of the Holy Spirit" part. Unless the gift of the Holy Spirit is just salvation itself they typically have no idea what to do with this last part. According to their theology, if this "gift of the Holy Spirit" means that you'll have anything from the Holy Spirit in any way except for memorizing the Bible, you shouldn't expect it. But the repent and be baptized part of that verse is the centerpiece of soteriology, more often quoted than even John 3:16. On the other hand,  those who are more charismatic take the second part of this verse and lean on it, and sometimes equate a miraculous experience with salvation. These people practically ignore the "repent and be baptized" part. They may even substitute a "sinner's prayer" for baptism while overemphasizing the "gift of the Holy Spirit". Many go so  far as to say that if you haven't had a miraculous experience, then you haven't been saved. (I often wonder who gave them the authority to say who is and who isn't saved.) Not surprisingly, both sides claim to "just do what the Bible says." But neither side really does what the Bible says. Neither side really accepts a plain reading of just this one verse.
I want to be abundantly clear here. I don't subscribe to charismatic theology, especially not charismatic soteriology or liturgy. I'm not saying that the "but that doesn't mean" exceptions in this post are right or wrong. I'm saying that we all sometimes have to say, "But that doesn't mean." I have my own "but that doesn't mean" exceptions. I admit that. I don't "just do what the Bible says". Neither do you, no matter how convinced you are that you do. That's my point. Can we please stop saying that we "just do what the Bible says"? It's an arrogant claim. It leads us to say that anyone who doesn't do exactly what we do just doesn't care what the Bible says. I assure you that I care very deeply what the Bible says and it's insulting and rude for someone to say that I don't. Also, it would be insulting and rude for me to say that you don't care. This "we just do what the Bible says" is a dangerous manifestation of pride.

Several years ago I heard a sermon about fellowship. The preacher said that he was asked about where he draws the line of fellowship, and he said that he doesn't draw lines. He said God draws the lines and he just searches to find where God has drawn the lines. I vehemently disagree. He draws lines because he doesn't fellowship everyone. So, he draws lines where he thinks God has drawn them. We must get this difference. What you believe about the Bible is just that. It's what you believe about the Bible. Your lines are just that. They're your lines. They're not God's lines. My lines are just that; they're my lines. They're not God's lines. For me to claim that my lines are God's lines is dangerously proud.

It's a subtle step to go from "We say what God says," to "What we say, God says." While proudly claiming the first, "We say what God says," I'm afraid many have unconsciously made the step to the second, "What we say, God says." That subtle step makes a HUGE difference, and it can be avoided by understanding that there is a difference between what you think God says and what God actually says.

Don't confuse what you believe about the Bible with what the Bible actually says. They're different. For every single one of us, those two things are different things.

Before two people can have a productive discussion, both must admit that they're interpreting the Bible, not "just reading it". You lean on what others have taught you and so do I. You lean on what you already know, and so do I. You and I lean on the work of scholars, even if we don't think we do. (Who translated the Bible to your language if not scholars? If you can read the original language, who taught you if not scholars? If you lean on a lexicon, who wrote that lexicon if not scholars? Etc.) We come to a better understanding of God by community. I depend on others to help me understand better. I hope that I'm able to help others understand better. This community is a beautiful, God-ordained blessing. Let us never get to the point that we believe that we are the ones helping and not receiving help from others. Let us never think that we are the only source of truth and that we are God's only true mouthpiece.

And by the way, there are many more of these exceptions.

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