A Couple of Transatlantic Misunderstandings – Part 3

I want to pick up on something I said in the last post and give it the emphasis it deserves, and it’s my simple observation that none of us know what we are wrong about. Think about it! If we knew we were wrong about something then we would presumably make correction and not be wrong any more. A simple principle, for sure, but greatly overlooked and misunderstood! And greatly overlooked and misunderstood by Christians too!

Because flights don’t always get me where my car is there are times when I have to rent one, and because rentals are nearly-new they tend to have all the bells and whistles which I only know exist because of renting them. Indeed, after a ten hour drive in a real beauty last year I’d just about figured out by the time we arrived at the airport to fly home that I could have probably driven the whole distance just talking to it via the onboard computer. Man, there wasn’t much that thing couldn’t do pretty much completely automatically. On the last really cool car I rented I noticed that the side-view mirrors had a little symbol in the corner that would regularly light up, but I couldn’t for the life of me work out why they would or why they were there. Belinda eventually figured out though that the flashing symbols were there to alert me when any vehicle alongside but to the rear was in my blindspot. And there you have it! Just as with driving, we all have blindspots in our lives! And the thing about blindspots is that you don’t, by very definition, know what’s in them! And that means that we don’t know what we are wrong about, and that we therefore need to be open to correction from others, such correction being the equivalent of those little symbols lighting up on the side view mirror of my rental car.

One of the greatest biblical virtues is that of humility, and one of the ways in which genuine humility is revealed is through an open mind to the fact that we could be wrong about absolutely anything. As we saw last time, this doesn’t prevent us from being definite regarding to our best and honest biblical understanding of various matters, but it does preserve us from the kind of closed-minded dogmatism that is more to do with needing to be seen to be right about something (self-righteousness, in fact), rather than simply establishing from scripture whether we actually are right or not.

And it seems to me that there are two main ways in which we avoid facing up to things about which we are wrong, but about which we are determined to keep believing that we are right. The first is to simply avoid anything that might address, or present challenge to, whatever the thing in question might be. The tactic, so to speak, of denial plus avoidance! We just don’t talk about whatever it might be, or address it in any way. We keep it ‘off the table’ and avoid talking about it with anyone who might present a threat or challenge to us regarding it. This is why, for example, so many aspects of what the Bible teaches are quite intentionally never referred to, being studiously ignored, by Christian leaders and teachers and those who follow them.

The second way to avoid having to face up to the fact that we might be wrong about something is to become so entrenched in our convictions, biblical or otherwise, that instead of genuine discussion with others we are simply concerned to ‘win the argument’ and not even properly listen to any contrary thinking or ideas. Our concern should rather be, “What saith the scriptures?” with an accompanying attitude of genuinely testing ourselves to see if we are truly seeking to then conform our thinking and lives to what they say.

So this isn’t just about belief and doctrine. It’s about how  we actually live day to day as husbands and wives, as parents and children, as employers or employees and as neighbours to those who live in our street. It’s about how honest we are being regarding our sin and failure, and about then repenting of that sin and failure and putting things right both with the Lord and any others whom our sin has affected. As sinners our default state, our knee-jerk reaction, our instinctive and instant response to any revealed consequences of our own wrongdoing, is to try to deny the reality of the situation and to excuse and justify ourselves regarding it, so as to not only deny our sin but to shift the blame onto others. Humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God, as scripture commands us to do, is therefore the way in which we initiate, and continue, the ongoing process of reversing this.

In the Garden of Eden, as soon as sin entered the human domain, Eve blamed the serpent, and Adam blamed Eve and then the Lord. Humility, however, embraces the simple understanding that my sin is my fault and not yours, and that I am the only one who can repent of it and make restitution in the Lord for it. Humility also embraces the simple fact that 1) We are wrong about an awful lot of things which we aren’t even aware of yet, and 2) Without the help and correction of others we will never see much of what that wrongness actually is.

As I maintained in the previous couple of posts, we are indeed free to always think we are right, but not to ever think that we are always right! And now we must add this: When sin has disrupted my relationship with others in any way it might be entirely their fault and not mine. It might also be a case that both they and I have contributed wrongdoing to the situation. Or it might be that the situation is entirely my own wrongdoing! But irrespective of which of these three possibilities it is, the one thing I must never do is to automatically give myself the benefit of the doubt and to simply assume that the odds are that I am right, and that the wrongdoing is entirely someone else’s.

The Lord’s humility reveals itself by His willingness to be in a lowlier position than the one of which He is worthy. For ourselves, however, humility must acknowledge that we are not actually worthy of anything at all, and that also, unlike the Lord, we have ongoing wrong-thinking and wrongdoing that we need to both admit to and put right.

This is a big part of why even so many Christians who are aware of what scripture teaches regarding church life, and who have actual opportunity to avail themselves of it, nevertheless decide to either remain in unbiblical churches or just become churchless. Both options, however, avoid  meaningful personal accountability! The first because unbiblical churches are impersonal, and the latter because it excludes even the most basic commitment to anyone or anything, and even avoids scriptures command that we regularly gather together with other believers for mutual edification and spiritual growth. The former is to hide in a crowd, whilst the latter is to just avoid others completely! In strong contrast to both scripture teaches that we should embrace true life-sharing fellowship with others in which we become truly open and known.

Look, no-one enjoys being corrected! Or at least, I don’t! I really, really do understand that! Given the choice between watching some Star Trek or having someone correct me for something, guess which one I’d go for! Indeed, I’d rather watch chick-flics, which I truly can’t stand! But hey, even watching chick-flics beats being corrected by someone, eh? But like so many things in life correction isn’t meant to be enjoyable, it’s meant to be part of our walk with the Lord so as to sanctify us and conform us ever more into His likeness and character!

 

 

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A Couple of Transatlantic Misunderstandings – Part 2

The second phrase I want to look at is one I picked up from Americans. I think it’s brilliant, but I have found that there are English folk who have a problem getting their heads round. It’s this: I always think I’m right, but I don’t think I’m always right! So let’s take this apart and find the sparkling gems of important biblical principles so succinctly and brilliantly stated by it.

There are two equal and opposite errors into which Christians can fall concerning how they apprehend the truths of scripture. One is to be so un-definite and wishy-washy that it’s difficult to know quite what they believe about anything. Many believers are so ‘shades of grey’ through fear of being thought of as being too black and white, so woolly- and double-minded in their desire to avoid ever being thought of as being overly dogmatic, they end up virtually conviction-less and pretty much useless as far as serving the Lord goes. Evangellyfish with no backbone! In his letter James states that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, and this is one of the major reasons why so many Christians are so hopelessly compromised and cowardly in their discipleship and witness to the surrounding culture. Because they are not clear on even the basics of the faith, they just wobble all over the place having little to saying just keeping their heads down and to avoid controversy.

The opposite error, however, is when believers hold understandings and convictions regarding the teaching of scripture which, once embraced, become fixed and unalterable in their thinking. They then deem their doctrinal positions to not even be open for discussion, let alone possible re-examination and re-assessment in the light of increased scriptural awareness and knowledge. And of course there is a spectrum in-between these two extremes which, given that none of us are ever in perfect balance, each of us is somewhere along at any given time. It is, after all, quite possible to have intractable convictions regarding those bits of the Bible we take a liking to and especially agree with, whilst being conviction-less – indeed, probably just completely ignoring – those parts about which we might simply not be bothered. All this is error and imbalance, and we need to be doing everything we can to get it right. So let’s break our phrase down into it’s two constituent parts.

First, I always believe I’m right! Think about it! Why would we believe certain things, thereby acting and behaving in whatever way those beliefs demand, if we didn’t believe those things to be right? Definite biblical conviction is meant to be the very basis upon which we live! Jesus said, “They shall know the truth and the truth shall set them free.” So if I am living on any basis, in any area of my life, that is not a positive embracing of, and obedient response to, clear biblical conviction, then I am not, by definition, being faithful to the Lord and am living in bondage in such regard. If we claim to be disciples then the only thing that should matter to us is being in conscious obedience to scripture. Jesus also said, “If you love me you will obey my commands.”

This is obviously an ongoing process which progresses over time, but once we are saved our whole intent should be to be continually adjusting our thinking, and therefore our lives, in order so as to conform with our growing understanding of what the Bible teaches. Wherever we find ourselves at variance with it, whether in belief or action, then the evidence of discipleship, as opposed to us proving to just be carnal Christians, is that we duly repent. That is, that we change both our thinking and our behaviour accordingly.

There are obviously also going to be those things concerning which, at any one time, we are genuinely unclear on regarding what scripture teaches, the jury, so to speak, still being out, but even then we should still be continually seeking to understand more and more of its teaching in order to adjust ourselves and our lifestyles accordingly. We cannot truly follow the Lord and grow in Him without also growing in clear progressing biblical conviction regarding every area of life.

So yes, of course I always think I’m right. If I didn’t think I was right regarding whatever I believe, such being the basis for how I live, then what business do I have believing whatever it might be in the first place? James also states quite clearly in his letter that if a man knows what is right but doesn’t do it, then that to him is sin. Notwithstanding, as we have already seen, there will always be things we don’t yet understand from scripture (but of course one isn’t then claiming to be right regarding them), we are nevertheless meant to be crystal clear on the basics. Should such not be the case, then we should realise how important it is that we start putting that right as soon as possible.

Secondly, but I don’t believe I’m always right! This is crucial! The safeguard to always believing that we are right is the ongoing realisation that we should only believe anything at all should it be what scripture actually teaches. So we must now introduce another thought, and it is simply this: I don’t know what I’m wrong about! And neither do you! Think about it! If I thought I was wrong about something then I would, presumably, correct it, put it right and therefore not be wrong any more. Should we ever remain knowingly and wilfully wrong about something then that is obviously sinful and without excuse, but even when we truly are being as genuinely honest as we know how, it still remains the case that we are sinners who are naturally prone to deception, and who could therefore be wrong about absolutely anything, at any time, without realising it! And of course the answer to that is what the Bible teaches concerning humility, and about the importance of us being genuinely correctable and willing and open to having others show us where we are wrong. But of the course the important thing then is that any such correction must itself be demonstrably what scripture actually does teach! In order to properly correct someone it must be made absolutely clear to them from God’s Word that they are wrong, otherwise there is no basis to even think they are wrong. The only basis upon which to expect a believer to change their mind concerning honestly held biblical conviction is to demonstrate from scripture that the conviction in question is actually wrong.

This is one of the reasons why being in close and significant fellowship with others is vital, and why it is so important that we never expect anyone to accept anything we say or teach just because we say or teach it. Indeed, we should always encourage others to satisfy themselves whether or not anything that has been stated is consistent with God’s Word. As a Bible teacher I have always insisted that no-one accept anything I teach unless they are satisfied for themselves that it is what the Bible teaches. I would rather believers disagree with me because they have honestly searched out scripture for themselves than agree with me just because I said it, or because I merely sounded convincing when I did. Conversely, however, if someone does disagree with something they hear taught, then it is for them to demonstrate from scripture that one teaching it is wrong, as opposed to merely rejecting something just because they don’t like it, or because it doesn’t fit in with their own pre-conceived ideas or pet doctrines.

I have certainly become accustomed to being thought of as being fay too definite about various biblical issues which many Christians seem to want to remain obscure, and concerning which they consider it offensive to be dogmatic because they don’t want to have to be in obedience regarding them! But whether it’s what I teach in regards to church life, the differing roles of men and women in family and church life or the scandal of divorce and remarriage, I have always made it as clear as I know how that I welcome correction, whether concerning those issues or anything else. My position has always been this: Like anyone and everyone else, I have no idea what I am yet wrong about! Therefore, if anyone thinks they can see where I am wrong about something then please, please, please, feel free to show me! I honestly and truly don’t want to be wrong about anything, yet am nevertheless fully aware that I am wrong about things which I genuinely and honestly think I am right about! But here’s the condition! You must show me what you think I am wrong about from scripture, and you must do so fully aware that it might also turn out that it is you who is wrong concerning the matter, and not me after all! To just say someone is wrong about something without clearly demonstrating your biblical basis and authority for so doing is actually an example of monumental arrogance and presumption. Do you really expect others to accept that what you say is correct merely because you say it? The whole point is that, in regards to what we are here talking about, it doesn’t matter what you think, or what I think, or what anyone else thinks! The only thing that matters is, what saith the scriptures? Am I right or wrong about this, or the other? Are you right or wrong about this, that or the other? The only way to establish anything is such regard is for all concerned to turn to scripture with as honest and as open a mind as we know how!

So yes, I always believe I’m right, but I don’t believe I’m always right! And that should be the deal for every believer. Every Christian should be able to honestly say such of themselves. It simply boils down to this: We must be definite about, and therefore faithful to, our biblical convictions, yet whilst being genuinely humble in our acknowledgement of our, as yet, unrealised and unacknowledged ignorance and error!