More on Western Thought…

I thought it might be helpful to expand somewhat on my last post concerning the error of approaching the Bible, a Jewish book, with a Western (Greek philosophical) mindset. Various verses from the New Testament are pertinent here:

Jesus said, “If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God…” (John 7:17)

And what I want the reader to take careful note of is that to our Western way of thinking what Jesus says there  appears to us to be the wrong way round. Western thought would put the intellectual process of establishing whether or not a doctrine is biblical first, and then take things from there. But Jesus reverses that approach and says that intellectual understanding is the result, and not the cause, of practical obedience to whatever biblical truth is in view. So what comes first for Him is not the intellectual process of understanding what the Bible teaches, but rather the active determination to obey it and to actually live out whatever one comes to understand from its pages. And the difference is as wide as the world! We are so conditioned in our thinking on this but it is we, and not Jesus, who have got it back-to-front.

This Jewish/biblical/divinely-inspired thinking and approach to scripture reveals just how ridiculous, and hypocritical, the Western/Greek thinking approach to biblical doctrine actually is. The idea that to be biblically and doctrinally ‘sound’ is to do with holding correct beliefs, as opposed to how we live, is completely alien to scripture. There are some other verses we need to look at in this regard:

In his letter to Titus Paul writes: “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:1-10. Emphasis mine.)

And of course the thing to notice is that, having exhorted Titus to be teaching sound doctrine, he then goes on to define what he means, and he is clearly thinking of godly behaviour and not ‘doctrinal concepts’ such as the Trinity, election, atonement etc. It is Western thinking that would use the phrase ‘sound doctrine’ to denote belief systems, not scripture!

Conversely, Paul wrote to Timothy, “We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (Timothy 1:9-10. Emphasis mine.)

Here we have the antithesis! Paul’s definition of false doctrine isn’t to do with erroneous unbiblical teachings such as universalism, salvation by works, unitarianism, or whatever, but is rather to do with sinful, ungodly behaviour. So what we are seeing here is indeed precisely what I highlighted in my last post. The whole push of scripture is that a Christian can only be said to be holding to ‘sound doctrine’ to the extent that they are actually patently and clearly living out that biblical truth, as opposed to merely accepting and believing whatever the Bible teaches. As we saw last time, Satan and his hordes do that, even though they would rather not have to.

So what does all this boil down to? Simply this: The teaching of God’s Word is that ‘sound doctrine’ is when believers lay down their lives on the altar of unconditional obedience to whatever scripture may or may not teach, and only secondarily that they then seek to fully embrace such truth intellectually. The Holy Spirit then grants supernatural revelation of scripture’s teaching, thus changing our hearts and minds that we come to actually embody in the Lord what those truths necessitate and imply by way of practical obedience and a godly lifestyle. The resultant intellectual understanding will, of course, be the same in essence as that gained by the merely doctrinal ‘tick box’ approach – truth is truth, after all, and doesn’t change – but of course the difference is that the former is correct biblical thinking, whereas the latter is mere hypocrisy. I call it doctrinalism, and it is the result of a combination of the legacy of the Greek thinking of the Early Church Fathers, plus the desire of our sinful hearts, even as believers, to live for self as opposed to making the self-sacrifice of living for the Lord and for others. It is, in effect, a sort of theological jiggery-pokery by which Christians seek to justify believing one thing whilst living another.

Think of it like this: The purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is to cause us to live our lives on the basis of a significant and open sharing of ourselves with others in mutual love, service and accountability. It’s purpose is to reveal something of what the Lord is like in such regard, and therefore what we should be becoming like as well. However, all too many Christians are merely theorist ‘doctrinal Trinitarians’ living selfish un-sacrificed and unshared lives, in unbiblical churches which function in such a way so as to virtually guarantee the absence of any significant mutual personal openness, transparency or accountability.

The doctrines of atonement, propitiation and imputation; that is, what has been secured in order to grant the forgiveness of our sins, should lead us to understand that, as Jesus once said to a Pharisee of a repentant formerly loose woman, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”  Yet many believers, though believing these doctrines intellectually and accepting their truth, completely fail to realise just how sinful they actually are, and therefore just how much they have been forgiven, and therefore love so little as a consequence. They may well understand that the Bible teaches they are forgiven, but the true biblical heart-changing revelational impact, borne of the Holy Spirit, which leads to a life of self-sacrificial and truly practical love for the Lord and others, just isn’t there.

And as we also saw last time, there are sadly all too many Christians, church leaders included (especially, even), who, whilst completely and fully believing in the ‘doctrine’ of God’s grace, need just the slightest thing to go against them, or have someone annoy or threaten their position in some way, in order to unleash their pure ungraciousness like a godless waterfall.

So, does this mean that a correct understanding of biblical doctrine on an intellectual level doesn’t matter then? No! Of course not! I am as hot on ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ as anybody else. In fact, a good bit hotter than many believers seem to be nowadays! But the error of doctrinalism, as I am here describing it, has plagued the Christian church now for far too long. To be a hypocritical ‘carnal’ Christian (as Paul puts it in his Corinthian letter) is one thing, but to have a so-called theological justification for being so (that is, the doctrinalism of Western/Greek thought when brought to bear on the Jewish scriptures) is just a bit sick.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:14-26)

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth….We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (I John 3:16-18 and I John 4:19-21)

I rest my case!

 

Deformed Theology

Bible

Fundamental to following Jesus is the understanding that He is our final authority in all matters. However, because scripture is the only ultimate way we can know what He wants, then scripture also becomes our final authority in all matters. Because subjective revelation/personal conviction can be Satan deceiving us, or us deceiving ourselves, conformity to scripture is the only test we have in order to establish whether or not something could be the Holy Spirit leading us. Any attempt to separate the authority of the Lord personally from His written Word is therefore pure deception. The senior officer of a battalion of soldiers who receives his written orders from Headquarters and then, instead of just getting on with obeying what they say, gets into a debate with himself as to whether the Commanding Officer back at HQ is his authority or the written orders he has sent out, and whether he might therefore be able to in some way go against those orders whilst still claiming that he is acting under the Commanding Officer’s authority, is not worth the uniform he’s wearing. The authority of the Commanding Officer and the authority of the written orders he sends out are, quite simply, one and the same thing.

Our Authority…

Therefore, if the Lord is our ultimate and final authority, which He is, and if He has given us His written Word in the scriptures, which He has, then anyone who thinks they can be truly under His authority whilst being in any kind of non-conformity to those same scriptures is kidding themselves. The scriptures are our written orders sent us by our Commanding Officer, and His authority and their authority are one and the same thing. Indeed, any attempt to make a distinction between them could only ever be for the reason of smuggling something into our belief system or practise that is contrary to scripture, but to which we want to give place.

…Not Our Authority…

Here’s the point: If scripture, being the written orders of our divine Commander-In-Chief, is our final authority…then absolutely nothing else is!!! Not theologians, not established doctrine, not statements of faith, not Christian books, not Pastors, Priests or Ministers, not John Calvin, not Jacob Arminius, not traditional evangelical cultural practise, not me (Aw, shucks!!! That’s too bad!!!), not anyone or anything, except the scripture itself.

…and Systematic Theology…

So let me make absolutely clear what this means regarding so-called systematic theologies: unless such are deemed to be merely a teaching aid, and nothing more, systematic theologies, of whatever doctrinal bent, are actually deceptive. And of course the reason is that it’s just so darned easy to end up reading scripture through the lens of a doctrinal system rather than the other way round. Or to put it another way, instead of judging one’s thoughts, understandings and doctrinal belief system (which is what a systematic theology is) by scripture, one actually ends up judging scripture according to one’s own doctrinal presuppositions and dogma. And of course one’s final authority then is not the Lord Jesus through His Word, but rather whatever systematic theology/doctrinal system one happens to subscribe to, and therefore merely the teachings and reasonings of whichever theologians came up with it.

The Big Change…

I reached a point many years ago when I realised that in order to explain what i thought certain verses in the Bible meant I was having to explain away certain other verses. I concluded that this had to be wrong, and so decided to stop doing it and to have a comprehensive biblical re-think. As a result I embraced the wonderful freedom of no longer needing to think that I ought to understand everything in the Bible, or that I could have the Lord God and His truth nicely wrapped up in in a little box of some pre-digested systematic theology. (Not that I had ever subscribed to any particular one!) Indeed, I actually found rest and security in the Lord in even the most inscrutable biblical mysteries and paradoxes. (It is not, for example, in any way irrational to believe, at one and the same time, in election and predestination as well as human responsibility. Neither is it to embrace the utterly perplexing mystery and paradox that there is but one God, yet Who exists in three separate Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Man, go figure that one!!!)

The Resolution…

As long as we are truly willing to surrender, and to be in obedience to, that which can be truly apprehended and understood in scripture, then we needn’t be under any compulsion to kid ourselves into pretending that we have unfathomable mysteries in God’s Word that are completely beyond us all figured out and nicely sown up. If, in your thinking, the Lord God Almighty is not exponentially and massively bigger and more mysterious and inscrutable than any doctrinal statement you may subscribe to concerning Him, then there is something profoundly wrong with your understanding of the concept of both the Divine and the Infinite.

The trouble, sadly, with systematic theology is its enduring tendency to not let what the Bible teaches stand in the way of a good doctrine.

May the Lord preserve us from the 21st Century Deformers!