Christianity 201

August 13, 2021

‘I’ve Never Heard That Interpretation Before’

Three days ago, I looked at a detail of The Good Samaritan story that I had not noticed before. I am constantly amazed at the depth of the parables, how many different lessons there are to be gained from what is always just a few short verses.

But we need to be careful when we hear something new that it conforms to everything else we have been taught. Someone has said, “If it’s new it’s not true.” I am not comfortable with such a sweeping generalization, but obviously in the course of Christian history, there have been many people who have come along with new ideas; some helpful and instructive; others rather off base.

In 2 Corinthians 3-4 Paul writes,

I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily.

Paul says this twice in the same paragraph in Galatians 1:7b-8

Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a divine curse! As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you embraced, let him be under a divine curse!

Years ago, I had the responsibility of coordinating two completely different Sunday morning services at our church. The first service was meant for believers, and I asked a friend, who specializes in cult research to do a message for which I gave him the title, “How Does a Rocket Go Off-Course?” In other words, I wanted him to share not so much how groups come along with something completely out of left field (i.e. The Book of Mormon) but rather how orthodox groups suddenly seem to take a turn down a road of questionable theology.

I suspect it starts out with one small particular point of doctrine. Perhaps it’s something a reader wishes was in the text. Perhaps it’s a word that has been less than perfectly rendered in one of our translations. Perhaps it’s a lack of attention to the context of a particular verse. Perhaps it’s just a lack of sleep the night before due to bad pizza!

The problem is once you start undoing a working systematic theology, because of the inter-relatedness of the parts, you can end up undermining its foundation as to the very nature of God, or the essential plan of salvation. Some may find the study of theology boring, but there is a real beauty in how the various doctrines can fit together, if the theology makes sense.

I also want to point out what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:2

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  (NIV)

It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you–unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. (NLT)

The second rendering, in the NLT suggests something that is true far too often, and that is many people have come into the faith family believing things that “were never true in the first place.” Again, using the analogy of a rocket that has gone off course, we need to apply what rocket scientists call “a mid-course correction.” We need to gently steer that person away from the false understanding which, left unchecked, will lead to other errors or perhaps lead to great frustration in their Christian growth and life.

However, in the case of The Good Samaritan story, the “new” insight added a greater depth of detail, or if you prefer, offered a slightly different way of seeing the cleric who stepped aside an opportunity to help the man injured on the road; a man who not only failed to help because of what he felt the law required, but one who in fact may have been going beyond what the law demanded of him.

But it doesn’t change the thrust of the story. It does not impinge on any major tenet of the church, any major doctrine, or any element of orthodox theology. Furthermore, the “new” teaching may simply represent an element of the narrative we’ve simply skipped over in the past.

If the premise makes sense to us, we can accept it, but if not, we can choose to dismiss it. The parable, and its applications to our lives, is unharmed.

August 28, 2017

A Different Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In yesterday’s Sunday Worship column, I commented on a detail of The Good Samaritan story that I had not noticed before. I am constantly amazed at the depth of the parables, how many different lessons there are to be gained from what is always just a few short verses.

But we need to be careful when he hear something new that it conforms to everything else we have been taught. Someone has said, “If it’s new it’s not true.” I am not comfortable with such a sweeping generalization, but obviously in the course of Christian history, there have been many people who have come along with new ideas; some helpful and instructive; others rather off base.

In 2 Corinthians 3-4 Paul writes,

I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily.

Paul says this twice in the same paragraph in Galatians 1:7b-8

Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a divine curse! As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you embraced, let him be under a divine curse!

Years ago, I had the responsibility of coordinating two completely different Sunday morning services at our church. The first service was meant for believers, and I asked a friend, who specializes in cult research to do a message for which I gave him the title, “How Does a Rocket Go Off-Course?” In other words, I wanted him to share not so much how groups come along with something completely out of left field (i.e. The Book of Mormon) but rather how orthodox groups suddenly seem to take a turn down a road of questionable theology.

I suspect it starts out with one small particular point of doctrine. Perhaps it’s something a reader wishes was in the text. Perhaps it’s a word that has been less than perfectly rendered in one of our translations. Perhaps it’s a lack of attention to the context of a particular verse. Perhaps it’s just a lack of sleep the night before due to bad pizza!

The problem is once you start undoing a working systematic theology, because of the inter-relatedness of the parts, you can end up undermining the very nature of God, or the essential plan of salvation. Some may find the study of theology boring, but there is a real beauty in how the various doctrines can fit together, if the theology makes sense.

I also want to point out what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:2

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  (NIV)

It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you–unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. (NLT)

The second rendering, in the NLT suggests something that is true far too often, and that is many people have come into the faith family believing things that “were never true in the first place.” Again, using the analogy of a rocket that has gone off course, we need to apply what rocket scientists call “a mid-course correction.” We need to gently steer that person away from the false understanding which, left unchecked, will lead to other errors or perhaps lead to great frustration in their Christian growth and life.

September 6, 2014

Truth in a World of Lies

Today, a topical scripture medley on the subject of truth. These are presented in the approximate order they occur at TopVerses.com, but not every entry there is included here. I appreciated that the search was intuitive, and in one verse the word truth wasn’t used but rather certainty. I also found it interesting how many instances of the word truth occur in the writings of the apostle John, in both his gospel and his letters. At the end of today’s scriptures there is an invitation to read a post from last summer in which we looked at Ahab and the prophet Micaiah. If you missed it, or can’t remember it, consider reading it again. Finally, a reminder to many of you that scripture verses here are always in green because the Word of God is life!

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.    John 1:14

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”    John 14:6

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness.    Romans 1:18

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.    John 16:3

So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1:4

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. John 4:23

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.”    John 15:23

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.    I John 1:8

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ.    Ephesians 4:15

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.    John 1:17

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.    Hebrews 10:26

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.    Ephesians 4:25

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.    3 John 1:4

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. Titus 1:1

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.    2 Thess. 2:13

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.   1 Peter 1:22

I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit.    Romans 9:1

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.    1 John 3:18

Who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.    1 Timothy 2:4

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.    1 John 1:16

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen.     Romans 1:25

Always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  2 Timothy 3:7

But those who live by the truth come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.    John 3:21


Read more: From June 27th, 2013, Truth–The Alternative to Telling People What They Want to Hear includes the video Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns.

February 16, 2011

Diverse in Doctrines, But Joined in Seeking

This week we’re catching up with devotional bloggers we visited last summer, which brings us back to Scott Shirley’s blog.  This is a piece worthy of much consideration and although it’s a bit longer, I hope you’ll take the time.  It appeared this week at his blog under the title The Divisiveness of Truth.


“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” – Psalms 133:1

Should everybody be allowed to read the Bible? (Spoiler alert: I think the answer is yes, but don’t stop reading yet.)

In the later part of the 14th century, John Wycliffe became the first person to translate the Bible into English. His aim was to get the Bible into the everyday language of the people. His story is complicated and full of twists but suffice it to say, his actions did not engender him to the hierarchy of the Church.

The translating of the Latin Bible into the “vulgar” English language worried Church authorities enough that by 1407 the English translation was denounced as unauthorized and translating or using translated Bibles was defined as heresy — a crime for which the punishment was death by burning. In 1415 Wycliffe himself was denounced, posthumously, as a heretic. His remains were exhumed in 1428 and burned. His ashes were spread over the Swift River.

The lens of history does not reflect well on the way the Catholic Church handled this issue. However, the Catholic Church may have been correct about one thing. They desperately feared a scriptural translation that could be read by king and commoner alike because they believed the commoner was not capable of “rightly dividing” the word of God. Putting the Bible into the hands of people not professionally trained to interpret it would result, they predicted, in rampant divisions within the Church and loss of the unity so often implored by the New Testament.

And that is exactly what happened!

By the end of the following century a German priest named Martin Luther, influenced by the work of Wycliffe, nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, thus setting the stage for the Protestant Reformation and the results that followed. Up through the time of Luther, the Church was mainly comprised of two sects or branches, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic (the result of the first Church split right after the beginning of the second millennium). Since Luther, the church has splintered so many times it is difficult for scholars to accurately assess how many differing branches exist. But we have gone from two branches at the time of Luther to, according to many estimates, over 40,000 branches today.

Why? Because we started reading the Bible.

What Wycliffe, Luther, and all the reformers started was a needed and necessary work. The desire of the Reformation Movement was to rid the Church of the power to dictate the truths of the Bible and put this power squarely into the hands of the people. And despite the results of countless divisions, none of us really wants to go back to a situation where clergy dispenses truth to us. However, swirling beneath the surface of our everybody-should-study-the-Bible-for-themselves attitude is the same fear that fostered the Catholic Church’s resistance to an English Bible translation.  We are scared people will reach different conclusions.

And reach different conclusions we do. No theological position or doctrinal belief has been immune to human interpretive difference. Well intentioned Bible-believing Christians disagree about everything from issues as small as the order of a worship service to much bigger issues such as the nature of God, the incarnation, soteriology, or the theory of atonement.

The fallout of a disagreement over any Biblical issue considered foundational has usually resulted in Church division. One may wonder how it rightly could be otherwise. Whenever we disagree on a Biblical doctrine or teaching, we seem to think the only justifiable solution is to separate. After all, if two people hold opposing views, somebody must be wrong and they are, therefore, guilty of teaching false doctrine.  We dare not stay in fellowship with them for fear of appearing supportive of their views.

Our natural response when differences arise is to assume our position (or our Church’s position) is the correct one, or, at the very least, the most likely to be correct. There are very few individuals capable of viewing the religious opinions of others as having the potential of being as valid as their own opinions. Fewer still are the Churches who can pull off this bit of intellectual honesty. We all believe ourselves to be right. 40,000+ differing divisions all chirping the same song… come to us, we’ve got the Truth.

How can that be? How can we all be so confident yet differ so much? The main problem, as I see it, is that Churches and individuals alike rarely distinguish between Truth and truth. We are all after a perfect and certain understanding of God’s absolute Truth. We go to Church, listen to sermons, attend Sunday school classes and Bible studies, all in the pursuit of the Big T. Yet we vastly overestimate the results of our chase. We fail to realize that just having God’s Truth in a book doesn’t mean we are capable of understanding it perfectly. What we get, despite our sincerest efforts, isn’t Truth. We get our best approximation of “T”ruth — we get “t”ruth.

To gain meaning from the words of the Bible we are forced to interpret them through the filter of our own mind. Meaning requires interpretation and, unfortunately, our interpretive machinery is all too fallible. There’s a fundamental difference between Truth and our interpretations of Truth, and while we search for the former, our imperfections bring us only the latter. If we only recognized this imperfection within ourselves we could more easily understand why our Christian brother down the street suffers from the same condition.

As long as we are going to read the Bible ourselves and not allow Truth to be dictated to us from any earthly authority, we are going to have to deal with differences of opinion. This is unavoidable. It is possible, however, to maintain a unity of brotherhood without unanimity of opinion. But our unity cannot rest on our interpretive abilities and opinions of scripture because it is a fight our finite humanity cannot win. We will never all agree. Our unity must come from “faith in” Truth, not “beliefs about” Truth. We can, I believe, humbly unite through our constant desire to “diligently seek” after Him. It is our search that binds us, not our answers along the way.

Alexander Campbell said it very well…

“Dear Brother, for such I recognize you, notwithstanding the varieties of opinion which you express on some topics, on which we might NEVER agree. But if we should not, as not unity of opinion, but unity of faith, is the only true bond of Christian union, I will esteem and love you as I do every man, of whatever name, who believes sincerely that Jesus is the Messiah, and hope in his salvation.”- Alexander Campbell, A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things

Along this theme, check out this original parable by Scott Shirley, which appeared at his blog the next day.