Pastor's monthly update from "The Concordian" newsletter.
Going away to college was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I have referred to it many times in sermons. It is like a deep well with many stories.
A few months after I started at the university, I joined a campus ministry. Some call it “parachurch ministry”. Whatever that is, I was a part of it. It was entirely different from what I was raised with in church.
There was a great emphasis on personal spiritual efforts, like reading the Bible, prayer, attending Bible studies and doing evangelism. It was the first time in my life that I read the Bible on a daily basis.
That one new habit changed the trajectory of my life. And I wasn’t one who was satisfied with simply reading it on the surface. I wanted to understand. I gazed into the chapters deeply. It was a deep pool of wisdom and truth.
Alongside of the all the activities and connecting with one another, there were theological ideas I had never heard of being talked about. It was like some kind of “higher knowledge” that I hadn’t been exposed to before.
It wasn’t until I graduated that I did a deeper study of these ideas. I started to find some of them were not actually in the Bible at all. Others concepts were from verses that were taken completely out of context. This discovery was both exciting and disturbing.
Upon further reflection, I couldn’t understand how the adult leaders of the ministry didn’t catch these mistakes. The adults leading the students should have checked to see if these things were true. Why would I, as a 20-something, be able to simply read the context and understand that they misunderstood the meaning of a verse?
On the other hand, I felt empowered. I could listen to or read from a Christian leader and be able to tell you if they were telling the truth or had a theological idea that wasn’t scriptural.
We read examples of this kind of “fact-checking” in the New Testament:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:1-3)
Paul writes in Acts 17:11:
11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Paul commends those who searched the Scripture to “fact-check” him. He wasn’t offended by it. He wanted them to do this.
Jesus didn’t have the same experience with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. He says to them in John 5:39-40:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
The religious leaders searched the Scriptures, too, but they overlooked the Messiah. They were overly-focused on what the Scripture teaches them about how to behave. They misunderstood the purpose of the Bible.
It is easy to leave the responsibility of searching the scriptures to your pastor or group leaders, but that is not our calling. You have been given the Word of God in your language to check and see if what they are saying is true. To check and see if what you have believed is true. To read the verse(s) in context and understand meaning from this.
Martin Luther, in a debate with theologian John Eck (in Leipzig, 1519) said:
A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it. As for the pope’s decretal on indulgences I say neither the Church nor the pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from Scripture. For the sake of Scripture we should reject pope and councils.
My brothers and sisters, Scripture alone is the highest authority. It is the way God has chosen to communicate the Good News of the Salvation that comes through Jesus Christ to us. It is also our defense against poor theological ideas and false teachings.
Heavenly Father, we so easily defer to spiritual leaders without examining your word to see if it’s true. Grant us desire to daily feed on your Word. Help us to read, study and internalize your Holy Word that we may grow in the faith once delivered to the saints. To the glory of Your Holy Name, Amen.