Evangelical Christians don’t have a Pope, nor believe in papal infallibility, but sometimes you wouldn’t know it from the way that some of us talk about Martin Luther, or John Calvin or our favourite authors or a particular leader or church. It’s par for the course for us human beings. We struggle to hold conflicting things in tension, we seek order and patterns in everything, even when there are none. We are happiest when something is clearly 100% good or 100% bad, black or white, right or wrong; when our heroes and villains are undiluted. When we’re young, and we lack experience, wisdom and courage it’s easiest for us if we can attach ourselves to someone and let them do our thinking for us. We all have this subconscious desire to be discipled by something. For some of us, we buy wholeheartedly into a church and adopt uncritically its interpretation of the Bible on faith, love, sex, prayer and God.
I remember once I was doing some teaching to some visitors at Cornerstone. One of the people listening found something I had said difficult to accept in light of what he had been taught by his church and, to his credit, he came to talk to me about it. I took him through one of the New Testament letters which had been influential in shaping my thinking about the topic. I could see, as we went through the letter together, that he wasn’t convinced. His knew and respected his church leaders, and who was this nobody trying to tell him that they were wrong? At one point in the letter we came across a verse that, to be honest, may as well have said, “That thing that James is telling you? Yeah, it’s right, and that means that what your church has taught you is wrong.” He looked at me and said, without a single drop of irony in his voice, “So I just need to find a way to interpret that verse”. That was when I knew that I’d lost.
I’d seen it before, in victims of cults. You present an alternative interpretation. It shakes their worldview a little and makes them uncomfortable, so instead of unravelling the thought, exploring it and seeing where it takes them, they run to a church leader who performs some complicated exegetical gymnastics in order to be able to say, “That verse that says that thing – it actually means the complete opposite”. And all is right with the world again.
I see it in myself and in others, where instead of letting what the Bible says shape our theology, we let our theology shape what the Bible says. A sad day, when truth knocks on our door, and we just hang out a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.