How we use our voice matters.
I’ve been pondering this in earnest the past few weeks as I’ve taken some dives into a few of the current debates/discussions within Christian circles. After many hours of listening to and reading a number of resources from multiple scholars and Bible teachers and looking at Scripture myself, I’m freshly sobered by just how vital it is to handle God’s Word with care, not only for our sake but also for the sake of those who listen to what we say.
There have been some jaw-dropping moments upon realizing someone is creatively (but not in a good sense) contorting verses and words and phrases from the Bible to fit their feelings and ideas *rather than* allowing their feelings and ideas to be conformed to what the Bible says. Or, some are simply sloppy in their interpretation. They seem so set on making Scripture support their viewpoint that they bypass or reinterpret what it actually says. And, some of these people have been wildly successful in convincing others to buy it, too.
All of us are prone to reading Scripture through the lens of our own understanding or experiences—none of us are above it. There are some truly “open-handed” issues in the Bible (e.g. views on the end times) that have been genuine points of disagreement between fellow believers for centuries; it’s ok to wrestle over these and land on slightly different stances from each other. There’s also room in some cases to believe the same thing in principle (e.g. it’s sinful to get drunk), but have differing methods of living this out based on personal convictions (e.g. one person partaking in moderation and another abstaining completely). That said, there are also some highly debated topics that hold significant implications for our lives depending on where we fall.
- Can women be elders in the church?
- Should we attend a gay “wedding” to show them love even if we don’t agree?
- How should Christians discipline their children?
We need to continually humble ourselves before God, asking Him to give us insight into what He intended when He divinely inspired the writing of Scripture. It’s vitally important that we rightly discern where there is room for disagreement, and where there isn’t.
Now, although every Christian has a responsibility to rightly read, apply, and share what the Bible says, what’s been baffling to me is this: when those who are considered true experts on biblical matters by anyone’s standards handle Scripture (or certain parts of Scripture) with carelessness in order to support their point.
Although I am (and we all ought to be) incredibly grateful for the expertise of scholars who have the know-how and time to invest in producing resources on theological and doctrinal topics, we also have the personal responsibility before God to measure every book, paper, sermon, podcast, article, and Instagram post we consume against Scripture. We’re to ask God for His wisdom and discernment (Jas. 1:5), and then put it into practice. Then, if something doesn’t line up or seems fishy, we need to faithfully test it, and reject it if it proves not to align with truth (2 Cor. 10:5). This requires us to personally saturate ourselves in the Bible, submitting our hearts, minds, and lives to its instruction.
Here are a few questions I ask myself when I’m considering what an “authority” has to say on any given biblical issue:
- If I were simply reading this passage (without first hearing this person’s interpretation of it) would the Bible actually support this way of looking at it? Or, am I totally dependent on their explanation to understand what they’re proposing?
- Is their explanation adding clarity to a confusing passage, or confusion to a straight-forward (but hard-to-swallow) one?
- Are they dependent on alternate Greek or Hebrew words or obscure cultural context to support their claim that it says something different than how it was translated?
- What do other godly people say about this idea—those who are clearly submitted to the authority of Scripture in their words and lives (a pastor, mentor, etc.)?
- If I were to embrace this idea, would I have to change my view on (or neglect completely) other important passages in Scripture?
- Are clear New Testament instructions for believers being explained away by Old Testament narratives or other passages that are taken out of context?
- Does this possible insight intrigue me because it rings true to the rest of Scripture, or because it’s what my “flesh” wants to hear?
- Is this person interpreting Scripture through their own experiences and those of others, or are they viewing these experiences through the lens of Scripture?
- Who are they being influenced by? Are they getting their ideas from those who hold (or held) an unbiblical worldview, or from those who hold to truth according to the Bible?
- Does this viewpoint place higher credence on worldly philosophies than it does on what the Bible says?
Even if we’re wrestling over topics not central to salvation, we need to remember the way we hold to and apply Scripture to our lives is imperative. Our beliefs (and the subsequent actions that flow from those beliefs) have vast implications for us and those around us. They affect our spiritual fruitfulness. Therefore, who we choose to allow to influence us is incredibly important.
Does that mean truly godly people will never stumble in what they say or get something wrong at times? Absolutely not (Jas. 3:2). Everyone should be growing and maturing in their understanding and application of Scripture this side of heaven. I struggle when others quickly label someone a false teacher over one wobbly issue, especially if they have shown themselves faithful to God’s Word in other areas. But those who teach the Bible are held to higher accountability before God because of their ability to influence others for good or ill (Jas. 3:1). And if we do read or hear something concerning from an author, speaker, or teacher we’ve respected in the past, it doesn’t hurt to take a step back from consuming their materials and quietly observe the trajectory of their words and life for a bit.
All of us will have influence over others to some degree. If we’re parents it starts right in our home with the little people we’ve been entrusted with. What kind of example are we setting for our children by our approach to Scripture? Will they see a life that seeks to be faithful to God’s Word, or one that uses it to try to prove our way of thinking? Will they see in us humility and reverence for the Bible, or will they see pride and flippancy instead?
No matter what voices are swirling around us, and no matter how much flack we might get for holding to a biblical (but countercultural) perspective, there is no safer place than being firmly planted in the truth of God’s Word.
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