Wednesday, May 1, 2019

How Theology Can Harm Scriptural Understanding

Matthew 24:10-13 (ESV) "And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."

Do you have a strong allegiance to a particular set of doctrines or theology? Are you a staunch Arminian or a dedicated five point Calvinist? Are you a severe Molinist or a Wesleyan? In my theological studies as a Christian in ministry I've learned a great deal about both Calvinist theology, mainly from Liberty University, and also a great deal on Arminian theology, mainly through Olivet and the Salvation Army.  

I've been very dedicated to my theological systems in the past. But today I no longer hold as closely to a particular theological system. Why? Because as time passed, I realized that as I studied the scriptures, I was beginning to cancel out scripture passages that didn't fit with my theology. 

I'll give you a very basic example. This is a common scripture, directly from the mouth of Jesus: "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." -Matthew 6:14-15 NIV.

Now, this plainly says a clear truth, if we as followers of Jesus do not forgive others when they sin against us, if we hold resentments and unforgiveness in our hearts, then our sins will not be forgiven. 

But both core theological camps would throw up their arms at this simple scripture.  Calvinists would say hey, that can't be true because our tulip says that you can't lose your salvation. So they cross out that scripture.  Arminians would say hey, we believe in grace through faith alone, the only way you can lose your salvation is through falling away, rejecting Christ!  So it gets crossed out twice.  

I found myself doing this regularly.  As we were studied salvation at Liberty university I found myself quite befuddled by the fact that John 15 said something very simply, that you must "remain in me" and if you don't, you'll shrivel up, and be tossed in the fire and burned.  But I found myself the only person in the class really asking the question, doesn't this impact our salvation?  

Let's look at another example.  A classic scripture, very well known and often discussed, Matthew 25:31-46:

"31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”"

This scripture is clearly telling me that if I don't feed the hungry, cloth the naked, invite in the stranger, and the visit the sick and in prison, and instead I live selfishly and don't do those things, I'm going to eternal punishment.

Now, both camps would scream at the top of their lungs, "Your preaching a works gospel!"  I'm not preaching a works gospel.  All I did was read what Jesus said in an important teaching, and give the obvious answer to it.  But both camps cross out this scripture too, because of rabid dedication to theological systems, instead of dedication to the scriptures.  I mean, look at it, it's in the Bible.  It's right there in black and white.  It doesn't fit into our theological systems.  Yet there it is, plain and simple.  Now many will try to bend themselves into theological pretzels to try to explain about scriptures like Matthew 25, and John 15, and many others.  But I'm not willing to be dishonest about it, I'm taking a plain reading, in it's context, and in the greater theological context, and it's still right there.  It's the word.  And I won't paper it over with man made theological systems.

That's the point today.  Hold loosely to your theological system.  Let scripture upset your neat theology.  Don't paper over scriptures that contradict, even cores of the theological system. Because it's just dishonest to do that.  God is real.  His scriptures are true.  What fate awaits us if we paper over God's word for the sake of our theology and doctrine?  

And this is where the dastardly charge of legalism comes in.  You know it's quite interesting that so many reformed preachers and pastors think of this issue of legalism as such a dangerous key concern for our day and age.  Maybe back in the 50s and 60s I might've agreed.  I mean, have you taken a look around lately? Do you see a lot of legalism in the church?  I don't.  I see a great deal of antinomianism though. Antinomianism is the idea of just getting saved and then never changing how you live at all. But this is not about legalism.  It's just about reading the scriptures and taking their plain meaning. 

This really is to me the chief heresy of our day and age.  It's the heresy of papering over the scriptures for the sake of assurance of salvation.  We cancel out all the requirements of Christian living because they make us uncomfortable.  We cancel out the various concerns like forgiveness and being forgiving, serving the lost, carrying the gospel, and willful sin because we don't want to offend anyone. We don't want anyone to worry that they might not be saved.  We don't want anyone to suffer under fear and concern for how their living needs to change.  

But that's exactly the problem in our modern faith.  We don't really live it out. And our churches are dying as a result.  We want everyone to feel comfortable so we heap grace up to the sealing and we don't preach holiness, and what is the result? We have believers who don't evangelize. We have believers who care nothing about sexual sin. We have believers who come to church to get something instead of to give. And can we really blame them? We've taught them that no matter what they're saved, and they should be good because, well, just because. But the scriptures recognize the motivation of concern for our salvation. We have a holy concern for how we live it out.  And though we hate this idea today in our modern ideology, we need the fear of God (1st Peter 2:17).  We need to tremble before a holy God.  But nobody wants to hear that today.  They just want the ear candy, and love love love.  

Of course God loves us.  He loves us so very much.  But he insists we live differently.  And yes, it does affect our salvation.  So we have to be very careful how we live, in holiness, not in sin, or we will lose all we've gained, and go to a place away from God, in outer darkness. That is just a fact.  I'm not trying to be mean, or hurt anybody. I'm just writing what the Bible says.  If it doesn't feel good, well, I don't care.  Sometimes the truth is painful.  So be it. 

Now I can cite as many scriptures as I want.  But any number of scriptures won't convince those who are dedicated to a theological system of doctrines and not the truth.  Trust the scriptures my friends.  Be cautious of the theologians.  We need our spiritual leaders today.  We need to honor them. But if they're feeding us all candy, we need to get some meat and potatoes on our own.

Now recognize this basic truth: No action, no good work can wash away a single sin.  Not even one.  Only the blood of Jesus Christ can wash away sin. So never, ever, ever, ever put good works in the place of Christ.  

But do recognize that our lack of repentance and holy living can certainly harm our salvation and cut us off from Christ.  

I really see now that the modern church paints salvation as a broad highway, but that is simply not accurate. Salvation in Christ Jesus is a narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14). 

We really are in the last days and we need to seek God ourselves.  We need to study the scriptures ourselves and learn the truth ourselves.  We can't necessarily trust authors, writers, bloggers, and theologians to give us the unvarnished truth.  Don't trust me either.  Examine the scriptures for yourself. Trust Jesus.  Trust God.  Trust the scriptures and what they say.  God be with you. Amen. 

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