What I mean is that there are things that have long vexed and divided the Christian community for no good reason. While it’s all very well to satisfy one’s own curiosity about the meaning of various passages on a topic, the question we must always ask is, “Does this make any practical difference? Does it change the way I live, and change it for the better? Or is it a waste of time and a distraction?” (1 Tim. 1:4, 4:7, 6:4). And we often come to these issues without having first of all gotten a firm grasp on the clear and undisputed teachings, the basics of the faith. We waste our time if we discuss what God would or would not do when we don’t even know Him very well in the first place.
This also highlights a trap we often fall into in our efforts at “contending for the faith” (Jude 1:3), or apologetics. Unbelievers often come to us with long lists of alleged contradictions, anachronisms, inaccuracies, or faults in God’s character, and then watch with glee as we scurry to solve every one of them, though they themselves would never be put to such a test on their own beliefs or philosophies. We must know what God has left unrevealed and not try to answer for Him. We must know what He has revealed about His character and nature, which will serve as a boundary for the possible interpretations we can make in those areas that are not clear. And we must recognize the traps that are set for us.
Trap: Eternal Security
At this link, for example, you can see an email debate between two people on this topic. Notice how they talk past each other and talk down to each other. Both are very passionate about their views (I strongly disagree with both of them for different reasons). And both have wide followings over this and some of the other traps listed below. I’ve met those followers in various online venues, and they range from the mild crusader to the rabid maniac in their defenses of their views. But for what purpose?
When it comes to theory, there is no discernible difference between getting lost/re-saved and backsliding/repenting. Either way, the believer can be restored, according to the teachings of both; the big feud is over what happened spiritually, and it’s pure speculation. Sure, each side has their airtight, undeniable, indisputable scriptural backing, but since both sides claim it, it obviously doesn’t matter.
When it comes to practice, again there is no discernible difference between those who think they can get re-saved again and those who think they merely need forgiven. Both have a “license to sin”, when you think about it. The only group who does not are those who take Heb. 6:6 at face value, because being saved and then lost can only happen once, without hope of ever being saved again. Yet this group lives in abject terror of God, trying to be perfect by their own works, and often pretending that they are. They have no assurance at all, no “sabbath rest” (not “work”!) in Jesus, whose sacrifice for them only opened the door to a life of walking on eggshells.
When you come to God through faith in the risen Jesus for the purpose of being reconciled with God, you will live to please Him. You will bask in the warmth of a love that is not fickle and does not disown the beloved on the occasion of every infraction. You will no longer care whether sin makes you unsaved or merely out of fellowship, because the slightest distance between you and God will be unbearable for any significant length of time. Salvation is not like having a sudden crush on someone, but like having the deep meeting of minds and hearts of two who have gone through good and bad times together. And like a good parent, God will not throw away His children or allow them to be molested to the point of unbelief (1 Pet. 1:5), or that passage means nothing. Note that v. 7 speaks of testing, and the purpose of a test is to see if something is genuine. A true saving faith will pass the test, as Jesus also illustrated in the parable of the seeds and sower (Mt. 13:1—23). The soil is the focus there, and it is that soil which determines whether faith is genuine; the “produce” shows the result of the test.
This trap, then, highlights a very widespread problem in Christianity: so-called “Easy Believism”. Of course salvation is by faith alone, but the faith spoken of in scripture is not a shallow “believe in the tooth fairy” thing, as James pointed out (James 2:19). It is loyalty/faithfulness (Gal. 5:22) born of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) with and gratitude (Col. 3:16) toward God. People may firmly believe in the God of the Bible and that Jesus died for their sins and rose again, but they may still have no relationship with God; He simply doesn’t make a difference in their lives beyond that which any unbeliever can copy. As with the previous post’s principle of needing both spirit and truth, “gospel” messages that either deny the awfulness of sin or use fear and shame alone are poor and fake substitutes. It is God, not what He offers, which should be the motivation for salvation, for if we are right with God we will have everything else as well (Mt. 6:33). Seek Him first and foremost.
As you can see in my series here on The Hunt/White Debate, the so-called TULIP wars have had a long and inglorious history. But not only are the two sides as far apart as ever, this debate contributes nothing at all to either the gospel or righteous living among believers. There is every bit as much evidence of the indwelling Spirit (or lack thereof) on one side as the other, and they both give the same gospel message: salvation by faith alone through Jesus alone. As with Eternal Security, it makes precious little difference whether you believe God allowed your acceptance of salvation through the free exercise of your will, or decreed it from eternity past.
The implications can be very important, and many who reject the gospel do so on the grounds of arguments made in this debate. But at the end of the day, does it really matter? As far as anyone can tell, people encounter Jesus in one way or another, hear the gospel, and choose to accept it or reject it. We can only speculate as to what caused that choice, but such speculation has no bearing on the fact that it was made. Both sides must ask themselves whether any perceived gain from promoting (sometimes ramming down throats) one’s view on this matter has been worth the division it has caused. When our view is elevated to a salvation issue, we have already conceded defeat; it is simply not necessary to resolve this argument in order to spread the gospel or even to motivate Christians to live more holy lives.
It can be nothing less than pride in one’s theological or exegetical prowess that motives some to make this topic such a thorn in the side of the Body of Christ. If reaching the lost and nurturing the saved are being done by both sides (and they are), then our personal convictions on matters of abstract philosophy surely fall into the category of “disputable matters” (Rom. 14:1, and don’t go calling the other side the “weak faith” side!). Such discussions belong in the realm of those already long saved, but without rancor or judgmentalism. In fact, the surest sign that you’re not in this realm is how you treat the other side! And remember the previous article about defining “niceness”; it must be genuine and clearly communicated, not simply coated with syrup or relying on implication.
What happens if Calvinism is abandoned? What happens if it is enforced as “true Christianity”? What changes in the lives of believers, or in gospel presentations? Should our focus lie on how we got saved or Who did it? Do the writings of theologians take precedence over scripture and the Spirit in each believer?
Trap: Bible Versions
Because Christians have been conditioned to see the Bible only as it is rendered in their language, any change to it is seen as tampering with the very Word of God. Many believers have no idea what translation involves, and some have no desire to know, preferring instead to rally behind persuasive teachers who arrogantly assert a particular translation as having fallen from heaven itself. They will not listen to scholarly opinion on this matter, fearing that any and every appeal to secular academics is a Satanic plot. They hurl invective at other versions than their preferred one, as well as the people who either make the other versions or favor them. To question their own is to question God, and they take upon themselves the role of inquisitor and judge to protect what they presume is God’s honor.
While it is true that some Christian academics are not above dismissing or ignoring historical or linguistic evidence which may support the divine inspiration of scripture (in much the same way that science professors will even try to use the law to prevent data unfavorable to the theory of evolution to be presented in the science classroom), many more have considered all the facts and presented their findings without regard to whose theological sensibilities they might offend. We cannot be content with outdated dictionaries and back-room deals to alter even the original language texts (ref. this article) on one hand, or with baseless assertions of God’s divine approval of a translation on the other.
I know, I know, educated people are on both sides of this debate, just as they are with the others. What I mean is that the average believer should be aware of all that has to be considered in the process of translation in general, as well as the history of Bible translations and the various factors affecting them. Then, and only then, can they intelligently assess the claims of various teachers on which versions are more faithful to the original text. But above all, the end does not justify the means; that is, slandering other versions or their supporters is not what people who have the “right” version do. If one wishes to critique a translation, it should be done calmly and logically and knowledgeably.
But for the record, I’ve seen some very well-educated people make elementary logical blunders in such efforts. This is why a basic grasp of logic or “clear reasoning” should also be part of every Christian’s education. Our time in Sunday School has been largely wasted on fluff and what is essentially group therapy. The latter is needed for some, but this should not be called “Christian Education”. We spend our lives in this “school”, but what do we really learn, and where are all the graduates? Are we in “church” and Sunday School to learn or simply to hear a great pep talk?
All of these very divisive things boil down to one cause: people wanting to basically play God by filling in the blanks where He has not spoken, and by attempting to micromanage others in a way that even God does not. We are not willing to allow others to disagree, because we do not know where the essentials leave off and the disputable begins. We want over-simplified, Apollos-following, go-team divisions instead of a deepening study and seeing that other parts of the Body have their unique and legitimate places. We spend so much time and energy fighting each other over imagined essentials that we have little left for evangelization. We speak out against worldliness from one side of our mouths and then promote that same worldliness by adopting its philosophies of social welfare, so-called tolerance, politics, and traditions from the other.
We know the “church” is broken but we don’t know why, because we love our comfort zones more than truth, and our places more than our relationship to Jesus. Egos, reputations, “ministries”, and careers would crumble if we changed, and for many, that price is too high to pay. But just as “the poor hear no threats” (Prov. 13:8), the humble fear no loss of status. And that is probably the biggest trap of all. But remember that to confidently present your case is far different from declaring all other cases wrong, as so many like to assert. If your case truly is the right one that will be the logical conclusion, but we should not claim this for ourselves, and those who disagree with you should not be so thin-skinned as to take personal offense. As I’ve said before, let people talk— but beware of the traps.