Evangelicals and the Bible Gone Wrong: What to Do? Bible and evangelism #2

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Many have experienced those who shuffle their Bibles as vindication of why they are right and everyone else is wrong.

These people denounce the dangers of Muslims, communists and liberals. They vehemently reject the conclusions of godless scientists who attempt to undermine the simple, literal reading of the Bible.

They are convinced that the Covid outbreak is clear evidence of the fourth seal of Revelation 6:7-8 and a government plot for us to unwittingly receive the Covid vaccine, which is actually the mark of the beast. (I knew there was something funny when the nurse asked me if I wanted my injection in my right hand or my forehead!)

These Bible fighters seem to rejoice in the war and strife in the Middle East: after all, it is a clear indication of the imminent return of Jesus: “Sorry that you are suffering from this war and the malnutrition that comes with it. , but I am ecstatic because Jesus is coming for me and not for you wretches.

Somehow these bible bakers find in their bibles that all democrats, gays and anyone they don’t like or disagree with is damnable and worthy of our disdain.

Nothing can shake such people from their convictions because “the Bible says so.”

(Somehow I feel like their Bibles are missing verses like John 13:35, the whole letter of 1st John, not to mention a million other verses).

In some local churches, the Bible is used by pastors and elders to demand worship-like absolute allegiance.

Now, I noted in my last message that I have a very high opinion of the scriptures. I believe that the Bible must be preeminent in the formation of Christian life and in the Church.

But we must admit that the Bible has been weaponized by some and when it is, it can be deadly.

Sola Scriptura: The problem of the Bible alone

Biblicalism, one of the pillars of evangelicalism, grew out of the idea that the Bible is the sole authority of the Church, itself born out of the debates with Catholicism that ultimately led to the Protestant Reformation (16and century).

To oversimplify the discussion, many proponents of reform (Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, et al) have pointed out a number of evils within the Roman Catholic Church. The errors, according to them, concerned both doctrinal issues (for example, communion, the authority of the pope, salvation and purgatory) as well as practical and ethical issues (corruption in the papacy, services in Latin, sale of indulgences, accumulation of wealth, et al).

One of the responses of the Catholic Church to the proponents of reform has been to appeal to the “Tradition” of the Church. That is, although the Bible does not endorse the notion of purgatory or papal authority, Church Tradition does.

As a result, when cries of corruption and calls for reform were made, they tended to fall on deaf ears (at least for a while. Eventually many calls for reform were heard, but by the time they were, it was too late, the fracture was irreversible).

The reformers[1] countered these claims by asserting what has become known as Sola Scriptura (“the Bible alone”) that the Bible alone is our authority and that the Bible trumps “tradition” – a statement with which I basically agree.

What many fail to recognize, however, is that Sola Scriptura poses an important problem: namely, “How do we know what the Bible means?”

Any attempt to answer this question leads to another question – and it is here that many evangelicals,[2] well-intentioned or not, have been able to exploit in order to serve their own ends, namely, “who can answer the first question?” »

That is, if the first question is “how do we know what the Bible means”, the second question is, “who decides what the Bible means?”

The history of Protestantism is littered with attempts to answer these two questions.

Ironically, in an effort to answer the second question (who?), Protestants often appeal to an authority (the Westminster Confession; or the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Methodists; or the elders of a local church; or senior pastor). This, in fact, is not very different from the answer that Catholicism provides. In other words, we have exchanged one tradition (and a pope) for another.

The danger should be fairly obvious, as it usually is in hindsight.

It is into this void that some evangelicals have moved (beware, this problem has not only been exploited by evangelicals, but since evangelicals are our concern in this post, we will not venture further).

When we recognize that this debate was evolving along with the Enlightenment and its growing individualism, all the fuel needed to allow a rogue pastor/council/denomination, or even a well-meaning pastor/council/denomination to go rogue was put in. available. All it takes now is tinder.

In other words: if the Church has no authority to tell us what the Bible means, then who says that I/we cannot decide for ourselves?

This is precisely the problem I was facing when the people mentioned in my last post presented their heretical views. There was simply no way of telling them they were wrong, at least no way of them listening.

Dangers of Protestant Theology

Although there are merits to the notion of Sola Scriptura, one of the dangers of this belief is that it often leaves us defenseless against abuse. There is no way to control those who go astray.[3]

After all, if the Bible is the only authority, and if the authorities of a local church are convinced that the Bible agrees with their abusive beliefs, then who can tell them otherwise? Or if an individual or group within a local church goes rogue, the pastor and elders (if there are any) have no recourse to silence them. All they can do is ask them to leave, which just creates more churches/denominations.

The only option is to appeal to an authority other than the Bible. But you can’t if the Bible is our only authority.

(Ironically, there is not a single verse in the Bible that says the Bible is the only authority for Christians. Therefore, a call to Sola Scriptura can only be done by appealing to an authority outside the Bible).

Now, in saying this, you should know that I am not convinced that the answer of Catholicism (i.e. Church Traditions and the Bible are the final authorities) is necessarily better: at least not as it worked in practice. The Catholic Church’s assertion of purgatory, papal infallibility, and centuries of papal corruption are problematic in my view.

Biblicalism

The point here is that the evangelical pillar of biblicism, which grew out of the Protestant belief that the Bible is the sole authority for the Church, has a notable weakness. And it is this weakness that has been exploited by many, including some of the most radical evangelicals.

Where does this lead us?

I guess I should talk a bit more about that in my next post. For now, I would say, that doesn’t leave us in a very good position at all.

All we can do is follow Christ in humility and love so that the evils of these rogue evangelicals will be exposed, or at least countered, by our love.

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[1] I use this designation generically; knowing full well that some of those who defended the Bible alone did so before the official start of the Reformation.

[2] Of course, more than some evangelicals have exploited this problem. But since that’s our only concern here, I won’t address the myriad of others who have also seized the day.

[3] Denominations enjoy some protection insofar as the leadership is tied to denominational decisions. Even so, however, if those who disagree have enough support, they can simply walk away and start their own denomination. Or if those who are corrupt have enough power, they can silence dissenters in a way similar to Rome’s many years of silence on calls for reform.

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