John, a new convert to Christianity, grabbed the plate from the table and headed to the buffet line. On his way, he passed his preacher, who advised him, “Take all you want, but eat all you take.” Having no clue what that saying meant, John continued toward his goal. When he reached the first table, he noticed deserts of every size and sort. Mr. Hosford, the church bus driver, was busy at this table, piling on desert after desert onto his plate. “Hey, boy,” shouted Mr. Hosford, “You can’t go wrong with the deserts. God is good, isn’t he?” John decided to head to the next table that housed the main courses. All manner of meat dishes lined this table, from meat loaf to veal. John reached for the meat loaf, and then stayed his hand when he caught sight of the sign by the first dish. “Yummy Meatloaf! Made with real sawdust!”
John decided to forgo the main dish and fill up on vegetables instead. At another table, much smaller than the rest, sat only a few, poor examples of vegetables. There were limp and soggy green beans in one bowl. Candied yams, heavily covered with some sort of sweet coating inhabited the next bowl. The last bowl contained a small, pitiful collection of mixed vegetables, which were dried and hard. “Oh, no,” said Mrs. Maxwell, the choir director, as she approached John from behind. “You don’t want any of those, John. They might be good for you, but they sure taste icky. Why don’t you go back to the desert table instead?” Obediently, John headed back to the desert table.
Unfortunately, some churches treat Christianity and the Bible like buffet tables. They take what looks good to them. But, if they find something that might be spiritually nutritious, they leave it where it lies. This “pick and choose” method is sometimes disguised under the more sinister heading of Biblical interpretation.
It is amazing how three people can get three completely separate interpretations from the same passage. The reasons for this anomaly are many. As humans, we rarely approach any process totally unbiased. Our previous experiences shape our choices in ways we couldn’t even imagine. For example, a particularly unsettling experience with a church that approved and encouraged every one to speak in tongues, without interpretations and at the same time, could lead to a complete denial of all sign gifts at a later time. Or, a hypocritical grandparent could turn one away from the faith altogether. In interpretation, bias acts the same way. How we were initially brought up in the church (Calvinistic, Arminian, legalistic, etc…) colors our future choices as well as our interpretations of particular passages.
Our environment should not shape us, but it does. It shapes us in wickedly subtle ways. Our experiences also shape us, as does the influence of our family and peers. We are only responsible for our own sins, but having to sit and listen to a racist parent spout continuous hate is bound to have some effect on the child’s outlook. Compare the parental influence with the pastoral influence. Almost every view a new Christian has concerning doctrine is fed by the church or some other influence other than the directly form the Bible. These doctrines may be backed up with justifiable scripture, but the source remains external to the new Christian.
Because the new Christians internalizes doctrine from a church or another individual’s beliefs, any bias, false teachings, or ignorance is transferred as well. Often a new believer unwittingly believes certain false doctrine, not because that doctrine is based upon truth in scripture, but simply because that doctrine was relayed from a pulpit, television show, or some other external source. As a result, the church has managed, hopefully through ignorance, to create an entirely new generation of sheep who blindly follow the full direction of the shepherd, regardless of danger. Obviously, we should submit to the authority of the local church, but we should also check everything against the standards set forth in the Bible. If the standards, truths, or doctrines propagated by the leadership differ from the Bible, it is a Christian duty to lovingly rebuke those who are in error, whether our station allows us this privilege or not. When the leadership errs, the errors trickle downhill.
When we consider our beliefs and doctrines, we are usually looking at them through a glass that has been stained with other’s beliefs, previous experience, and environmental effects. Because we rarely look at the Bible form a completely neutral perspective, our doctrines and beliefs are rarely objective. Regardless of the outside influences, the factor that most effects our interpretation is our sin.
Our sin tends to make us interpret the Bible defensively. Instead of interpreting the scripture with other scripture, our sin forces us to interpret the scripture with a bias, sometimes influenced by the current culture. In other words, we accept or reject certain commands introduced in the Bible based on the criteria of if they fit the ideals presented in the current culture. It is simply another case of Christians striving to escape persecution by perverting their faith into what is acceptable to the main stream. However, what few fail to realize is that we must accept the Bible in its entirety, for if we pick and choose the commands we wish to follow; we are not following the same god of the Bible. We are following a god of our own devise.
In regard to scriptural interpretation, the Catholic Church’s greatest strength is one of the Protestant Church’s greatest weaknesses. The Protestant Church does not have a universally approved method of Biblical interpretation. Instead, we allow our individual pastors to be, in effect, little popes. Obviously, those churches within a denomination hold to certain beliefs that are sanctioned by that denomination. In reality, however, the churches in denominations are ultimately accountable only to themselves. The little popes can teach whatever doctrine they so choose as long as they can back it up with at least one verse of scripture. Again, however, the problem arises from our interpretation techniques.
We tend not to interpret scripture in relation to the complete body of that scripture. We are taking our interpretations out of context, generating a meaning that was not intended. Isn’t the meaning of our existence to get to know the Creator, instead of getting Him to fit into some form that is more acceptable to us? If our purpose is to know the Creator as He is, why do we insist on placing meaning to His revelation that He may never have intended?
As opposed to the gods of all man-made religions, this Creator made us, we did not make Him. However, when we choose which scriptures we will obey and those we will not, we are defining God’s role in our lives. When we alter the commands of God, we alter our conception of Him. We worship God when we directly obey all of His teachings and precepts. When we can determine what commands we wish to obey, we undermine God’s command in our lives. What business would allow its employees to choose the rules they would obey? What parent would allow their children to choose which command to listen to and which to ignore?
It’s true that the Bible can be interpreted many different ways. However, one God wrote the Bible. That God intended His word to be interpreted with only one possible explanation. If we choose to interpret the Bible in any other way than that intended by God, we would receive false results. The one who interprets the Bible based on their own wisdom is following a god of their own making, and perhaps leading other to a false understanding as well. If we reach an interpretation that differs with other parts of the Bible, then the interpretation we reached must be incorrect.
If we choose to disobey a clear Biblical command, aren’t we stating then that the Bible must be flawed in some way? Because if we directly choose to ignore a portion of the Bible, then we must believe that not all of the Bible is inspired by God. And, if we can’t be sure of which part is inspired, how can we be sure of our salvation through Jesus Christ, as that salvation could be based on an uninspired section? Therefore, it has to be the full package, or nothing at all. When we start choosing portions of scripture we believe to be inspired, we condemn the entire document as flawed. Why should we base the destination of our eternity on a document that is conceivably not one hundred percent correct? Remember, the Bible was not written for anyone’s approval or condemnation. God wrote it as a revelation to those He created. If we find things in the Bible we dislike, the error will not be found in the Bible. The error is somewhere in our lives.
Consider the “homosexuality is not a sin” issue. Both are clear examples of the church denying scripture in favor of cultural conformity. No matter how you look at Romans 1:27 or Leviticus 18:22, there can be no denying that the expressed description of homosexuality is that it is a sin in the least, and an abomination at the most. However, many churches directly undermine the authority of the Bible by condemning its view on homosexuality as politically and socially irrelevant. Well, however said that God was politically correct according to our standards? For that matter, whoever stated that God was partial or fair according to what society describes as fair? God is just. He is just to every man, woman, and child equally.
Another aspect of this buffet line mentality, located somewhere on the other end of the spectrum, is the group that takes one doctrine or scripture and crusades with it, often with no thought toward the remainder of scripture. To utilize the above example in a different light: there are individuals and churches built and sustained by the concept that homosexuality is the greatest bane of the modern age and is obviously the greatest sin of all time. While there cannot be any denial that homosexuality is a sin, there is no scriptural evidence to support that any one sin is any greater than any other. As 1 John 5:17 illustrates, “all unrighteousness is sin” (NASB), God considers all sin the same.
This one-doctrine insistence does nothing but damage the reputation of the entire church as well as hurt future evangelical attempts. Keep in mind that Jesus never singled out any sin as greatest, but was the dissolution for all the sins of mankind. When we alienate certain sins, we alienate the enactors of those sins, giving them a special cause. The cessation of sins is contingent upon salvation and not before this act. If all men were to cease their sin before coming to Jesus for eternal life, Heaven would be bare.
This is not to say that we should not seek reform for our society, that we shouldn’t identify sin as sin, or that we should make peace with any sin. But, we cannot single out any particular sin, as it would be counter productive to the work done on the cross. In addition, we would not be faithfully interpreting scripture, as we would be failing to balance interpretation with the entirety of scripture. The same can be said of abortion. Is abortion inherently evil? It certainly springs, for the most part, from selfishness and sin. But we certainly cannot condone the killing of abortion doctors in the name of pro-life. If we are for life, we must be for every form of life.
Both forms of buffet line Christianity have eroded Christianity’s claims and aims in the past few centuries. Those who pick and choose their commandments undermine the integrity of the Word of God. Those who make crusades against single sins and for solitary doctrine alienate unbelievers and draw undeserved hatred on the entire church. We cannot afford to roll over and not take a stand against sin, but we also cannot overcome the world by conforming to the world’s rules and acceptability.
A Christian is defined as one who follows Christ. The Bible defines a disciple as one who denies himself and takes up the cross of Christ. How can we call ourselves Christians and not fully obey Christ?