Our Catholic Brothers Warned Us

Our Catholic brothers warned us this could happen. What I’m referring to is my latest wandering on the internet machine. This morning as I was preparing to begin my homiletic preparations for All Saints Sunday I was diverted (thanks again Yahoo News) to an article with the rather interesting title indicating that God has a 6000 year plan for the return of Christ. As I’m prone to say more and more lately, “I’m speechless.”

Well not entirely. After a moment or two of reflection I do have a couple of thoughts I’d like to share. First let me deal with this article (and others like it now popping up in our misinformation rich culture). This is not good theology on any level. It is both inaccurate scientifically (citing Bishop Usher on the age of the earth is a fool’s errand) and a hermeneutic (a consistent and systematic way of understanding scripture) mess. I don’t have the time or energy required to illustrate how insane this article really is; so just read it for yourself. If you have some extra time you might read the comments as well and see just what other readers thought. My greatest concern here is for those who conclude that ALL religious belief is the habitat of crackpots.

What I’d like to center my thoughts on are why these type of theological aberrations are bad for the Church and how we might want to address it as a believing community who reside in the trenches between unbelief and crazy belief. First off this nutty interpretation is unfortunately captivating the attention of far too many church goers. And though I hate to say this, far too many eschatological (concerning the end of time) ignorant pastors will endorse this as one more evidence that their end time predictions are right on target. Based upon this kind of symbiotic ignorance many will conclude: the world is coming to an end – pack your spiritual bags – get ready to check out (don’t get left behind). Some to be sure are openly thrilled by wars, pandemics, and economic crisis that come along because it means they will soon get their reward. Now it troubles them the least that this flow of illogic is 180 degrees different from the actual message of the Bible. It really says we are to be busy building the Kingdom of God until Jesus returns. We are to stay engaged, doing the work of the Master until he comes at time we do not know (see what Jesus taught in Mark 13:34-36). The implications of getting this message wrong have a devastating impact on evangelism (sharing the “good news”); instead Christians (all of us unfortunately) are seen more and more as out of touch, irrelevant loonies.

So what can we do? Let me go back to my original reflection; we were warned this could happen. Prior to the Reformation – brought on by both a theological development as well as a technological innovation – the Bible was held in the hands of the Church and read and interpreted only by the trained. The advent of the printing press and the possibility that the Bible could be placed into the hands of all people was frightening enough. Then there was the equally terrifying notion that the Scripture might be translated into the language the people spoke. Horrors! What if the people (without training and in control of ecclesiastical authority) interpreted the Bible in a radical way? Thus they were labeled protestors (Protestants) to the status quo for Biblical interpretation.

Of course we do admit that this was, in the end a very positive development for the church. The Bible in the hands of the people resulted in a rejuvenation of the Body of Christ. The best evidence of this is the present stand of the Roman Catholic church which now urges her members to own and read the Bible at home.

BUT, there is a downside here. You see when there is so little regard for training (“book learning” some might say) the warning that radical interpretations that are both wrong and dangerous will invariably pop up becomes our ever-present reality. Case and point, the article aforementioned and a thousand more just like it.

So how do we keep the Bible in the hands of the people, but also help the “people of God” keep from becoming the “people who are odd?” Let me suggest an idea I think is pretty orthodox: GO TO A CHURCH THAT HAS AN EDUCATED PASTOR. Okay, I admit that I shouted that in all caps, but really what does it take to convince Christians these days that there are some preachers who don’t know their way around the Bible very well. They get their ideas from other uninformed preachers who got their ideas from other uninformed preachers. After a while there is not much intellectual integrity left in the pulpit. Now here is the real kicker; these are the most popular preachers. They confirm popular ignorance and titilate religious nuttiness. They may get some of the message right, but fail to help the layperson in some fairly significant ways. Case and point: the never-ending message that the rapture is imminent (“rapture” is neither a Biblical word or concept and was only introduced into the American church because notes in the Schofield Bible were taken as holy writ instead of the radical interpretation they actually were. Look it up and see what I’m talking about.)

So ask yourself a few questions: How well has my pastor been trained? Did he/she attend an accredited theological seminary? Can the pastor tell the difference between the various literature types used in the Bible? Can the preacher explain the cultural contexts and background information into which Biblical authors address their audience? Does my pastor read scholarly books? Does my pastor continue to seek education? Does my pastor ever challenge my thinking or pop theology with Biblical truth?

Like most things freedom demands responsibility. Bible Freedom (as many of us Baptists like to term it) implies we “handle rightly the word of truth.”  Finding a church where that is taken seriously is the first step. Can I suggest one?

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