Walking the Line: Biblical vs. Legalistic

cslewishumilityIn the Christian Churches (Restoration Movement) we have long prided ourselves on our biblical stances. We are People of the Book who seek authority and guidance from the pages of Scripture. We, above all others, are quick to cite a verse to answer a question or prove a point. This is the church I grew up in, and it is where I still live. I am a person of the Book, and I believe in the authority of the Bible for guidance in my life and in my church.

Yet, many times I have seen this biblical stance slip into an intolerant legalism. (A better term for this might be “legalistic orthodoxy.”) After all, if I believe I am right and have Scripture on my side, why should I be tolerant of dissenting viewpoints? BTW, this is not a fight with non-Christians. Our polemical use of Scripture is almost always aimed at other Christians.

My teacher, Grant Osborne, taught us that a bedrock principle of biblical interpretation must be what he called a “hermeneutics of humility.” We seek to understand the Bible as fallible humans, people locked in our own culture and biases. Can we ever be sure we are not scouring Scripture to find the answers we want to find? Don’t we read with our opinions already formed, often just looking for reinforcement? I know I do this. Sometimes I run into a Scripture passage that doesn’t fit my theological grid or agenda, and I am stumped. If I am wise, these are the times I hear Dr. Osborne’s voice reminding us to slow down and not be overconfident. I must lay down my theological swords, holster my doctrinal guns, and unplug my stubborn ears. Even at my age, Scripture still has a lot to teach and I have a lot to learn.

The worst thing I can do, I think, is to hop from one legalism to another legalism. I trade one set of proof texts for another. I move from one dogmatic universe to a parallel but equally dogmatic universe. I want to be a person of the Book, but even more than this I want to be a man of God who listens and follows rather than judges and condemns. May God help us shed unhelpful and hurtful legalism. It divides Christ’s church and breaks God’s heart.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

Culture of Mistruth

truth-liesThe twentieth century gave rise to techniques in propaganda that were well defined and almost scientifically applied. One of these was the BIG LIE, a term apparently coined by Adolf Hitler in his autobiographical Mein Kampf (My Struggle) in the 1920s. The Big Lie is a false narrative or fact that is so outrageous, people believe it must be true. When encountered, the average person will think, “That can’t be a lie. It is too stupendous. It must be true.” The Big Lie is then repeated by its originators until it is picked up and repeated by others. Eventually it is accepted as truth.

This technique is not new, however. One of the historical backdrops of the New Testament is the propaganda machine of the Romans. In a remarkably few decades, the Romans had created the imperial cult that projected godlike wisdom and power upon its emperors. Myths were created to give their families backgrounds that included children of the gods. In some parts of the empire (like Ephesus), government sanctioned temples were deployed for the worship of the Roman emperor.

This was the Big Lie in action. Historians today are hard pressed to find a single first-century emperor after Augustus who was really a wise and capable government head (with the possible exceptions of Vespasian and Titus, in my opinion). Tiberius was disengaged and inattentive to ruling. Caligula was delusional about his greatness and absolute in his moral corruption. Nero made so many bad decisions it is amazing the empire survived his reign (and it almost didn’t).

I hesitate to label anything we hear today as a Big Lie because of its association with Hitler, but I think there are many things like this in American culture and politics. They are not confined to a single political party or ideology. You can make your own list, but my poster child is the claim that cutting taxes for rich people will increase government revenues.

I’m thinking about this especially because of a recent Time magazine exposé on the fallacies of the “low fat” diet. Time‘s researchers found holes in this theory that large dairy trucks could easily navigate. Yet a few powerful advocates in the 1960s and 1970s won the day by repetition of their claim that any fat in foods was harmful and that a low fat diet was the simplistic solution to losing weight and maintaining this loss. One of the examples given is that butter was demonized and butter substitutes were promoted as being more healthy. Research now shows that these butter substitutes may have been far more unhealthy. Low fat claims, in the end, are not science but propaganda.

How many such things do we have floating around in our churches today, things that are repeated until believed, yet have no basis in fact and no place in the church? Here are a few I have heard:

  • Godly lifestyle is not important and talking about it is harmful and alienating to non-believers.
  • The church has no responsibility to teach people about the Bible because they have lots of resources on the internet. Plus, the value of biblical literacy is overstated.
  • The translators of the NIV2011 are liberals and not true evangelicals.
  • The American President is a Muslim and intends to make the United States into an Islamic caliphate.
  • The world financial system will collapse and we should all buy gold. (After all, gold is eternal and will never deteriorate or be stolen. We should lay up our treasure in gold.)

The internet world and social media community has made it much more difficult to find truth. Postmodernity, with its denial of absolutes, led many to believe they could create their own truth and believe whatever they chose to believe without consequences. This is the core of the culture of mistruth.

In conclusion, here are a couple of truths that have guided my life, and repetition of them is helpful because they are true:

  1. The Creator God is a personal God who loves his creation, loves us, and desires to have a relationship with us.
  2. The only hope for salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen Son of God.
  3. The Bible is God’s word and a trustworthy guide to our lives.
  4. The correct interpretation of the Bible is hard work, and teaching it should be a priority in our churches.
  5. The church is truly the hope of the world, and its decline or demise is a victory for the Evil One.

So may we not yield to this culture of mistruth or to the despair it can generate. Let us be people of the truth and never settle for less.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College