Last week I had the opportunity to worship at a nearby Bible Church. The pastor spoke on the desirability of trusing in God over man (Psalm 118:8-9) and the unreliability of the “carnal” (worldly) mind … as opposed to the spiritually-oriented mind. He began with a call to “Distrust Opinion” and included himself among those to be distrusted. While many give lip-service to the priority of scripture over man’s teaching or tradition, I have found that many pastors think that they are, by definition, exempt from being questioned, challenged, distrusted or held to account. Yet pastors are in no way exempt from falling into patterns of worldly thinking and some have led many astray. I found it very encouraging to hear a pastor declare from the pulpit that his congregation must carefully study and pursue the scripture as their primary source for God’s revelation, and that they should not just take his word as normative in spiritual teaching. Naturally, I didn’t take his word for that.
As it turns out, the scripture has quite a bit to say about this. One of the foremost examples is when Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin for the terrible sin of healing a man (another example of the truth of my “No Good Deed Ever Goes Unpunished” motto!). They were instructed by the supreme religious leaders of their day to be silent on the “minor” doctrinal matter of the Deity of Jesus Christ:
“But Peter and John replied: ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’” Acts 4:19-20
Or there is always the case of Stephen, charged with blasphemy against the temple and the law, standing before the high priest, boldly rebuking the Jews who rejected their own Messiah:
“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him … you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.” Acts 7:51-53
The early church was founded by men of faith who were not afraid to stand up to the so-called and self-appointed guardians of righteousness, often blinded by pride and greed and fear. Throughout the history of the Church, men of faith and boldness have challenged and opposed the established authorities, as in the Protestant Reformation. Stephen was martyred, and many of the early reformers also died for their challenge to the Catholic church. There are consequences today as well, for those who hold to scripture and oppose a particular pastor or a church’s leaders. Look at the division within the Episcopal church as some attempt to uphold scriptural condemnation of homosexuality, in the face of those who attempt to marginalize the scriptures or pretend it doesn’t apply.
I was reading yesterday in I Corinthians, where Paul writes about the difference between the spiritually-minded man and his worldly counterpart:
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgement:” I Corinthians 2:14-15
I am not advocating “Lone Ranger” Christianity. Each of us is an integral part of the body of Christ and is subject to various authorities, including those in spiritual authority over us. And yet, we require no high priest but Christ himself … we are empowered through the Holy Spirit to interpret scripture and to understand spiritual things for ourselves, to the extent that we have become “spiritually minded”. In II Corinthians, chapter 11, Paul warned against those who claim to have special spiritual authority yet teach contrary to the gospel and the scriptures:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. II Corinthians 11:13-15
We are responsible to be on our guard against false prophets (II Peter chapter 2):
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” I John 4:1
Although it can seem a daunting task, we who call on the name of Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit are able to tell the difference between truth and falsehood. Sadly, many believers are carnally-minded and are deceived all too easily, cutting themselves off from the Holy Spirit:
“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:5
The Church today is badly in need of reform. Bit by bit, doctrinal values once widely accepted have been compromised and traded away by the major denominations in our country. One group permits homosexuals to openly serve as pastors, while another elevates women to the role of elder. Many Christians hold to a “Health and Wealth Gospel” that reduces our God to a giant vending machine. Some no longer accept scripture as inerrant, while others wave away portions of scripture as “not applicable to the modern day Church”. Most churches do not exercise any effective form of church discipline or hold their flock accountable in any meaningful way. Less than 5% of evangelical Christians tithe, (let alone more sacrificial giving) according to recent studies. Ignorance of the scriptures (particularly the Old Testament) is rampant among lay leaders and teachers.
Those who have minds set on what the Spirit desires must hold firm against this attrition of the soul and speak out against the false teachers who chip away at faith in the name of tolerance and liberalism.
If you find your thinking dominated by fear, bitterness, hatred, malice, greed or pride; if your goals are set in terms of satisfying your flesh (personal comfort, gain, happiness), then you likely do not have your mind set on what the Spirit desires, and can easily be deceived.
Seek to practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22) … set your mind on what the Spirit desires. This will protect you from all kinds of error and keep you busy in good works as a bonus.
But whatever you do, don’t accept another person’s word for what God desires. Weigh every doctrine, evaluate every teaching, question the authority and legitimacy of anyone who claims to occupy the spiritual high ground. Any godly person will be delighted to be held accountable in this way, and will be thrilled to see you thinking for yourself. False teachers will generally flee such accountability or will at least be revealed by their hostile reaction to any attempt to question their authority.
Each of us stands or falls to our own Master; and He is able to make us stand.