Don’t Trust Someone Who Says They Have a Perfect Understanding of Scripture (because they don’t)

DTA

A thousand apologies in advance if this post is disjointed, rambling, or otherwise incoherent. Due to a busy schedule, it has been literally months in the making.

I actually did not come up with the wording of the title of this article. It was Phil Johnson of Grace To You who said it in a radio broadcast when talking about a young man he was in correspondence with, who made this very claim. The young man said to Brother Johnson that he was writing a book about such and such, and he disagreed with him. He denied any need for correction and rejected it when offered to him. After all, he did say he has a perfect understanding of Scripture. I say he was writing about such and such because I can’t quite remember what Brother Johnson said it was about, but apparently, he was blatantly wrong, and not only that, he was trying to publish how wrong he was on this certain doctrine to the entire world. He was (and it is assumed, still is) wrong at the top of his lungs. I suppose a good alternate title for this article could be– “An Exhortation to Humility in Interpreting and discussing Scripture”

First: Two Extremes

Before the exhortation should come some context would be helpful. There are two extremes, or ditches, one can fall into as it relates to scripture interpretation. Both are ungodly and worldly. One is to be so very theologically or interperetively “humble” that you are squishy. The other is to be so very dogmatic that you are right, and there is no possibility you could be wrong, so hang any counsel from anyone else, especially if they are in disagreement. To say they are ditches or extremes, though makes it sound as if the correct view is somewhere in between.

It is, and it isn’t. Practically, the correct view is between the soft and hard view. However, there is no in between when it is pride and a false humility, which is also pride. Both are the same sin. In practice, it isn’t the road in between. It is a different road entirely.

The Theological and Doctrinal Jelly Sack

The “soft” approach, or false humility, is perhaps the worse of these two approaches to treating scripture, and subsequently, theology and doctrine. I say it is the worse of the two because it is the most disingenuous of the two. It purports humility, but practically is very proud.

This approach is often utilized by theological liberals and socinians. Since liberals are supposed to be the “nice guys,” it is necessary that in exercising pride, they be as deceptive as possible. The fact of the matter is that all humans are savage beasts, whether conservative or liberal. However, this deceptive approach baits people in by sounding very nice and open to everything, while espousing dangerous teachings and their teachers who are either hirelings or, worse yet, ravenous wolves. They believe abandoning standards communicated clearly in scripture is actually the biblical standard. They believe that since they are following the spirit of Jesus’ ministry, the actual words of Christ Himself doesn’t really matter. Besides, scripture was written by men, and is not as reliable as “personal revelation.” Such is the case when covenants and confessions and creeds are abandoned in the name of “diversity.”

I say hang their notion of diversity. We need unity.

The Theological and Doctrinal Fence Post

The “hard” approach, much like a brick or stone wall, is like a fence post (fence posts cannot be convinced of much).  I only use this term because in the self aggrandizing minds of these folks, brick and stone walls may connote unmoving strength, so let’s call them fence posts. They aren’t just any fence post though, lest they think they’re being compared to a good, strong corner post, used to stretch a six strand barbed wire fence. They are rotton wooden posts that aren’t even good for holding up any wire. They are utterly worthless, they stand alone, and if you argue with one, you won’t get anywhere at all.

This kind is so proud, they don’t even make an attempt at hiding their pride behind a lie. They openly and adamantly reject anyone offering a different insight than their own, especially if someone is biblically seeking to correct them in one of their faults.

These are the people who would claim perfect understanding of scripture, or at least claim the capability to potentially gain a perfect understanding in this life. They can argue using Scripture, though only by accepting the verses they can agree with, while wrenching verses out of context they find impossible to reconcile with their flawed views. Oddly enough, these might also abandon covenants, confessions, and creeds. Some are apt to write their own doctrinal statement, rejecting a biblical confession belonging to their own church, association, or denomination. I’m not knocking writing a confession of one’s own, that’s how they were done in the past, either by writing a confession as a new ministry or group of churches, as a person in bonds of persecution answering accusers, or as a summary or clarification of  a previous confession.  If you’re working with something that is already good, though, why change it? These confessions help us to submit to the authority of our church and to the authority of scripture, not of our vain minds. Ideally, they should eliminate pride in oneself.

And Now, the Feature Presentation.

“1LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. 2Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child. 3Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.” Psalm 131

To begin, perhaps a bit of context is nessecary. This psalm is one of a series of psalms called psalms of ascent, or psalms of degrees. People. They were sang by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the feasts, or by the worshippers and priests on their way up the steps of the temple. Considering the length of each psalm in the group, they were also likely psalms taught to children at home, or as devotions for such events as approaching Jerusalem and the Temple.

This psalm in particular focuses on child-likeness (not childishness), and teaches a very important attitude to have before God and man. It is a statement of child like humility. It instills this attitude in children who are learning these psalms. It is a proclamation to those taking their families to Jerusalem for the feast. Perhaps more importantly, for the men in the priesthood, it showed them the same as they approached the temple.

We are told likewise elsewhere in scripture, to be meek like children. This meekness surely doesn’t include a high opinion of oneself. In fact, I believe that you’ll find some of the highest level theologians never really consider themselves masters, but always students of the scriptures.

I, in no way, want to be the one to wear a badge labeled “Mr. Humble,” so I’ll just say I know a guy who can wear that badge and I try to be like him. There are issues that are clear in scripture that are fundamental to the Christian Faith, which only heretics deny. There are also things like baptism and eschatology that are also clear, which have no bearing on salvation. I suggest these things are important, and would affect which church I’m a member of, but it’s okay if a Presbyterian is wrong on this, or if the non-denominational (Baptist crossed with Assemblies of God) is wrong on that. What is important is that we agree on the basic doctrines that make Christianity what it is, whether you’re a Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist.

To Conclude…

When it comes to doctrinal issues, many of us are either very proud, very ignorant, or both. We are proud because, “I’m me, and I don’t believe anything that is wrong! There’s no amount of exegesis that will persuade me of this biblical truth. I’ll misquote and take as much scripture out of context as I please! I’m right, and if we differ, then you have your place with the devil!”

Otherwise, we are ignorant, which I believe is a majority of Christians who say, “Well, it has to be true- my granny, or my dad, or brother whistle britches believes that way! Surely they can’t be wrong, and if you quote that verse one more time, you’ll insult my dead grandparents’ faith, and I’ll rip your throat out. But hey! Let’s just agree to disagree!”

Of course, there’s the ignorant who are proud of it who say, “It doesn’t really matter what the Bible says about that. We are on the right side of history here, and this is how we attract people to our movement. Now, how ‘bout a Fortnite tournament and some pizza to help you forget your serious doctrinal question. Have this album from Bethel or Hillsong United!”

 

Revelation 2:18-29 // The Church that Tolerates Terrible Teaching

SevenLettersGraphicP4

TEXT: Revelation 2:18-29, NRSV

  • This ends the reading of God’s Word.
  • The Word of God for the People of God.

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of His salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

Between 1933 and 1936, the Spanish Civil War raged on and toward the end of that three year conflict, the fascist general Emilio Mola addressed a buttoned down Madrid, warning of the Republican government’s impending fall. He told of four army columns moving on Madrid, and then coined a term that has become synonymous with clandestine, subversive activities. He said that as the four regular columns marched on Madrid, within the capital his militant supporters whom he dubbed his “fifth column” would undermine the government from within the city. His prediction came true.

Since that time, others have used the term fifth column to refer to a group or organization within a country or political organization where their loyalty was expected, but instead, undermining and subverting from within. By the perception of loyalty, they carry out their plans of political anarchy or destruction.

Such a fifth column in the followers of the prophetess Jezebel was found in Thyatira, and exposed by Jesus Himself. This church so far, had done well in the face of opposition. But, unless the church took action, they would collapse from within.

Jezebel’s fifth column militants regularly infiltrate churches with an aim to destroy. It’s not that all realize what they are doing. They may lack any external structure for what they do. There may be no conspiracies or organized threats to the church. It’s just that they find the gospel too narrow, the Bible too outdated, and the sufficiency of Scripture too limiting; so that they eat away at the biblical foundation of the church like a horde of termites consuming wood. [2]

 

Of the seven cities of Revelation 2-3, Thyatira was the least important. And that’s where we need to begin.

To help us understand this, perhaps we should find some modern-day counterparts.

  • For Ephesus, we might think of a city like Dallas, Texas. Lots of commerce and religion.

  • For Smyrna, think of a city like Cairo where the Coptic Christians are regularly under persecution from the Islamic community around them.

  • For Pergamum the closest equivalent might be Washington, D.C. with its worldly power and marble monuments.

 

What, then, would correspond to Thyatira? Perhaps we might think of Russellville.

  • Population of both is around 20-25,000 [3]

  • Both are fairly ethnically diverse

  • Both are industry cities. Most of the people in the River Valley (not all, but most) that have been at the same job for a long time are either factory workers or they have a trade.

    • Although they didn’t have factories in Thyatira, they had a lot of trade guilds, and these guilds basically functioned as worker unions, and these guilds had members who practiced their trade and that contributed to their economy.

 

This morning, there’s a few ideas I want us to see here, hopefully we’ll see more than a few, but we’ll cover at least a few.

 

Jesus Sees His Church (v. 18)

First of all, notice the picture of Jesus that we see here. His eyes are a flame of fire, and his feet are burnished with Bronze.

If you didn’t know this already. Each of the images in the Seven Churches are connected to the description of Jesus that John gives back in Revelation 1.

 

“I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.” – Revelation 1:10-16, NRSV

 

Each of these images are significant and they say something about Jesus.

  • When I think of eyes flaming like fire and feet with burnished bronze, I think that Jesus knows what’s going on. I don’t see Him sitting and gazing at the earth like some psychic might try to gaze into a crystal ball, He really knows what’s going on.

  • One of God’s qualities is omniscience – His all-knowing ability. This means He doesn’t learn anything new because He already knows everything. He doesn’t change His plans on the fly because we do something with our free will that He didn’t expect, and I don’t we can comprehend that, and honestly, I don’t think we’re supposed to.

    • That’s a lot of things we just don’t about what it’s like to be God, and that’s because it’s none of our business.

So, Jesus sees what’s going on, and because Jesus sees what’s going on, His feet are burnished with bronze. He’s ready for action.

  • As I was reading the text, I thought of Romans 10:15 where Paul quotes Isaiah 52 by saying, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” And then in Ephesians 6:15 when Paul is listing of the different pieces of the armor of God, he says we should have our feed shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

Now, in both of those passages, Paul is talking about how we should be ready to carry the Gospel, but think about the picture of Jesus’ feet here in Revelation 2. He’s getting to bring the Gospel of peace.

  • You might ask, “Well, how is that?” Jesus creates peace by getting rid of those who are against the peace that He seeks to establish. Now, you can get rid of those people in two ways:

    • You can convince them that what they’re doing and how they’re thinking is wrong, and they should repent, and fall in line with God’s Word.

    • Or, you can directly remove them, and that’s what Jesus is threatening to do in verses 22-23 when He says things like, “I am throwing her on a sick… I will strike her children dead…”

 

I said a couple of weeks ago that we like the idea of Jesus being able to see us in our weakness because He can identify with us and help us as Hebrews says, and that’s true, but we often don’t like the idea of Jesus seeing us in a state of unrepentant sin because then we can’t get away with it anymore.

 

  • Jesus sees us, and there’s mercy for us to repent, but there awaits judgement for us if we do not.

  • Notice, I didn’t say, “mercy for us when we repent.” God’s mercy meets us where we are even in our sin, that’s why Jesus says about Jezebel, “I gave her time to repent.” You have mercy all the way up until it’s time for judgement, but when judgement comes it’s too late. When judgement comes every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). You can repent of your sins and bow the knee to Him now while you have mercy because if He has to make you (and He will if you refuse now), then the time for mercy is over.

If you live your entire life never knowing Jesus, and never repenting of your sin, then your entire life is lived as what Jonathan Edwards would describe as “a walk over the pit of Hell with a rotten covering.”

But back to the main idea here: when we talk about Jesus seeing His church what we’re describing is Jesus’ to see not only the bad and the ugly, but also the good.

  • Jesus is taking everything into account.

 

Jesus Sees the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (v. 19-23)

“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.”
– Revelation 2:19, NRSV

 

Jesus acknowledges that they are a disciplined people, and here’s what I mean by that: faith, love, service, and endurance are things that our Christian life should be known by.

 

  • It’s weird living in an area of the country called the “Bible belt” because I don’t think we’ve earned it. I’d be more comfortable calling this area the “church belt” maybe, but we’re certainly not a Bible belt.

    • You all know what happened in New York this last week. The south is just as secular as they are, they’re just more honest and open about it up there. We can’t think that just because we’re a red state, and all our friends on social media are talking about being pro-life that we’re not living in a secular region. The only difference between Arkansas and New York is that many of us below the Mason-Dixon line are just using Christian language and sub-culture as a facade.

    • There’s a church on every corner here, and if we really lived up to the name ‘Bible belt’ then, homelessness and healthcare wouldn’t be issues.

 

Well, I think I’ll meddle just a little bit. Read Matthew 5-7; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Timothy 5-6; and the entire book of James. After you’ve read all of that, be honest with yourself, “Does modern-day Christianity really look like this?”

A recent survey said that there are 2.19 Billion Christians in the world. The World population is about 7.5 Billion. If you do the math, that puts ⅓ of the population as professing Christians.

 

  • If I took 1 pound of hamburger meat and seasoned it with ⅓ pound of salt, then that stuff would be so salty that you couldn’t eat it. So, don’t tell me that the body of Christ can’t do more to alleviate some of the suffering in our world.

If you don’t believe me, then find someone with a problem this week and help them find a solution. It doesn’t matter who it is, and it doesn’t matter what the problem is, big or small. Help someone find a solution to problem this week, and then watch what happens.

  • Then magnify that effect by billions and tell me we can’t do more.

So, again back to the text, Jesus sees their faith, their love, their service, and their endurance. And not only does He see these things in them, but He sees them improving because He says, “I know your last works are greater than your first.”

  • Jesus recognizes and affirms that there’s progress happening, and this is good news because sometimes growing up, we didn’t always get the affirmation that we needed from our fathers, but God is a perfect father, and He recognizes when we’ve done well.

Now, even though Jesus sees the good, he also sees the bad and the ugly.

“But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22 Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” – Revelation 2:20-23, NRSV

I mentioned earlier that Thyatira had guilds, and these guilds were basically workers unions. Now, if these guilds had simply been worker unions of their time, then there would have been nothing wrong with that. After all, we have work unions now.

But these weren’t simply labor unions, according to Leon Morris, “membership involved attendance at guild banquets, and this in turn meant eating meat which had first been sacrificed to an idol. . . . That these meals all too readily degenerated into sexual looseness made matters worse.”

There were people in the church who were leaders, Jesus identifies them as Jezebel, and they were telling people that it was perfectly acceptable to participate in these festivals and ceremonies where guild members would act out in fornication and idolatry because after all, “these are times we’re living in, you gotta make a living somehow.” At least, that’s how I imagine they justified it.

And if you worked in a trade in Thyatira and you weren’t a member of a guild, then it was very hard to make a living, and if you did somehow manage to generate a lot of business, the guild members would either pressure you into joining the guild or run you out of town.

And even if you did join the guild, it was considered a major insult to abstain from engaging in all the drunkenness and debauchery.

I want you think about this: last week Jesus’ problem with the church at Pergamum was that they tolerated people who held to the teaching of “Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.” (Revelation 2:14)

This week, Jesus is talking to the church at Thyatira, and what’s the problem? They tolerate Jezebel, another negative Old Testament figure, who is leading people to do what? She is “teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”

So, what’s going on here? What’s the big deal about eating meat sacrificed to idols? According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:4-9, there’s nothing wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols in and of itself, listen to what he says:

“So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. 5 There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. 6 But for us,

There is one God, the Father,
   by whom all things were created,
   and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
   through whom all things were created,
   and through whom we live.

7 However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” – 1 Corinthians 8:4-9, NLT

Eating meat sacrificed to idols holds no real power over you because the idols aren’t real gods. They don’t exist.

  • The real question isn’t “Will this sacrificed meat harm me spiritually?” The obvious answer is ‘No.’ The real question is, “Will this offend my brother who is from a pagan background?”

Now, let’s bring this back to our passage in Revelation 2. In Corinth, you might have been able to get away with having a Diana burger and some Zeus fries without bowing down at their altars, but this wasn’t an option in Thyatira or any of the other surrounding areas like Pergamum and Ephesus.

  • If you were eating their food then you were worshiping their god, and if you weren’t eating their food this was an insult.

On top of all of this, you have a figure who is in leadership in the church, and she’s encouraging people to participate in paganism.

  • It’s awfully hard to read this letter and not think of our current state of affairs.

You have people going to divinity school who are training to become pastors and priests who aren’t even saved, and they want Christians to have some commonalities with the world.

  • I’ve been binge-watching Stanley Haurwas lectures for the last two days (some of you have probably seen some of his quotes that I’ve posted), and he was talking about giving a lecture at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas some years ago, and after his lecture, there was an extremely liberal theology professor who approached him (obviously angered by something he had said), and said, “Dr. Haurwas, may I ask why you failed to provide us with a theory of Christ that would allow Christians to have an open dialogue with Buddhists?”

  • Stanley Haurwas said, “Exactly how many Buddhists do you have in Conway, Arkansas? And even if you had a theory, what good would a theory do you?”

People need the real deal. People need the real Jesus, they don’t need a theory.

The question we need to ask ourselves is are we giving people the real Jesus? Or are we just giving them a Jesus who looks and sounds like us and always agrees with us?

  • If God always agrees with you, then maybe there’s something wrong.

Or maybe I should say it the same way Anne Lamott did, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

  • Now, our problem when we hear something like that is to say, “Well, I don’t hate anybody” because we’ve been taught rightly how bad of a sin hate is, so instead we just mask our hate with a thing we’ve called ‘dislike’ and Ta-Da! Jesus doesn’t see it anymore because now it’s a socially acceptable prejudice.

Here’s the thing: if the Jesus we’re offering is one created in our own image then we’re no better than the Jezebel in Thyatira. It’s something we ought to give some serious thought to.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.

 

Jesus Offers Encouragement and a Promise to Conquerors (v. 24-29)

“But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden;” – Revelation 2:24, NRSV

  • Remember Jesus is doing the same thing here that we saw last week, he’s making a distinction between the wheat and the tares. He knows which ones are the sheep and which ones are the goats.

“only hold fast to what you have until I come. 26 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,

I will give authority over the nations;
27 to rule them with an iron rod,
   as when clay pots are shattered—

28 even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. 29 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” – Revelation 2:25-29, NRSV

If you’re not falling for the nonsense, then the best thing you can do is keep on keeping on because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16, NRSV

In the end: we get what we started with: Jesus!

“Our Lord promises us Himself with all of His fullness and glory. What more could we dream or hope for? Listen, those of you who have ears to hear. The Spirit is talking to all the churches. We all need this reminder. We all need to hold on to this hope.[4]” – Danny Akin

Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, grant us life and peace as we pursue You and the life You have for us in Yourself. Remove all of the sin in our lives that builds barriers between us and You and us and one another. Give us a genuine love and appreciation for one another as we seek glorify You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

__________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 215, Third Sunday after Epiphany
  2. “South Woods Baptist Church.” Sermons from the Book of Revelation, archive.southwoodsbc.org/sermons/revelation_02.18-29.php.
  3. “The Church at Thyatira.” Faithlife Sermons, sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/46100-the-church-at-thyatira.
  4. Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.