Which Parts of the Bible Does Your Doctrine Make Invisible? by Tony Cooke

Which Parts of the Bible Does Your Doctrine Make Invisible?
Tony Cooke

doctrine-visibleI was recently pondering all of the conflicting views that Christians have about a wide variety of doctrinal issues. While I believe that unity regarding the essentials of faith is…well, essential, it never ceases to amaze me how many become hyper-rigid over doctrinal positions that the Bible doesn’t really seem to be all that rigid about.

Since the first time I heard Blaise Pascal quoted, I have appreciated his statement, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. And in all things, charity.” Of course, such wisdom is quite different than the attitude I had following a wonderful encounter with the Lord back in 1977. Possessing more zeal than wisdom, I was eager to not only defend my new-found beliefs, but also to correct anyone who disagreed with me and to convince them just how right I was. I now wonder how much of my motivation was based on love for others, as opposed to my insecurity. I think sometimes, if we are insecure about our own beliefs, we want to strike down the beliefs of others and get as many people to agree with us as we can; somehow, we must think that convincing others reinforces or validates the right-ness of our position.

When we are secure in our beliefs, we can have a godly desire to help others see and benefit from the truth, but we are not as likely get all out of sorts when others have different perspectives, especially on non-essential issues. For example, there is nowhere in the Bible that says you have to believe in unconditional eternal security (or not) in order to be saved. The Bible simply says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31). There are countless people around the globe who have never heard of the Calvinistic-Arminian dispute who are going to be in heaven simply because they believed, with simple faith, in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are good, well-meaning Christians who believe in what has been termed “once saved always saved” while other good people believe it is possible, under certain circumstances, to renounce and revoke what had been a saving relationship with God. While that has been one of the hotly debated and contested issues in theological circles for many years, there are countless other areas of friction that are less prominent.

Are Facts Getting in the Way of Our Conclusions?
As a matter of discipline, we should avoid jumping to a theological conclusion, and then trying to find all of the Scriptures to back up the position we have embraced. If we “do our theology” that way, we have a real tendency to read the Bible with an intense bias. After all (if this were our approach), we wouldn’t want to let the facts mess up our pre-determined conclusion. The tendency then, is to read Scripture very selectively. At that point, people are typically not reading Scripture with an open heart and open mind. Instead, they already have a filter firmly in place which accentuates the verses that “prove” their point, and that makes invisible the verses that seem to challenge their pre-determined position.

For example, if we are staunch believers in unconditional eternal security, we might have a tendency to strongly gravitate toward those Scriptures which support (or seem to support) our position (e.g., John 6:37; 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39, etc.) and ignore, minimize or “explain away” those verses which seem problematic to our beliefs (e.g., Hebrews 10:26-31; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16, etc.). If we are strong Arminians, we might have a tendency to follow the same process in the opposite direction.

A healthy approach is to read the Bible with an open mind and an open heart, avoiding as many preconceived ideas and pre-determined doctrines as possible. In other words, we should read Scripture to glean all the truth we possibly can, not simply to find “proof texts” to support our already-determined position. If we have thoroughly studied out a topic, we hopefully will appreciate all of what the Bible says, not putting certain Scriptures on a pedestal while sweeping others under the rug. There is a reason why Jesus said that man was to live, “…by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Paul was determined to proclaim, “…the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Jesus and Paul both greatly valued the comprehensive word of God. They did not advocate living by isolated or selected words, but by everything that God had said.

Such an approach allows us to respectfully study and honor the entire word of God, and while there is always a necessity of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), we are still prayerfully and respectfully endeavoring to honor the Bible in its entirety as opposed to proof-texting our way through Scripture. This also liberates us from feeling like we have to be absolutely dogmatic about things that are not taught rigidly in the Bible. Going back to our earlier illustration, I see many Scriptures that bring tremendous comfort and assurance about our security in Christ, but I also see some verses that are quite sobering about the consequences of sin. My heart is at peace knowing that I can rest in all the promises of God regarding my security in Christ, and at the same time, I feel amply warned about the dangers of sin and disobedience.

God could certainly have inspired Paul or any of the other New Testament writers to make a statement such as, “Once you believe in Christ, you can never, under any circumstance, lose your salvation.” He could have also inspired them to write an equally concrete phrase promoting the opposite view, but I don’t personally see any such iron-clad statements in Scripture. Would we be overly simplistic if we adopted the psalmist’s attitude about some of the theological issues we may not completely understand? David said, “LORD, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:1-2). As for me, I am OK doing now what I did when I first accepted the Lord: Trusting Christ.

Attacking Straw Men
Another way ministers or believers can deal with their own insecurities is to use the old debate principle of “building a straw man and knocking it down.” This involves taking the view opposing ours, pushing it to a ridiculous extreme, and then attacking, not the doctrine itself, but our exaggerated mischaracterization of that doctrine. For example, an insecure (or arrogant) Calvinist, I might say, “Those folks who believe you can lose your salvation never have any security, peace, or assurance. They think they lose their salvation every time they commit a sin.” Or an insecure (or arrogant) Arminian might say, “Those people who believe in once-saved-always-saved believe that so they can live in sin without experiencing any consequences.” Such stereotypical, broad-brushed characterizations fail to accurately reflect the views of either party. Many Arminians have a great sense of security in Christ, and many Calvinists live very godly lives.

My prayer is that God’s ministers and God’s people will have the maturity to be confident and secure in what Scripture clearly teaches and strongly implies, and be gracious in granting others the latitude to have different beliefs and perspectives of Scripture in areas that may not be quite as clearly articulated. I pray that we won’t be blind to certain Scriptures just because they don’t seem to support our views, and that we will refrain from mischaracterizing and broad-brushing other groups unfairly. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have healthy dialogue and disagreements, but we can remain civil and respectful in the process. May the Lord help us not to waste precious energy bickering needlessly, when we could be using our time and energy more productively, especially in reaching the lost.