We live in a day of brazen-enough unbelief. It is as if the Christ-haunted today need to prove to their mommies what bad little boys they are, sounding out increasingly billowy boasts and denials and declamations of godlessness, complete with snazzy little samplers of depravity.
But such baldfaced rejection has never been the greatest threat to Christ’s church. I mean, if-only, right? If only heretics all wore T-shirts reading “I DENY FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS” or “HELLBOUND APOSTATE.” I suppose still some naïve souls would, in the name of a very wrongheaded understanding of “grace,” entertain such. But it would make matters simpler for others. (“Look—he’s wearing the T-shirt! How am I being ‘judgmental’?”)
No, the gravest danger to God’s people has always been the smiling subversive, the best-buddy bogus blowhard, the accommodating apostate, the helpful heretic. He wouldn’t touch a flat-out denial with a list of 10 Commandments Promises Whatevers. Like the Government, he’s “here to help.”
So this person would affirm many truths…wait, scratch that. He would affirm words that have been historically used to express many truths, many precious truths. And our Christian hearts yearn to accept these affirmations at face-value, share a group hug, and go our ways rejoicing. And so we do, until we’ve been burned, or have tried to help nourish the burnt back to health and happiness. Then we get more wary.
He embraces the words, but in this post-postmodern day, too often we have to keep listening to learn what he really means by that verbal, formal embrace.
To my mind, the central issue simultaneously affirmed and trashed today is the sufficiency of Scripture, the belief that (A) the Canon is full, and (B) the Bible contains everything for which we need a word from God. Not 95%, not even 99%, but everything.
My point in this little essay is not to flesh out that truth Biblically; that is something that we will spend some time in during the Sufficient Fire Conference here in Houston in a couple of weeks. (If you haven’t registered, do: seats are limited, and registrations are running out.) My point is simply to highlight that the most damaging threats (A) are within the church, (B) formally affirm either a “closed Canon” or “the sufficiency of Scripture” (or both), and then (C) in practice and redefinition eviscerate the truth, leaving Scripture drained of its God-given authority and Christians enslaved to forces and vagaries emanating either from their own glands or the mouths of their anointed leaders.
This is where the “But”-Monster rears his hideous grimacing head. Paul says, both retrospectively and proleptically, that Scripture is able both to lead us to saving wisdom, and fully to equip us to know and serve God (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The “But”-Monster may not argue with that statement, formally. But he reveals himself in such words as…
- “Of course I believe the Canon is closed. But God still speaks to His children!”
- “Of course I believe the Scripture is sufficient. But if you aren’t listening for fresh revelations, you’re a Deist!”
- “Of course I believe the Canon is closed. But once upon a time, as I was practicing ‘listening prayer’…”
- “Of course I believe the Scripture is sufficient. But my cousin’s hair-dresser’s sister heard a guest on a TV show tell a story where…”
- “Of course I believe the Canon is closed. But the letter kills – the Spirit gives life!”
- “Of course I believe Scripture is sufficient. But people need more than lectures and information-downloads today.”
- “Of course I believe the Canon is closed. But Pastor D’Zastre was waiting on God in stillness in the mountains after a 400-day fast, and God told him…”
- “Of course I believe the Scripture is sufficient. But we worship a Person, not a book!”
It is a measure of our times that, even among us, probably at least one item on that list singed someone’s assumptions. That is, however, a measure of the degree to which – if you’ll pardon one last enumeration – we have lost (A) our appreciation of what Scripture itself claims to do, and (B) our robust confidence in and enjoyment of the full benefits of Scripture.
This is, I say, the chief doctrine under fire today. That fact is reflected in weak and wandering preaching, unfocused worship, fad-driven/consumer-driven church movements, wrongheaded counseling, and a cottage-industry of books and speakers who regularly claim direct revelation without being admonished by their denominations or supporters, let alone excommunicated.
Satan’s first recorded target in snaring the soul of the first man was the word of God that he, Adam, had. “Ah, so you have a word from God?” Satan in effect smiled. “But—” In what followed, Satan insinuated – rats, one more enumeration – (A) What Adam and Eve had from God was insufficient, (B) What Adam and Eve had from God was unreliable, and therefore (C) What Adam and Eve had from God was not fully binding on their consciences.
This ploy worked so well for our adversary then. It worked so well for him in the ages that followed.
Why would we imagine that he’d leave his best lure in the tackle-box today?