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Ignorance and Vague Generalities

Of the tools at the devil’s disposal, it would seem that ignorance and vague generalities are most commonly in his hands in the landscape of the American church. Here is not simply an indictment of the unbelieving culture at large, for who should expect them to know all of the details of our Christian faith apart from an academic curiosity, but my indictment is against professing Christians who have been lulled into the false notion that they need not bother themselves with knowing the details of our most holy faith. Herein is the site of the devil’s great activity.

I read a recent set of surveys that stated that the majority of the church-goers polled could not name all four Gospels, let alone all of the Ten Commandments. Even fewer were able to name all of the books of the Old and New Testaments, let alone in order. How does one find a word in the dictionary if one does not know the order of the letters of the alphabet? How will you find a reference in Micah or Jude if you do not know where in the Bible to look? How will you know whether an idea is right or wrong if you don’t understand the basic grammar and vocabulary that is being used to communicate it? And when a bad idea is being introduced from the pulpit, how with the believer know the error if the believer does not know the details of the theology he professes?

The devil has lulled people into a sense of security within their pews and he has convinced pastors and church leaders that the most important thing in church is to keep people happy (and in most cases, entertained). Even seminaries have taken this tact, putting more emphasis on practical theology and classes in church growth than in Biblical knowledge and understanding. It would seem that a clear exposition of the Biblical text is about as unwelcome as active application to life even though such is what is most lacking in most church-goers lives. “Does it work?” tends to be asked long before the question, “Is it true?”

Yet what does the Bible expect of us on this matter? To Aaron and his sons, God instructs:

“You are to make a distinction between the holy and between the profane, between the ceremonially unclean and the ceremonially clean. You are to instruct the Sons of Israel in all the laws which Yahweh spoke to them by the hand of Moses.”

(Leviticus 10:10-11)

It should be noted that while God is directly giving this rule to the Levitical priests, as the people began to be dispersed into exile, it is a task subsumed by the Rabbi in a local community—a role that is arguably the forerunner for the Christian understanding of a pastor. In addition, since in the Christian era there is a priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5,9), the task of instructing others in the things that God has taught falls squarely upon our shoulders. This would apply not only within the context of the church where the pastor and elders are to be the teachers of the people, but also in the homes where the father is to be the primary teacher of his family. Since there are levels of authority described in this model, it is worth noting that the Father’s job is two-fold. It is first to study himself so that he can teach his family how to distinguish between the holy and the profane and secondly, to study so that he can ensure that the pastor is teaching doctrine consistent with what the Scriptures present. Not too that this principle applies not only to what his family may learn in church, but it applies to what his family learns in every aspect of their educational process (hence the difficulty with educating children in the secular, state-run school system).

Many object saying that faith is primarily about a relationship with God, not about facts, propositions, and doctrines as revealed in the Bible, thus seeking to justify some degree of ignorance in the faith. It is agreed that faith in Jesus Christ is about a relationship, but note that every relationship in which we engage is one where there are ideas, facts, and propositions that are known about the one in which we are in relationship. In fact, the deeper the relationship, the more we tend to know about the individual. The facts do not make the relationship, but without these facts, no true and lasting relationship will exist. Note too, the way that God speaks of the connection between knowledge and obedience through Moses:

“You stand here with me and I will speak to you in all of the commandment and the prescriptions  and judgments which you shall learn that they may obey in the land which I give them to inherit.”

(Deuteronomy 5:31)

Moses and the leaders must learn these things (with the aim of teaching them) so that the people will put into practice the command of God in the Promised Land.

The assumption, though, that is being made is that knowledge of the law yields obedience. On one level, there is the obvious principle that you cannot obey the things you do not know. Yet, Hosea builds this idea further:

My people are ruined for they are without knowledge. For as you refuse to accept knowledge; I will refuse to accept you from being my priest. You forgot the Torah of your God, so I will also forget your sons.

(Hosea 4:6)

Notice the comment that is being made. When there is a lack of knowledge amongst the people it is not simply because it is unavailable, but it is because the people have chosen to reject the knowledge of God as it is presented to them. And as the people reject the Law of God, so too, God turns away from his people. The principle is that it is not as if God has not made his word known to his people, but that they have chosen to set their minds and hearts on other things, being satisfied with only a passing knowledge of what God teaches.

It has been my contention for some time that the relationship that the majority of American Christians have with God is one-sided and unfocused. We tend to focus our praise of God on what he has done for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Certainly, this is a right and a proper thing for us to do and, especially for a new believer, this is something that is tangible in their lives. At the same time, we ought not stop there. Our aim should be to worship God for who he is and for his great excellencies of character.

When I was courting the woman who would become my wife, much of our relationship revolved around the special things that we did together. At the same time, as our relationship grew, the love was built less on our common activities and more on loving the person for who she happened to be. In married life, this is an essential transition, not because the common activities cease, but because those long romantic evenings tend to become more spread out during the activity of life and raising a family. Yet, after thirteen years of marriage, our love is deeper and richer than it was when we were first courting.

In terms of our relationship with God, it works in the same fashion. Early in our Christian walk, often the passion of our love for God is built on those “mountaintop” experiences that we have, yet as the Christian walk progresses, often those mountaintops seem to become further apart. If our faith is built solely on our experience of God and not on our knowledge of God, then the Christian life often becomes a pursuit of the next mountaintop. Yet, maturing takes sanctification and sanctification takes place most commonly in the valleys of life. David relates his time in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) as a place of darkness where he cannot see God at work. Yet it is the knowledge of God’s character as the shepherd and that the rod and staff are yet in the shepherd’s hand that gives him courage and is the basis of his trust. It is the knowledge that keeps the sheep from panic and flight.

Our culture has bought into the model that when they read scripture, the first question they typically ask is, “How does this relate to me?” or “What can I learn from this so I can have a better life?” My contention is that the first question we must always ask is, “What does this passage teach me about God and about His character?” The shift is an important one for two reasons. First, when we are focused only on personal application, we will not tend to read the whole counsel of God, but only focus on those things that can easily be applied to today. Why spend time reading the seemingly endless genealogies of the Bible, for example, if your focus is only on personal application. Yet the Apostle Paul insists that all scripture is both God-breathed and useful to every aspect of the life of the believer (2 Timothy 3:16-17)—even the genealogies! The second problem that arises out of reading the scripture primarily for personal application is that our motivation to study decreases in proportion to the comfort-level of our lives. If everything is going well, we often assume that we have gotten the principles right, so why bother challenging them?

My argument is not that we do not apply scripture to life, indeed, we must. Yet this ought not be where we begin, we ought to begin with a focus on God and then secondarily toward application and his works in our life. And since God is infinite, his word will provide us with infinite depth of reflection on his character to satisfy and strengthen our souls. And when we fail to pursue the character of God, our relationship with Him remains shallow. And when we fail to teach the character of God, the people’s knowledge of Him will be vague at best.

I began this reflection with the impoverished state of the church when it comes to Biblical knowledge. One would expect that if my supposition that Biblical knowledge is directly related to obedience (as the old song goes, “to know, know, know him is to love, love, love him”—and as Jesus states, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” [John 14:15]), the lack of knowledge that exists in the church today would betray a lack of obedience to God’s word in the church today. When one looks at the state of our country, our depraved culture, and the anaemic church in America, my point is made. When you realize that more than three-quarters of the American general public identifies themselves as “Christian” yet at the same time immorality fills our streets and rules our governments, we must conclude that something is horribly amiss.

The solution? It is not more programs or more gimmicks to get people to come to church, nor is it to water down the gospel so that everyone feels comfortable under its teaching. The solution is to combat the tactic that is being employed by the enemy and instruct people in the knowledge of God. Peter reminds us that we are to add knowledge to virtue as we seek to grow in our sanctification, building upon what God has initiated in our life.

 

Warnings about the Church’s Present: Blasphemy

“To be sure, in the same way, these people are dreaming, and to be sure, they defile the flesh.  Also, they reject authority and they blaspheme.  As for Michael, the Archangel, when disputing with the Devil, arguing about the body of Moses, he did not dare to judge—to bring denigration—but he said, “The Lord rebuke you.”  For in these things which, as other things they have not known, they blaspheme.  Likewise, the things that are known naturally to them (like unreasoning beasts) will bring their destruction.”

(Jude 8-10)

 

Here Jude is beginning to bring out the heavy spiritual artillery to describe these people who have entered into the church and are leading people astray.  He does so by pointing out a that they are blaspheming, they are following in the footsteps of the false prophets, and then Jude uses some telling imagery to describe their character.  In this passage, Jude addresses their blaspheming and he shows that they are doing so in three ways.

 

They are dreamers:  They create theology with their imaginations.  They sacrifice the truth for what is innovative and creative.  Sound familiar?  How many churches have wandered into error because they ordered their theology according to their thoughts and experience rather than ordering their thoughts and experience through their theology?  How often do we hear something that “sounds good,” and we incorporate it into our theology or worship even though it doesn’t really fit with scripture?  Yet, the end result of this kind of behavior is sin.  It will lead to defiling the flesh, the rejection of authority, and in turn blaspheming God. 

Dreams are highly subjective.  Jude is contrasting their dreamy theology with his truth that has been once and for all time delivered by the apostles.  The interesting thing is that their dreaming is causing them to defile the flesh.  Never forget that your theology shapes who you are and how you behave in all of life.  When we begin to be seduced by the evil of false theology, other parts of your life will follow suit.

And these things are blasphemy.  They are elevating their own words and ideas above the words and ideas of God.  They reject the authority of God in favor of their own authority.  This is the sin of Adam and Eve.  They took God’s law, rejected it, and justified their actions—at least to themselves, for one can never justify sin before God.

 

They speak in arrogance:   Jude uses the illustration of Michael and the body of Moses to demonstrate how these people speak.  Satan is sometimes called the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10).  Prior to the resurrection of Christ, Satan would make claim on the souls of believers, in his defeat by Christ, he no longer has room to argue and simply seeks to destroy believers.  Thus, when Moses died, the Devil sought to argue for the body of Moses.  Moses was a sinner and accordingly deserved damnation.  Yet, Moses had faith in the promise of the Messiah and upon that faith, he was redeemed.  It would have been right for Michael the Archangel to have rebuked Satan directly, yet, Michael understood that was not his place to denigrate Satan.  He said, “the Lord rebuke you.”  Even our Lord, Jesus Christ, who had every right and power to rebuke Satan during his forty days of trial in the wilderness, rebuked Satan with scripture.

 

In their arrogance, the false teachers were uttering words of arrogance not humility.  How often have we heard others, or have we ourselves, sought to rebuke the Devil on our own strength?  Brethren, this is not the example that has been set for us, let us use God’s words to rebuke the accuser who seeks to destroy.  These false teachers were making bold claims, but were claiming authority within themselves, not God’s authority.  When we place our own authority above God’s authority, that is blasphemy. And remember, these false teachers were not teaching a “new religion,” they were claiming to be Christian, using God’s name to further their own agendas.  That is a violation of the third commandment; that is blasphemy.

It is important to note that this passage about the archangel Michael and the body of Moses is taken from a Jewish Apocryphal work called The Assumption of Moses.  One thing that we must make entirely clear is that just because Jude quotes from the work does not lend canonicity or inerrancy to the work.  It simply means that this section, that Jude quoted from, accurately describes what did happen.  Non-Canonical works can be useful for us to understand history and culture, but it is important to always remember that they are human documents and are not the inspired word of God.  It is valuable to read them, but when they contradict scripture, they cannot be held as accurate.

 

They speak in ignorance:  These men speak on spiritual matters but have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ to inform their speech; they are speaking without understanding.  We must always be reminded that spiritual truth requires the work of the Holy Spirit to gain understanding.  When the pagan reads scripture, he may glean some good practical advice, but he won’t understand the things of God.  That is why we pray, as believers, before we study scripture, for we know that our minds are fallen and we cannot discern these things apart from His Holy work. 

Jude uses the example of how animals act on instinct to describe the thinking of these unbelievers.  Animals have emotions, but they do not reason through issues.  When a situation arises, an animal acts based upon its natural instincts.  When a person is born, his fallen instincts are to sin.  It is not until the Holy Spirit does a regenerating work on the person that, in God’s strength, he or she can resist said sins.  Apart from being born again, a person acts like an animal when it comes to spiritual matters, following their natural instincts to sin. 

One of the problems that has manifested itself in our culture is the turning of the Christian ministry into a career and not a calling.  People go into the ministry because they like the idea of helping others and not because they are born again and have been called to serve as a pastor.  Also, there is such a demand for people to fill pulpits, churches are sometimes hiring pastors who themselves are not born again.  Even in evangelical circles, there are many who enter seminary unsaved, but knowing all of the right terminology to sound acceptable.  They look at scripture like a group of human documents, full of flaws and in need of correction.  This is just as much blasphemy as the previous two examples.  They speak of what they do not know and only end up speaking lies and contempt against the truth.  And that which they do know well—that is sin—will condemn them.