When someone claims to know what Jesus or Paul or any other biblical author “really” meant. I’ve got to admit, it takes a lot of guts to make a claim like this. By saying you know what Jesus “really” meant you’re saying that all the scholars, church historians, pastors, and Christians throughout all of church history have missed the true meaning of Jesus’ words. I mean, sure, there have been many theological mistakes throughout church history. But now, after thousands of years, you’ve finally figured out what Jesus really meant? If that’s the case then Jesus’ words must have been pretty unclear.
When someone claims to know what Jesus or Paul or any other biblical author would have said if they were alive today. Again, another bold, audacious claim. God chose to close the canon of Scripture at a very particular time and place in history. There were very particular cultural practices and ideas in place when God closed the canon of Scripture. If he wanted to, God could have continued to cause men and women to write Scripture. But he didn’t. When you claim to know what Jesus would have said regarding homosexuality or gender roles or politics or church, you are walking on very dangerous ground. You are treading where only heretics dare to tread. Jesus and Paul and Luke and Jude and James and every other Biblical author said what they said and no more.
When someone claims that the Church has gotten an issue completely wrong. Yes, there have been many mistakes made by church leaders throughout church history. But to claim that the Church as a whole has gotten an issue completely wrong for the last 2,000 years? Wow, very, very bold claim. To claim that Christians, who are indwelt and led by the Spirit of God, have collectively swung and missed for the past 2,000 years is a very strong claim indeed. And doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that only now God is starting to make up for his mistake? That now, after 2,000 years, we are the generation who has finally gotten things right?
My generation is infatuated with the new and immediate. We love the newest gadgets and newest movies and newest theological ideas. We would be wise, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, to let the fresh winds of church history blow through our musty brains.
I’m about 95% sure that at least one person who reads this post will remind me of the fact that many Christians owned slaves. In response I would say two things. First, it is my educated guess that many men and women throughout church history who have defended sinful practices were not born again. This is the case when it comes to the Crusades, slavery, the Spanish Inquisition, and many other sad events. These events and practices were promoted by those who embraced cultural Christianity not true Christianity.
But this is not always the case. Jonathan Edwards, who was clearly born again, owned slaves. Many churches clearly embraced racist attitudes and practices for many years. What are we supposed to do in these cases? We acknowledge that Christians and churches get it wrong sometimes. This isn’t a contradiction of what I said earlier. Churches can get particular issues wrong. This is why we must always be testing our beliefs against the clear revelation of Scripture and the collective wisdom of the last 2,000 years, as opposed to the last 200 years.
We would be wise to test our modern ideas of sexuality, politics, gender roles, and every other issue against church history as a whole. As I look out over the battles being fought in churches I find it remarkable how closely many of the battles resemble the fight for democracy in the United States. This probably isn’t a good thing. Our battles must always be fought on the basis of God’s word, not current ideas. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not in any way suggesting that slavery or racism or sexism is okay. But our definitions of what is right and wrong must be shaped by God’s word and nothing else.
If we don’t we don’t test our ideas against God’s word and church history we are in danger of letting our theology be shaped by current events and ideas rather than the clear, unshakable Word of God.