The previous post described three rules of practical wisdom which are really not wisdom at all. They were “don’t offend anyone,” “we don’t need to talk about sin,” and “guiltless sin” or the fiction of moral ignorance. The post touched briefly on each one, endeavoring to show what these rules are and why they are so faulty. By analogy I compared them with using the wrong tools for a project, and suggested that we could all profitably set them aside.
Today I extend my analogy to another bad tool, but first, here is a recap of the previous rules.
- Don’t offend anyone – suitable for pleasing men, not suitable for delivering the gospel, especially unsuitable in America today.
- We don’t need to talk about sin – excellent for preserving self-righteousness, suitable for those already consciously convicted, a good strategy to employ if we wish our society to be aware only of caricatures of the gospel.
- The fiction of moral ignorance – ideally suited for maintaining our comfort, directly contradicts the scripture, poorly adapted for applying God’s revelation in our times.
Just deal with the spiritual things
This rule of pseudo-wisdom admonishes us to leave aside the instruction of God concerning earthly matters and place emphasis only on the more spiritual things, especially concerning salvation by faith. To be sure, it’s isn’t the addressing of spiritual things to which I object. Instead it is the recommendation to ignore earthly matters.
This rule suggests that we leave aside the bible’s instruction concerning the real, external world in which we live. It is applied in two distinct but related ways. The first is by ignoring the bible’s explanation and description of the material world around us. For example, some churches treat a rejection of macro-evolution as non-essential. The second way it is applied is by ignoring the sticky points of personal and societal behavior that onflict with the gospel. It is suggested that the church can find success in its work by leaving out the biblical instruction on how people should earn their living, order their personal affairs, govern their families, and address politics. Application of this rule varies from person to person and from one congregation to another. It is my hope that we can toss the rule itself in the trash bin as unsuitable for the work of the church.
It may be tempting to ignore the controversy surrounding evolution and just deal with spiritual things. And in the short term it may even be the right thing to do. In any particular witnessing or ministry situation it may the right course of action. However as a long term plan, it’s a disaster for the faith.
When we ignore the biblical teaching on the nature of reality, the origin of life and other similar subjects where the bible is contradicted by mainstream scientists, we undermine the legitimacy of scripture and Christianity itself. If the Christian bible can’t be trusted when it comes to statements about the physical universe, why should anyone believe what it says about spiritual things? If we take the instituion of science as the more trustworthy source, the implication is clear: the bible is no match for the five senses.
(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
2 Corinthians 5:7
Anyone who is familiar with the frequent biblical theme of conflict between revealed knowledge and human observation should be very uneasy at the thought of choosing human observation in such a conflict. This sets up the would-be believer for failure. First, we have marked out categories in which the bible is not to be trusted, calling the entire notion faith in God into question. Second, we strip from the believer the defense that the scriptures might have been against deception in earthly things. If scientists begin to say that spanking children is wrong, that gender is fluid, or that fraud is good for the economy, the Christian will have no recourse other than to accept it. We’ve already set the pattern, man’s observation and reason trumps God’s revelation.
Contrary to this, we should present the revelation of God as wholly trustworthy and authoritative. Nothing God has put in the book is inaccurate nor is it superfluous. Scripture does not bow to man’s wisdom. Scripture is all provided for instruction in righteousness that the saints may be fully equipped.
I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.
The pseudo-wisdom of ignoring earthly things is the wrong tool for a Christian to employ over the long term. I wrote just a few paragraphs ago that it may right to focus on spiritual things at any given moment, and I reiterate that now. Similarly it may be right to focus on earthly things at any given moment. But when we think of the big picture, we should realize that all the truth that God has revealed to us is for our benefit, and we must be faithful witnesses. “The whole truth, so help me God.”
This rule of thumb is a great tool for someone peddling a fake revelation, however. It’s perfect for phonies. If the spiritual things we preach are just clever deceptions we need to protect them from any attempt at experiencing their truth or falsehood. This is easily accomplished by forming a doctrine that the bible is true but only in some nebulous spiritual sense. If we deny that there can or should be any physical evidence of the truth of the gospel, we protect ourselves from the responsibility of providing true truth to our generation.
It’s also extremely handy for phony Christians. We can use it to claim to believe and follow Christ, but only in the spiritual things. Meanwhile we may let every one of his earthly instructions fall to the ground. That such hypocrisy would make liars of us is pretty clear. Let’s not create an environment that’s conducive to such self-deception.
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
There is a statement of Jesus Christ that I think is very interesting as it pertains to the relationship of spiritual and earthly instruction. I believe it shows that our lord would does not consider it wisdom to address spiritual things and let the earthly things go unsaid.
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
Jesus did speak clearly of the earthly things. He also understand that some would reject his clear and challenging teaching. He did not, however, think that those who reject his teaching on earthly matters would accept his authority in spiritual things.
There is a time for everything. To this I do not object. I do object if it somehow is never time to address the earthly things.