The Authority Issue

We live in a country with authority issues, and it’s not just a psychological or social problem. It’s also a spiritual issue. In fact, one could easily think of it as the most foundational of all theological problems, because everything else you believe theologically is subjected to and under the dictates of the authority issue.

Simply defined the authority issue is the question, who or what do you trust? What sources of information do you consider authoritative and what sources do you automatically distrust.

Who or what you choose to trust shapes everything else you think you know and choose to believe. Think about the current state of the press in America. Some people follow Fox News, and others believe CNBC. Some don’t trust either, but in all three cases, how they place their trust shapes their view of the world.

When one has not developed a capacity to choose the correct authorities to trust, they have all kinds of problems in life. Distrust the police and you have rioting in the streets. Trust into strangers and you will be stolen from. Theologically speaking putting trust in the wrong things has much the same results. Misplaced trust allows the devil to keep you spiritually angry, as well as to lie to you and steal from you.

Some people believe affirm that they trust God and believe they have settled the issue, but this decision only scratches the surface. Now you have to decide how God speaks to you. How God speaks, whether it is through a certain person, a church structure, or personal experience, then becomes the heart of your authority issue.

As a Baptist and Evangelical, my easy answer is that God speaks through the Bible. This would be a great answer, if people would only read it for themselves. Unfortunately most of us do not interact with Scripture independently, so the authority issue is not done. It continues with the question, who do we trust to interpret the Bible for us?

For some people it is a matter of trusting their pastor, or perhaps whoever is standing in their pulpit on a given Sunday. For others it is a favorite Bible teacher. For many it is anyone that agrees with a specific theological perspective. While all of these are not necessarily bad, they are likely to be the manner in which we get lazy with our theology, letting someone else think for us and decide for us what ideas to accept and reject. That is a lot of spiritual power and theological control to give away lightly.

We would better off to keep a constant eye on our own authority issue, so as to keep control of, and take personal responsibility for, what we believe.


Mystery and Revelation

There is a place for mystery in theology. God is bigger than us by such a magnitude that we cannot expect to understand everything about Him. He is beyond our comprehension.

But information does not have to come from reason, it can also come from education. Much of what you know was taught to you, in addition to what you figured out. When it comes to God, He wants us to know Him, and therefore He reveals Himself to us.

When it comes to understanding God, we can be too intrigued by mystery. It becomes a romantic concept. It also makes a great excuse for not studying deeper or working harder to understand God. But I think this love affair with mystery is a mistake. God delights in revealing Himself to us, and a wisdom is found by the one who delights in studying to know more.

Furthermore, being intrigued by mystery can be dangerous. From Gnosticism forward to the latest person claiming to be the second coming of Christ, the devil has used the idea of mysteries known only to a select few, to seduce humanity away from the true knowledge of God. Anytime you hear someone speaking of a secret of the ages that God has revealed only to them, beware.

So while mysteries do exist, our love affair with mysteries should be made to submit to a love for the things of God. Study God’s word and find the answers to His mysteries there.


Common Merganser

Common Merganser

This is a common merganser. Mergansers are a type of diving duck. They are perhaps the most skilled fish catchers in the duck world. They are born with this skill and will do all their own hunting, from the point the chicks hatch through adulthood. When they are very young they will be catching aquatic insects and minnows. As adults they will move up to exclusively dining on small fish.

In order to be this skilled at fishing they have to have some specialized abilities and tools. Among them is being very strong swimmers underwater. But they also are specially equipped to hang on to the fish after they catch it. In this picture you cannot tell, but mergansers have sharp serrated edges to their bills. The bill looks a little bit like little saw blades, but each of those points are able to dig into the fish and keep it steady. This allows them to grip the slippery fish without any possibility of losing them.

Sometimes having a good solid grip is critical for people too. For Christians it is essential to have a grip on sound doctrine. A surprising number of people will spend their whole life drifting left and right in what they believe based upon who last influenced them. Of course, the goal should be to learn and accept the truth of Christ, not to adapt to the beliefs of those around you. Yet we such social creatures we are always likely to be influenced by others.

The solution the merganser uses might be useful here too. I believe people need anchor points. Certain key beliefs should be settled in their hearts and minds. These fundamental issues will serve as anchors to their belief system. The believer will recognize falsehood when it disagrees with one of these anchor points. Some of my anchor points include the inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, Jesus is eternally deity, Jesus took on humanity, the crucifixion and more. There are a lot of others. The more anchor points you have the steadier your faith will be.

2 Timothy 1:12 (HCSB) says But I am not ashamed, because I know the One I have believed in and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.

Sources of False Doctrine

One of the reasons I started writing about doctrine every Thursday is because our world needs to be reminded of doctrinal truth. The greatest challenge to truth is false doctrine. While studying for a sermon this morning I discovered five sources for false doctrine in 1 Timothy 1:3-11.

In this passage Paul is reminding Timothy what task he was to do when left behind in Ephesus. The general idea was to deal with false teaching there, but in discussing it more thoroughly Paul mentions a number of things which could be taken as sources of false doctrine. So let me list for you some of the places false doctrine comes from.

1)      A desire to be different:  Whatever is, is. Therefore those seeking to know or teach doctrine should be pretty well aligned with each other, because these teachings should reflect what is. Unfortunately, humanity loves new approaches and new teachings. These new ideas often give rise to false doctrine.

2)      Myths:  Since doctrine is a search for truth, the inclusion of non-truths is highly destructive to sound theology. The word syncretism describes the attempt to blend believes from different religions into one spiritual viewpoint. It is an old problem, but is found fresh in every generation.

3)      Endless Genealogies:  This phrase is born out of a habit of the ancient Jewish person to find the value of a person by their heritage. In today’s world the equivalent is racism or any other idea that makes some people better than others.

4)      Empty Speculations:  When seeking doctrinal truth you should be looking for what God reveals instead of trying to figure it out yourself. In this way, we should not be asking “What if?” but always limit ourselves to “What is?”

5)      Justify Sin:  Probably the single largest source of false doctrine is teachings which are designed to allow us permission to do what we have every reason to know is sinful.

The Doctrine of Doubt

I weary of people who are certain they are right about everything. They are convinced they remember every detail of conversations from last week, sermons from last year, and VBS lessons from when they were children.

These people are especially fatiguing when they discuss doctrine. They are dogmatic about what they believe and are convinced they must remain so even down to the smallest of details. They believe anything else demonstrates a lack of faith.

I am quite the opposite. There are times when I believe my most faithful, trusting answer would be to say, I might be wrong. I can say this because faith is not knowing everything about God, but rather trusting God with my eternal life.

Now let me be quick to say there are many doctrines I hold with certainty. There is a God, He is good, He exists in Trinity, Jesus who is God the Son, came to earth to die on a cross, and His resurrection demonstrates His saving power. Some things are not doubtable. But there are also doctrines I am willing to be fuzzy about.

I believe Jesus will rapture believers out before the tribulation, but I could be wrong. I don’t believe God decided who would be lost and who would be saved in advance only He knew in advance who would be, but I could be wrong. I don’t believe Obama is the antichrist, but I could be wrong. I don’t believe in soul sleeping, humans can hurry up the rapture, or that foot washing was intended to be taken as an ordinance of the church, but I could be wrong.

My faith is not in my own doctrinal knowledge, in fact it’s not in information of any form. My faith is in the person of Jesus. I don’t have to understand every detail, and if this was my definition of faith, well, my goose would be cooked. So would yours. We will never know every detail. Instead my definition of faith is to trust God with my life, without having to know every detail.

In every case my willingness to be wrong is not a lack of faith in God, rather it is a lack of faith in me. I am not trusting myself; I am trusting Jesus.