One of my online friends posted the other day this interesting little nugget:
“The Bible says.”
So what? What does Jesus say?
I can find Bible verses to support slavery and genocide. If someone comes at me with “The Bible says”, I say, who cares what the Bible says?
What does Jesus say?
And I have to say I fully agree with him.
So many times nowadays, I actually feel like saying to people, like, look mate, I actually don’t care ‘what the Bible says’, because a) what Jesus says is more important, b) it’s not a Rulebook anyway, and c) who’s to say what the Bible really ‘says’? 40,000+ denominations tells me that no-one really knows exactly ‘what the Bible says’ anyway!
It also got me thinking along other lines too.
You see, I’m also noticing that, in our efforts to show Fundamentalists that actually our ideas are ‘Biblical’ (in that, like most things, you can find justification for them in the Bible), we are finding that the Bible is once again becoming the set of Rules by which we who have discovered Grace are trying to make our points to the legalists. And that has to be counterproductive. Even the Rulebook itself says that if it is law, then it is no longer Grace (Rom 11:6). To coin an analogy from Sun-Tzu, we are therefore picking the wrong terrain for our battles, and falling back into the trap of fighting on the ground of their choice.
You see, it is nowadays apparent that no longer do people sit and talk about Jesus; we sit and talk about the Bible instead. It’s as if the Bible is what we now have in common, rather than being one in Christ. The focus is the Bible. And so the focus is all wrong.
I mean, really, when a believer is firmly established in his faith, in a lot of ways the Bible can actually take more of a back seat, although this will of course vary from person to person. The Bible is no longer our primary source of ‘things from God’ or ‘knowledge of God’; instead, that Source is Jesus. In fact, it should ideally have been Him all along. This is why it is important to cultivate, in the new believer as well as the old, a total reliance on Jesus rather than shifting the focus to the Bible.
And so it’s time I stopped pretending that I hold the Bible in the same esteem that others do. When beginning a conversation with other believers, there’s almost this ‘dance’ where everyone agrees to agree that the Bible is where it’s all at, and they (tacitly or overtly) agree to have their discussions using that as an axiom. Well, I’m not going to do that any more.
Sure, I still love reading my Bible, at least when I can tune out the grey, dusty voices of the Legalists, who have tainted the Scriptures with their deadly interpretations. (There’s that point again: interpretation!) But, for me, the Bible is no longer the primary source of my knowledge of God. In fact, it’s even broader than that. In this stage of my faith walk, I am finding that I no longer need/depend on others’ ideas, nor affirmation of my own ideas, by listening to more teaching. Sure, I find interesting ideas which I feel free to hold or to discard as I see fit. Sometimes I post things by other people because they express what I wanted to say so much better than I could have done. But I am finding that more and more I am hearing, and listening to, the Voice of the Master, and learning so much directly from Him. This sort of thing gives the Legalists apoplexy, because they can’t stand it that some of us have a Relationship with Jesus outside of the Bible. ‘Dangerous’, they call it. A ‘slippery slope‘. Well if they want to stay in their ruts, that’s fine with me. But out here in the deep ocean, where there is no bottom and I rely entirely on God to keep me afloat, out here is where the real faith is. They sing about it in their song ‘Oceans‘, and I still find that song profound because it reflects my own experience. But in reality, and ironically, those who should be boldest – those who claim to have a solidity of faith undergirded by the Bible and their claim of a relationship with Jesus – they are the ones who are the most afraid to venture out ‘where no-one has gone before’, into the deep waters of bottomless faith.
Keith Giles puts it like this:
“Do you know anyone that constantly claims, “That’s not Biblical” to everything they don’t agree with?
“Yeah, just ignore them.
“Some say we cannot trust the Holy Spirit to guide us, and that’s why we need a Book. But I have never gone to the Book when I have needed wisdom or guidance. I have always gone to my knees, and listened.
“The idea that we can trust a Book more than the Holy Spirit is actually an idea that is refuted by the same Book.
“Can we get it wrong if we follow the Spirit? Of course. And you don’t have to look very hard to see a few thousand years of people getting it wrong by following the Book, either.
“Our capacity to “get it wrong” is unlimited. But, I would argue, we have a much better chance of getting it right if we learn to discern the voice of the indwelling Holy Spirit which leads us into all Truth and provides wisdom and insight directly from God’s heart to our own.
” ‘If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of the Lord who gives generously to all.’ – James 1:5 [Notice it doesn’t say, ‘Let him search in the Book…’]
“What God did a few thousand years ago is comforting, but I am concerned that many of us may be missing what new and exciting thing God may want to do in our life TODAY if we keep holding on to those stories of what God did back then.
“Don’t fear to trust the Holy Spirit and to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.”
– Keith Giles
Brilliant. I couldn’t have put it better.
Someone asked the other day what part the Bible played in my life nowadays. Here’s my reply:
“It used to play a big part. But now I have moved on to solid food. I have stopped trying to ‘prove’ things from the Scripture for others; I have stopped trying to convince grey people that the Bible is multi-interpretable, and I have stopped trying to show arguments from a Scriptural point of view for the benefit of those who still treat it as a Rulebook.
“I have had it with people using a 4,000yr old (in places) book to make Jesus irrelevant in today’s world, because they have to stick to the Rules laid down essentially by Moses the Prat. I no longer hold to their viewpoints, so there is no point in pretending that I still do, even to show them things from their own Rulebook.
“I now listen only to the One Whom I trust above all others, and occasionally I will pick up ideas or prompts from people who also hear His voice. Here is the problem that is the root of all Fundie Christian problems: that God is no longer trusted enough to be allowed to speak to His people. The idea that God will never contradict Scripture is not only contradicted in Scripture itself, but it is also a non-Scriptural idea held up, incorrectly, as a ‘Biblical ‘principle’.
“I am sick of judgemental people who place their own judgements above those of God. So, there we are. Bible firmly in its place”.
Of course, the problem with ‘demoting’ the Bible in ‘discussions’ with grey people is that what I say is always going to be reduced in value because I apparently don’t hold the Bible in the same esteem as they do. But since there has already been a sort-of breakdown in communication in that we are interpreting the same Bible in different ways, then that very difference of opinion reduces my credibility in their eyes anyway. Which isn’t really my problem, of course, and each of us has to follow the Spirit both in our lives and in hearing what God is saying to us, either through the Bible or through other channels.
But I do hold the Bible in high esteem, of course, and when I speak of ‘putting it in its place’ I mean that it should be restored to its rightful place. In other words, it is a book – a very special book, but a book nonetheless – which is full of insight, wisdom, amazing stories, and also some not-so-good stuff too. Its primary function is to point us to Jesus. Sure, that’s not its only function, but it’s the Bible’s primary function (Jn 5:39). If we fail to let the Bible point us to Jesus, then it has failed in its primary task. No, the ‘rightful’ place of the Bible is to be very firmly removed from the throne of people’s lives – where many believers have placed it – and to allow Jesus back onto that throne. The Trinity is ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’; these days it seems that many modern believers have replaced this with ‘Father, Son and Holy Bible’. In other words, the problem is with the people, not the Bible; they are using it incorrectly and elevating it to a position it was never intended to occupy.
And as an addendum to this, I would say that my ‘relationship’ with the Bible has come full circle. I began reading the Bible when I was about seven years old. Didn’t get very far. My secondary school was a Public School which was set up in 1812 for the education of the sons of Methodist ministers, so I was educated in a Christian background and Scripture was a part of daily study.
At the age of 18, on July 12th, 1980, I began my actual walk with Jesus, responding to an ‘altar call’ at a tent crusade (actually God propelled me to the front!), and it was just what I needed. My life changed from that point onwards and I was increasingly conscious of Jesus at my side, and saw His influence in my life on a daily basis. Over the following years, I got to know the Bible inside-out, walked with Jesus, and also with others; although the emphasis was on both Bible and Jesus, gradually, as with all these things, the Real Thing is supplanted by the written accounts of it. That said, though, I did not lose sight of my first Love, Jesus Himself. I had had such an experience of God, as a young Christian, that no amount of Pharisaical layering of rules and other baggage on top of that Relationship could ever snuff it out entirely. And so when I entered my ‘dark night of the soul‘ in 1999, its main function was to allow me to rid myself of all the baggage and to walk free.
Once that process was complete to Father’s satisfaction, the subsequent encounter I had with God was new, powerful, real and unexpected*, but still rooted in my already existing Relationship with Him. It was just like I’d never been away. And one of the fruits of that long period of change was that I no longer relied as much on the Bible. One of the things that God had pruned away, so to speak, in that time, was the emphasis on Scripture and He replaced it with a far more emphatic emphasis on Jesus and my Relationship with Him.
Interestingly, my knowledge and memory of Bible verses was still intact. I can still recite whole sections of Scripture should I need to do so. But the Bible very much takes a back seat as I simply walk freely in the Spirit.
There are some people I know who never read the Bible, but are in a strong Relationship with Jesus. For them, the Bible just turns them off, and detracts from the Person of Jesus.
Fundies might say, well, how can you know Jesus apart from the Bible?
Well that’s a very silly question when you think about it. Most of what I know about, say, my friend in my aircraft owners’ group, I know because I have sat and talked with him, flown with him, talked to his wife, and all that. He’s my friend. He has never had a book written about him (although his dad has an autobiography, but that’s a different story!). It’s the same with Jesus. Jesus exists outside of the Bible; yes we can learn more about Him from the Bible, and read of others’ experiences with Him from the Bible, but you can only really get to know Him by actually meeting Him and spending time with Him.
What Fundagelicalism has purveyed for many decades now is a cheap bait-and-switch imitation. Come to Jesus! And here’s how: read the Book! Bait = Jesus. Switch = Book. It’s funny too but Jesus actually turns this around and helps people to get to know Him despite the best efforts of the Fundies who, really, don’t trust the Spirit at all, and want to do all His speaking for Him, usually by quoting Bible verses.
In other words, the emphasis has shifted from the real to the hypothetical, and from the Living to the written. “And … you refuse to come to Me to have Life” (Jn 5:39).
It’s sad that those of us rediscovering the primacy of Jesus are labelled as heretics, by the very ones whose concept of Jesus is based mainly in book knowledge, and experiential knowledge is counted as being from ‘deceiving spirits’. And conversations with such of these Grey People always degenerate into, again, that ridiculous dance around the authority of the Bible and its extent in determining how well we can know God. It’s posturing, and it’s pathetic. Tell me: Who is best placed to talk about what they know of Jesus: those who read about Him or those who actually know Him personally, not just from a book? Is the former not much more than a case of the ‘blind leading the blind’?
This emphasis on the Bible is exemplified in conversations with Evangelicals, where most of the time there is a tacit assumption that the authority/inerrancy/infallibility/etc. of the Bible is unquestioned and already accepted. But the assumption that those who are at a different place in their walk will accept that premise is not going to produce a good conversation, and it will always degenerate again into discussions about the Bible. You see the problem? Any time we want to talk about God, or Jesus, or the Spirit, we end up talking about what ‘the Bible says’ about Them rather than what is our personal experience of Them. This of, course, may be because those arguing with people who have a real Relationship with Jesus don’t have one themselves, and so they really don’t know the One about Whom they are talking. But that’s never my judgment call to make.
And so, this dependence on the Bible means that God isn’t allowed to speak to His people, in any way He wants to, any more. He’s only allowed to use the Bible and what it says in there.
Well, try telling Him that! He’s bypassing all that by just doing what He wants all over the world, irrespective of what people’s Bibles tell them He should be doing.
All around the world, people are finding new freedom in Christ; in Christ, not the Bible. In fact, modern ‘understanding’ of the Bible has been thoroughly polluted by nasty and erroneous doctrines and ideas from Evangelicalism, which have been espoused for so long that they are now accepted as ‘normal’. I mention a few of these doctrines in this post. As I hinted above, I now find it hard to read the Bible profitably because of all the years and layers of dusty, dry legalism and bad exegesis (interpretation of Scripture) caused by many long years under the thrall of those doctrines. Like it would be for a former member of a cult, the old interpretations and taught meanings – based on ideas of humans (Mt 15:9; Mk 7:7) – are what come to the fore as I read certain passages, and as such these verses have been poisoned for me. I feel quite badly done by about that, actually, like I have been robbed of all the fruit and glory of those passages. I am, however, fortunate in listening to teachers like Don Keathley and Francois du Toit, whose love of the Scriptures is not only infectious but also their teaching is wholesome, and you can tell.
But I want to finish this essay on a positive note. My aim is always the encouragement of my readers!
I must say I do get the impression that, for those who have the hearts to receive it, the Grace message of Jesus is the thing they have been looking for all their lives. Some of us were sidetracked into rule-keeping. Some of us were snatched away as soon as we heard the message and met Jesus for the first time. And to be fair, some of us in fact needed to enter through the path of legalism, because only by seeing its hopelessness could we even begin to look for something more.
But once our eyes were opened to Grace, oh! the wonder! Oh, the freedom! For some of us, detoxification was needed. For others, straight in to Grace with no messing about. But however we got here, God has His hand on us, and He will never let us go! So, while the Bible, when interpreted by the Spirit of Truth, is useful, remember it is not God; it never has been and it never will be. No matter what your reverence for it, and I am sure that reverence is not misplaced, make sure that the Spirit – Whom God has poured into our hearts – is always the One Who has the last word. Then you will be hearing directly from God Himself.
Grace and Peace to you.
*Facebook post from February, 2014: “What a morning. First time voluntarily in a church for fifteen years, and getting thoroughly zapped by God: weeping, laughing, complete acceptance, forgiveness. Wow, wow, wow! Going again tonight hehe 😉 “