One of the most amazing things in talking with people about the Bible and faith in Jesus is that we all tend to see the things we believe as crystal clear in Scripture. Over and over again it is said, even when discussing something that the Bible really says nothing about, “I don’t see how anyone can miss that. It is so clear to me that it is what God demands of us to follow him.” Now if such statements were made with regard to the deity and humanity of Jesus or fact that God demands faith for one to be right with him it would make sense to declare it as clearly taught in Scripture. But it is seldom such things that are being discussed. Instead we come up with some ridiculous interpretation of some obscure text and declare it to be clearly teaching what must be done.
Early in my preaching life I had a person come to me wanting to be baptized and I told them to come on down to the church building and I would be happy to do so. His response was, “No, I want to be baptized Scripturally in running water.” At the time I had never heard of anyone saying such a thing and said, well tell where you want to be baptized and I’ll meet you there and do it. He named a river near there and I met him there and baptized him. It didn’t take long to realize this would be an issue he would harp on for the remainder of his life. It wasn’t enough that he was baptized in running water, he was sure than anyone who had not been baptized in such a river really wasn’t right with God at all. He caused more trouble with people than should have been allowed anywhere. No amount of teaching helped because it was absolutely clear to him that baptism was done by John in the Jordan River so it had to be a river. When asked if the river was necessary, why wasn’t it necessary for it to be the Jordan River it made no sense to him. From that time on if someone wanted some such novel thing done I’ve said, “I’ll be glad to study with you on the subject. I believe you have totally misunderstood what the Bible teaches on the subject and we need to talk about how to study and understand God’s word before we talk about your being baptized.”
During this same period of time I became very frustrated with the individual and went to see Brother Gus Nichols in Jasper, Alabama to ask how I should handle such a problem. I don’t remember a lot of what was said on the whole topic, but one thing that he said has affected my study and thinking from that day on. He said, “Leon, if you ever come to some understanding of a Scripture that is different from what others who love God and are doing their best to serve him see in the same Scripture, be very careful and don’t share that with anyone else as what the Bible says until you run your ideas by several good students of God’s word to see if what you are seeing in the text is really there or just something that you want to see in the text.”
Think of all the goofy things that people declare the Bible teaches that isn’t in the Bible at all. I’ve heard brethren fuss and fume about the age of the earth and one declare the other to not be following the Bible because they disagree with them. How utterly ridiculous since the Bible says absolutely nothing about the age of the earth. It says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If the beginning was 10,000 years ago or 10,000,000,000 years ago it is still in the beginning.
I’ve heard hundreds of arguments about how elders in the church are to handle the problem of divorce and remarriage when someone wants to place membership that is in that situation. The answer is that your job is to teach what the Bible says not to try to become the enforcers of what I think it means. Show me from Scripture where anyone gets the notion that elders have the right to determine who can and can’t become members of the congregation. Show me where the New Testament says a single thing about what we are to do if a person messed up in their marriage and now wants to get their life right with God. If you say, “They must separate and live single.” Show me that in the text somewhere. All God says on the matter is that it is like other sins in life it must be repented of in order to be forgiven. Anything that goes further and says that repentance means you must separate and live single is just from the infertile mind of some person.
Many things seem absolutely clear to us because of circumstances and training from our background instead of anything said by God in his word. I become so frustrated with people drawing lines that declare if you don’t see this the same way I do then I can’t fellowship you as a fellow Christian, I could scream. Jesus came to save the lost not to nit pick the world to death. Read Matthew 23 one more time and think of the strong teaching Jesus had for the religious leaders of his day. They were really intent on reaching people but Jesus said they compassed land and sea to make one disciple and when they made them they became twice as much the child of hell as they were. He said they paid tithe of the smallest herbs but omitted matters like justice, mercy and faith and should have done those without leaving the other undone. Too often we major in minors and minor in majors. I was talking to a man from another southern state who said he started attending a church that believed it sinful to help anyone other than a Christian from their church treasury and several other such things. When he visited there they asked him how he felt about those topics and when he told them he agreed on those issues they accepted him. But they didn’t ask about his beliefs and actions in other areas of life that were far more significant. If they had done so they would have learned his problems as a pedophile before he messed up the lives of two young boys and one little girl in the congregation. But they were so intent on the agreement with them on their issue that his real problems were no concern.
Some things are absolutely clear in Scripture. Some things are extremely difficult to understand. Some things are mentioned simply as incidentals in the story. Some things that were done as a practice in the area or time were only expedient ways of doing a thing and never intended to become the law and gospel for everyone in all time. Jesus said to the Sadducees, “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have life, but they are they that testify of me.” They were Bible students. But in their study they missed the most important thing of all, that Jesus is the Christ the savior of the world. So, question what you understand. Re-study, re-think, pray and ask other godly servants of the Lord what they see and if they can help you in your understanding. No one but Jesus has everything right. So, “Put all things to the test and hold on to what is good.”