By Jim Harmon
We live in an information-rich but wisdom-poor age. Self-help books, talk shows, infomercials, media counselors, and seminars abound. Psychologists are at center stage and are ever more influential. Even E-Therapy, counseling via the Internet, is getting serious attention. People everywhere are striving to get relief from the strains and perplexities of life. Counselors, therapists, and researchers, doing what they are trained to do, continue to pour out an appealing and varied array of theories, techniques, and therapies. Many Christians are attracted to these professionals, seemingly unaware or unswayed by the fact that their ideas are often speculative and contradictory.
There is a distinct and irreconcilable chasm between what the Bible says about God, man, life, and living and what society says. In its search for answers, society—the “world”—quite naturally ignores “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:20-21, 2:12-16). The “world” is the whole human scheme of things, organized in terms of human wisdom to attain a human goal, without reference to God, His laws, His values, or His ultimate judgment. On the other hand, the Bible declares God’s design, ordered in His wisdom and for His purposes—without regard for human goals. The apostle Paul spoke directly to this issue when he instructed the Romans: “And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (12:2).
One of the disputes that continues to plague the church involves the mixing of secular ideas and opinions—philosophical and psychological—with Biblical preaching and teaching. Throughout church history many have warned, and continue to warn, of the risks to authentic Christian growth and testimony when unbiblical ideas are absorbed by the church into its views and practices. Some examples of these warnings:
“Scripture speaks of the natural man to whom the things of God are mere foolishness. But though the worldly-minded man cannot know the things of God, yet he can know their names, and learn to say that which the saints have spoken about them. He can make profession of them, be eloquent in their praise, and set them forth in such a desirable view as shall make them quite agreeable to the children of worldly wisdom. This natural man, having gotten into the church, and taken church power, has turned the things of God into the things of this world” (William Law, The Power of the Spirit).
“Some, we are aware, would fain (feel obliged to) persuade us that things are so totally changed since the Bible was penned, that we need other guidance than that which its precious pages supply. They tell us that Society is not what it was; that the human race has made progress; that there has been such a development of the powers of nature, the resources of science, and the appliances of philosophy, that to maintain the sufficiency and supremacy of the Bible, at such a point in the world’s history as the nineteenth century of the Christian era, can only be regarded as childishness, ignorance, or imbecility” (C.H. MacKintosh, The Bible: Its Sufficiency and Supremacy).
“Listening to Christians talk, watching them purchase materials in Christian bookstores, and hearing their comments about sermons and radio broadcasts is like observing a color-blind painter trying to distinguish chips on a color chart. The effect of their lack of discernment is often like that of a tone-deaf singer in a congregation whose singing throws everyone around him off key” (Jay Adams, A Call to Discernment).
“The church has been far too willing to embrace the fads of worldly opinion particularly in the area of psychology and self-esteem. Christians often merely echo worldly thinking on the psychology of guilt and the importance of feeling good about oneself. The adverse effect on the life of the church can hardly be underestimated” (John MacArthur, Jr., The Vanishing Conscience)
“Simply put, the psychologizing of faith is destroying the Christian mind. It is destroying Christian habits of thought because it is destroying the capacity to think about life in a Christian fashion” (David F. Wells, No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?).
“…when one observes what goes on in many churches, as well as the behaviors and thought patterns of many Christians it becomes evident that in spite of the Bible’s ubiquity (the Bible is everywhere), the Word of God has become lost in the house of God and in homes of Christians” (Ken Jones, Lost in the Church).
It can be said that underlying the acceptance of unbiblical ideas and practices in the church is the notion that God’s provisions—Jesus Christ, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and prayer—are just not sufficient to give us what we think we want or what we need.
Why does the church accommodate unbiblical ideas and practices?
- The church is made up of many kinds of people (Matt. 13:36-43).
- Many don’t pay attention to what the Bible says (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 5:11-14).
- Many know what the Bible says, but don’t believe it (2 Tim. 3:5, 7; James 1:8).
- Many know what the Bible says, but don’t do it (James 1:22-24).
- Many are attracted by “new” messages (Eph. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:17).
- Many don’t fear the Lord (Deut. 5:29, 10:12; Eccl. 3:14; Rom. 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:11).
- Many concede to the products and pleasures of secular life (1 Tim. 6:7-10; 1 John 2:15-17).
- Many are not true (born again) believers (Matt. 13:18-23; John 3:5, 7; Titus 1:16; 2 Pet. 2:1).
Unbiblical ideas often sound good because they come enfolded in Biblical language and references. As such, however, they pollute the pure Word of God, spawning unbiblical attitudes, behaviors, and expectations. Pride, double-mindedness, and false spiritual growth are among the possible consequences. The whole church is affected. Much like the frenzy over Harry Potter, unbiblical ideas travel quickly.
Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth. Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). This “truth” is the means by which holiness is attained. Error and deception are basic to evil, and truth is basic to holiness (1 Pet. 1:16). Truth, framed in Scripture as “sound doctrine,” has inherent benefits. To name a few:
- It defines the way of salvation (John 3:3, 14:6; Acts 16:30-31).
- It informs and stimulates godly thinking (John 14:7; Rom. 12:1-3; Phil. 4:4-9; Col. 3:1-17).
- It is essential for authentic Christian growth (John 17:17; 1 Tim. 4:6-11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
- It is our sure defense against false teaching (2 Tim. 4:3-4; Titus 1:10-11, 16).
- It honors God (Matt. 24:35; John 17:17; Heb. 4:12; Rom. 15:4-6; Heb. 12:2).
. . . for the Bible tells me so
Peter exhorts believers to be ready with the answer for what they believe (1 Pet. 3:15). While we learn greatly from God-given teachers and mentors, ultimately our faith and conduct must be anchored in the timeless and unchangeable truth of Scripture, not in the words of men. Since we have the right and privilege to study Scripture for ourselves, we are also responsible not only to accurately handle the teachings of Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15), but to demonstrate their truth by living accordingly (Eph. 4:1; James 1:22).
The astonished Jews were questioning Jesus as to where He got his knowledge: “My doctrine is not mine,” Jesus answered, “but his that sent me” (John 7:16). In like manner, we too must be able to say, “My ideas are not my own; this is what the Bible says.” The bottom line is this: the Bible is the entirely sufficient guide for what we are to believe and how we are to live as Christians.
(PAL V12N2 – March-April 2004)