Serving Two Authorities: God and Culture

I asked a General Theological Seminarian, “Does going to General shake up your faith?” She responded that it has been one of the greatest experiences in her life.

Probing deeper, I asked about some of the untraditional/unbiblical teachings General seems to promote. “Well, I already believed in committed same-sex relationships before I ever came to General. Jesus received allwho came to Him!”

“Yes He did,” I agreed, “but He also demanded repentance.”

“But the Bible requires a lot of things that no one follows, like not eating swine,” she confidently responded. For her, the irrelevance of the command to not eat swine was reason enough to override even Jesus’teachings!

“That’s not a fair comparison. The kosher laws had been temporary and merely representative or shadow of the Reality (Christ – Col. 2: 16-17), who fulfilled these laws (Acts 10; Mark 7). However, there is no indication that the laws regarding sexual conduct, or murder for that matter, were merely symbolic and therefore fulfilled and set aside,” I fired back.

Besides, her faulty reasoning – we no longer follow one law à therefore, we no longer need to follow other laws – could be used to invalidate all of the Bible’s teachings, including those about love and justice.

“But I don’t take the entire Bible as God’s Word. I also look towards culture and reason!” she responded.

Did she understand the implications of this? With multiple and conflicting authoritative sources – Bible, culture, and reason – which voice would prevail? Ultimately, it’s up to her. She is has appointed herself the captain of her ship, even if it is infested with termites.

Instead of allowing the Bible to judge her and her beliefs, she had made herself judge over Scripture. Her wisdom reigns over any alleged wisdom of Scripture. She would no longer have to bow to its authority – God’s authority. If any teaching failed to pass her judgment, well, it was history. The Bible was consequently no more authoritative than the New York Times!

However, I was glad she was forthright about this central difference in our faith perspectives. Many refuse to admit that they lack a high regard for the Bible and dishonestly claim that our differences are merely a matter of interpretation. In essence, they are saying, “We are just as committed to Christ and His Word as you are. However, we are unable to honestly interpret the Word as you do!” By dishonestly hiding their true beliefs, communication becomes frustrating at best.

I gave her one last challenge: “I would just encourage you to see the implications of the position you have taken. By elevating culture and your personal intuitions to the level of Scripture, you have thrust open the doors to virtually any belief system. How can you claim your religion is any more correct than Satanist’s, Muslim’s, or even Suiciders? They too have their cultures and reasons.” She then excused herself, claiming other urgent commitments.

I’ve been through this discussion many times and could anticipate where it would have gone:

  • “I don’t need to believe that the Bible is any more the Word of God than the Koran in order to know that Christ died for my sins. The Holy Spirit is alive and well within me and continues to guide me.”

I certainly don’t want to deny this. The Spirit does lead people to faith without a belief in the “inerrancy of the Word.” I therefore responded:

  • “People from other religions also claim supernatural guidance, but “guidance” that leads them into very different beliefs. How do you know that you’ve received the correct guidance?”

At this point, they usually reassert what they know in their heart: “I just know that Christ died for my sins and that works for me.” While this might be okay for starters, it won’t suffice in our multicultural world. We need to become mature in our thinking (1 Cor. 14:20) in order to be able to adequately answer the challenges, from within or without.

Besides, we need to know for ourselves that the Bible is God’s pre-eminent and authoritative Word! Without this confidence, we will eventually lapse into agnosticism and cognitive dissonance.  Our faith will also be inconsistent and unconvincing, even to ourselves. If we cannot be confident about the entire Bible, and if we only embrace the parts that we want and reject what we don’t want, we cannot be confident about any of it.

Here’s a common example of this: “I know I’m a believer in Christ and that Christ died for my sins, but I can’t judge the faith of others. I can’t insist that Christ is the only way.”

This constitutes a denial of the Christian faith. By insisting that my faith is only relevant to me, I can no longer take it seriously. If Christ didn’t die for everyone, then He didn’t die even for me! Furthermore, if there is salvation outside of Christ, then Christ died in vain, and the Father required unnecessary blood.

Such a faith is contradictory and can’t withstand the challenges – whether internal or external. We can’t just pick-and-choose those verses that feel right to us. There remains a small, indicting voice within that cries, “Hypocrite! You take from Me what you want and reject what you don’t want to suit yourself. I’d rather you be hot or cold!” How can the Holy Spirit endorse and support such a faith!

Jesus warned: “No one can serve two masters [like both God and the culture]. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24)

God, through His Word alone, must be our Master!

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Dr. A. R. Javed

Dr. A. R. Javed is on faculty of New York School of the Bible, offering and heading the department of Missions and Understanding Islam. He is a lecturer at Davis College's NYC site and regularly gives lectures on Islam, Missions, Christian Theology nationally and internationally.

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