Published April 11th, 2012 by Dirk Waren
Jesus said God’s Word is truth (John 17:17) and that the truth will make us free:
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”
John 8:31-32 (NRSV)
Unfortunately many believers are misled or limited by all types of false doctrines, including ones traditionally considered orthodox or correct. Obviously, the truth can’t set people free if they’re adhering to false teachings, meaning they’re believing them or practicing them to some degree.
How can you make sure you’re adhering to the truth and not false doctrine? As shown above, Jesus said you can only be set free if you “know the truth,” and you can only know the truth if you “continue” in his word, which obviously means not giving up after six months, one year, five years, ten years, twenty years and so on.
Yet “Continuing” in God’s Word means more than that. It means continually growing in knowledge,understanding and wisdom. “Knowledge” is data or truth from God’s Word; “understanding” is insight or revelation to that knowledge, which is enlightenment; and “wisdom” is the application of what you know and understand. You can only mature spiritually by growing in knowledge, understanding and wisdom. If you don’t, you’re obviously not “continuing” in the word and therefore you won’t know the truth and, consequently, the truth can’t set you free. However, the more you “continue” in God’s Word by growing in knowledge, understanding and wisdom, the more you’ll know the truth, and the more you’ll be set free. Are you following?
When Vincent Price was asked what he thought of growing older he said, “Growing old is marvelous, so long as you are growing.” So make it a priorty to keep growing in knowledge, understanding and wisdom.
Growing in Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom
If growing in knowledge, understanding and wisdom is the key to knowing the truth and being set free, how do you grow in knowledge, understanding and wisdom?
Knowledge. You grow in knowledge simply by exposing yourself to the word of God, which includes reading or hearing it yourself through regular bible studies and reading or hearing teachings from sound, fruit-bearing and anointed men or women of God. I have to add those qualifications because unsound, fruitless and un-anointed “ministers” abound.
Now, you might say that you don’t have much passion for God’s Word or that you find most sermons or bible studies boring. The good news is that the LORD has made the human heart in such a way that it’ll develop a passion for pretty much anything you decide to give your heart over to – good, bad or otherwise. How much more so the very word of the Almighty?
Exposing yourself to God’s Word is important because Jesus said: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Just as your material being needs physical sustenance to live physically, so your immaterial being needs spiritual sustenance to live spiritually.
As for finding most sermons or bible studies boring, the remedy is to disconnect from ministers or environments that don’t manifest a spirit of life, power, joy, freedom and love. For instance, if the ministers you’re listening to are cantankerous, condemning grumps or deadly dull religious zombies, that pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16,20). Leave them and seek out ministers and ministries (churches, bible studies, books, websites, radio or TV programs, etc.) that have a spirit of life and truly inspire you. This explains why Jesus instructed believers: “Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14); Jesus was referring to leaving the lifeless religious ‘leaders’ of Israel of that era. The same principle applies today.
When I say it’s important to seek out ministers who inspire you I obviously don’t mean those who excite your flesh. This is what Paul was talking about when he mentioned people who will not put up with sound teaching in favor of gathering around themselves “teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). This refers to preachers who foster fleshly self-interest in their listeners. These could be libertines who inspire carnal license or legalists who encourage spiritual arrogance, exclusivity, hypocrisy and greed. Either way, they inspire the flesh, not the spirit.
Those who inspire the spirit, by contrast, encourage an actual relationship with the LORD by the Holy Spirit. God is the “Fountain of Life” and therefore naturally pumps abundant life, power, peace and joy into those who hang out with him and pour their hearts over his word (Psalm 36:9, 16:11, John 6:63 & 10:10). This, of course, results in the “fruit of the spirit,” the very character traits of God (Galatians 5:19-23). The law of association applies here: You become like those you spend time with.
Concerning reading books or hearing sermons by men or women of God, please keep in mind that those who transfer knowledge are also able to transfer error. Furthermore, just because a minister is strong in certain areas of knowledge doesn’t mean he or she is strong in every area. This applies to anyone, anywhere, any sect, small or great. That’s why this teaching is so important because cultivating the “Berean spirit” will help you discern error and discard it, no matter where it comes from. The bible instructs us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), which in modern vernacular means: eat the meat and spit out the bones.
Understanding. Knowing something is one thing, understanding it is another. For instance, you can know a bible passage by having it memorized, but this doesn’t mean you understand it. Understanding has to do with having insight to the scriptural data, which has to do with revelation – the Holy Spirit revealing to you what the text means in context and within the context of the entire bible. The great news is that every believer has an anointing to receive insights from God’s Word with the help of the Holy Spirit, who is our Counselor and Teacher, who guides us into all truth (1 John 2:27, John 14:26 & 16:13).
If your bible reading time seems dry and you’re not getting much out of it, get into the habit of sincerely praying for understanding before you read. After all, Jesus said “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). This explains why Paul prayed for believers in this manner: “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9). This also explains this powerful passage from the biblical book of wisdom:
and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, (4) and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, (5) then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (6) For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Please notice that the passage encourages us to passionately seek insight and understanding by crying out for it and calling aloud. God blesses such diligent pursuit because “he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). It’s an axiom.
This doesn’t, of course, mean that any insight that occurs to you is accurate. After all, the bible says the mind needs to be renewed (Romans 12:1-2) and is therefore perfectly capable of coming up with all kinds of erroneous “insights”; also consider the fact that the bible acknowledges teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1), which suggests that whoever teaches or embraces these teachings received insight or “revelation” from demonic spirits, who are lying spirits. Revelation that’s accurate, by contrast, comes from the Holy Spirit, who guides us “into all truth” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13); consequently, whatever revelation you get from the Spirit of truth will gel with the “word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), meaning it will conform to sound hermeneutics, that is, the four principle rules of bible interpretation, which are:
- “Context is king.” This means that one’s interpretation of a passage must coincide with the meaning given it by the surrounding text, which is the context. The context also includes obvious questions like: Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to? What is the topic? What is taking place at the time? And where? Whom does it involve? And what is their covenant (agreement, contract) with the LORD, if indeed they even have one?
- Scripture interprets Scripture. This means that one’s interpretation of a passage must gel with what the rest of Scripture teaches; the more detailed and overt passages obviously trump the more sketchy or ambiguous ones. The true context of a passage is the whole bible, meaning people cannot really understand the Scriptures unless they are willing to immerse themselves in God’s Word and see the whole picture with the obvious understanding that believers are under the superior New Covenant (testament, agreement, contract) and not the inferior Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:6). Any given subject is often dealt with in pieces. People who try to take this or that piece (passage) while ignoring other pertinent pieces and make a doctrine out of it will end up off kilter. We need a LOT of exposure to God’s ideas from many angles, which is one of the reasons we need each other. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
- Take the Bible literally unless it’s clear that figurative language is being used: In which case you look for the literal truth that the symbolism intends to convey. In other words, unless there are legitimate reasons to take a passage (or parts of a passage) figuratively or hyperbolically, God’s Word should be taken literally. Why is this important? Because without this rule people can take any passage and just spiritualize it into whatever they want it to mean based on their ideology. The result is inevitably a bunch of worthless gobbledygook.
Why are some passages figurative? Because the bible is a book of deliberately hidden truths that can be gleaned from parables, types & shadows, allegories, prophetic utterances, similes, metaphors, and more. Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44). We have to be willing to sell our own ideas, our flawed indoctrinations, and buy the truth. God hides truth precisely because it is so priceless, which is why it’s unwise to try to “give dogs what is sacred” or throw our “pearls before pigs” (Matthew 7:6). The “dogs” and “pigs” are false religionists, the lawless and unbelieving scoffers. Jesus said not to give such people spiritual gems because they won’t respect them and they’ll naturally create havoc, bringing the “way of truth into disrepute” (2 Peter 2:1-3).
- If the plain sense makes sense – and is in harmony with the whole of scripture – don’t look for any other sense lest you end up with nonsense. This means every passage has an obvious meaning within its context, as well as a potential deeper meaning within the context of the entire bible, like Paul’s figurative exposition on Hagar and Sarah in Galatians 4:21-31. The plain meaning of a passage will dawn on the believer with greater insight as he or she grows in the Lord. There’s always the danger, of course, of people looking for deeper meanings to support their own agenda or their sect’s peculiar doctrines. The purpose of this rule is to prevent such selfish, unbiblical and bizarre interpretations of passages. Everyone can come up with a passage here or there that seemingly supports their view, but what does the whole of scripture say on the subject? In other words, what is the plain-sense meaning that the entire bible conveys? What is the general impact? The overviewing thrust? This is what it means to embrace the plain sense of the bible on any given subject. If someone comes up with an interpretation that is at odds with the overwhelming impression of the bible then it should be viewed with serious skepticism at best, and utterly thrown out at worst. Those who support homosexuality and universalism, for instance, cite a few passages to support their position, but what is the general impression you get from reading the whole of scripture on these topics?
Wisdom. Knowing and understanding a biblical passage or topic isn’t enough, you must apply what you know and understand. This is wisdom – knowing, understanding and applying what you know and understand. Without wisdom, knowledge and understanding are virtually useless, which is why the bible points out: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:6).
How do you apply what you know and understand from God’s Word? There are four types of knowledge in the Holy Scriptures: practical, positional, revelatory (or prophetic) and historical. How do you apply these truths in your life? We’ll only address the first two:
Practical truth. This obviously refers to scriptural truths that are practical in nature, like “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). How do you practice this passage? You simply DO IT – Love your wife by laying your life down in love for her, i.e. making sacrifices when applicable, etc.
Follow this principle with any practical instruction from God’s Word that’s relevant to the New Testament believer. In other words, don’t practice anything that’s strictly applicable to someone else of a different era and covenant, like the Israelites under Old Testament law who offered animal sacrifices to cover their sins; Jesus took care of all that in the new covenant so believers don’t have to concern themselves with it. Whatever the bible encourages you to do, simply start implementing it in your life and you’ll be blessed. If your life is messed up due to the flesh or adhering to false beliefs, practicing the word of truth is the remedy; it’ll turn your ship around, so to speak, just give it time. If you miss it, repent and keep moving forward (1 John 1:8-9). You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there. It’s important to daily keep your spiritual arteries clear of the clogging of unconfessed sin. This is “keeping in repentance” (Mathew & Luke 3:8).
Positional truth. A “positional truth” is any truth from scripture that reveals how God sees you in covenant with Him, which is your position. For the New Testament believer, meaning YOU, this is who you are in your spirit, the “new self” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Who are you in your spirit?
- You’re holy (Colossians 1:21-22).
- You’re a child of God (John 1:12-13).
- You’re a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- You’re the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- You’re dead to sin (Romans 6:11,14,18).
- You’re more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37).
- You’re a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
- You’re rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
- You’re healed (1 Peter 2:24).
- You’re a royal priest or priestess of the Most High God (1 Peter 2:9)!
How do you practice such positional truths? You practice them simply by believing them and not disagreeing with them. Remember, “The tongue has the power of life and death” so utilize this power accordingly (Proverbs 18:21). Never speak words that contradict who God says you are. Never! This is tantamount to calling God a liar. Be sure to chew on these amazing positional truths, and others as well. Make them your meditation and your confession. Take David, for example. He was diligent to “meditate” on God’s Word, as shown in Psalm 119:15-16. The Hebrew word for ‘meditate’ is siyach (SEE-ahk), which means “to ponder and converse with oneself and, hence, out loud.” As you do this, you’ll grow in understanding and power. The more these truths become a part of you the more you’ll be set free of the flesh and the more you’ll soar in the spirit free of the limitations of the mental plane. For important details on this topic see the video How God Sees YOU.
Again, Jesus said we must “continue” in his word if we are to “know the truth” and be set “free.” Growing in knowledge, understanding and wisdom on a continuing basis is the key to this.
“The Fear of the LORD is the Beginning of…”
We can’t very well address the topics of knowledge, understanding and wisdom without addressing their very foundation:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
The third passage shows the close connection of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, but what I want to stress here is what these three passages say is the beginning of all three – the fear of the LORD. If the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, understanding and wisdom then a person who seeks to attain these without the fear of the LORD is off track right from the start! Consequently, the conclusions they come to in their journey of enlightenment will be off. We see this today with all these highly intelligent and “educated” people who are trying to reinvent morality: What is bad is now good and what is good is bad (Isaiah 5:20). Their journey has brought them to a place of twisted understanding because they didn’t start with the fear of the LORD, which is acknowledging him and respecting him.
Someone might argue that the “fear of the LORD” is an outmoded Old Testament principle, but Jesus himself said we are to fear Father God:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Want more proof? Revelation 19:5 depicts a scene in heaven that the apostle John saw in a vision. In this scene a voice comes from God’s throne saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!” Furthermore, after Ananias and Sapphira were slain by the LORD for their unrepentant lying “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events” (Acts 5:5,11).
So the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, and it’s not just an Old Testament principle, but what exactly is the fear of the LORD? Since fear is another word for reverence and worship this suggests that knowledge and wisdom begin when we properly acknowledge God and offer him the reverence and adoration he deserves. The writer of Hebrews put it like this:
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, (29) for our “God is a consuming Fire.”
There’s also the respectful fear that a son has toward the just correction and discipline of his loving father. It’s a healthy respect for authority, in God’s case the ultimate authority.
A key trait of the fear of the LORD is, of course, humility, the attitude that we’re not all that and a bag of chips, which brings to mind a simple yet potent passage:
God opposes the proud but gives grace [favor] to the humble.
James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5 & Proverbs 3:34
This is quoted three times in the bible, once in the Old Testament and twice in the New. Do ya think God’s trying to tell us something? Of course he is! The passage says that God “opposes” the proud, which means he resists them. Those who are proud resist God and he, in turn, resists them. They resist, he resists. It’s a doomed cycle.
The good news, of course, is that he gives his grace to the humble, the meek, not the weak. This means his favor! God says in his word:
“This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”
God’s favor, blessing and enlightenment only flow to the humble who genuinely acknowledge him, not the arrogant who are stubborn, hard-hearted and think they know it all. The latter includes religious leaders, like the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who put on airs that they know and honor God when nothing could’ve been further from the truth. The Pharisees, for instance, claimed to be God’s children but Jesus told them point blank that they were children of the devil (John 8:41-47)! Don’t think that such religious leaders only existed in Jesus’ day. They’re all over today, just open your eyes.
What can we conclude from all this? If we want freedom we have to want truth, which means the way it really is. Why? Because truth is the very thing we need to set us free, as Jesus taught. Truth consists of knowledge, understanding and wisdom from God’s Word and the foundation of these is the fear of the LORD.
Needless to say, let’s be wise sons and daughters of God and cultivate a healthy reverence and awe of the Holy One. Always strive for humility, which is the opposite of stubbornness and arrogance. If you do this, God’s favor will surely flow to you. Amen.
What is the “Berean Spirit” and Why is it Necessary?
The “Berean spirit” refers to the noble attitude of the people of Berea who examined and accepted Paul’s message, the gospel:
As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. (11) Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (12) Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
We observe in verse 11 that the Holy Spirit commends these Bereans for being “of more noble character” in comparison to the Thessalonians. The word ‘noble’ means “having excellence and characterized by superior qualities.” What was so noble about the Bereans? This passage reveals a handful of traits that marked them as having superior character in God’s eyes.
The reason it’s important to develop these traits is because they will help you discern truth and accept it, as well as recognize error and discard it. This is of the utmost importance if the truth is to set you free because you can’t very well be set free if you’re adhering to lies or you’re limited by partial truths. As previously mentioned, the bible instructs us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), which can be translated as: Eat the meat and spit out the bones. The Berean spirit will enable you to do this.
What exactly was it about the Bereans’ that made them so commendable in God’s eyes? Let’s go over the five general traits that made the Bereans so laudable.
The Five Traits of the Berean Spirit
- The Bereans’ allegiance was to God’s Word first and foremost. Consequently, when Paul came to them with the message of the gospel they used the scriptures as a gauge for determining whether or not his teaching was true. Although Paul’s message was completely biblical, it was not orthodox according to the Berean’s current theology; in fact, it was completely new and unorthodox to them. If the Bereans had consulted the Judaic orthodoxy of that time or took a popular vote they would have no doubt rejected Paul’s teaching before even looking into it. This, unfortunately, is what too many believers do today when they hear something that sounds different than the way they’ve always heard it or understood it. They throw it out before even considering its validity. While this is obviously the right thing to do when it concerns weirdo doctrines or practices that clearly have no biblical basis, it’s a foolish approach when it comes to things that can be plainly proven by scripture, particularly if the messenger shows signs of the fruit of the spirit and God’s anointing, like Paul.
- The Bereans were already familiar with the scriptures. We know they were already familiar with the scriptures because people can only use the scriptures as a gauge for determining truth if they are already familiar with them to some degree. As noted above, the only way to get familiar with God’s Word is to set apart time regularly for systematic bible reading, study, meditation and prayer. You’ll never find time to do this because the devil will make sure you won’t find time; you have to make time. This is the Berean spirit.
- The Bereans were open. These Bereans already knew the scriptures and were no doubt comfortable with a set theology, but that didn’t hinder them from being open to what Paul had to say even though what he taught was different and unorthodox. In fact, it states that “they received the message with great eagerness” – and this was before they even determined whether or not Paul’s teaching was true. You see, as godly people dedicated to finding the truth, the Bereans were eager to hear any scriptural teaching that could possibly increase their knowledge & understanding and bring them closer to God. It takes true humility to be open like this because, by being open, you’re acknowledging that you (and your group) may not be entirely accurate in your present understanding (Proverbs 30:2-3). Proud people, by contrast, are unable to do this. It also takes daring because only the courageous dare to step outside the safe parameters of their comfort zones. Someone might argue that being open-minded will make us vulnerable to false teaching, which is perhaps why so many Christians tend to be closed-minded; but if we adhere to the first two traits above we can be open-minded without fear, just like the Bereans, because the scriptural truth will always filter out what isn’t true, that is, as long as we practice the next trait…
- The Bereans were sure to do a thorough, unbiased examination of the Scriptures, not a superficial or biased one. Notice that the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Why did they give so much time and effort to this? Obviously because what Paul said struck a chord in their spirits, not to mention Paul was a fruit-bearing, anointed man of God who walked in the dunamis (dynamite) power of the Holy Spirit. Even though this was so, they didn’t foolishly take him at his word. They wanted to make sure that they properly interpreted the scriptures, which is why the bible encourages teachers to “rightly divide” or “correctly handle” the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). If the bible can be rightly divided it can also be unrightly divided. The Bereans knew this. They understood that a person can “prove” just about anything through a superficial “study,” which explains the old saying: “The bible is an old fiddle on which any tune can be played.” The only way false teachers can get away with playing any tune they want on the “old fiddle” of the bible is by unrightly dividing or incorrectly handling the scriptures, which they do by simply breaking one or more of the four interpretational laws detailed earlier. As for the Bereans, it took them days of careful examination to draw a confident conclusion concerning Paul’s teaching. Likewise, we need to realize and be prepared that it may take us days, weeks or even months or years of careful study to draw a well-informed conclusion on a specific scriptural issue.
- The Bereans were willing to change their view in light of the biblical truth. As shown in verse 12, many of the Bereans accepted Paul’s teaching and changed their view. This is commendable for it’s one thing to be open and realize what the bible truly teaches, it’s quite another to actually be willing to publicly change one’s view or practice in light of that realization. Why? Because, even though God blesses everyone who boldly follows his word, particularly in the long term, there are often immediate negative social repercussions. For instance, someone who genuinely chooses to follow God’s Word may lose his or her job, lose relationships, be excommunicated from his/her church or denomination, be branded a heretic, and, in severe cases, be harassed, imprisoned or killed. Martin Luther is a good example. When he publicly spoke out against a number of his denomination’s unbiblical doctrines and practices he lost his job and credentials, was branded a heretic and banished to live in hiding, his books were burned and Pope Hadreian VI declared him to be the antichrist. Yet Luther was incredibly blessed in the long term. Or consider people today in Islamic countries who convert to Christianity. Or, closer to home, how about people in Westernized areas who get “disfellowshipped” from churches/denominations for openly disagreeing with their pastor or the official doctrines of their church? I’m not talking about quarrelsome troublemakers here, but rather fruit-bearing, godly believers who honestly have legitimate scriptural objections. This happens more often than you might think.
The Bereans were noble because they were not dead-set in their present understanding. They had a high respect for God’s Word. They weren’t in bondage to a certain theology like so many “fundamentalist” Christians today. They were open to new insights, spiritual growth and understanding. They were humble enough to admit that their present understanding of truth could be further honed and sharpened. They had such a high respect for God’s Word that, if someone legitimately corrected them and showed them the way more accurately, they were eagerly willing to embrace it. This is the antithesis of the sterile, stubborn religious spirit, which is rigidly sectarian and closed-minded in nature.
Speaking of which, rigid sectarianism is strongly denounced in the New Testament. When some of Jesus’ disciples tried to stop a man who was exorcizing demons in Jesus’ name merely because “he wasn’t one of them,” Jesus rebuked them by saying: “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:49-50). Paul likewise corrected believers in the Corinth church who were developing a bullheaded factional spirit (1 Corinthians 1:11-13 & 3:1-5). Such an exclusive mentally is equal parts arrogant, narrow-mined and foolish, not to mention borderline cultic. It’s spiritual tunnel vision because it naturally stifles truth, limits perception and stultifies spiritual growth. Avoid it like the plague!
Apollos was Humble and Open Enough to Learn “More Adequately”
Let’s briefly look at a biblical example of another believer who had the same noble attitude as that of the Bereans:
Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. (25) He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. (26) He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Pricilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Here we have a man, Apollos, who had a thorough understanding of God’s Word and taught about Jesus as accurately as he could in relation to the knowledge and understanding he had; he was faithful to what he presently knew and understood. After Pricilla and Aquila met him they explained to him the scriptures “more adequately” or “more accurately” according to the NASB.
Because Apollos had the same noble spirit as that of the Bereans he was receptive to being taught the way of God more accurately. Verse 28 shows how he went on to vigorously refute “the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” The fact that Apollos debated with others based on “proving from the Scriptures” shows that he adhered to the principle of sola Scriptura, which is Latin for “by Scripture alone.” This is the theological principle that maintains that the bible is the first and final authority on all judgments of Judeo-Christian doctrine and practice.
Apollos truly adhered to this principle since, not only were his teachings based upon “proving from the Scriptures,” but he himself was willing to be taught by the same principle. In other words, just as he gave, he received. Putting it another way, not only did he talk the talk, he walked the walk. Although Apollos was a powerful individual, he wasn’t arrogant. He was therefore able to acknowledge areas where he could learn a thing or two and humbly received from others. This is great because “God opposes the proud but gives grace (favor) to the humble” (James 4:6 & 1 Peter 5:5). In modern vernacular, being humble means you don’t think you’re all that and a bag of chips. Knowing and embracing who you are in Christ, as discussed earlier, is vital and wonderful, but a superiority complex is not good and is, in fact, spiritually deadly. Needless to say, no matter how great you are or become in life always shun arrogance like the plague, it’s a horrible stumbling block to maturing believers.
Sadly, you’ll find too few Christians today who possess the same noble spirit as that of Apollos, Pricilla, Aquila and the Bereans. Many Christians are too proud, stubborn, closed-minded and indoctrinated (i.e. brainwashed) to be taught “more accurately;” they seem to only be interested in touting the doctrines of their pastor/church/denomination or what they view as unquestionable “orthodoxy,” which brings us to…
The Good and Bad of Orthodoxy and Traditionalism
‘Orthodox’ literally means “correct view” and ‘orthodoxy’ refers to historically established beliefs judged to be essential to Christian truth. A couple examples of orthodox Christian beliefs for evangelicals would be the inerrancy of the God-breathed scriptures and the necessity of spiritual rebirth for salvation.
There’s nothing wrong with this idea of orthodoxy as long as the beliefs said to be orthodox are legitimately biblical, as is the case with the above two teachings, the problem arises when what is claimed to be orthodox is not actually scriptural.
A good example would be the doctrine of amillennialism, which Augustine of Hippo (354-430) formulated around 400 AD. ‘Amillennialism’ literally means “no millennium” and unsurprisingly maintains that there will be no literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth before the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth, both of which are plainly detailed in Revelation 20-21. Incredibly, this doctrine dares to suggest that we are already living in the millennium; in fact, we’ve been supposedly living in it since the resurrection of Christ! Tell me, does it seem like Christ has been reigning on earth for the last two thousand years? Does it appear like the devil has been bound up in the Abyss since Jesus’ resurrection? Of course not, the teaching is simply unbiblical and no sound student of the scriptures would embrace the doctrine by simply reading the bible. The only way amillennialism can be accepted and perpetuated is by persuading Christian disciples through indoctrination in church or cemetery, I mean seminary. I repeat, believers would never see it or accept it by merely studying their bibles. However, once disciples accept the idea that amillennialism is unquestionable orthodoxy their studies of the scriptures will naturally be tainted and biased by their acceptance of this doctrine; in other words, they’ll read the scriptures pre-supposing amillennialism to be true, not freely or at face value, as is natural.
By contrast, when one studies the bible free of such presuppositions, taking it simply for what it says, it isn’t difficult to see the error of amillennialism.
My point is that what we determine to be orthodox Christian beliefs must be clearly and consistently taught in scripture. In other words, if a doctrine is truly orthodox – that is, a “correct view” essential to Christian truth – it shouldn’t be necessary to engage in bizarre theological mumbo jumbo to prove its authenticity, like “spiritualizing” plain-as-day passages, as is the case with amillennialism. The only way people who support amillennialism can justify this doctrine is by convincing people that the bible doesn’t really mean what it clearly says, which is that there will be a 7-year tribulation period at the end of this age, then the devil will be bound up for a thousand years while Jesus Christ reigns on earth assisted by the resurrected saints (Revelation 20:1-6). To prove these plain truths one doesn’t have to resort to unjustified “spiritualizing” of the scriptures, as is the case with amillennialism. These truths can be discovered or proven simply by freely reading the bible unhindered by foreign presuppositions.
How did a doctrine like amillennialism come to be considered Christian orthodoxy when it’s so clearly unscriptural? The reason is that there’s another basis besides Holy Scripture used to determine the content of orthodoxy, and that is tradition. When people speak of Christian tradition they’re usually referring to religious literature, creeds and councils from the Patristic Age, or “late antiquity,” which extended from the fourth to the eighth centuries and includes Augustine’s advocacy of amillennialism, as well as other errors. Augustine was the most prominent and influential “church father” of this period. Christian tradition is also derived from other eras, including the later medieval, Reformation and post-Reformation eras. The very fact that Christian tradition is historically cumulative testifies that the worldwide invisible church is in an ongoing state of reform; in other words, Christendom is not in bondage to historical tradition.
What’s the difference between tradition and traditionalism? I’ve heard it said that tradition is the living faith of the dead, whereas traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. That’s a good way of putting it because there’s nothing living about traditionalism; it’s dead religiosity. What exactly is traditionalism? It is the tendency to place tradition on the same authoritative plane as Holy Scripture; actually it places tradition over scripture since how a traditionalist simply reads God’s Word is determined by tradition. In short, traditionalism is the perverse bent to hold Holy Scripture in bondage to tradition.
Protestants, neo-protestants or post-protestants have historically regarded traditional doctrines and practices not directly supported by the bible to be optional at best, and often flawed or erroneous. The reason for this is threefold: 1.) Jesus contradicted tradition but never scripture, 2.) the Reformation experience was based on the principle of sola Scriptura, the idea that Holy Scripture must be our first and final authority, not tradition, and 3.) since the church must be “reformed and always reforming,” treating extra-biblical expressions of truth as equal with scripture naturally inhibits continuing (and necessary) reform. Yet to hear some ministers teach today you would think that tradition is the irrefutable authoritative interpretation of God’s Word. For instance, I used to listen to Hank Hanegraff on the radio years ago and he made constant references to “orthodoxy” rather than scripture itself, so much so it was disturbing. The problem with this tendency is that 1.) it stifles biblical truth by exalting human beliefs or practices to the same authoritative level as Holy Scripture, and 2.) it perpetuates religious myths by preventing healthy reform in the church through simple appeal to God’s Word.
Religious tradition may be a legitimate extra-biblical source to consider when determining the authenticity of Christian doctrines and practices; in this sense it gets a minor vote but it does not hold the power of veto as does scripture itself. Let’s be humble enough to admit that Christendom still needs a lot of work; the Holy Spirit is still at work amongst God’s people, guiding them to biblical truths that may possibly correct Augustinian, medieval, Reformation and post-Reformation beliefs and practices. Staunch traditionalists will argue that such an open-minded and adventurous attitude will unlock a Pandora’s Box of heretical new teachings and insights but Christians have nothing to fear if, as pointed out earlier, our allegiance is to the Holy Scriptures as our first and final authority. After all, God’s perfect Word is perfectly able to determine what is true and filter out what is false.
There are some other problems with orthodoxy and traditionalism that we need to consider:
For one, just because a belief is considered orthodox today in certain “mainline” denominations does not mean that it was orthodox in biblical times (the eras in which both testaments were written). For instance, amillennialism wasn’t conceived by Augustine until 300 years after the last New Testament epistle was written! Before that, the early church adhered to the premillennial viewpoint. Only after pagan Greek ideas, infiltrated Israel and Judeo-Christian culture did the doctrine of amillennialism emerge and gain increasing acceptance.
Another problem is that Christianity is split into numerous sects and none of these groups unanimously agree on which beliefs actually constitute the content of orthodoxy, and no consensus is likely to come soon because different groups stress different beliefs as vital based on the teachings of their own spiritual fathers or mothers and which traditions these spiritual parents deem legitimate. For example, the Protestant belief of “salvation by faith alone” is indeed a part of Reformation orthodoxy but it is absent from Augustinian and medieval tradition. Likewise, John Wesley’s post-Reformation doctrine of entire sanctification in a moment is absent from the “Great Tradition.” A more modern example would be speaking in tongues or “praying in the spirit” as a form of prayer to supplement prayer in one’s own language; this belief is fundamental to pentecostal/charismatic Christians even though it is not a part of the Great Tradition, but many evangelicals claim that such spiritual gifts passed away when the biblical canon was completed circa 100 AD; this belief is, in fact, orthodox to them.
Another problem with the idea of orthodoxy is the impression that the older a teaching is the more reliable it is. Yet, since when does the mere passage of time give greater validity to a doctrine? A lie sixteen centuries ago is still a lie today. For example, just because Saint Augustine advocated amillennialism in 400 AD, which created quite a stir in its day, does not make it anymore true today. If we’re going to base the legitimacy of doctrines on their age, then premillennialism is the true view because it is plainly taught in the scriptures and was, in fact, the position of the early church, albeit in a slightly different form than it’s understood today.
Fundamentalists desperately desire to hold to that “old time religion” of the 19th and early 20th centuries while strict traditionalists would have us go back to that “old time religion” of the creeds and councils. I say, if we really want that “old time religion,” let’s go all the way back to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the biblical apostles and the Old Testament saints. Let’s have that real old time religion, amen? This, in fact, is the principle of sola Scriptura.
Of course the biggest problem with orthodoxy and traditionalism is that nowhere in the bible are we encouraged to determine the veracity of doctrines by whether or not they are considered orthodox or traditional. That which the scriptures themselves clearly and consistently teach based on the four hermeneutical laws is to be our gauge in determining what is true and what is not true; in other words, scripture is to be our final authority when judging the validity of Christian doctrines and practices, not what is perceived as orthodoxy or tradition. This is sola Scriptura. We should certainly value and take into consideration traditional positions from all eras of church history, but traditional beliefs – no matter how imbedded in our collective psyche – must remain open to correction and revision in light of the plain teaching of Holy Scripture. Doctrinal debates should be engaged over Scripture and prayer not dismissed with a pharisaical appeal to religious tradition. As Martin Luther is believed to have said, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God… Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”
If you’re a serious God-pursuer and truth-seeker the following questions are the wrong questions to ask when faced with a different interpretation to a biblical topic than which you’re familiar: Does this interpretation line up with my church’s doctrine? Does it make my life easier, more comfortable? Does it make me feel secure? Is it popular?
When a new teaching or idea appears, Christians should first and finally ask, “What saith the Scriptures?” not “What saith orthodoxy?” or “Is it consistent with tradition?”
Cutivating the Berean Spirit
In short, the Berean spirit adheres to the principle of sola Scriptura rather than solo Orthodoxa or sola Mycampa. Yes, I’m being humorous but, seriously, the Berean spirit places what is clearly and consistently taught in God’s Word above what is traditionally considered orthodox. It eschews blind sectarian allegiance in favor of what the bible clearly and consistently teaches. It dares to venture into the wilderness of the Spirit, which is the realm of truth, that is, ultimate reality.
I encourage you to develop and maintain the Berean spirit. You’ll be exponentially blessed in your walk with the LORD! Amen.
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