The elder, teaching an adult Sunday School class, gave the popular analogy of bank tellers handling real money so often that they can easily spot a counterfeit bill. Similarly, the analogy goes, Christians who spend a lot of time and effort studying Scripture will consequently detect theological error quite readily.
Having heard leaders in the Charismatic church use that same analogy, I wanted to voice my objection. But I wanted to trust this elder. I wanted to trust this new church. Perhaps, I assured myself, the leadership of this church really did know God’s Word better than the leadership of the Charismatic church had. Maybe they couldn’t be deceived so easily. So, despite nagging reservations, I decided to trust that this man had ample discernment because he spent time reading and teaching the Bible.
A few years later, largely due to the influence of that very elder, the church drifted into weak, seeker-sensitive theology. Lately it has also embraced the Social Gospel, and it allows women to hold positions of authority over men. Clearly, all that elder’s Bible knowledge has failed to inoculate him (or that church) against faulty doctrine.
The problem wasn’t a lack of knowing the Word of God, however. Rather, it was that this man, along with other leaders in the church, didn’t apply proper hermeneutics in their study of Sacred Text.
This article isn’t a diatribe against my former church, however. I use it only as an example of why Christians must not suppose that mere familiarity with the Bible protects us against deception. Along with reading it, we need to understand how it fits together.
For instance, we need to see Jeremiah 29:11, not as a promise to give 21st Century Christians a rosy future on earth, but as a word to the Jewish exiles during the Babylonian Captivity. Even in its its immediate context, Jeremiah 29:11 obviously doesn’t speak to present-day Christians, as you can see from this excerpt:
10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. ~~Jeremiah 29:10-14 (ESV)
If you read the whole chapter, the prophecy is even less appealing. It’s not something I want to claim as a promise!
Scripture can’t be broken into fragments that we then interpret according to our personal circumstances and preferences. We may read it daily, but if we latch on to isolated verses instead of understanding those verses as they relate to the rest of the Bible, we end up with a distorted theology that can eventually lead to doctrinal error. Conversely, if we use good hermeneutics we can understand what the Holy Spirit intended when He inspired the prophets and apostles to record His Word.
Amassing a collection of go-to Bible verses that you can apply with just a little cutting and stretching may give us the illusion of Bible literacy, but it sure won’t prevent us from accepting counterfeit theology.