whc weekly word – 9/24/20

Nothing Beyond What is Written

January 1, 1997 was a dark day for single Christians everywhere. On that day, the Christian book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was published, written by Joshua Harris. For years afterward, I heard pious sounding platitudes about how "courtship" was the proper way for a single Christian man to pursue a Christian woman. Christians loved Joshua Harris. Many of us read that book as if it were Scripture.

This was particularly frustrating for me since the book's popularity happened to coincide with the stage of my life known as "puberty". 

"This is a book all teens should read."

"This book should be used as a devotional book. Parents should read it to their 11- 17 year old children."

"Every man or teenage boy should read this and study this with a mentor."

"Men should read this more than women - women already know this stuff!"

These quotations aren't my memories of what people used to say; each one is taken directly from Amazon's current book reviews.

Notice a common word in each review: "should".

What I want to share with you is a warning not to insist that any Christian book, video, or other teaching is a "must" or "required" for Christians. Growing up, I saw this happen many times when a new best-selling book hit the Christian landscape: "The Prayer of Jabez", "The Purpose Driven Life", "Blue Like Jazz", "Jesus + Nothing = Everything", "The Shack". 

Have you ever seen a Facebook post or a tweet that said, "If you're a Christian, you MUST watch/read/repost this"? In some ways, social media has overtaken books as the way for ideas to establish popularity in the church. It's the same problem with a different platform.

There's nothing wrong with recommending something that you appreciate. I do it all the time. But the reason we may want to think twice before insisting that all Christians should read a certain book, watch a certain video, or listen to a certain podcast, is because that places human teaching on the same level as the Bible. It's a dangerous thing to do because it suggests that God's word may be insufficient to make us into mature Christians.

Consider how 1 Corinthians 4:6 compares human teaching to God's teaching, "Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying: 'Nothing beyond what is written.' The purpose is that none of you will be arrogant, favoring one person over another." 

The saying, "Nothing beyond what is written," means that Christians shouldn't seek spiritual truth beyond the Bible. Human beings can't add anything to divine revelation; they can only discover it and obey it.

Now consider the consequence Paul warns about at the end of the verse, "The purpose is that none of you will be arrogant, favoring one person over another." If we start to ignore that principle of the sufficiency of Scripture, the Bible clearly states that we are at risk of arrogance. Arrogance sets in when we hear a certain teacher say the things we want to hear in a way that goes beyond what the Bible clearly teaches.

One of the reasons arrogance is such a natural consequence of favoring a certain teacher is this reality: teachers are sinful people just like the rest of us. They have blind spots. And when we trust them implicitly, we tolerate our errors and justify our sins.

Back to I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In 1997, none of the readers of that book would have known that, in a tragic social media post 22 years later, Joshua Harris would directly renounce Jesus Christ and advocate for those who practice a sexually immoral lifestyle. Had they known the future, fans of his may have been more cautious to believe and recommend his book.

I wish this were the only example of a famous Christian thought-leader having a moral collapse, but it isn't.  And I'm sure there will be more Christian heroes who experience public disgrace in my lifetime. But even those leaders who maintain their Christian walk in a way that is "above reproach" do not deserve unquestioning loyalty. Only God deserves that. 

In your free time, I encourage you to try spending more time in God's word than in anyone else's. That includes videos, books, tweets, or posts, or whatever else you like. Try it. 

Pastor David