By: Rev. Charles C Burnett-Morrow
Having been raised within an Evangelical Fundamentalist church, I am very aware that I am about to inspire in many of my readers a great choking sensation when I say plainly; "The whole Bible, sixty-six books as we Protestants embrace it today, is not word for word inspired of the Holy Ghost, nor for that matter need it be." This point is made within the context of it's own writings by it's very own authors. The message, however, remains perfect, although the messengers are not!
Fundamentalist Christianity makes the same insane mistake as every other major "fundamentalist" religious movement worldwide; Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and others, when it insists on ascribing to the writings of mere men, namely the apostles of Jesus Christ, the same level of sinless perfection as was embodied in the person of the Lord Himself.
THE MESSAGE/THE MESSENGER
Too many Protestants see the Biblical writers wearing halos and walking on water. They too have come to worship the creation more than the creator (Romans 1:25). The Book, that is, more than the divinely revealed and physically incarnate author. Fundamentalism elevates the book first and Christ second, rather than the reverse. John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease," (JOHN 3:30) indicating the need for the messenger to be swallowed up by the message, that message being Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul echoed a similar sentiment when he said, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (I CORINTHIANS 11:1)
Paul frequently made similar pleas that the saints should follow his doctrine, his example, and his tradition. (See: 2 THESS. 3:7-9; I THESS. 1:6; PHIL. 3:17; 2 TIM. 3:10; 2 THESS. 2;15). The primary focus of each apostles' writing was never his claim of divine and absolute inspiration, but rather his having been endowed by the Master with the responsibility and authority of establishing Christ's Church. The key is found in their authority, not the presence of absolute inspiration.
"SCRIPTURE" DEFINED BY THE BIBLE
It is to our own embarrassment that we insist upon claiming that Paul's statement in II Timothy 3:16 can somehow be misconstrued to endorse the whole of our present day Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Paul states, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Nowhere in this verse does he endorse or even elude to the endorsement of his own writings, but rather he speaks specifically of a body of written work which indeed existed in his time which would have been commonly referred to as "Scripture." Those writings being the sum of the Pentateuch, the writings of the law of Moses, as well as the historic, poetic, and prophetic books of the Old Testament.
The Lord Himself employed the term "Scripture" when He said, "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39) Seeing that His audience was the devout Jewish priests, scholars, and lawyers of His day, it can be no clearer that the term "Scripture" being used here also speaks plainly of the Old Testament Canon which existed in that time. To try and sweep the New Testament writings under the same umbrella is to do a great injustice to the work and ministry of the apostles. The apostles were given authority to exercise discretion and to make important decisions relative to the establishment of Christ's church. To say their Biblical contributions are without human flaw or interjection is to embrace the same misguided notion millions of Roman Catholics ascribe to the edicts and "official positions" taken by the pope.
Peter didn't understand all the looks he and John were getting after the lame man at the Temple gate was healed, saying, "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?" (Acts 3:12) He made the point clear, "I'm only a man." He made no claims of divine perfection.
The fundamentalist position on the "whole Bible" breeds instant and unmistakable hypocrisy. The inspiration of the Old Testament (referred to as "Scripture" by Jesus Christ Himself, as well as the apostles Peter and Paul), is summed up in II Peter 1:20-21 "Knowing this first, that no interpretation of the SCRIPTURE is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy CAME NOT IN OLD TIME by the will of men: but holy men of God SPAKE (past tense - no reference here to himself or any of the other apostles) as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." We know therefore that every Messianic prophecy and promise of God for a Savior is flawless, and the accounts of God's miraculous creation and supernatural works amongst His people are factual and literal - beyond doubt to the Bible-believer.
In writing their letters to the early churches, the various apostles frequently referenced their being specifically moved upon by the Holy Ghost to write certain things (I Timothy 4:1; Revelation 1:11), while they also clearly acknowledged at times the lack of divine inspiration in writing other things (I Corinthians 7:6; II Corinthians 11:16). The apostles frequently referenced their apostolic authority when writing instruction, but never did they claim infallible inspiration. (Romans 1:1; 11:13; I Corinthians 1:1; 9:1-2; 15:9; II Corinthians 1:1; 12:12; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; I Timothy 1:1; 2:7; II Timothy 1:1; I Peter 1:1; II Peter 1:1) Notice how their seal of apostleship is most often referred to at the very onset of their writing, so as to establish the authority by which they wrote, without any specific or implied claims of absolute divine inspiration or flawless perfection. If the New Testament had never been written, but the message of Jesus Christ preached consistently from generation to generation, the power of the gospel to save would have been unaffected. Look at the strength of certain American Indian traditions and beliefs which have been passed down orally ALONE for multiple centuries.
Did the eleven remaining apostles in the upper room prior to Pentecost not act out of turn when electing a replacement for Judas? And yet they felt it the right thing to do. Whose name will appear in the twelfth foundation of the city New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14), the man they elected, Matthias, or God's appointed apostle to the Gentiles, Paul? (Acts 1:12-26)
WHAT QUALIFIES AS SCRIPTURE?
Fallible men determined what the criteria was to be by which New Testament writings were to be recognized and canonized. In doing so, they set themselves up as judges as to what qualified as "infallible Scripture" and what did not. This is why the Protestant and Catholic Bibles have differing numbers of books. One group of Catholic scholars felt certain one set of writings qualified as Scripture, whereas by another set of Protestant men's criteria, several books from the Catholic canon did not qualify for inclusion. (I must add here that I do agree with their reasoning as the additional books lacked authenticity and apostolic authority.)
The most important issue for the church today is not the infallibility of the apostolic writings, but rather their authenticity. Because, after all, perfect or not, ONLY the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ had the divinely granted RESPONSIBILITY and AUTHORITY to establish doctrine and organize a government in the newborn church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must only place our confidence in those writings which can be fully attributed to apostolic authorship.
I am sometimes amazed at so many, frankly, the vast majority, of my "fundamentalist" brethren who claim to be so devoted to their conviction in the absolute perfection of New Testament writings and yet a great number of the doctrines they embrace today are in absolute contradiction to the clear teachings and example of the early church.
Case and point. Most "fundamentalist" churches teach that water baptism is (and I could here be quoting from any number of major organization's "Statements of Faith") "an outward sign of an inward conversion." Is this the clear teaching of the Bible? Absolutely not! It is in reality in direct contradiction to the clear message of the Biblical authors.
Jesus Christ stated clearly in Mark 16:17 "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved..." The apostle Paul later goes on to embellish upon this point in stating, "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us..." (I Peter 3:21) Paul stated clearly that to be a part of Christ's church one must be baptized into it; "...so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ..." (Romans 6:3) Every New Testament account of conversion ends not with someone's praying the fictitious "sinner's prayer" (the concept for which and an example of which can be found nowhere in the Bible), but rather in the new believer's being IMMEDIATELY BAPTIZED in water by immersion, even when it meant trekking to the local river at the wee hours of the morning, as was the case of the Philippian jailor and his family (Acts 16:33) or stopping at the most expedient watering hole as with Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39).
Baptism surely is represented and taught by the apostles as having a very important role in the salvation process. After all, James, the brother of Jesus stated so clearly, "Faith without works (action) is dead" (James 2:20) Baptism is the feet we put on our faith in the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is God's specifically prescribed response to our belief in the message and turning from sin and unbelief (otherwise called "repentance"). We cannot choose our own response to the gospel and expect God to accept us. We must respond according to His terms as laid out by His authority endowed apostles - AND THESE TERMS REQUIRE BAPTISM.
AND NOT JUST ANY BAPTISM.
Again my "fundamentalist" brethren amaze me. Every published history of the early Christian church, including works published by secular sources, as well as the Roman Catholic institution itself, clearly bears record that the only known formula for baptism in the early church, through the second and third centuries, was baptism by immersion IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST for the remission of sins. This fact is verifiable in any library with a religious history section. I have had far more than one call me in amazement and with great excitement requesting to be baptized in the name of the Lord upon going to their local library and confirming this absolute fact!
On the very birthday of the church Peter made clear this case as he commanded all his hearers to, "Repent, and be baptized, EVERY ONE OF YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38) He led no one in a "sinners prayer." He left none out of his mandate to be baptized ("every one of you"). He left no question as to how that baptism should be administered ("in the name of Jesus Christ"). And he left no question as to the purpose that baptism would serve, ("for the remission of sins").
Peter's words perfectly complimented the words of Jesus, speaking of Himself in Luke 24:47 "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached IN HIS NAME." Peter, again in Acts 4:12 makes clear the case of the necessity of the name of Jesus Christ in our conversion experience when he says, "...for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved."
At the time of Saul's event filled conversion, Ananias entered the room of the blinded Pharisee to lead him into both the restoration of his sight and full obedience to the gospel. We read his command, "And why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, CALLING ON THE NAME OF THE LORD." (Acts 22:16)
"Wash away your sins?" Most fundamentalists today have separated both the obedient act of baptism and the necessity of the saving name of Jesus Christ from the sin removal process. All they say one need do to be saved is in effect say, "I'm sorry God." But that is not what the Bible teaches!
"But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified (HOW?) IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, and by the Spirit of our God." (I Corinthians 6:11) Paul here seems to almost echo the Lord's sentiments when speaking to Nicodemus of man's need to be "born again." "...Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)
It would seem so clear in retrospect that the water spoken of by the Master was in reference to water baptism. All the teachings and writings of the New Testament would seem clearly to endorse this truth. Again, looking back to Peter's message at Pentecost not only did he command baptism in Jesus name for the remission of sins, but he further went on to GUARANTEE that the same Holy Ghost baptism he and the other occupants of the upper room had just experienced would also be available to all his hearers, their descendants, and all who would later believe and obey the gospel (Acts 2:39). Born of water (Water baptism), and born of the Spirit (Holy Ghost baptism). What a simple formula for seekers of truth to find within the pages of any translation of any Bible; Catholic, Protestant, even the hideous transliteration of the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation.
My dear friend, if you are going to hold so firmly to the misguided premise that every single word of the New Testament is perfectly inspired by God; why do you not believe what is written? Why must you twist and turn these "Scriptures" until they say only what you are comfortable reading?
Most Protestant churches in trying to distance themselves from the Catholic doctrine of "works" have erred grossly by twisting and contorting the words of the apostles, and even the Lord Himself. "Works" as an obedient act in response to faith is mandated by the gospel. Man-made efforts of goodness, kindness, charity, almsgiving, indulgences, and so on are nowhere endorsed or encouraged as playing any part in winning God's favor or securing an individual's place in heaven.
THE IMPORTANCE OF AUTHORITY
By understanding that the New Testament authors possessed authority, even when they were in absence of inspiration, we are much better able to stake a legitimate claim in Christ's church. The Jews have for centuries laughed at Christianity, rejecting it flatly. Much of the blame for this being our own! They have seen our deification of a book written by men rather than a recognition of the divinity of the man whom they wrote about. Doctrines have crept into the church over the centuries which would force the apostles into convulsions. The majority of false doctrines which have crept into Christ's church unawares have done so by craftily sidestepping the absolute authority of apostolic doctrine as delivered and articulated by the apostles themselves.
The most heinous doctrine to ever emerge was that of the "trinity." Nowhere in the Bible is such a term used or such a doctrine articulated and the two verses most commonly used to endorse this tri-theistic abomination, Matthew 28:19 and I John 5:7 are commonly held to have even been altered or manipulated into Biblical texts centuries after the original writings were in circulation, by translators and/or manuscript copiers, who well meaning as they may have been - were trying to provide Biblical support for the fledgling "trinity" doctrine which was not ratified by formal decree until 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea. (See Bible Study "Daughter Of Babylon OR Daughter Of Zion." also by Rev. Charles C. Morrow, Jr.)
It is primarily the trinity doctrine which has forced Old Testament believing monotheistic Jews to this day to flatly reject the Christ who is offered as a "second person" in a tri-fold godhead of three distinct persons. After all, Messiah was not to be the second person, but rather a revelation of the First (and only). Read carefully Isaiah 9:6. The same ONE we call "Wonderful," "Counselor," and "Prince of Peace" is also called "THE EVERLASTING FATHER." The angel declared to Mary that Immanuel was in her womb, Immanuel being interpreted "God with us" (Matthew 1:23) No mention of His secondary status as "eternal Son." In the book of Revelation only ONE THRONE is seen and only ONE sets upon the throne. And that throne is occupied by God and (even) the Lamb! They are ONE! (Rev. 21:1-6; 22:1-4) Notice how all these references use language in the singular person... I, He, God, His, Him.
The Greek term "Kai" interpreted in English frequently as "and" may also be interpreted "even." (See I Cor. 15:24; II Cor. 1:3; II Thess. 2:16; James 3:9; Romans 15:6) In many cases "and" is used where "even" would have made far better sense , even to the untrained or uneducated eye. For example: Colossians 3:17 states, "We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ..." almost suggesting here two persons, God as one and the Father as another. According to Trinitarian doctrine, Jesus Christ is God ("the Son"). But how can God be His (Christ's) God if they are all part and parcel of a trifold deity? Again, had the term "even" been employed here, as it has been in so many other locations, it would have made much clearer sense. See how interchangeably these two terms are used in II Cor. 1:2-3 at the discretion of the translators, who may obviously have had some doctrinal prejudices. Matthew 28:19 suddenly reads much more clearly and reconciles with the message of Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2:38 when the term "even" is inserted where the word "and" is currently used. Knowing that the mystery of Christ is not how God exists in three, but rather how One God could manifest Himself to humanity in three distinct offices; Father (creator), Son (Flesh and blood Redeemer), and Holy Spirit (Invisible regenerator and giver of new life). The bottom line being, THESE THREE ARE ONE! Not three persons, but three manifestations of ONE SINGULAR PERSONAL GOD.
How is it that both the person of Jesus Christ is attributed with being our Savior and yet God also is many times written of as "...God our Savior?" (I Timothy 1:1; I Timothy 2:3; Titus 1:3; Jude 25) According to Old Testament prophecy, God ALONE would be Israel's Savior (Isaiah 43:3-11; 15 Hosea 13:4).
VESSELS OF CLAY
Understanding the authority of the New Testament while not taking a radical "fundamentalist" stance regarding it's inspiration and infallibility does nothing to harm the truth of God. God's truth pours as clearly from a vessel of clay as it does a vessel of gold. A little sand in the cup (vessel) won't kill you, but a little poison in the reservoir (source) can. Satan has successfully turned the eyes of the church away from the apostles authority and caused many of us to rush into feeding frenzies upon one another through our misguided literalistic interpretations of certain apostolic writings which clearly were not the byproduct of divine inspiration as they were the
byproduct of cultural influences, limited knowledge, and lack of experience.
When pastoring my first church some years ago, I had a marvelous State Overseer (some would call him a Bishop). Brother Chandler and I were at odds as to how we interpreted a good number of things from the Bible as he was at that time considerably less legalistic and conservative than I.
He was, however, a marvelous man who loved God dearly and I respected him greatly. Therefore, I found it very easy to work under him. I fully recognized his authority as my Overseer without any contempt or malice. I did not however recognize him as being a perfect representative of all that I believed at that time to be godly and Christ-like. So long as these two areas did not clash, there were no problems. He too respected my responsibility and authority as pastor of my local church; therefore, he was careful not to create divisions on issues where he knew we differed in Biblical interpretation.
Legalistic and Pharisaic interpretation of Biblical writings are the natural byproduct of a "fundamentalist" position on the Bible. I spent a great number of years trying desperately to walk that fine line mandated by an absolute and uncompromising interpretation of Biblical writings. This also often tends to be the excessive response to one's trying to overcompensate for internal struggles with which they may be living. The harder or stricter or I live for God, the deeper I suppress my inward weakness or fault. At least, that's the common mentality.
FUNDAMENTALISM BREEDS EXTREMISM
The saddest truth is in the fact that the majority of so-called "fundamentalists" ignore the real authority of these apostolic writings, choosing their own beliefs, doctrines, teachings, and practices over those of the apostles who alone had been given by the Lord the authority to establish the same.
Many "fundamentalist Christians" deride the violence and fervor found in the extreme actions of certain fundamentalist Islamic groups, and yet they resemble these very groups much more than they realize with hateful, critical, judgmental, sexist, racist, and homophobic attitudes, words, and sentiments. Even the "KKK" and "White Aryan Nation" claim the Bible as their authority, as do the equally misguided and Bible butchering counterparts, the "Black Israelites."
Over the centuries the church has experienced more pain and more souls have been forced into deep despair and backsliding because preachers and individuals chose to take a literalistic stance on some apostolic writing, in spite of it's apparent and sometimes blatantly obvious contradiction with the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In Matthew 7:1-2 and Luke 6:37 Jesus Christ admonishes us not to engage in judging. Yet in I Corinthian 5:1-13, Paul sees fit to not only judge a situation that he has merely heard about (rumored), but also to make harsh recommendations relative to this very situation.
A situation had arisen, or at least it was so commonly rumored, that a man had taken his father's wife to be his own. No mention is made as to whether she had been divorced from her present husband's father to marry her stepson or if she had been widowed. In either case, on the strength of hearsay alone (and remember, this was long before such advanced communication tools as telegraph and telephone), Paul goes on an elaborate spree teaching the need for judgment and purging from within the church, in direct contradiction to the Lord's teachings in Matthew 13:24-30 relative to the growing up together of the wheat and the tares, and Matthew 25:14-46 where He elaborately expounded upon the separation in the judgment of the sheep from the goats.
Too many have accepted too readily Paul's teaching while nullifying those teachings of the Master which are in direct contradiction. Which are we to accept. The apostles were divinely endued with authority, but they were not suddenly translated into a place of perfection. Any contradiction in attitude or teaching must defer to that of the Grand Author of the universe. Jesus Christ is more than merely the subject of the New Testament, He has the final say. The apostles provide the foundation, whereas Christ Himself IS the "Chief Cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20).
Apostolic authority is important to understand. Most churches and so-called Christians have chosen to ignore it, choosing instead to claim a belief in the absolute inspiration and perfection of all sixty-six books of our present Bible. The attitude with which we approach these writings has much to do with what we will or will not be able to glean from their pages.
AUTHORITY vs. INSPIRED PERFECTION
To ascribe to the Supreme Court of the United States the virtue of absolute perfection, simply because by reason of their office they possess such awesome responsibility and power is to do a grave disservice. Slavery would never have been abolished were the Supreme Court of years gone by recognized as infallible. Segregation would as well still be part of our nation. Millions of nonwhite residents in this great country still would not be allowed the simple opportunity to excel and accomplish all that their potential has locked up within them. Some Fundamentalist Islamic countries like Iran and Iraq are still caught up in this very oppressive way of life, suppressing their women and outsiders who differ with their religious opinions or scruples.
Let us learn to read the Bible as it was meant by God to be read; a living document capable of contouring itself to the times in which we live. Let us learn to accept at face value the teachings of Jesus Christ and implement them. Let us learn to reconcile the teachings of the apostles with those of the Lord where possible and defer to the divine perfection and infallibility of the Master Himself where they stand in contradiction. We cannot question the apostle's authority or doctrine relative to salvation or the nature and person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We also cannot afford to fail to question certain writings which clearly draw from limited background and knowledge in a time and place where customs, cultures, and practices were very much different than our own.
RECOGNIZING CULTURAL INTERJECTION
One must recognize at some point that the culture of Biblical times was far different than our own; therefore, it is incumbent upon us that we modify our interpretation of this Great Book (I refer here in particular to the writings of the New Testament) to meet the demands of the hour. If "fundamentalists" were again to be true to the most basic fundamental premise of the absolute inspiration of all New testament writings, then women would be required to remain silent and subjective (I Corinthians 14:34; I Timothy 2:11-12; Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18), slaves could be kept without any moral reprisal or objection (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22; I Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9; I Peter 2:18), a woman could never allow her hair to be cut (I Corinthians 11:1-16), divorce could never under any circumstance be followed by remarriage so long as the divorcee's former spouse was yet living (Matt. 5:31-32, 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12, Deut. 24:1-4, I Cor. 7:27; I Cor. 7:8-9, 10-15, 27-28), and all Christians would wear robes, veils, and sandals to this day. Let's face it, the practice of foot washing does not hold the same significance or place in our culture as it did in Biblical times. Nor is a woman's shaved head a sign of her infidelity and punishment.
This ministry defines the Bible, the New Testament in particular, in the following terms... "That the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, known to all as the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) as well as the history of the early Christian church as recorded in the Biblical book of Acts are sufficient authority and foundation for the establishment of Christ's church. The teachings of Jesus Christ recorded in the four Gospels and the example set forth by the early apostolic church ought to be carefully adhered to, taught, and practiced. The writings of the apostles, generally referred to as "the epistles," are a valuable resource for believers in so much as they confirm and clarify the teachings Christ and the practices of the early church. Having been penned; however, by fallible men, any contradiction in their writings to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ are recognized as human interjection and not the byproduct of divine authority, inspiration, or instruction. That the book of Revelation is a literal account of a visitation and vision experienced by the apostle John while exiled on the island of Patmos. It is a valuable resource in that it predicts, describes, and outlines events to come the knowledge of which are essential to God's people. John's description of some of the images he beheld may be literal and are not necessarily the correct interpretations of those images."
No doctrine which contradicts the teachings of the apostles of our Lord is acceptable. Truth is not defined by the conduit through which it is delivered, but by the source from which it came. Only the apostles were SENT ("apostle:" one who is sent) to preach, teach, and articulate the gospel of Christ. Christ is the truth. He alone is the source. We must recognize the apostle's authority, while accepting their humanity, fallibility, and cultural influences as real and non-threatening to the content of the gospel itself.
Let the final word in all matters of doctrine and faith be this: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we (the apostles) have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again if any man (pope, prophet, priest, or preacher) preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." None other than the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ possessed the God given authority to establish in truth the message and plan of salvation. Have you obeyed the apostolic plan of salvation articulated so clearly by Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2:38? If not, call upon an apostolic man or woman of God to assist you in doing so TODAY! James 4:17.