While I was out on lunch break a few years ago I saw five transport vans going down the street one behind the other and they each were identical with bold, colorful designs and writing on them stating that Judgment Day and the end of the world was going to take place on May 21, 2011. The claim further stated that the bible guarantees it. This “ministry” outreach made headlines around the world and, of course, their prediction failed to come true. The bible clearly states that no one knows the exact time of the Lord’s return and yet the claim of this group was that “The Bible Guarantees It” and it made me think a little….
What would cause a person to leave family and friends, as many in that group did, to go around the world telling people something that they claimed was spelled out clearly in the bible—when all the while most thoughtful bible exposition would show that it was in error and contrary to scripture’s teaching. The end of the world could have been May 21, 2011…but it could just as easily be tomorrow, or a 100 years from now. We simply don’t know the exact time of the Lord’s return. So how do people, especially as sincere as these folks appeared to be, claim to base their beliefs on the bible and still arrive at such doctrines?
The answer I believe is the same reason we have so many people in so many denominations and non-denominations all saying they believe what they believe because, “The bible says so.” Well, let’s examine that for a moment. If we were all purely going off of the bible then logic would dictate that we would all come up with the same doctrine, right? But we don’t. Why? One reason is because while there is perfect truth (the bible) we all suffer from imperfect understanding. And yet that doesn’t really explain these extreme differences of opinion and is not even always the true cause of differing beliefs. So what is?
When someone says they believe what they believe because the bible says so, a follow-up question may shed light on what’s really going on. “So how did you come to understand what the bible says?” If the answer is anything other than a lot of personal bible study and prayer, you may have just found the issue.
I know in my own life, and in the life of so many others, we have started with the teachings of men and have used that to filter through the bible instead of the other way around—starting with personal bible reading and prayer first, then filtering through the teachings of men using the bible as the plumb-line. Take the average person in the average church environment. Whether it is a denomination or non-denomination makes no difference—there is still a sign out front of the building that stands for something. Inside is where you sit for years surrounded by teachers, preachers and fellow believers who all believe, teach and act a certain way. It’s what you know. And so for years you are conditioned to start with the teaching of men and then let that trickle down to the bible and your understanding of it. Then we say we believe what we believe because the bible says so and yet often the truth is we believe what we believe because of the teaching we have received from men about what the bible says. Preaching and teaching are good, but as believers we’ve often put the cart before the horse.
And so my hope for the body of Christ worldwide, and my own personal goal, is that we somehow break free from being so dependent on someone else telling us what the bible says, and telling us about God, and become more focused on studying the bible and knowing God for ourselves. Holy Spirit be our guide.