Inerrancy and Doctrinal Purity

imageHow did the Christian Bible come to be? It’s complicated. I’m sure I don’t understand it. I imagine men wrote many books over hundreds, even thousands, of years. The best of these books were collected by other men interested in truth, ethics, and the nature of God.

These men were, I suppose, prominent in law, medicine, politics, philosophy and religion. They selected books that presented a consistent view of their ideas about Jesus and what he had done. They prayed that God would guide them as they organized their chosen books into a collection, now called the Bible. We know they believed God answered their prayers, because they included in the Bible these words: all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness….

By AD 400 Jerome produced a definitive Latin edition of the Bible called the Vulgate, which effectively set the Canon of the New Testament. The Canon of the Old Testament wasn’t fully agreed on until after the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. One notable change: the Book of Sirach (which Jesus quoted) was dropped to make the Protestant Old Testament match the then current Judaic Canon. 

In the 13th century, Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters. In the 16th century, French printer, Robert Estienne, divided it into verses. Today, the shepherds of Christianity spend years studying the books of the Bible, their histories and pedigrees. Some believe God has called them to shepherd the faithful by keeping church doctrine consistent with the “inerrant” Scripture of the Bible. In the two thousand years since the crucifixion of Jesus, the pursuit of inerrancy has led by some accounts to the establishment of over forty-thousand Christian denominations.

It seems reasonable to ask: if Scripture is inerrant and plainly written, why so many denominations? Are the large numbers the result of a godly pursuit of “inerrancy” or from other causes? The extraordinary number of denominations—many formed after the Protestant Reformation of 1517—leads me to think that the natural tendencies of young pastors, chafing under the authority of those with whom they disagree, may play a role.

These leaders seem to share the conviction that God chose them to fight the good fight against false doctrine. They defend their understanding of God’s inerrant word against all comers. Sometimes, it seems to me, they end up increasing their influence but leave weakened churches and damaged denominations in their wake.

I think I know why these men don’t fight and win their battles within the denominations they were called to serve. I imagine it doesn’t occur to them, because they see themselves as protectors of congregants who could be eternally harmed by contact with heretics.

And, in truth, it’s stressful to submit to church authorities with whom they disagree, especially in matters of faith. Some can’t deal with it. The pressure is too great. They find themselves in an uncomfortable cognitive-dissonance between the truth of Scripture as God has revealed it to them and another compelling biblical principle: submission to the authorities established by God Himself.

It’s a psychological double-bind of excruciating pain for those who take seriously their vows to serve Christ. It takes a lot of prayer and the support of the saints to determine God’s will and muster the strength to endure it. These leaders sometimes choose to break away to form new churches—new denominations—where they can better manage their message. And in the end, if the history of the Church is a guide, God is faithful to justify the conscientious men who belong to Him and heal their divides.

Where does this idea about “inerrancy” of Scripture come from, since the Bible was written by men, and gently hides mankind’s many prejudices and ignorant ideas about history and science? If Scripture is inerrant—and I believe it is—its truth must come from God alone. God makes Scripture true, even when human logic, common sense and evidence seem to speak otherwise.

Sometimes God condescends to endow truth to Scripture as a concession to our hard hearts and inabilities to love each other the way we should. Jesus said as much when he replied to the famous question Pharisees asked about an apparent contradiction in the Bible concerning divorce, recorded in Mathew 19. Moses permitted divorce, contrary to God’s original plan, Jesus said, because people’s hearts were hard.  

The Bible plainly says we live in a time when the law of God is written on our hearts. The law is no longer written on stone, unless it is our hearts that are made of stone. We know in our hearts—where the law lives—we should love more. Loving more means, it seems to me, judging less for one thing.  We should pray we can love more our spouses, our sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, and especially our neighbors, both gay and straight.

Yes, making safe spaces for gay folks to worship Jesus and to grow in holiness within our churches is a controversial subject these days. But it seems to me that those of us who are straight share with our gay brothers and sisters a life-long desire for sexual sin. That we can better hide our sinful desires gives us no advantages before Christ, our redeemer, because he sees into our hearts and knows we are, by nature, sinful and in rebellion against God—pretty much all the time.

This much we know. Love pleases God more than hate. We should know that tolerance and inclusion please God more than intolerance and exclusion, because the Bible says, God is love. But those of us who belong to Christ Jesus know more. If we honestly face our past and examine our hearts, we know that God loved us first, before we even knew who He was, while we still numbered ourselves—many of us—among the most ungodly on the earth.

jesus resurrection flying-doveShouldn’t we love those who are like what we used to be? Of course, we should. Yes, it’s difficult, because most of us want to forget our pasts and move on. Will we really move on without first rescuing our fallen friends? Some can be found within our churches. Will we abandon them on a battlefield of doctrinal purity?  With God’s help, I know we won’t.

Billy Lee

                                                                                                              

One Reply to “Inerrancy and Doctrinal Purity”

  1. Thank you, Billy Lee, for your insight. I don’t agree with everything you wrote, but I appreciate your intelligent honesty. I am not sure what the answers are… [paragraph redacted] …I believe those pastors who say that the fight within their [churches]to keep Biblical standards of sexual purity is stacked against them. Making compromises with the truth neither serves the believers nor unbelievers who struggle with same-sex desires, or their family members. A lot is at stake here. [last paragraph redacted]

    Editor’s note: contrary to our official policy, we redacted some paragraphs in Thea’s thoughtful comment which, though important and well-written, discuss sensitive issues concerning a particular church which might better be reviewed in a more private setting. (See the Billy Lee Privacy Policy page)

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