Often in the desire not to cause controversy or argument those who follow Christ will revert to saying “I can only say that I believe the Bible” or else simply refuse to get involved in a discussion of what many consider vital points of Scripture. This isn’t limited to layman, Joel Osteen and A.W. Tozer come to mind in the world of Christian teachers. The problem with this statement is that it is without content, it says nothing. One cannot only say that they believe the Bible and end there, for one must believe something about the Bible. That is to say, if one is to believe the Bible one must have beliefs.
Paul in his letter to Titus instructs that the elders must be those who “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).” Now, if you are going to “give instruction in sound doctrine” you must be able to do more than say that you believe the Bible, you must be able to say what it is that you believe about the Bible, you must say what the Bible teaches.
The Christian faith has been established and maintained not by “saying only that I believe the Bible” but by bringing to bear what it is that the Bible says – it has been maintained by “rebuking those who contradict it.” Tozer maintains that the “Holy Spirit has come into this world to take polemics away from the scholar and give it back to the human heart,” but it is in the vigorous yet patient polemics that the church has survived, otherwise it would have faded into obscurity before it could get off the ground.
Christ did not send the Holy Spirit to take away the ability to discuss and urge truth from the scholar, but the change is in that he gave that scholar his Spirit that he might rightly divide the word of truth and that he might engage his fellows in love rather than a mere desire to win; he renewed that scholar’s human heart. It is out of the refuting of heresy that the church persevered and cleansed itself of ideas hostile to Christ – it is only by saying “that is wrong and this is why” that we can say “Christ is true and this is why”; it is only by refuting heresy that you may have orthodoxy. It is in part by “demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5)” that Christians may define what is unique about their faith, though the fact that they do so out of love and concern rather than hatred and pride sets them apart. It is by knowing and believing what the Bible says and standing by it that we can keep from falling off the narrow path that is the truth.
As G.K. Chesterton puts it, the church’s “purity was preserved by dogmatic definitions and exclusions. It could not possibly have been preserved by anything else. If the Church had not renounced the Manicheans it might have become merely Manichean. If it had not renounced the Gnostics it might have become Gnostic… If the Church had not insisted on theology, it would have melted into a mad mythology of the mystics, yet further removed from reason or even from rationalism; and, above all, yet further removed from life and from the love of life (From ‘The Everlasting Man‘).”
In the end the proper response to anybody who claims “I can only say that I believe the Bible” is to say “ok, well what does the Bible say?”
The author of Hebrews (most likely Paul) states:
“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so (Hebrew 5:11-18,6:1-3).”
Tozer says “It is no longer and intellectual problem – it is a moral problem… These are the important things – confirmation by the Spirit of God concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. Let me assure you that the Holy Spirit has not come among us to become involved in a lot of our minor concerns, the trivial things that take up much of our attention [including prophetic interpretation, modes of baptism and eternal security]… I want the Holy Spirit to help me and guide me and He will not help me if I insist on fooling around in those areas that are not the most important in Christian truth and proclamation.“ Those are important things which Tozer identifies, the most important things even, but those are also the same things the author of Hebrews identifies as the milk.
It is the milk which Tozer would sup forever in his effort to avoid arguments and intellectual pursuit. But we are not instructed to stay an infant in the faith, we are to grow, to get into the meat of the Word which will allow us to mature (the meat being those areas that Tozer refuses to ‘fool around in’).
There is nothing to fear in teaching true Biblical doctrine; what is controversy when compared with the truth of God? There is only one truth – it is our job to bring forth that truth in its whole, not just the parts that we feel others won’t disagree with.
The caveat is that we must speak that truth in love; which is also to say that we must not speak to anybody about the truth until we first learn to love them. If we view the other person as the enemy, if we dislike them for their differing stance, if we hate them for who they are, then we have no right to speak to them at all.
Finally we must not speak to anybody while our goal is to merely ‘win’. Winning is not our job. Christ won. That is done. Our job is to spread the good news of the cross.
We must speak the truths of the Bible, but we must speak them to those that we love as fellow humans. Once we know how to love, and once people see that we love them, it is only then that we can say ‘this is what the Bible says’.
Ordained PCA | MDiv
May or may not be a Time Lord