Saturday 21 May 2011

A lesson for all of us?

A couple of weeks ago when Family Radio's Judgement Day billboards started popping up around Winnipeg and the rest of the world as well, I tried to reassure a friend on Facebook that it wasn't even really worth a Christian's time to worry about.  His justifiable concern was that God's Name was being tarnished, and my assurance was that God will take care of Himself and we are to just trust, pray, and speak the truth as led by Him alone.  With that said however, I believe that I misjudged how many questions would come of this. It hasn't been so much the idea of people being worried about the end of the world actually happening but instead wondering if this was something that Christians as a majority actually believed, that May 21st was to be the Day of Judgement. A number of people asked me what I thought of all of this specifically because I am a pastor, and I had to really pause to make sure that my answers were in line with the teaching of the Bible and not my own thoughts (although those always still manage to get mixed in somehow.)

Sadly, today has proved to be a day of ridicule, with the arrows being aimed not only at Harold Camping, but at anyone who believes in the existence of a loving & righteous God.  To them, Mr. Campings mistake was not in how he read and believed in the bible, but the fact that he actually read and believed in the bible. It makes sense if we consider the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:10 that "we are fools for Christ's sake"(ESV). Let's face it, the fact that this group presumed to have a date for the end of the world only served to open the door to mock all of those who hold faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To the majority of Christians (and most probably to others of other faiths who do believe in a divine being of some sort), the problem was not so much the faith, but the interpretation of the scriptures. Mr. Harold Camping, a self described lifelong student of the scriptures, decided that he had discovered something previously unknown to the past 2000 years of Christian teaching and thought.  To him and a select few others he believed that God had revealed something new, and that everyone before him had an incorrect understanding of scriptures like Mark 24:36.  "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only"(ESV).

Mr. Camping is a very easy target for everyone right now, for non-believers & believers alike, but I would caution that those of us who are Christ followers should stop and gravely look at what happened here. We are just as apt to fall into deep misunderstanding of scripture if we choose to ignore the wisdom of the saints, 2000 years of Christians preceeding us who have wrestled with scriptural interpretation and Christian doctrine and who have done it together. In the latest issue of the Mennonite Brethren Herald Tim Geddert writes an excellent article on the Berean Jews and how they "examined the Scriptures everyday to see if what Paul said was true."

"What happened in Berea is that those who heard Paul's preaching discerned together what Scripture taught, and whether the new ideas Paul proclaimed were consistent with biblical truth or not. That is what we are called to emulate, not individually and privately, but as a gathered discerning community." (Learning from the Bereans - Tim Geddert - MB Herald - May 2011 - Page 13)

If we truly believe that God's revelation of His Gospel in scripture is complete, I'm going to be bold enough to propose that as we discern this scripture together, we must also include the wisdom of those who struggled with these same questions before us. If someone comes forward with a new idea that flies in the face of 2000 years of Orthodox Christian understanding, we need to be extremely wary of where this is coming from.  I'm not talking about the squabbles we have in the church over what Christians should and shouldn't do, as those will always exist. I'm not even talking about secondary debates like modes of baptism or Calvinism vs. Arminianism that have been happening for centuries.  I'm talking about matters central to the Gospel that have long held a unified understanding.

I believe there is something wrong when someone decides that they have figured out a new understanding of Hell that is completely opposite of what the majority of Christians have understood from scripture as far back as we have record. I have always admired Rob Bell for his biblical teaching, but I personally believe he is in error and it scares me how many people are jumping on board so quickly. In his book "The Secret Message of Jesus," Brian McLaren goes out of his way to exclaim that Christians have been getting it wrong for most of the existence of the church. His claim is that through study he has finally figured out what Jesus was really teaching about the coming of God's Kingdom. Is this something that anyone should accept without grave and serious prayer and study? Even within my own church conference we are seeing an attack on the orthodox understanding of the atonement. I'm not talking about good scholarly debate like the one between John Piper & N.T. Wright on the mystery of the cross, but an actual rejection of the orthodox understanding of God's wrath against sin. All of these things are huge parts of understanding the Gospel message and we need to be so careful.

As Christians we must be diligent in biblical study both on our own and in community, but we must also pray for the wisdom to avoid grave error. If someone presents to you a new idea that fundamentally changes your understanding of the Gospel please at go back and compare it to scripture, and also to how that scripture has been understood over the ages. I believe that todays event, or non-event if you want to call it that, is an important lesson for all of us to remember.

As a closing, pray for Mr. Camping and all of his followers, that despite all of this the grace of Christ would overwhelm them. We are all in need of that grace.

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