We built our home on a plateau. For years it had been a relatively uninhabited prairie that was primarily used as farm land. Then the local housing boom of 2004 began and aging farmers who were ready to retire sold to developers. The land was great for raising crops, but for laying foundations of concrete, not so much. The composite of soil up here is very diverse, and because of the varying array of sand, clay, basalt and water the ground is prone to shifting and sinking. Randomly. Even when you’ve faithfully used a compactor and done everything according to the book. We’ve learned this first hand several times with a sinking walkway, driveway, patio, and large portions of grassed yard that’s topography now resembles our moon. I bet you are wondering what this had to do with theology.
I was in the book of Galatians today in my personal bible study time. The Apostle Paul was admonishing the Galatian believers that they had so soon abandoned the true gospel for a false gospel. The believers at Galatia were turning from truth to pursue legalism that was taught to them by false teachers who had infiltrated the church. These false teachers were Judaizers who wanted to saddle the believers with the Law in order to earn their salvation. Paul was incensed. And he had strong words about any distortion to the true gospel: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9) Notice that he stresses the seriousness of his point by repeating himself.
The commentary on Galatians 1:12 brought to mind the example of our unreliable ground up here on the prairie. Galatians 1:11-12 states “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Galatians 1:12 neither received it from man, nor was I taught it. In contrast to the Judaizers, who received their religious instruction from rabbinic tradition. Most Jews did not study the actual Scriptures; instead they used human interpretations of Scripture as their religious authority and guide. Many of their traditions not only were not taught in Scripture but also contradicted it. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Daily Bible)
What I would like to focus our attention on is what the commentary tells us about how the Jews built their theology. Most Jews did not study the actual Scriptures; instead they used human interpretations of Scriptures as their religious authority. Think about that for a minute. It really got my attention, and a connection was immediately made to our current age. I touched on this a few days ago with my essay on The Culture of Meme Theology. The way in which the Jews built their theology is exactly what many who profess to be Christians do today. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 1:9 “That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” The issue of Biblical illiteracy is of great importance to me, and I will be writing about it a lot. It is one of the biggest problems in the visible church today. Paul’s theology was built on the Word, that was given to him directly by the risen Christ. As opposed to the judiazers who’s theology came not from the scriptures but from other men’s interpretations of scriptures. They were always at least once removed from actual authoritative truth. The same is true of many professing believers today. They are not reading and studying the bible for themselves, but boy howdy they will shovel up trunk loads of books written by all sorts of teachers, most of them false by the way. What parades itself as Christianity today is nothing but opinions and interpretations that are several steps removed from actual scriptural truth. And like the religion of the Jews, it often has many man-made ideas added to it, and foundational truths distorted or subtracted from it.
What really astounds me, is that many professing believers are familiar with the New Testament epistles. They’ve heard them read or preached on. They know that the issue of false teaching and false gospels was a constant theme throughout. Yet there seems to be some kind of cosmic disconnect when you try to get people to recognize that these issues are in our bible because they will be a constant plague in the age of the church. Meaning, right now. This wasn’t just for first century believers. It is for all believers of the church age. Gnosticism wasn’t just some whacky thing that Paul had to deal with. It is happening now, in the form of the signs and wonders movement, masquerading as the faith once imparted to all. False teachers are not limited to characters like Simon the sorcerer, or judiazers in first century Galatia. They are on premium TV channels, promising health and wealth and your best life now. Or the less obvious and far more nefarious who write bible study curricula for women, and lead the weak-willed away.
And why does all of this happen, seemingly under the noses of those who call themselves part of the church? Because people are not building their theology on first hand study of the scripture. They, like the Jews of Paul’s time, simply absorb the opinions and interpretations of other mere men: If it sounds sorta Christiany, and is positive and fits one’s world view, then add it to the ole belief bag! Don’t compare it to that old stodgy bible sitting on the shelf, collecting dust. Or perhaps you do read your bible, but you are not taking every thought captive and comparing it to the revealed Word. Christians, we need to be Bereans. That’s not a one time thing. It is a way of spiritual life! Learning from one another is a blessing, but every one and every written thing, including pastors and favorite teachers that touch our hearts, need to be compared and weighed against scripture. If it doesn’t match, you throw the not scriptural thing out. It is not being mean. It is not being legalistic, or Pharisaical. It is being biblical. And that is what we are called to be. If you do not get your beliefs (doctrine) from the building blocks of the Word, and you rely on the words of other people, you will be lead astray. Not could. Will. We need to be getting truth from the source, each one for himself. If it has been awhile since you’ve picked up your bible, I encourage you to do it today! The Holy Spirit is given to believers as a teacher. He will help you understand and apply the Word. Don’t rely on regurgitated theology, but on the sword of truth.
Soli Deo Gloria!