(Cue the bongo drums….)
Imagine, if you will, a world beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of sola Scriptura theology. You’ve just crossed over into… The Bible-Only Zone.
As an Evangelical Protestant, my beliefs all came “straight from Scripture.” If there was no “chapter-and-verse” for a particular doctrine, I felt myself to be under no obligation to buy into it. I looked down on groups which “added” to the Bible by attempting to integrate their own “man-made” theologies into the teachings of the inerrant Word of God to produce something other than what (I thought) the Bible actually said. Of course, I wished that God had been a tad more explicit on several occasions; some verses could be taken more than one way, and some – I had to admit – did not clearly state the case that I as an Evangelical was making. What really bothered me, though, wasn’t what the Bible didn’t state clearly enough; what bothered me were some of the things that the Bible stated all too clearly, things that should have been impossible, theologically speaking, if my Evangelical theology was actually correct. Sometimes the Bible said weird things, things that just gave me the willies….
It started way back in the Old Testament, in a book that is as old or older than those of the Pentateuch: the book of Job. Job’s tale is pretty familiar to most people. He was a man who loved and served God. God had blessed him immensely, and Satan claimed that Job loved God only because of those blessings. When God stripped Job of everything that made his life worth living, Job remained faithful to God. As an Evangelical I had no problem with that lesson! A great story of faith in God – “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”
No, the problem lay in what that man of God was doing as the story opens:
His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.
Job offered sacrifices; in other words, he made reparation for his children’s sins. This activity is presented as being part of what made him a righteous man. Now clearly this was before the establishment of the New Covenant, so we shouldn’t be shocked at the image of God’s faithful servant offering up burnt sacrifices for the sins of his offspring. The problem is, why did God allow that kind of loving parental intercession in the Old Testament, but not in the New? (For a poignant discussion of this, go here. A Protestant dad is wishing there were some way he could make reparation for the sins of his children as Job did – he is told that he can’t.) Isn’t the New Covenant superior in every way to the Old? And didn’t this pious act of Job’s fit in suspiciously well with John’s advice in the book of 1 John, advice that – I had to admit – did not really mesh with anything in my Evangelical belief system?
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
Why would John tell us that we can intercede for others and God will “give life” to them, just as Job was doing thousands of years earlier on behalf of his children, if that system of reparation had been “abolished,” as my theology told me?? And what was Paul muttering about in his letter to the Colossians?
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church….
Didn’t Jesus come to fulfill, and not to abolish the old system?
(The bongos reverberate a little more insistently at this point…)
And speaking of fulfilling, not abolishing, what was the deal with the priesthood? In the Old Testament, God set up a hierarchical system of priests with a High Priest in charge. In the New Testament, Jesus is our High Priest – and the part of the ministerial clergy is played by the laity, as explained in 1 Peter 2:9.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
The Old Testament ministerial priesthood was replaced by something even better: the universal priesthood, something unheard of in the Old Testament!
But wait… What’s that verse in Exodus?
Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine, and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Every Israelite under the Old Covenant was a “priest” and yet still subject to the ministerial priesthood God established under the leadership of Aaron and his successors! The royal priesthood of believers existed in the Old Testament alongside the ministerial priesthood? Then how could the New Testament fulfillment of that system be the abolition of the ministerial priesthood?
(Hey, somebody needs to tell the bongo guy to take five….)
And there were equally spooky New Testament passages. John 20: 19-23 was pretty disconcerting to me as an Evangelical. Jesus appears to His apostles for the first time after His resurrection, He shows them His hands and His side, and He tells them to have faith alone – (wait, no.) He tells them that no matter how they live, they can’t lose their salvation – (no, that isn’t it, either.) He appears to His apostles and grants them the ability to forgive sins. Not only that, He gives them the prerogative of refusing to forgive sins!
So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
Dearie me –
that can’t be right!
We had all kinds of ways of explaining that passage (away), each one as dumb as the next. But how could that verse be in the Bible when every Evangelical KNOWS that no man has the power to grant absolution???
(Sounds like the bongo guy must have downed a couple of Red Bulls before coming to work….)
Almost as spooky as Jesus’ announcement to his apostles were the priorities of those apostles in the first chapter of Acts. Jesus ascends into Heaven, and we find these men busily hashing out bureaucratic minutiae! Peter is insisting that Judas’ place MUST be filled. Why, pray tell? Aren’t there more important things to be doing? What is the thinking behind the absolute necessity of filling Judas’ position, as if it were an “office”? Oh, wait, the Bible actually says it was an “office!”
For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.'”
An “office,” meaning that when the man who held the office died, another man would fill the office, kind of like apostolic succession….
And then there was the infamous “Handkerchief Incident.” Handkerchiefs touched to Paul’s apron healed the sick. An Evangelical has got to draw the line very clearly, and that was where I drew it. That sounds like the Catholic teaching on relics – the idea that an object in contact with the body of a saint can be used by God to perform a miracle!
So what was that verse doing there in Acts 19:12?
(Those bongos are plucking my last nerve!)
And don’t even get me started on the book of Revelation. We Evangelicals, with our “end-times” obsession, LOVED the book of Revelation – well, certain parts of it, anyway. There were parts that were distinctly un-Protestant in their theology, like Revelation 19:7-8
…the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Now, seriously, every good Christian knows that we are “clothed in the righteousness of Christ,” (but where is THAT verse in the Bible?) not in our good works!! How Catholic can you get??? We tried to explain that away by pretending that the “righteous acts” were each believer’s decision to follow Christ. No, really – we actually stooped to that level of tortured exegesis, because the dang verse didn’t say what it was supposed to say….
Which sheds light on the decision by the committee of our New International Version of the Bible to translate the word “works,” which Jesus uses over and over again in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, as “deeds.” Otherwise, those comments that Jesus made to the churches would read:
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance (Rev 2:2)
I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) (Rev 2:9)
I know your works and where you dwell (Rev 2:13)
I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first (Rev 2:19)
‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Rev 3:1)
I know your works. (Rev 3:8)
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. (Rev 3:15)
Talk about an obsession with “works!” But Jesus would never have said a thing like that! Jesus wasn’t about “works!” He was about “faith alone”! Why, it is upon our faith alone that we will be judged! All the New Testament judgment scenarios emphasize that fact!
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ Mt 7:21-23
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he shall reward everyone according to their works. Mt 16:27
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Mt 25:31-46
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Cor 5:10
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Pet 1:17
Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. Rev 22:12
So where’s the faith alone?? Nowhere to be found in any judgment scenario in the New Testament! How is it possible that Jesus never, ever made any mention of the most important theological principle of all – faith ALONE?
That noise you just heard was me shooting the bongo player….
All of those “bizarre” verses and passages fell into the category of, well, not exactly paranormal activity, but still from an Evangelical Protestant standpoint, pretty darn weird. It was sufficiently strange to make me uncomfortable whenever I came across those verses. And if that wasn’t enough – the deuterocanonical books (which I would have called the Apocrypha) contained a particularly eerie passage. The Angel Raphael is explaining to Tobit:
“I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” Tobit 12:15
Yawn! That’s not Holy Scripture – that’s just a fairy tale somebody made up.
Just a fairy tale? The supposedly uninspired author who made up this “fairy tale” about St. Raphael just happened to be right about this hitherto unknown fact – there are seven angels who stand before God’s throne. Hundreds of years later it is confirmed in the book of Revelation:
Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne (Rev 1:4)
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God…. (Rev 8:2)
If the hair isn’t standing up on your Bible-only neck yet, it should be….
There are passages in the Bible that defy Evangelical explanation; by rights, those verses and the theology that underlies them simply should not be there. Those passages are danced around, kept under wraps, and explained away by a belief system that fails to account for significant Biblical themes such as redemptive suffering, auricular confession, apostolic succession, the concept of relics, and the insistence on faith (as opposed to faith alone) – in short, things that shouldn’t exist, but do, in The Bible-Only Zone….
On the memorial of Blessed Maria Restituta
Deo omnis gloria!