The Contention About Christ
John 7:45-53 MKJV Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees. And they said to them, why have you not brought him? (46) The officers answered, never did any man speak, as does this Man. (47) Then the Pharisees answered them, Also, have you not been deceived? (48) Is it not true that not any of the rulers or of the Pharisees have believed into him? (49) But this crowd, not knowing the Law, is cursed. (50) Nicodemus said to them, (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them), (51) Does our law judge the Man before it hears Him and knows what He does? (52) They answered and said to him, are you also from Galilee? Search the scriptures and see that a prophet has not been raised out of Galilee. (53) And they each went to their own house.
The envious Pharisees have found their “theological point”: “He is from Galilee, the Christ is from Bethlehem, that settles it, for no prophet comes from Galilee”. They did not BOTHER to check out their statement! It suited them, and they stuck to it!
This reminds me of other such erroneous “devastating proofs” e.g. that being slain in the Spirit is demonic because all those who fell under the Spirit in Scripture fell forwards not backwards! Or that tongues is demonic because some Hindu group also speaks in tongues. By such logic prayer would be demonic because Hindus say prayers. Such “reasons” are pretexts, not proofs! In reality they are desperate defensive strategies called upon by those who feel threatened by the new move of God.
Denominations demonize each other by using these pretexts. Rarely will a Calvinist sympathetically check out Arminianism, or a Pentecostal genuinely try to understand a Southern Baptist or vice-versa. The perpetuation of foolish differences and spiritual ignorance comes about because of these “false proofs”. I once taught simultaneously at a Baptist seminary and a Assemblies of God seminary and said the same things in both places. I used the same textbooks (NIV Study Bible, Lion Handbook of Church History, Grudem’s Systematic Theology, etc.) in both places. The Baptists thought I was a good Baptist and the Pentecostals thought I was a good Pentecostal! The areas of agreement were in fact far greater than the areas of difference!
Nicodemus tries to get them to see reason and act justly according to the evidence but he is rudely rebuffed. People who feel threatened by change value their defense mechanisms and will not listen to pointed and obvious questions that challenge their unreasonable positions.
The temple guards come back empty-handed from trying to arrest Jesus and when asked why they had failed they answer: “Never did any man speak as does this Man” Jesus spoke with such grace and truth that they knew He was a good man, and not just a good man, but a Man beyond all others!
The Pharisees, if they had been reasonable God-fearing people, should have asked “What did Jesus say that was so good?’
Instead they said: “Also, have you not been deceived? Is it not true that not any of the rulers or of the Pharisees have believed into him?” In other words: “We are the elite, we are the people to be believed, you are too dumb to make up your own mind, and you certainly should not be believing that Galilean carpenter, you are deluded, none of “those that matter and are wise” believe such things!
This provoked Nicodemus to declare his colors as one being sympathetic to Jesus. It is impossible to be a secret believer for long because one day we will have to speak our mind on some issue and show that Christ is our all in all!
Ecclesiastical hierarchies are often under the delusion that they are the theological elite who determines what “the unwashed and ignorant masses” (“But this crowd, not knowing the Law, is cursed.”) should or should not believe about God. This position of commanding authority with regard to belief has been greatly undermined by the:
c) Translations of the Bible into the vernacular
e) Recent wealth of theological material and discussion on the Internet
f) Most seriously, the blatant differences and contradictions among the “experts”.
Now the ordinary person has all the tools they require to do their own searching and to arrive at their own conclusions about God independent of the ecclesiastical authorities.
The best that bible teachers can do now is to invite people to the Scriptures and point people to God, and let them arrive at their own conclusions. We are no longer the “gurus” at the top of the pyramid of theological belief – and that is a good thing.
Saying that ecclesiastical hierarchies no longer control what people should and should not believe about God, is NOT the same as saying anyone can believe anything they like. Beliefs about God need to be accurate and to be based on the facts, which include Scripture ably, interpreted with the aid of language aids and archaeology and other such helps. There is not much “wiggle room”, we cannot play fast and loose with the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection or the Trinity for example.
The Reformers spoke of the perspicacity of scripture, which meant that any ordinary Spirit-filled and guided Christian believer would find the main doctrines of Scripture to be perfectly clear with diligent effort. This was meant to combat clericalism, the restriction of Scriptural interpretation to Roman Catholic clergy. We have to walk a fine line between abdication and anarchy. When we abdicate we hand over bible interpretation to so-called “experts”, when we choose anarchy we hand it over to speculative nonsense. BTW I thoroughly recommend Douglas and Fee’s excellent book “How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth” which is available at most good Christian bookstores.
We cannot let elitist clerics arrogantly dictate our beliefs, neither can we let whimsy and fashion and the mood of the moment dictate them. They must be carefully based on evidence (does our law judge the Man before it hears Him and knows what He does?) and also, weighed up under God by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.