Oh, you’re not a member of the club?
In the pevious lesson, I discussed distractions and how interesting little factoids in and about Scripture can lead you far off the track of things that really matter. In this message, I want to tell you about a second way that Bible students can be lured off the trail into the theological weeds.
Wrong Turn 2: Secret Clubs
Have you ever been the first person to answer a riddle or solve a puzzle? It makes you feel pretty special, right?
Some of those rabbit trails can lead to strange and alluring places that harbor some amazing discoveries. Chiasms and parallelisms are good examples: bodies of text with layers of meaning contained in the physical arrangement of words and phrases. Other examples are the pictograms of paleo-Hebrew and gematria (aka Hebrew numerology), both of which can be interesting and might lead to valid insights, but probably weren’t intended by the original authors of the Biblical writings.
Another very common and much more problematic source of Secret Club revelations is ancient, extra-Biblical texts, especially apocalyptic and prophetic writings. The early Christians did a very good job of weeding out books that didn’t measure up, and only those writings that almost everyone agreed on made it into the Bible.
There are some great ancient writings that we can learn a lot from, and I encourage you to explore them once you have a solid foundation in the canonical Bible, but most of them didn’t make the cut for very good reasons. Some writings were tainted by unbiblical teachings, others were known to be forgeries or inventions, and yet others were twisted and demonic. We need to handle extra-Biblical writings with caution and weigh everything they say against the Bible. If it doesn’t measure up, throw it out.
Uncovering hidden gems in the Bible and other texts can be great, enlightening fun, but they can become distractions and false trail markings, too. I call these rabbit trails “Secret Clubs” because the people who follow them tend to feel a certain amount of pride at their discovery and to feel like they’ve joined a secret club of sacred initiates. Knowing and acknowledging the “revelation” becomes more important than serving the people of the Kingdom of God, and attacking or mocking those outside the club becomes a favorite past time.
Special revelations and secret “knowledge” can provoke an intense pride that masquerades as a fierce defense of the truth. It can suck you into a vortex of mysteries, confusion, and paranoia. I know that might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. I see it all the time.
Secret Clubs are a modern analog of the Pharisees that Jesus frequently confronted. Like the Sabbath, the Scriptures were given for man’s benefit. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a tool to teach us how to love God and one another. If the Bible is only comprehensible by an elite few or if it isn’t serving that purpose for some other reason, then it is being misread and misused.
How to Avoid the False Trail of Secret Clubs
You can avoid getting inducted into a Secret Club by applying a couple of tests to new and unusual doctrines:
- Is this discovery supported by at least two clear (not cryptic or metaphorical) passages in the Bible?
- Has following this rabbit trail tended to create argument or division between you and other believers? Is it becoming more important to you to be correct or to have good relationships with God and your community?
If you answer no to the first question or yes to the second, then be very cautious with this “discovery”. Treat it as an interesting tidbit that might or might not be true. It’s certainly possible for you to be right and every other Bible student to be wrong–remember Noah–but it’s not very likely. More often, it’s just a danger sign that you’re getting off track. You probably aren’t Noah.
Don’t create unnecessary division and always be humble enough to admit when other people hold a view that is reasonable and defensible even if you don’t agree with them. Very few differences of opinion on theological matters are worth it.
In the next lesson, we’ll get into the third category of common errors (sentimentality) and wrap up this portion of the Common Sense Bible Study series before we get into even more meatier stuff.
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