Thursday, February 12, 2009
Sola in the Dock
Hmmm. It appears your humble Meanie has gotten at least a few people in a snit in recent days. Of course, I am referring to the contretemps over my post on George Beverly Shea's 100th birthday.
As things progressed, that post resulted in -- among other things -- me being called a liar, dishonest, and a denier of the Gospel. It also resulted in me issuing a very rare ban to a commenter from posting at this blog because of those tender little epithets. This individual considers Billy Graham a false teacher, and in his view, Mr. Shea shares his guilt by virtue of their connection. And I apparently fall under this condemnation in part because of 2 John, which tells us not to receive false teachers into our homes and not to even give them greetings. Hoo, boy!
I wasn't sure at first whether I was even going to bother responding in depth. There were attempts to goad me into what I considered a pointless debate, which I rejected. I thought about posting something in a satirical vein, but then felt on reflection that this issue was too important for that kind of treatment -- well deserved though it might be. I considered discussing the fine points of Billy Graham's theology, and believe me, there are areas where I have strong disagreement with things he's said and done over the years. I still might well do that in time, but not now. There's a deeper issue involved, but how to address it appropriately?
I think what I want to do is take this bit of unpleasantness and turn it into an edifying teaching moment, both for myself and for those who read along with me. To do that, let's read a key, pertinent passage in 2 John:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds (2 John 7-11).
Interpretation of This Passage
One of the most elementary rules in biblical interpretation is that you don't isolate one verse or passage out of Scripture, and then build an entire doctrine around it. Another is related to that maxim -- when interpreting a passage, you look at the context extant in the passage. To whom was it written and why?
Note the part of the passage that calls attention to "those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh." At the time this was written, an early form of Gnosticism was rearing its head. These false teachers believed that the divine Christ came upon the human Jesus at His baptism, and then left Him at the cross so that it was only the man Jesus who died. Rank heresy, of course, and similar to what many of today's New Agers believe i.e. the "Christ-conciousness."
The Apostle John was discussing these itinerant false teachers, and warning the church not to give them aid and comfort. He issued a similar warning in 1 John:
By this you know the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world (1 John 4:2-3).
These passages help us understand John's point. Giving one of these Gnostic false teachers aid and comfort -- including shelter for the night -- was a no-no. You weren't to greet them as Christians greeted one another, all the more so because of their heretical teaching about the person of Christ. It did NOT mean that you couldn't give common courtesy greetings such as Happy Birthday, nor did it prohibit inviting them into your home for the sake of discussion, witnessing or conversation.
There have been many through the years -- well meaning -- who have interpreted this passage to mean that you ought to slam the door in the faces of Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, or other cultists who show up at your door. How many witnessing opportunities have been lost through actions such as this -- all because of a mistaken interpretation. And beyond that, how many needless spats are sparked because some take the biblical doctrine of separation too far?
What about Billy and George?
Emphasizing again for the record, I do NOT agree with several of Billy Graham's statements and positions. I do not agree with what is known as "wider mercy." I think Graham has been overly ecumenical in who he has involved in his crusades. I do not agree with having Roman Catholic priests involved in crusades, and sending converts who might have grown up Catholic back into the arms of Rome and their works-oriented system. There are probably other areas, but this post is already getting long. You get my point. But the last time I checked, I don't know of anywhere Billy Graham (or George Beverly Shea for that matter) has denied that Jesus has come in the flesh.
I have not watched every single crusade sermon Graham has given in the past 50 years. I am sure that in decades of ministry, you'll find something on which to pounce. However, when the Gospel and altar call has been given in the crusades I have watched personally, this is what I have heard . . . all have sinned and have come short of God's glory. We are all sinners. People who die without Christ will die in their sins and be separated from God for eternity. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead for our justification. To be saved, you must repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in His finished work on the cross.
The last time I checked, that sounds like a biblical Gospel to me. And through the years, many have responded to that Gospel, and have been gloriously born again, including some that I know personally, and whom to this day have the same disagreements with some of Billy Graham's positions that I have. This is hardly an endorsement of Billy Graham's theological package, and I do not support BGEA financially. And what about those who came forward? Are their conversions rendered invalid because of Billy Graham's wrong statements? I don't think so.
Does the fact that God has used Billy Graham negate the wrong things Graham has said? Not at all. He needs to be corrected for them. Most of all -- and this is most important -- like every single preacher and teacher, Billy Graham will have to give an account of himself to the Lord, who at one time used an ass to rebuke a prophet.
My final word to my critics? I really don't have one, but I do have something to say to another person.
Happy birthday, George.