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When "I believe" supersedes "Scripture says..."

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

It’s all about us. It’s my feelings, my interpretation, what I believe and what I think. This permeates most theological viewpoints. Okay, so you think you don’t worry about theology. Actually, you do and you have a theological viewpoint. Whenever you approach the Written Word of God, the Bible, reading a passage or two, you have an opinion on what it means. That, my friends, is theology: the discussing, talking (logia) about, or in Greek: Logos of God (Theo). However, what is your understanding based on?

In a discussion recently about the biblical teaching of apostasy and falling away from the faith it came down to two sides. On one side was, “I believe” and on the other, “But Scripture says”. This is the battle since the Garden of Eden when Satan challenged the Word of God. ““Did God actually say” (Genesis 3:1). THAT’s where it all began to fall apart and led to…well The Fall. Satan, the founder of lies, brought into question the plain understanding, the simple terms God told Adam:

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat[d] of it you shall surely die.”

God’s command was quite plain: Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…, so when Satan shows up he questions the meaning of this when he challenges it with “did God really say…?” There’s no getting past this, it still happens today. Some more subtle than others…as in this case.

Calvinists (Reformed, Presbyterian, Reformed Baptist) do not like the idea that Christ can die for all because not all are brought to Heaven at the end, some die outside the faith even though they were baptized into the faith and their sins washed (1 Peter 3:19-21; Acts 2:38-39, Titus 3:4-7), their hearts regenerated (Col. 2:11-12), Acts 22:16, John 3:5) and the Holy Spirit poured out on them. Calvinists begin their theology with the glory of God and tend to do anything to protect God’s honor and glory first and foremost. Us Lutherans, well, we begin with God’s Love, His desire that all men come to a true knowledge of God, basically, Jesus died for all.

The Reformed reject this because they then bring in a philosophical calculation which says if Jesus died for all then none can ever go to Hell.

Yet, what does the Scripture say? Why the warnings if they don’t have any teeth to them? See what happened there? Lutherans say “What do the Scriptures teach?” while Calvinists/Reformed try to figure God out, to theologize and philosophize; did God really say? That’s Satan’s question. Christian’s should never ask that unless they are challenging a philosophy that does not base itself on the Written Word of God. Saying, “Well, I believe…” without presenting the simple and plainly written Word of God is quite the slippery slope…of which I fell down too often when I was Reformed. Now, however, the question I statement I posit is this: What does the Bible say?

In the last chapter of my book, The Accidental Lutheran (Click here to purchase), I wrote about this:

In my Christian life over the past two and a half decades, the study of God’s Word has become preeminent. The changes to my theology, as you have read in this book, have come about because of God’s Word. Discussing these changes with my husband along with his encouragement to write this book he has confirmed over and over to me, that the reason we are now Lutheran is because there is complete safety and comfort knowing that what God’s word says is what God means.[1]

In the formula of Concord Article 7, On the Holy Supper of Christ it states, “We believe, teach, and confess that the words of Christ’s testament are not to be understood in any other way then the way they read, according to the letter.[2]” Lutherans hold firmly to what the Scriptures teach without addendums or explanations that refer to some hidden meaning. No, instead, Lutherans read scripture as Scripture speaks.

The Lutheran assumptions in biblical interpretation are as follows:

I. God’s word, because it is his word, is without error. That means the Bible cannot lie or deceive and that God’s word is the only rule for faith in life.

II. Christ is the heart and center of God’s word. This means the doctrine of justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ is the chief doctrine of the Scriptures. Also, Christian should carefully distinguish Law & Gospel.

III. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand God’s word. This means difficult passages of Scripture are to be interpreted by other, clearer passages. Also, as we read scripture, in humility we derive the plain meaning of words from their literal sense unless clearly directed otherwise by context. [3]

Often, when reading the Scriptures, I can hear in the back of my mind the words of Gandalf “You shall not pass…[4]” The reason that phrase comes back to me over and over is that when I was Reformed I would always be looking to look for a deeper meaning, rather than simply reading and interpreting the words that were written. However, as a Lutheran I have relearned how to read the Scriptures for what it plainly says. It is rather simple, actually, you read them so the words that they say, “unless clearly directed otherwise by contexts[5]” mean what they say. [6]

You can read the remainder of this in The Accidental Lutheran (here), but suffice it to say that Christians need to simply believe what the Bible says even if, 1) we don’t like it, 2) it’s hard to understand. As my dear friend and sister in Christ always remind me, “God is the boss” and that is exactly the point of this blog. You may “believe” something and it goes against what God’s Word plainly says. If that is the case, turn from that and return to the simple reading of God’s Word and take comfort knowing that He is in charge and is must smarter than us. After all, He is the Creator and we are the creature.

Back to the Biblical teaching that those who have been baptized or believed the Gospel and were then baptized, their sins washed, their hearts regenerated later on apostatizing and falling away, Scripture is plain. In my book I questioned it this way: If the warnings aren’t real warnings, then why are they in the Bible at all? If those who “fall away” weren’t real Christians, to begin with, then any need to warn unbelievers about falling away because you can’t fall away or apostatize from something you never were. I wrote:

We are told in Hebrews that some had “tasted” but had walked away going back to the Temple sacrificial system. In other places, Christians are encouraged to persevere until the end in order to receive the Crown of Life. If these were empty threats that believers could walk away from Jesus Christ and Him crucified, then was God telling a lie? My thinking goes like this:

God makes the Threat but knows He will never carry it out. This means believers can behave badly because the threat of losing salvation isn’t really true. If God knows the threats against falling away are not true, then He would be pushing a falsehood…and we know God does not lie. Therefore, those threats must be real, the warnings are true and we must trust His grace to keep us.

What does the Bible say about falling away from the faith, about rejecting the promises of salvation given to you in baptism, in the Means of Grace? It says you can:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

So, do you take what you “believe” over and against the plain warning here? If you do, you place yourself above God and His Word and that, my friends, is a dangerous place to hang out.

Rather, there is complete safety and comfort knowing that what God’s Word says is what He means and that He means exactly what He says. Amongst the various styles and versions of Christianity which I’ve traveled, be they Pentecostal, charismatic, Reformed Baptist to Dutch Reformed, I have not found this solid ground upon which I can safely stand except in Lutheranism. Lutherans are Lutheran; we are Biblical and simply say that what God’s Word says we believe, or as the Catechism says, “This is most certainly true.”

So, in the battle between “But I believe” and “Scripture says…” I’ll take the latter from now on even if I don’t understand it or even like it. Satan’s lie is very vocal today within many churches but it is still a lie and will destroy you from within. God’s Word is what God has said. No amount of what you believe it to mean or some philosophical gymnastics will change what He plainly says to us. Don’t fall for Satan’s lie of “did God really say” or for the nuance that is popular, “but I believe…” Rather, it is much safer to believe what God says. My husband often says, “God said it and I believe it and that settles it for me.” That, my Christian friends, is a safer place and brings more comfort than you can ever imagine.

[1] Dr. Nancy Almodovar, The Accidental Lutheran (WA: Resource Publications, 2019), 77.

[2]. William Hermann Theodore Dau, Concordia.

[3]. general, ed., The Lutheran Difference: An Explanation & Comparison of Christian Beliefs (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2010), 4.

[4]. Copyright Collection (Library of Congress), Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

[5]. general, The Lutheran Difference.

[6] Dr. Nancy Almodovar, The Accidental Lutheran, 77.

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