"We do not teach theology, we teach the Bible!" Is the irrational and condescending rebuke that is leveled at anyone who claims to adhere to a theological system today. Arminians and Calvinists alike have been denigrated with these words. The implication is that if you believe in theology, you cannot believe in the Bible.
In this past year, I have heard these arrogant words spouted out with an air of infallibility more than at any period in my life. Is theology evil? Does it interfere with biblical truth? And most of all, are these people biblically correct and free from the trappings of theology themselves? These are a few of the questions that I would like to explore.
Theology is a tool that we use to understand the nature and plan of God as a whole. This keeps us from making God a God of confusion. True Theology demands that any plan that originates with an all-knowing Being must be consistent by nature. If used correctly, theology is the tool that keeps us from fanaticism and error. An individual without a sound and consistent foundation can make the Bible say anything that their minds can conjure up to say.
What is the anti-theology contingent trying to do by questioning our beliefs? Most people when assailed with one of these biting attacks are at first insulted that they are accused of being unbiblical in their thinking. Then they either become more hardened in their positions, or they become doubtful and pliable in the hands of these "Bible Only" Christians. The latter of course, is the desired response that they are trying to secure.
There have been without a doubt countless abuses within theology throughout history. If we condemn all theology on account of this, we will be throwing out the baby with the bath water.
This is proof that theology can be abused, but it does not prove that it cannot be correct.
Theology becomes abused when it takes place of the Bible. Many have assumed that their theology is the Bible, making their system the ultimate authority even when the scriptures disagree. This elevation of theology is dangerous, and regretfully, not all that uncommon.
If we put the Bible first we will place theology in its proper place as a tool to understanding.
The one thing that I find to be the most self condemning aspect of what I term the "Bible Only" crowd is that you can never find two of them that agree! They are at odds with the other "Bible Only" groups across town and the country. How can they be so confident that they are right and we are wrong, especially when they stand alone in their own original interpretation?
It may surprise some of you that this movement is not new, these people have been around for a long time. This is first recorded in the divided Church at Corinth. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:12 "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." Which shows us a picture of the party spirit that was evident among them. Notice that there were no accolades of praise for those who were called exclusively "Christians".
D.A. Hayes writes:
"The very fact that they adopted this name as their exclusive property might indicate that they were the most narrow and intolerant of the factions in Corinth. There is an assumption and arrogance in the appropriation of the title which speaks ill for their breadth of spirit or sympathy. They boasted that they did not take their theology from any human teacher, like Cephas or Paul or Apollos, but only from the Lord...There was no orthodoxy like unto their unorthodoxy...they were harder to get along with than any of the others. (1) The question should be asked, why is it then that Arminians and Calvinists can generally get along together better than these "Non-Theological" groups can get along with any of the groups that differ with them? Who are the true divisive ones?
While it is possible for a group to be unaffiliated with a larger group or hierarchy, it is impossible to be non-theological. This I am sure they will disagree with. You must have theological presuppositions to be able to express any doctrine. Once a doctrine is expressed, a theology based upon that doctrine is established. No one approaches the Bible with a blank slate. We all have biases and presuppositions as we approach the scriptures. The question is not whether theology is good or bad, but what theological bias is the most God honoring and the most biblical one to biased with.
It seems odd to me that in all of the theological discussions that I have been in, the most dogmatic, unbending, and theological individuals I have ever met are without a doubt those who claim to be "non-denominational" or "don't believe in theology". They are the most theologically burdened people that I know and are strangely ignorant of the fact that they have a theology at all!
Non-Denominationalism is just as divisive, if not more so than established denominations. They start their own distinct sect around the teachings of their Pastor, who will not yield to the authority of more experienced individuals. This does nothing for Christian unity. These "non-denominational" churches are not "neutral" as most who attend them seem to think.
The most frustrating thing is that these parishioners are conditioned to discard any sound advice that comes from outside of their fellowships. Because they are "Spirit filled" and the Wesleys, Luthers, and Calvins who have enriched and shaped our thoughts throughout history were not, (this is their claim and not mine), anything that disagrees with them must be "man's doctrine and not God's". They turn their noses up at the thought of reading a book other than the Bible itself for fear of being tainted by man's theology. The only reason I can rationalize this dread of wisdom is that their pastors want them to only read the scriptures with the biases that their pastors have given them. By doing this the congregation member can see the scriptures through the theology of their pastor, while they go on believing that they are understanding the scriptures for themselves. As this deceptive and dangerous hatred of theology festers within the modern Church, we are leading people astray and continue to create more division and disunity.
Will we ever resolve our theological differences? I doubt if we ever will until the Lord comes in glory for his Church. At that time we will see truth in all its purity and all bias and flawed human thinking will be discarded. Then is unity ever possible this side of heaven? It never is if we use the earthly church as an example. If we correct our thinking of what the Church is, then we can see that unity already exists as we speak.
R.C.H Lenski wrote:
"As a spiritual body the church is invisible because human sight and sense cannot take a census of its members...Now while...hypocrites get into the outward organization of our congregations, they thereby do not and cannot get into the church. They are members only in the earthly organization of the church, never in the spiritual organism of the church. This is the reason why we never dare identify the church with the churches." (2)
The true church exceeds the bounds of any theological system. Disregarding the input of other Christians over the issues of not being "Spirit Filled"or "Bible Only" is a regretful mistake. If the writings of great saints of years gone by are of no value since they do not fit into this modern day category, then where are the enduring classics and brilliant wisdom that were written by someone who was "Spirit Filled" and had no theological presuppositions? There are none! But yet no significant movement or revival has ever accompanied those with these erroneous beliefs! Where is their fruit? They have failed to convince us that they are right and that theology is bad. In turn, all these movements have provided for us is more division and ignorance.
We should continue to challenge ourselves and each other concerning Christian issues.
This allows us to make necessary corrections as we search after a fuller understanding of the truth. We can have unity without uniformity. Theological differences are not evidence of hatred and disunity, they are evidence of a passion for truth and a love for God.
1. Paul and his Epistles, The Methodist Book Concern, 1915 , page 206.
2. The Active Church Member, R.C.H Lenski, Lutheran Book Concern,
Columbus OH., 1922, pages 27-28.