“I think if we were given the Scriptures, it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the Scriptures, it was to humble us into realizing that God is right, and the rest of us are just guessing.” — Rich Mullins, famed Christian singer/songwriter
So, let’s say you decide another Christian might be subjecting his/her self to too much temptation. You don’t know that this someone else is sinning, mind you. You just suspect this other person’s actions might make this person tempted to sin. So you pull this person aside, forbid this person from doing whatever it is that might lead to temptation, justify yourself to yourself and this other person by saying you read the Bible, and then go on your merry way.
In 1997, I got fed up with Lutherans not talking about subjects that made them uncomfortable and started attending a non-denominational church that wasn’t scared of those questions. The fact that they weren’t scared of guitars and music written during my lifetime, and that the sermons were about real-life situations didn’t hurt either. That church changed my life.
The Sunday after Easter in 1998, I went back to being Lutheran again. Today, it’s been six and a half years, and I’ve hardly looked back.
While in a lot of regards it was a great church, I didn’t feel like you could go there and get involved in anything without feeling like you were being watched. Anything I did or said was being watched by somebody. It might be by someone of the opposite sex who was sizing me up as a potential mate. It might be by someone of the same sex who was trying to hold me accountable. Considering I was 23, I needed a bit of that. But while some of the people’s motivations were clean, some of them seemed to be efforts to justify themselves.
And besides that, you were expected to act a certain way, have a certain set of interests, and to some degree even dress and carry yourself a certain way. It was justified as becoming more like Jesus. But we weren’t becoming more like Jesus. We were becoming more like the group. And Dave, 23 years in the making, was getting squeezed out.
Frankly, the weight was crushing me. I went into therapy in early 1998, where I met a member of a Lutheran church that he claimed offered what I was looking for. In the meantime, I’d read the Bible cover to cover and come to the conclusion that if Lutheran doctrine wasn’t the most correct doctrine I’d come across, it was at least less dangerous than any other I had seen.
So I left.
The other day, I heard a story very much like the second paragraph here. And it reminded me of why I left that fundamentalist church and never looked back.
This type of behavior is specifically prohibited in the Bible.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
And just in case we didn’t see it the first time, it’s also in Luke:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)
If you’re not perfect yet, then you don’t need to be worrying about the imperfections of the people around you. If you are perfect, then clearly you either aren’t reading the same Bible I am, or you need to go back and read it some more.
So what about 2 Timothy 3:16? All Scripture is Godbreathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
This verse suggests authority. Before invoking it, we have to consider whether we have it, who gave it to us, and whether the words we are about to say are worthy of someone who has authority over someone else.
One thing that being a Lutheran has taught me is to let scripture interpret scripture. When you want to invoke 1 Timothy 3:16, you have to do it in light of those verses in Matthew and Luke. And since the warning in the Gospels appears twice and was said earlier by Jesus Himself, doesn’t that mean it might be just a little bit more important?
That’s where I think this confrontation breaks down. You see, the thing that bugs me even more about this situation is that the person being confronted isn’t being confronted about sin. The person is being confronted about temptation. But there’s a funny thing about temptation. You and I aren’t necessarily tempted by the same things. When faced with a gourmet cheesecake, you might be tempted to do more than overeat, and devour the whole thing. And if I were standing there, I’d let you, because I’d find the thing repulsive. My only temptation would be to throw the wretched thing in the trash.
St. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians, where he says twice that everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. (1 Cor. 6:12, 1 Cor. 10:23). In 6:12 he goes on to say, “But I will not be mastered by anything.”
The truth is, all of us are mastered by something. Much to the chagrin of marketers, however, we’re all mastered by different things.
Now, I don’t know what the person who confronted the other person was hoping to accomplish. But I do know what the confronter did accomplish: Looking like a Bible-thumper and alienating the other person.
I believe that if Christians took half the time they spend trying to figure out and fix what’s wrong with the people around them and instead spent that time looking instead deep inside themselves, we’d have a lot fewer people in this world who believe and trust in God but aren’t willing to set foot inside a church.