Much Learning Doth Make Thee Mad
By Larry White
September 9, 2014
Is it possible to study yourself right out of the church?
Probably not out of the "General Assembly and church of the Firstborn which are written in Heaven", but one can study themselves right out of a local congregation. I have recently seen and heard of several preachers in the church doing just that. They studied the scriptures and gained understanding that their brethren did not think was right or that was not according to what they had always heard and not in sync with what all the other churches teach and therefore had their fellowship removed from them both personally and financially. This type of conflict is a perfect test case for determining if a church is following a "Church of Christ Doctrine" that is peculiar to them or are they following what the Bible actually says. Paul was sometimes not welcome in churches that he himself had established. The apostle John was not welcome in a church where one carnal member was in control and would not even listen to an apostle and ambassador of Christ himself. Anyone who disagreed with him he threw out.
Since the church of the living God is the pillar and ground of the truth, one would think that no one could study themselves out of a group that loved that very truth being studied, not with constant local feedback and communication; brother sharpening the face of his brother. One would think that the pursuit of truth is one of the most important activities that we have amongst the brotherhood and in every congregation, and that to study and learn from God's word and gain understanding would be applauded and encouraged.
The keys of knowledge and understanding are vital to the life and spiritual growth of the assembly. In many assemblies the keys of knowledge are taken away in order to hold the line against error and progressive ideas and that is exacerbated by an eldership that cannot defend the truth by the scriptures because of their lack of study themselves. So the study of that particular viewpoint is simply forbidden and the knowledgeable person thrust out. What the Eldership should do is to study it and study it, and discuss it with the membership and either understand it or come to a better comprehension of the truth and convict or convince the man so that he does not turn into a gainsayer.
Is there something in the word of God, that if understood and believed would make you an enemy of your brethren and cause them to sever fellowship with you?
I've been told over and over again that there is not. There should not be. It is rather, when something is NOT found in the scriptures that there will be trouble and should be. But if it IS in the scriptures, the brethren in a local group are duty bound to study it and understand it and either prove it right or wrong. Therefore we have debates - of a sort. These should be friendly discussions among brethren who love each other. The sort of debates that are classic amongst the brethren are usually open verbal brawls with lies and misrepresentations flying every which way. Ah, misrepresentations and ad hominem vilification, the devil's own bread and butter. You would think that honest, honorable men who loved the truth and were meek toward God could have a discussion and present arguments for and against without becoming base or hateful. Sadly it is seldom seen. I've seen two such honorable discussions in my life time, one of which I was a participant.
What is heresy?
The word comes from the Greek verb άιρέωμαι haireomai, "to choose" (a) "a choosing, choice"; then, "that which is chosen," and hence, "an opinion," especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects, Gal. 5:20 (or "parties"); such erroneous opinions are frequently the outcome of personal preference or the prospect of advantage; see 2 Pet. 2:1, where "destructive" (RV) signifies leading to ruin; ["heresy" W. E. Vine]
Everyone usually has an opinion, but when that opinion becomes a test of fellowship and a man is tossing people out of the church for not holding the same opinion as he does, then it has become a heresy and he, as Paul said, is self condemned (Tit. 3:10).
There is a long standing question of where to draw the line of fellowship in doctrinal matters. When is it Okay to present new understanding of a doctrinal subject so as not to get yourself thrown out? How does one go about correcting a doctrinal error in the teaching of the churches, brotherhood wide, when that viewpoint was locked down and put to bed a century ago? It seems, right now, that the best way to go about it without getting vilified and crucified is to not introduce it from the pulpit, but rather to write a book. Then you can get your say all out at once and hope to not get too much flak and your reputation and career as a gospel preacher torpedoed, (Yes, those are carnal weapons of warfare). The local eldership would then be happy that you didn't spew your nonsense from the pulpit but just in a book that can be ignored (or burned). The best thing to do after publication is to die of old age. And so, like many astronauts before them, truth seeking Bible students wait until they have very little time left to tell the world what they really think and what the truth really is and what the Bible actually says - in a book. Two such authors that I really appreciated were Homer Hailey [Those Who Would Come to God], and Karl Ketcherside [The Death of the Custodian], though Carl wrote several books and was vilified anyway.
As a person advances in the study of God's word, it becomes almost like the scientific method; a theory supported by data with testing, proving or falsifying, and in this case, the data of scriptural support. Or it's like a scientific model of a vast array of ideas or of a new way to understand a subject that you find in the scriptures. An example of a model in this since would be Premillennialism or Pręterism. A way to understand a subject and the best way to fit all of the scriptural references into an organic whole should lead us to an understanding. As Jesus said, "To him who has, more will be given." This model we pursue should more and more open up the scriptures to our understanding and especially without negating or redefining any of the actual words of the context. Much like the predictive element in scientific theories, the understanding at which we arrive should not falsify any other scripture but should illuminate more and more of God's word. That is when the lights go on and you know that your model of understanding or your proposed theory is probably correct. Then when people study that subject for themselves and all the references fit and are further illuminated, that is when they can believe it and teach it as doctrine. Pursuing the understanding of truth (reality) is a very exciting quest, but fraught with many adversaries.
Does spiritual understanding come from study?
It has been my experience that spiritual understanding is really a measure of faith. It is what Jesus continually offered to those with eyes to see and ears to hear - which is a result of faith. God reveals things to a person with child-like faith in him. Spiritual understanding is not something that flesh and blood has revealed to you, but rather, your heavenly Father. Like the disciples of Jesus, when you have faith great or small, you may not have much knowledge, but when knowledge is presented to you then you can grasp it readily and with a good and honest heart, understand it and bear fruit. God rewards those who tenaciously hold on to his word and pursue it, who sell everything they have and buy that pearl. He comes and makes his abode with those who love and keep his word.
I've seen spiritual understanding in a 7th grade Bible class from a visiting student who effectively ran circles around the plodding earthbound understanding of everyone else in the class, understanding that surpassed most of the adults in the congregation. He stayed after class for a few minutes and there was not anything that I could throw at him that he was not able to easily grasp in its full implications. I was astounded after leading that Junior High class for a year to get them to understand or appreciate anything in the scriptures. What were they lacking? Is there a gene of understanding or spirituality? From where did this 12 year old boy get his wisdom? I felt like one of the scholars who interviewed the boy Jesus who stayed behind in Jerusalem. Interestingly, I spoke with his mother later that evening and neither did she have an explanation of the source of her boy's understanding, and told me that others also had mentioned it. I happened to look over and the boy was watching me talk to his mother with what appeared to be some satisfaction, therefore I cut our interview short so as not to feed his vanity. God had not as yet chastised that out of him.
I have since recognized men like this in several congregations who shine as lights in a dark house. One in Tacoma, one in Boise and one in a tiny congregation that I and another preacher happened upon while traveling with our families. We were both astounded by the understanding of this humble unassuming brother in his anonymous role. We both tried to heap praise on him and he would have none of it.
Again, I think that the answer to this mystery is simply faith. Faith is our eyes to see and ears to hear and understand. I know that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, but that hearing must be with a view to believing it as real - as a reality, not just listening and then compartmentalizing it in unbelief, not engaging your heart. When you hear the word of truth, don't just make a mental note of it and add it to your knowledge base, but rather let it sink down into your heart and penetrate into your mind and soul, and then trust God to open the eyes of your understanding to see it in a new light. Let him show you what it means. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. He makes the word of Christ real to us by giving us the perspective of the author, and that, by giving us life in the spirit. We see with new eyes. We hear with new ears - in spirit, by faith.