THE MODERN SCRIBE ATMOSPHERE
Gal.2: 6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:
The Scribes were a Jewish sect within Israel that were teachers of the law known as the Torah. They also taught the oral traditions as part of the law. They were to be honored above people’s own parents. They would usually sit on a platform a little higher than the students and as they taught they would allow questions. It was among the Scribes that Mary and Joseph found the young Jesus as He listened and asked them questions in Luke chapter 2. As it pertained to the law, the written and oral Word of God, the Scribes were the final authority.
We have their “ancestors” even today who lead people to doctrines without leading them to Jesus. They shuffle through all kinds of Scriptures and maybe even come up with the correct pieced together interpretation. They challenge them about sound doctrine and sound exegesis and sound theology but they do not challenge them about an undeniable and remarkable revelation of Jesus found through their lives. And without living doctrine your written doctrine is not sound.
They are known in the evangelical community for their orthodoxy and their array of opportunities to purchase their “stuff”. They are considered “Biblical scholars” whatever that is, but they are not known for their compassion or love or moderate lifestyles. People by the millions hang on every word they say and when they say something provocative the lines are drawn and the battle begins. Their interpretations are given great weight simply because they are well known and have distributed much literature defining their own view on Scripture. They are often quoted as if that carries the day in any Scriptural discussion.
Now if teaching is strictly confined to the written page then that is all we need. If we can memorize a certain set of doctrines and call it a day then that is what we must “do”. And then when a set of men form a semi-circle on a platform and offer bits of their doctrinal elitism then let us film these conferences, distribute them to all orthodox believers, and let us watch them every night for devotions. Who really needs the Bible when you have the exegetical magisterium?
And if correct written doctrines comprise the totality of what it means to follow Jesus then let us print T-shirts with our doctrines so that the lost can see we are following Jesus. I knew a man and his wife who were graduates of Bob Jones University and he felt called to the mission field. He applied to be accepted in training and in raising support but he was turned down. This man was as orthodox as can be and supported the doctrines and policies of Bob Jones University. So what6 was the reason they turned him down? Because he just could not bring himself to agree to a pre-trib rapture view. He believed in the rapture but he leaned either mid-trib or post trib. You see, the magisterium demanded strict adherence to their set of doctrines.
I have found it very difficult to communicate with clarity and fullness just what I believe the Spirit is saying in today’s community which calls itself orthodox. We have polished our fine doctrinal china and presented it to each other and thought we were following Jesus. We can correct many doctrinal miscreants that either misinterpret the Scriptures or use them for their own aggrandizement or power. And in this day they are many to be sure. But that is not following Jesus. The New Testament does not call us to a ministry of discernment. It calls us to discern, however when we speak of ministry we speak of Jesus.
There are official titles for some ministries such as teacher, elder, even such things as helps. But even those believers who do minister within those titles are also called to be Jesus to the lost world. But we have so exalted knowledge that now what we know is considered primal if not exclusive. So the pastor claims he studies for many, many hours during the week to deliver a half hour message. Only God knows how many hours went directly into that preparation, however that is a lot of time for one half hour. And there are two things about that. Some are lying when they speak of many hours, and the others are preparing an articulate speech which people find interesting and which showcases his oratorical skills rather than passionately exhorts and challenges believers to draw closer to Christ and go without the camp bearing his reproach.
This is a subtle obsession with not only remaining safely within our doctrinal borders, but also to teach our doctrine at the expense of teaching Jesus. Does that seem confusing? Well what has happened is that the church has created an elite class of leaders who oversee committees, write books, play golf, speak for hours on the phone, read Christian literature, counsel people, plan calendars, and prepare messages. And so many times the phalanx of that ministry is filling people’s intellect with the knowledge of Bible interpretation in an organized fashion we call doctrine.
When I was ordained the men asked me questions. The questions were about doctrine. Did I believe that salvation was by faith alone? What did I believe about the Bible? They asked my views about prophecy, gifts of the Spirit, and other questions that centered upon doctrine. But they did not ask me whether I was helping the poor. They did not ask me whether I was visiting prisoners. They did not ask me about loving the brethren and sinners as well. They did not ask me about my prayer life. They did not ask me whether I tried to eat with lost people in order to win them to Christ. No, all their questions were of the doctrinal variety.
Another aspect of this issue about spiritual hubris and the doctrinal elite is the ever waging war about Bible versions and translations. Of course I do the necessity of addressing certain things that seem intentional as it pertains to weird English interpretations and the softening of certain words, but all in all it can become just another platform for elitism and a scribe mentality. I usually read and quote from the King James but I refer to other translations and of course the original languages when necessary. But when someone asks me what version they should embrace I usually say that there are ten or so good ones so pick one and obey all of it.
But can you see what lies at the bottom of this Bible version war? It is doctrine. When I was a young believer I read from the King James and the Living Bible. That is considered very liberal in orthodox circles. But I would ask you this. Here is a man who strongly stands for the KJV and his life reflects about 60% of what it teaches. But here is a man who loves the NIV and his life reflects about 80% of what it teaches? Now the orthodox community would to some extent discount the latter man’s spiritual walk based largely upon the Bible version he espouses. The other man is completely embraced because of His KJV stand. You see, written doctrine is always king within much of the orthodox community.
But in the end there are men whose academic prowess and original language credentials bring them into prominence as spiritual leaders. What they believe and why they believe it as well as how they can doctrinally defend what they believe muscles out HOW they believe what they believe. What has happened that now shapes the evangelical community is how we understand the Bible, and how we organize its teachings, and how we adhere doctrinally to its teachings, and it can even flow down into what you understand the Scriptures to be. And in the end how you live what they say becomes an elective course. In fact, what we say and believe about the Scriptures completely overshadows how our lives reflect what we believe. When a man is “orthodox” people are referring to what he believe regardless of how he lives.
So following Jesus becomes an exercise in doctrinal academics and not a self denying, sacrificial walk which thinks like Jesus, feels like Jesus, speaks like Jesus, has compassion like Jesus, and lives like Jesus apart from the dictates and influences of the secular culture. And when you have a self affirming focus on orthodox doctrine then eventually a scribe mentality is formed, and then certain men become the ruling magesterium within that community. They do not hold the title of pope or emperor or cardinal or any other name which would exalt them as having Biblical knowledge that transcends the common believer and therefore elevates their status, but in practice and in the atmosphere that has been created they are seen as such. And it all stems from a certain type of gnosticim which claims special insight into the Scriptures which can only be gleaned by certain men who have certain academic credentials.. They were once called the scribes. They are alive and well today. And this entire mindset makes the Bible some kind of code and makes following Jesus complex.
Learning what the Scriptures teach, including to the smallest point, and defending that overwhelmingly by matching verses and themes but without assigning obedience as an equally important doctrinal exegesis, is idolatry. Let us diligently seek the glorious and profound simplicity which is in Christ.