This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
Dousing the Light
I grew up in a rigid strain of Fundamentalism. Attached to our denomination’s Statement of Doctrine was a long list of restrictions, each with a parenthetical reference to one or two contextually stripped Scriptures. “Women shall refrain from cutting their hair,” for instance, cited 1 Corinthians 11.15: “If a woman has long hair, it is her glory. For long hair is given to her as a covering”—Paul’s teaching that prophetesses should set themselves apart from other women by covering their heads when ministering, just as prophets did. Evidently, no one in our church put all of this together. So our women spent hours and dollars many didn’t have on beauticians capable of spinning waist-length tresses into beehives.
In my case, the most problematic by-law was, “Members shall abstain from movie theaters and other ungodly amusements.” Since this taboo obviously had no literal Scripture to back it, it used 1 John 2.15: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world”—a one-size-fits-all license for legalistic overkill if ever there was one. Now, I was a huge movie buff who’d seen more movies on TV than anyone I knew by the time I was old enough (and bold enough) to challenge this teaching. When I cornered my Aunt Pearl about it, her exasperation led to John 3.19. “You ought not be in movie houses because they’re dark inside,” she said. “If you love darkness, you’re doing evil.” In her sincerity she didn’t realize she was dousing the light of Scripture to uphold a dogma born in dark ignorance.
Something for Everyone
It’s true. The Bible’s complexity and range of topics hold something for everyone. Anyone can isolate a verse here or a phrase there that supports what he/she believes and does—from hate crimes to hairstyles. But faith is not founded on the Bible; it rests in Christ and it’s by Him we assess the validity of our beliefs and actions. Would Jesus have cared about the length of a lady’s hair? Absolutely not, according to Paul, later writing to the same people who read his admonition about covered heads: “You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he.” (2 Corinthians 10.7)
The Word isn’t given to pinpoint surface faults in others; it’s a tool revealing the Light so we remain confident we’re following Christ. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another,” 1 John 1.7 says. Scripture is given to unify us in fellowship, not divide us in controversy, to promote justice, not propagate judgment. Any time we pick it apart to defend our prejudices and vanity we prove how poorly we grasp its true purpose. Regardless how correct our judgment may be, the verdict goes against us because our motives are unjust.
When we misappropriate the Word to criticize others, we abuse our privilege to handle it. Throwing shade with Scripture exposes what’s in our hearts—a love of darkness and evildoing. The Bible often confirms errors in others and us. But no matter how well we know and understand it, it provides us no right to condemn anyone. Nor, for that matter, should we pay heed to those seeking to do likewise. The Bible doesn’t prove our points. Its points are what we must prove.
Our judgment of what the Bible says may be correct, but if we use Scripture to condemn others, our case falls apart because our motives are unjust.
(Tomorrow: Bread Alone)