Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 1.8)
Opening “The Book”
Part of me wishes modern Christians were as saturated with Biblical fascination as first-century believers were. Then again, part of me is glad we’re not. Right out of the gate, Acts 2.42 reports Early Church converts “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” In other words, they spent their waking hours together, sifting through Scripture, filtering it through the apostles’ doctrine, establishing it as their common bond, becoming intimately acquainted with one another around the table, and uniting themselves in prayer. Boy, doesn’t that sound ideal? Well, yes and no.
The first believers encountered the same challenges we face when discussing God’s Word—agreement. The only difference between them and us was they spent more time in study, which meant the average believer was more fluent in Biblical texts than today’s Christian. In part, this was because Jews comprising the Early Church’s majority could quote texts backward and forward. But the biggest reason involved unavailability of Christian writing. There were no gospels or epistles—no New Testament. Thus, the “apostles’ teaching” coupled oral history of Jesus’s life and ministry with Old Testament writing, more specifically, prophecy, since Early Church leaders almost exclusively relied on Messianic promises to prove Christ’s divinity and validate His message.
Yet the apostles discovered opening “The Book,” as they called the Jewish canon, declared open season on its contents. Alternative doctrines soon sprung up everywhere, all of them based on biased reading of non-prophetic passages. The unrecorded teachings of Christ were trampled by a stampede into new-fangled legalism and conventions crafted from Jewish law and ritualism. Despite the apostles’ concerted effort to halt this trend, it persists to this day. We still see doctrines quilted out of Old Testament patches improbably stitched together by New Testament threads teased out of context. That’s why, although I’d love more Christians to know God’s Word better, I’m relieved many don’t. Who knows how many more “Christian” schisms would subvert Christ’s message with woe-begotten emphases on arcane texts?
Where the Truth Lies
It’s often said there are as many meanings in Scripture as there are readers. Yet while we’re constrained to respect everyone’s right to believe according to his/her personal understanding or leanings, we’re by no means compelled to credence those beliefs—regardless who (or how many “who’s”) adopt them. At the end of the day, Christ’s teaching is where the truth lies. And any time we find scriptural interpretation at odds with the principles and practices He taught, we can dismiss it out-of-hand. It conflicts with truth. It may be lifted word-for-word from the Bible. It may be preached from pulpits. It may sound “godly” and profess “godliness.” But if it even slightly contradicts Jesus’s teaching, it’s unacceptable, extraneous doctrine that potentially leads to erroneous thinking and behavior.
Second John is addressed to a church—possibly the Church—teetering on disaster after entertaining doctrines contrived from scriptural selectivity. It appears the intended readers have fallen for deceptive teaching by assuming “scriptural evidence” makes it theologically sound. But listen to John’s response to their poor discernment: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1.8) Contrary to what many thought then and many think now, the Gospel of Christ isn’t a jumping-off point to run rampant through Scripture and reach our own conclusions. Christ’s teaching is everything: the start, the course, and the finish. We continue in it. When we dash down secondary paths, we get ahead of ourselves. And when we run ahead, He gets left behind.
Continuity in Christ
So how do we avoid being led astray by over-reaching Biblical interpretation? We maintain continuity in Christ. We’re blessed in ways the Early Church couldn’t imagine, simply because we have Christ’s lessons and the apostles’ expansion on His teaching in writing. We not only know where the truth lies. We know where to find it. Thus, it’s imperative we steep ourselves in His teaching so we’re fluent in everything He said and did. Saturating ourselves with Christ’s teaching endows us with faculties to evaluate the rest of Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Any passage or interpretation that doesn’t harmonize with His instructions is irrelevant. It interrupts our continuity and leaves Christ behind.
All the same, we mustn’t mistake continuity in Christ’s teaching to mean there’s no benefit in remaining Scripture. Both He and the apostles commonly cited earlier texts to uphold His teaching. Thus, the more comprehensive our scriptural knowledge is, the more astute our understanding of Christ’s doctrine will be. In Matthew 22, the Sadducees—an obstreperous sect that prided itself in splitting Biblical hairs—pose a ludicrous question about a woman who’s widowed six times and married seven. “Who’s wife will she be at the resurrection?” they ask. Jesus replies, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (v29) They got ahead of themselves and missed the point. (In essence, Jesus corrects them by saying resurrection isn’t about mortality issues; it’s about freedom from them.) Scripture reveals God’s power. It witnesses Christ’s Lordship. It proves His teaching. Using it for any other purpose destroys our continuity in Him. Running ahead gets us nowhere. When we leave Christ’s teaching behind we end up completely lost.
When we use Christ’s teaching as a starting point to reach our own conclusions, we get ahead of ourselves and leave His principles behind.