Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Be a Berean, and Corroborate!


To "corroborate" something means you take it and compare it with a trustworthy source.  When police detectives are investigating a case, they take the testimony of one witness and corroborate that testimony against what a known source of reputable information has said.  The purpose is to weed out inaccuracies, and focus on truth.

Ahh, yes... the truth.  Not opinions, or gut instincts, or feelings and emotions, or hyperbole, or gossip, or cultural traditions, or nuance, or educated guesses.

How often do we evangelicals corroborate what we hear from pulpits on Sunday mornings with what the Bible says?  Corroboration not against a seminarian's pedigree, or our friends' charisma, or what we think society will accept, or Ivy League intellectualism, or even the Westminster Confession of Faith.  (Made some of you Presbyterians gasp there with that last one, didn't I?)

But with God's holy Word.

Was the Bible written exclusively for theologians, for them to parse and package its concepts for the humble layman?  What role does the Holy Spirit play in communicating the Gospel?  How dependent are you upon your preacher - whether he's in your church, or on your television set - for your regular dosage of scriptural truth?

When the Apostle Paul went with Silas to Berea and preached Christ's Gospel, people who became converted did not simply consume the message Paul and Silas gave to them.  They "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."  They corroborated what they were hearing with its source text.  Maybe they were skeptical, or suspicious, or cynical.  Or maybe they just wanted to obtain a broader context for the truths they were learning, or they found joy in discovering affirmations in the written Word of things the Holy Spirit was revealing to their hearts and minds.

They weren't content with what was told them.  They wanted to corroborate the evidence against the truth.

Flash forward two thousand years, and what might the scenario be, if Paul and Silas were evangelizing North America?  Would the communities of faith they were planting seek to corroborate the Gospel with the Bible?  Or would we evaluate the Gospel's merits based on the merits of what people like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Ted Cruz think and say?

This past Sunday, First Baptist Dallas featured controversial Texas Senator Ted Cruz in its pulpit, where he vilified Obamacare and even called for the abolition of the IRS.  Obviously, First Baptist Dallas has few Bereans in its congregation, because I can't find any place in Scripture that even remotely calls for Christians to preach as God's Word that public healthcare is unBiblical, or preach the invalidity of a government's method of taxation.

While Christ was here on Earth, He preached about His Kingdom.  And many of His disciples were hoping that His Kingdom was a political one, in their time, and in their country.  But it wasn't, was it?

Here in America, a country that has benefited significantly from a heritage of Bibliocentric political doctrine, it's been easy for Christ-followers to simply assume that everyone has been on the same page regarding both the morality and polity we consider to be best for developing and maintaining a society.  And we use as our proof the unprecedented wealth and power that our country has achieved in, historically speaking, a short period of time.

Yet conservatives in general - and evangelicals in particular - have gotten lazy when it comes to corroborating what we would like to do and what other people tell us we should - or shouldn't - do.  We've not been like Bereans, enthusiastically searching the Bible for authentic proofs about what we're hearing from preachers, teachers, and other figures within what's evolved into our vast evangelical industrial complex.

For example, Senator Cruz criticized Obamacare because it contains mandates that, as currently interpreted, would force people of faith to provide certain services we believe to be sinful.  And he blasted the IRS because of recent revelations that conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status were asked questions by the agency that violated the Bill of Rights.  On Capitol Hill, Cruz has full authority to question, complain about, and work to correct such actions.  But from an orthodox, Christian pulpit, Cruz, a self-professed Southern Baptist, should have espoused the Word of God and celebrated His Kingdom, not the political contrivances of ours here between Mexico and Canada.

One recent Sunday, I sat under the preaching of a learned minister who disturbed me by repeating the popular, heretical mantra that God takes risks.  After his sermon, I silently debated with whether or not I should approach him with the correction that, in view of God's sovereignty, and His ability to see, know, and anticipate everything, there's no possible way He can take any risks.  But you likely know me well enough to know that I did!  And do you know what?  As I asked him about it, with a smile on my face, it was like a light bulb went off inside this minister's mind.  He wiped his brow in an honest-to-goodness "aha!" moment, a big smile rolled across his face, and he thanked me!

"Yes!  God's sovereignty is so powerful," he exclaimed, like one Berean to another.  "I'm going to have to correct my sermon."

Now, I'm not going to say I'm a Berean in the fashion of the folks in Berea who enthusiastically sought to corroborate the teaching they received with the Word of God.  I was discrete and docile when talking with this preacher, because I've learned my lesson the hard way that ranting and raving is as much a sin as what I think I'm seeing somebody else commit.  Because of the acrimony that's unfortunately so often involved in these matters, some Christians - pastors, especially - like to negate the observations and corroborations of Bereans when somebody's teaching doesn't square with Biblical doctrine.  We must remember that, especially when discrepancies exist between the two, the truth is best spoken in love.

In light of the recent SCOTUS rulings regarding gay marriage, a friend asked me yesterday how long I thought it would be before we evangelicals begin to see legitimate persecution in the United States.  Within 15 years?  Twenty?  Even sooner than that?

One of the reasons I write these essays is because I firmly believe that we evangelicals need to seize however many days we have left and intentionally use them for God's glory.  Not our own personal self-improvement, or self-enrichment, or security, or political hegemony, or economic affluence, or even moralistic theism.  God's glory, period.

If we do that, many of these other things will hopefully tag along for the ride.  Or, maybe they won't.  But the persecution of evangelicals won't be delayed if we abolish Obamacare or the IRS, although these two governmental systems might indeed be methods by which persecution is introduced.  Considering the freedoms that have been given to us, and the wasted opportunities we've had to be Bereans and corroborate all that has buffeted our ears with what God says in His Word, we really can't blame Democrats and liberals entirely for the dimness we see gathering in the the not-to-distant skies.

After all, being a Berean isn't just a Sunday morning pastime.  As people for whom God intends Himself to be the epicenter of life, everything we consume should be vetted by an earnest desire for truth.  I hope and pray that as we evangelicals start using the Bible as our reference point, God will indeed bless us Americans with more opportunities to enjoy all of the advantages we've heretofore taken for granted.

King David's prayer is a good place to start:

"Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you...  O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem."  - Psalm 51:6-19

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