Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
A few years ago I wanted to get some pointers on how to make a simple cheese. Like many in this day and age, I turned to the Internet. I found many videos which I hoped would prove instructional. I bet you’ve seen some of these videos also. “I wanted to ______ so here’s what I did. I never did it before but it came out pretty well. Now you know how to do it also.” Yes, indeed, in a pile of cheesemaking videos, there were a few experts who knew what they were doing and a huge pile of people who had, at best, done it once before.
Our reading from James chapter 3 counsels Christians not to desire to be teachers. They will be held to a stricter standard of judgment. It then goes on to talk about how difficult it is to control the tongue, which has the power to cause harm like nothing else in this world. How should we deal with this passage?
First, I think it’s important that we recognize James chapter three doesn’t say the Scripture is uniformly difficult to understand and that interpretation should be left to the experts. That is decidedly not what James is saying. If you have any inclination to read and study the Bible, you should do it. Read with an open mind and heart, expecting God to instruct you through His infallible word!
Here’s what James is warning against, though. What about all those teachers who are looking for something new, something powerful, some sort of insight that will suddenly change the world? There have been several influential teachers in the past who have said that they found out how we should really understand the Bible, and that it is different from everything all the generations before them thought. Really? Do you actually want to say that every theologian before you got it all wrong?
When I was exploring Lutheranism I wrote a series of blog posts about the liturgy, about Law and Gospel, and about the sovereign grace of God. I was testing the water. They were tentative posts. I was hoping for correction and interaction. In general, the interaction I received was affirmation from people who had more experience with Lutheran doctrine. They were saying, “That’s right, you’ve understood what we have been saying.” It’s a very good thing to recognize that some teachers, throughout history, have gotten things very right, and that we can understand them. That’s different from the attitude we see so often. Someone has a religious opinion, maybe a move from one theological camp to another, and sets himself up as an expert. After all, he was wrong before but is right now, so it’s time to set the rest of the world right also.
This is very much like making the instructional video of how to make cheese when you have done it successfully yourself exactly once before. Premature. And, in a way, it is more dangerous. If I learn to make cheese wrong, I get bad cheese. No big problem. If I learn to do Christian theology wrong, I bring eternal condemnation to myself and possibly others. Big problem.
Let’s try to improve ourselves as teachers before we spend too much time teaching anything revolutionary. There’s a great deal to be gained from the counsel of others. Let’s guard our tongues as well as our keyboards, and seek to be good and right before God.
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