Faith believes what God said just because He said it, not because it’s been proven to us or because we’ve experienced something. Since faith puts confidence in what God said as true only because He said it, it is faith in things that we cannot see. At one time, theology was the queen of the sciences because God’s Word was considered evidence. The Enlightenment and its consequences changed this way of thinking for professing Christians.
A big clash exists in evangelicalism over the age of the earth—new earthers versus old earthers. The new earthers take the Genesis account literally. The old earthers are influenced by “human observation and discovery.” For instance, they look at the time it takes for light to travel from distant stars and assume that the universe must be billions of years old or else we wouldn’t be able to see these stars through a telescope. So there’s a challenge from science to the record of Genesis 1-3.
Many more evangelicals believe in evolution than what you would even imagine, and especially among the so-called elite and scholarly. This debate among them elevated in March when a well-respected Old Testament Hebrew scholar, Bruce Waltke, posted a pro-evolution statement on a well-visited evangelical website. Several conservative evangelicals have reacted to his statement in very heated fashion. Rightly so. I don’t want to get into extreme detail here, but the paradigm for evangelicals and their faith changed well before this debate began. I do think we have some pot calling the kettle black occurring here.
Evangelicals long ago started discarding scriptural and historic belief for sight. Nothing is more important to faith than the Bible. The Bible promises its own perfect preservation. Evangelicals and fundamentalists took this same paradigm of unbelief long before Bruce Waltke and these old-earth evangelicals. They now say that the Bible never really taught preservation per se. Well, not that the Bible wasn’t preserved—it was, just in a way that you have no hope of a perfect Bible and the one you have you really don’t know the number of mistakes. Just in too, that’s what the Bible has always taught. No one has said this before, but as I speak, well, that’s what it says about itself. I know that some evangelicals and fundamentalists are now saying that they are getting their doctrine of the preservation of Scripture from the Bible.
Having said that, most evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t believe in the perfect preservation of Scripture. Kevin Bauder represents their position on this when he writes in Only One Bible? (p. 155) that Scripture does not affirm that “any singled printed text preserves all of the words and only all the words of the autographa.” He continues: “Such a specific affirmation clearly lies outside of the teaching of Scripture.” Those two statements he makes in the first paragraph of his chapter, “An Appeal to Scripture.” The very next line, which is the first sentence of the second paragraph, he writes: “If the preservation of the Word of God depends upon the exact preservation of the words of the original documents, then the situation is dire.” That last statement is the rub for evangelicals and fundamentalists.
From Bauder’s statements, really just quoted as a representation, because this is the stand of almost all of evangelicalism today, you can see that they depend on their sight and their observation, i. e., their scientific discovery, for their position on preservation. Again and again, evangelicals say that miracle was not the means of God’s preservation. No miracle involved. Supernaturalism was not the means. You would see this many times in Only One Bible? This was not always the case among Christians. At one time, pre-enlightenment and textual criticism, relying on the Bible alone for their doctrine (sola scriptura), they believed in the perfect preservation of Scripture.
Preservation passages are being twisted with the same pattern as creation passages. If you are going to discard the promises of preservation found in the Bible for the science of textual criticism, that without theological presupposition proudly follows the “evidence,” then next will come other doctrines of scripture like creation. That’s not all, of course, because the abandonment of a grammatical-historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3 undermines the entire rest of the Bible, including the gospel itself.
A second part to this paradigm is the new evangelical emphasis on primary versus secondary doctrines. They rank doctrines for the purpose of cobbling together alliances. These old earth evangelicals want to keep the faux unity between them and the new-earthers. They attempt to do this by categorizing this creation doctrine as a non-essential. I read this all over. They insist that it does not affect the gospel, and since the gospel is “first in importance,” the old earth position should not separate them from the new-earth evangelicals. They just differ on a tertiary issue. This, of course, is ripped right out of the conservative evangelical and fundamentalist playbook. If the conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists do not agree to see the nuance between the two beliefs, and not to agree to disagree, they’re the ones causing unnecessary division in “the Lord’s body.” Evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t mind that you believe in the perfect preservation of Scripture. They just don’t want you to cause division over it. Keep the peace.
So let’s review. Evangelicals already moved into the conform-scripture-to-science column with textual criticism. The doctrine of perfect preservation was as firmly established as a Christian belief as teaching on creation from Genesis 1-3. So here we have just more of the same. And now we can still all get along because none of these are essential doctrines. Chalk it all up to a paradigm of evangelical unbelief.
“So you’re calling me a liar?” I thought I’d just get that out of the way. But to answer it: maybe, but not necessarily you in particular. That’s what will make it easier to read in a blog post. First, let’s go over some definitions, so everyone will be up to speed. Eclectic and Critical Text people are the same ones. Both of them support looking at all the textual variants and deciding what they consider to be most likely the original Words of Scripture. MVO means “multiple version only” and it is supposed to sound like “King James Version Only,” except different. They are the opposite of KJVO, but most of them, I’ve found, don’t like the MVO tag. I believe it fits, however, so I keep using it. They don’t believe in one Bible. They believe only in multiple versions. So it’s bullseye as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t sound good, but if you don’t like the way it sounds, then don’t be MVO.
And finally, “truth serum.” Wikipedia, which is good enough for this essay, says:
A truth drug or truth serum is a psychoactive medication used to obtain information from subjects who are unable or unwilling to provide it otherwise.
I like the definition for the purposes of this post. Alright, I figure that the MVO guys will say, “We’re telling the truth, so we don’t need no truth serum.” Well, let’s just see, OK? Our Critical Text guy has the Swedish name of Olle F. Lilfathe. We’ll just call him Olle. So let’s start with some control questions and see what he says. The truth serum has been administered, so Olle is all set.
Q: Is your name Fred?
Q: What is your name?
Olle: Olle F. Lilfathe
Q: OK. Olle, do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God?
Q: Do you believe that God inspired the sixty-six books of the Bible in the original manuscripts?
Q: Do you believe that God inspired every Word and all the Words of the Bible in the original manuscripts?
Q: Do you believe that God has preserved His Word?
Q: Do you believe that God has preserved every one of His Words available for us today?
Q: So you don’t believe we have every Word of God available to us today?
Q: So when you say that God has preserved His Word, what do you mean?
Olle: God has preserved most of the Words from the original manuscripts, but not all of them.
Q: So you don’t think we have all of God’s Word today?
Olle: No. They might be somewhere, but we don’t know where they all are or what they all are.
Q: Olle, do you believe that the Bible teaches the perfect preservation of every Word?
Q: Let me read one verse to you. It’s Jesus speaking in Matthew 5:18, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” What do you think that verse is saying as it applies to the preservation of Scripture?
Olle: That God has preserved every one of His Words, even to the letter.
Q: Even for today?
Q: But you said that you don’t believe that God did preserve all of them. Let me be clear. Is that what you said?
Q: But you’re saying that Jesus said that He would preserve all of them?
Q: Olle, doesn’t what you said Jesus would do and what you said has actually happened contradict each other?
Q: Are you saying that God didn’t keep His promise?
Q: Do you think God keeps all His promises?
Q: Did God promise to preserve all His Words?
Q: So do you believe that God preserved all His Words?
Q: Are you contradicting yourself, Olle?
Q: Why are you contradicting yourself, Olle?
Olle: The truth serum is making me do it. I guess I really don’t believe what God said He would do.
Q: Why not?
Olle: It doesn’t seem possible that He could do it. I mean with all the textual variants and differing editions. I don’t know how we could know which Words were His or whether we even have all of them or not. It’s too hard for me to believe.
Q: Olle, if you have 100 marbles and you gave them to me to keep or preserve, how many would you expect back later if I had preserved them?
Q: What if I had 94 of them, would you consider that preservation of your marbles?
Q: Do you think that we have all the Words of God available to us today?
Q: Do you think that God has promised that all of the Words of God would be available?
Q: So why don’t we have all of them?
Olle: God didn’t keep His promise.
Q: Are you sure?
Olle: I’d say “no,” but I took this truth serum.
Q: Thank you for your honesty, Olle.
Olle: You’re welcome.
God promised a wonderful blessing to those who would read or hear the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:3):
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
This verse has several interesting features. It is the first of seven blessings in Revelation. No accident there—Revelation completes God’s special revelation to mankind. The blessing is for people engaged in three activities. They are three present participles, continuous action—“readeth,” “hear,” and “keep.” Those describe what you would do in a church service—Scripture is read, then preached, and finally practiced. What is read, heard, and then practiced? “Words . . . which are written therein.” Those who try to turn “words” into concepts, ideas, teachings, or just oral speaking will have a hard time doing that here. There is an assumption here right away that we will have the words necessary for reading and hearing, the ones “which are written therein.” You don’t read oral teachings—you read only written words that are in either a scroll or book.
We vault forward to the last chapter of Revelation. The Greek term translated “words” in Revelation 1:3 is logos. In Revelation 22 that term is used repeatedly and it is either translated “sayings” or “words.” You find it in vv. 6-7:
And he said unto me, These sayings [logos] are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings [logos] of the prophecy of this book.
You find it in vv. 9-10:
Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings [logos] of this book: worship God. And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings [logos] of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
You find it in vv. 18-19:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words [logos] of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words [logos] of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
So the “words” of 1:3 are the “sayings” of 22:6-7 and 22:9-10 and the “words” of 22:18-19. They are words in a book, written Words. So here we shouldn’t be getting the common anti-preservation-of-scripture criticism of “these words could be talking about all the words that God ever spoke that aren’t even recorded in scripture—do we even know what those words are?” These have to be the very words that were written down in the original manuscripts. And “that are written” in 22:18 translates a perfect participle, so we see the words to be written at a point in the past with the results ongoing. That alone speaks of the preservation of the words.
In Revelation 22:18-19 God through the Apostle John gives us a warning. The first part of the warning is in v. 18 and it is about adding words, that is, including extra written words in the book. If someone, upon those words being written in the original manuscripts, shall add to those words, God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book. The words are written in the book. And there is a play on words here obviously. If someone were to add words to the book, he would have added to him the plagues in the book, that is, this person must be an unbeliever. You will notice in the book of Revelation that the plagues come upon unbelievers.
The second part of the warning is in v. 19 and it is about taking away words of the book. If someone were to take away words from the book—another play on words—God would take away his part out of the book of life and out of the holy city. It doesn’t say that God would take someone’s already recorded name out of a book, but his part. Someone can’t have his name removed from the actual book anymore than he can have his person removed out of the holy city. His “part” is what he would have had in the book of life if he had not been a person who would tamper with scripture. Anyone who is saved wouldn’t show the Bible this kind of disrespect. Parallel with the adding, this part of the warning about taking away judges the person to be an unbeliever.
These warnings are commands against any alteration of the words of this book. Not one word should be changed. “Add” and “take away” speak of additions and deletions. What is written in Revelation would have been and continues to be very unpopular. Some of the audience of those letters to the churches would receive it with anger. So a strong warning is given. Doctrine can rise and fall on one word, even one letter. God doesn’t want any changes to the words written in the book.
An ironic point for v. 19 is that there are differences in the very verse itself between the critical text (CT) and the textus receptus (TR) “Shall take away” is present tense (aphaire) in the TR and aorist tense (aphele) in the CT. The former denotes continuous action and the latter speaks of point action. The former indicates a habitual or characteristic activity and the latter a one time act. The TR warns against a lifestyle of taking away from the words of the book and the CT warns against taking away from the words of the book even one time. The meaning of the verse changes with this change in the tense of the verb.
Is the warning against altering the words of only the book of Revelation or of any Scripture period? This is the only such warning in the New Testament. No other New Testament book ends with this warning. It ends Revelation in major part because Revelation is the last book of the Bible. No words should be added or taken away from scripture. The canon of Scripture closes with Revelation. This is the last of God’s special revelation.
Instruction about Preservation
The teaching of Revelation 22:18-19 doesn’t seem to be that difficult. What those two verses say looks to be very straightforward. They start to get muddled when someone doesn’t like what they say or if what they say clashes with a doctrine that a person already holds. Revelation 22:18-19 teaches that every Word of God is important to Him. He does not want one Word added or taken away from the Words written in the Bible. It is very serious if someone adds or takes away even one Word from the Book. The Words matter, not just the message.
These two verses say nothing about taking away from the teaching of the book. They talk about adding or taking away from the Words. This isn’t a warning about trying to change the doctrine of the book. That would be bad, to twist what the book means. However, it very clearly forbids the adding or taking away from the Words. To not get that, you have to read something into the verse that isn’t there. If you do change the Words, you are changing the teaching, but altering of the Words is what 22:18-19 talk about.
Revelation 22:18-19 assumes a settled text. You can’t take away or add to a body of words that is unsure. If you aren’t sure what a book is to begin with, you can’t know if you made any changes that did surely add or take away from the Words. You can’t disobey a prohibition against adding or taking away words when those words are uncertain to begin with. So the warning itself here in 22:18-19 establishes a settled text of Scripture.
I have found that people, who don’t know what God’s Words are, have to come up with some different meaning to Revelation 22:18-19 other than adding and taking away Words. They know what that meaning does to the uncertainty of the text found in eclecticism. So they make “words” to mean “teaching” in the face of a plain reading of the two verses. If that doesn’t work, then they say that it’s only adding or taking away from the book of Revelation, not the whole Bible. But even that latter position still leaves them with all their textual variants in Revelation itself, including in v. 19. There really isn’t a way to understand Revelation 22:18-19 without the perfect preservation of Scripture.
The book I edited and in which I wrote, Thou Shalt Keep Them, provided exegesis of key preservation passages in the Bible in their context. There were several passages that we did not deal with that will be part of a second volume when it comes out. One of these is Isaiah 59:21. Recently, I merely mentioned Isaiah 59:21 as a part of the introduction to a post at my blog on the LXX issue. A young man named Adam, attending Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, decided to attack this particular article. He dealt with it as though this really was the major work that I had done as an examination of passages which teach the perfect preservation of Scripture. I only quoted Isaiah 59:21, no more. I provided no commentary, but this is what he wrote concerning that:
Now, one has to really shake their head at the gross misuse of scripture here. Take, for example, the quotation from Isaiah 59. The context is Israel’s transgression before the Lord [vrs.12-13], and the resultant mistreatment of them by their enemies [vrs.14-17]. However, the text says that God will repay them for their deeds, and will bring them a redeemer, so that all will fear the Lord [vrs.18-20]. It is in that context that you find the statement about the covenant being with them in verse 21. Hence, the words here are the *promises* of God to his people, not individual words of the text itself. It is parallel to the usage of Numbers 30:3:
Numbers 30:2 “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
Now, are we really to suggest that his vow was just one word? No, of course not. Yet, this is the very same context of covenants and promises of vengance etc. that we find Isaiah 59:21! All I can say is that this is a gross misuse of Isaiah 59:21.
He says that I grossly misuse scripture by relying on Isaiah 59:21 as a verse on the preservation of scripture. I’ve preached through the whole book of Isaiah, verse by verse and word by word through the Hebrew text. It took me about three or four years.
He talks about the context of Isaiah 59:21, but he really does not go back far enough to understand what Isaiah 59 is about. He needs to see the entire chapter if he wants to properly understand the context. A proper reading of Isaiah 59 will show that v. 21 really does teach the perfect preservation of Scripture to every generation of believer.
Context of Isaiah 59:21
Isaiah 59 allows us to see the world like God sees it, and in this chapter he depicts salvation for Israel and for all mankind. For our own well-being, we must give heed to this portrayal by God of His salvation. Chapter 59 begins like chapter 58 with a concern expressed as to why God is not answering prayers and why Israelites do not seem to sense His presence. They were not experiencing God’ s promises for one reason: their sin. Sin was the barrier between them and God, and this is the theme of Isaiah 59:1-8. As the people recognize the cause for their difficulties, they respond to God first by crying out to Him (vv. 9-11) and then confessing (vv. 12-15).
Isaiah 59:15-21 ends not only this chapter but an entire section that began in 56:1. God is pictured as a Mighty Warrior that defeats Israel’s enemies. But who are her enemies? The enemy isn’t the Canaanites, but her inability to live the life of God. God wants righteousness and He will come to deliver them from sin, and in so doing, Israel can become what God intended her to be. God will come to defeat sin in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:13-17 hearkens back to this text in Isaiah. God’s victory over sin has worldwide implications—from the east to the west God will be glorified. His ultimate purpose for attacking sin was so that He might be a Redeemer (59:20).
The Teaching of Isaiah 59:21
In the final verse of Isaiah 59, v. 21, God pronounces a covenant with those He redeems, those whom He saves from sin. And here it is:
As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.
The “them” are the ones that God’s hand is not to short that He cannot save (cf. 59:1). He guarantees those who turn from their transgressions several things.
First, God’s Spirit will not depart from them.
Second, God’s Words, which He has put in their mouth, will not depart out of their mouth. God makes a promise that these whom He has redeemed will always have His Words accessible to them. God will always provide for them what they need to know Him, believe in Him, and live for Him. Adam offers the typical, faithless treatment of “words.” He says, “These are not the individual words.” Instead, they are merely the “promises.” Where does he get that? Ironically, not in the words of Isaiah 59:21. He reads “promises” into the verse, that isn’t there, and it seems so that he might keep alive the uncertainty of the text that will permit his continued textual criticism.
Third, God’s Words will not depart from the mouth of those believers’ seed and their seed’s seed from that point unto forever. We’re still living under this promise to believers.
God promises perfect preservation and availability of His Words to every generation of believer.
Regarding Isaiah 59:21, consider others who write about this verse. John Owen called Isaiah 59:21 “the great charter of the church’s preservation of truth.” Edward Young in his classic commentary on Isaiah writes (p. 442): “The gift of the Spirit (cf. John 16:13), who will instruct the Church in all truth and in the comforting, saving words that God has given her, will abide with her seed forever. The Lord is declaring that His eternal truth, revealed to man in words, is the peculiar possession of His people.” John Owen and Edward Young both see this verse the same way that I do. Adam would have to chide them as well for their “gross misuse” of scripture—pretty cheeky for someone in his M.A. program in divinity school.
I am amazed at the extent to which men will pursue a goal of attacking the doctrine of the perfect preservation of Scripture. Why not accept the plain reading of the text? God’s Word sustains authority and God offers His people certainty. We should cherish these wonderful gifts of God’s grace. Every generation of God’s redeemed really do have every one of His Words by which to live.
When I received Jesus Christ, I gave up my life. I surrendered my ambitions, my time, and my possessions to the Lord. I could have kept my life for myself, but I didn’t. Like Paul, I counted everything loss. I gave up any possibility of worldly success and popularity and even riches for this way I take. Why? I know how it ends. I know.
I understand how men judge success. I really do get what career choices are impressive to people. I have a good knowledge of how one reaches worldly fame. But no. I fully comprehend the reproach and hatred and rejection that comes with biblical Christianity. So why go the latter direction and avoid the former? I know what real success is, I know what pleases God, and I know that worldly fame is worthless.
Again, I know. I’m certain. I’m sure. When we read the Bible, we read faith and certainty. The language of God’s Word smacks of full assurance. Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded.” Luke wrote so that those reading would have certainty (1:4): “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.” Paul told Timothy that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” John wrote 1 John (5:13) “that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” Not hope so. Know so.
How can we say that we know something that we cannot see? We know because God’s Word can be trusted. “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Paul to Titus (1:2) wrote: “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” We can count on God’s promises, because God does not lie. So we know. He does not lie. His Word is Truth (John 17:17). It is knowledge we can count on, not knowledge falsely so-called.
More than I’ve ever seen, men do not have the certainty of which God’s Word speaks. As it applies to faith and theology, many call this postmodernism, where skepticism and lack of objective truth prevails. Belief takes a back seat to feelings. Doubt reigns as authentic with certainty as closed and totalitarian. Nuance abounds. Dogmatism is not tolerated.
One would think that, of all things, Christianity would contradict postmodern philosophy. Satan wants doubt. He questions God. He attacks truth. Now Christianity cooperates with that plan and uses theology to explain, affirming the doubt that Satan and the world system spawns. Most responsible, I believe, are evangelicalism and fundamentalism for codifying uncertainty and doubt.
We live in a day of assault on meaning. We’re now arguing about the words and symbols that are used to communicate. Few can be sure anymore. Is that modest? I don’t know. Is that foul language? Maybe. Probably not. I don’t know. What’s the man’s role? Maybe this. Could be this. I don’t know. What’s male dress? (laughter) What we are sure about is how unsure we should be. Being sure is not only impossible, but it’s mean. It’s insulting. It’s disunifying. But I didn’t offend you? But you did. How? Why? You did. So stop. OK? Alright. There’s something to believe in.
You can see how masculinity disappears in such an environment. Or whatever we once thought it was to be a man. I don’t want to be dogmatic. In the absence of manhood, we get the replacement manhood found in harsh, loud music, denim, shaved heads, two days of facial hair, salty speech, and man hugs. And lots of “dude.” Dude this and dude that. Like dude.
I’m saying that evangelicalism and fundamentalism have retreated to uncertainty and doubt, leaving everyone who wants certainty nowhere to go. If you choose certainty, evangelicals and fundamentalists will mock you. Evangelicals have been doing this for a long time. Fundamentalists have gotten started a little more recently.
Alright, so what do I mean? By the way, I’m contending that I can mean something. I’ve got to do that for the sake of argument. You might laugh, but that’s where we’re headed, if we’ve not already arrived, with no offense to those who think no one can arrive, but can only take the journey. Where does this all break down? It breaks down primarily in three ways that are major components now of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Number One Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
I don’t want to give my point away with my divisional word. Evangelicals and fundamentalists will stop reading because they think it is too funny. At least, lol. Evangelicals and fundamentalists gave away certainty when they transferred certainty from the text of the Bible they held in their hands, the apographa, and moved it to only the original manuscripts, the autographa. At one time evangelicals, which were then also the fundamentalists—they were the same group—believed what God inspired, verbal-plenary, they possessed. They believed God’s promise of preservation. They believed that they had every Word of God in their possession by which they could live.
Now they don’t believe that. They’ve explained it away. So now we’re not sure anymore about what God’s Word is. We’ve now got dozens and dozens of English translations, and people have waned in their confidence in Scripture, and ultimately in God. God said He would preserve every Word, but they say, “No.” Their position is not what Christians have believed through history. God had promised, so they believed in what they called “providential preservation” of Scripture. Now evangelicals and fundamentalists say we’ve got the “Word” (not the Words) and the “Message” (the particular Words don’t matter so much). We’re supposed to be satisfied with that even if God promised to preserve every Word.
Since we can’t be sure about the Words of God, then we can’t be certain about the promises of God. We lose seriousness and stability in Christianity. The Bible is one part God’s Word and the other part human speculation, and a new edition of Scripture could come out any year. I believe this is the most foundational of these three. We’re basing the biggest decisions of our life on a book that is now wrought with uncertainty because only the original manuscripts were the very Words of God—so says evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Number Two Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
The new doctrine, which you won’t find in Scripture, that is now not only a doctrine but a major belief for evangelicals and fundamentalists, is that all believers unify only over “essential” doctrine. They say we give liberty in the non-essentials. And the essentials are an ever shrinking list and the non-essentials are a mounting, growing, gigantic list of doctrines. Because we have liberty in the so-called non-essentials, it ‘essentially’ doesn’t matter what you belief and practice in those areas. We’ll still have unity with you if you disagree only in the non-essentials.
Now if you disagree on the essentials, which, by the way, is a very amoebic, fluctuating list, then evangelicals supposedly can’t unify with you. The dirty little secret is that evangelicals don’t separate even over the essentials. They don’t separate–that’s only fundamentalists. And mainly fundamentalists and sometimes conservative evangelicals constantly argue over what the essentials and non-essentials are. They have stopped arguing over the very doctrine of essentials itself. You’ve got to believe that we unify only over the essentials. Why? Well, there’s no way you could “separate over everything.” You just can’t. Why? Cause that would be a lot of separation. Nobody separates that much. That’s just way too much separation.
This “essential”/”non-essential” doctrine has become a major doctrine in and of itself. Of course, that allows for uncertainty. You only have to be certain about the essentials. Everything else is sort of up for grabs. And if you are uncertain about a lot, that probably means that you get along with more people and you’re probably going to be liked more. And being liked is, well, big in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Standing only on the “essentials” probably also makes you “gentle,” which has risen in importance as a trait to have. And if you are still struggling along, attempting to get a grip on what Scripture says, not quite getting it, but really trying, you’re more intellectual and definitely more authentic. And what this does is exalt uncertainty.
I’ve noticed evangelicals and fundamentalists scouring historic materials, looking for people who communicated this essential-non-essential doctrine, quoting anybody that gives a possible whiff of it, trying to establish its historicity. And now it is preached quite a lot. And the ones pushing it are saying that this is the way to “unity in the church.” By doing so they redefine scriptural fellowship, church discipline, and many other doctrines. Uncertainty can triumph in the environment of “only essentials.”
Number Three Way Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Codify Uncertainty
Evangelicals and fundamentalists teach a new uncertainty in the application of Scripture. Historic applications of Scripture to culture are now doubtful. The old standards are thrown out as Pharisaical and legalistic. Because of this, there is very little that you can see or hear that differentiates Christians from the world. This is doubt as it relates to the interpretation and application of the Bible. If we don’t even know what the Words are, how could we expect to know what it means. The latter seems far more elusive than the former.
At one time, we knew what male dress was. Now we don’t. We knew what modesty was. Now we don’t. We knew what fleshly lust and worldly lust were. Now we don’t. We know what worldliness was. Now we don’t. And even if we do, revert back to number two—it’s a non-essential.
All of these three combined result in a tremendous amount of disobedience to God, an extreme volume of unholiness, and a gigantic quantity of dishonoring the Lord. And above all these, uncertainty abounds. Because evangelicals and fundamentalist have codified uncertainty in these three ways, professing Christians are uncertain as to what Scripture is, what Scripture says, and how Scripture applies. And even if they are, it doesn’t matter, because you need only be certain about the essentials, which they are actually uncertain about.