And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy:3:15
The number of false beliefs being promoted and enthusiastically received among evangelicals is staggering and growing rapidly. Take for example a new book, Lonely No More by Karen Mains of The Chapel of the Air. In it she tells of acquiring a personal spirit guide and making contact, through visualization, with what Carl Jung called "the idiot child within," whom she identifies as "Jesus Christ"! (See T. A. McMahon's evaluation in next month's "Q&A" section). The depth and variety of delusions which evangelicals will embrace seem unlimited, especially if cloaked in psychological jargon.
The only protection against the accelerating apostasy is an intimate knowledge of and obedience to God's Word on the part of each individual. Being a Berean who daily searches the Scripture (Acts:17:11) to "prove all things" (1 Thes:5:21) is the surest yet most neglected antidote to error. This ministry exists not merely to point out false and foolish teachings but to call individuals to a passionate love of God's Word as the all-sufficient guide for knowing and loving God and living and witnessing for Him.
As false doctrines gain a following and become the distinctive beliefs of particular groups, cults are born. To maintain its peculiarities each cult denies individuals the right to understand the Bible for themselves by insisting that its leadership alone may interpret the Bible and that each member must accept its interpretation and edicts as a condition for salvation. Next comes the claim that the cult has another source of revelation from God in addition to Scripture: "inspired" utterances from the cult leaders, or extrabiblical writings and traditions peculiar to the cult.
Unchallengeable and mandatory teaching comes from cult headquarters, whether it be the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower Bible & Tract Society in Brooklyn, Mormonism's First Presidency in Salt Lake City, the Christian Science Mother Church in Boston, or the Catholic pope and bishops in Rome. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church, like any cult, denies its members the right to know and understand the Bible for themselves. No Catholic may be a Berean! Nor is this something which Rome tries to hide.
For example, Vatican II dogmatically declares that "the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God...has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone." Catholic apologist Karl Keating writes, "The Catholic believes in inspiration [of Scripture] because the Church tells him so—and that same Church has the [sole] authority to interpret the inspired text." The Convert's Catechism of Catholic Doctrine explains:
When he has once mastered this principle of divine authority [residing in the Church], the inquirer is prepared to accept whatever the divine Church teaches on faith, morals and the means of grace.
Roman Catholic apologists are holding seminars and debates around the country to deny that anyone may be a Berean. Typical are the following remarks at one such conference by a priest, Enrique Rueda: "The outlook of Roman Catholicism is diametrically...opposed to that of fundamentalists...because as Roman Catholics we do not start with the Bible...we start with the Church...." Augustine reportedly said, "I would not believe in the gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so."
As Bereans we know immediately that Augustine was deceived. Paul wrote, "[T]he gospel...is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes" (Rom:1:16) and he never suggested that its power came from the backing of some church body! The gospel stands on its own without any reference to a church, and it carries such convicting power that it turned the world upside down (Acts:17:6). To the Thessalonians Paul wrote, "[O]ur gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance...and ye became followers of us and of the Lord...." (1 Thes:1:5-6).
Three thousand souls were saved on the day of Pentecost without Peter saying one word about any Church. We find no attempt on the part of the early Christians, who "went every where preaching the word" (Acts:8:4), to prove that an infallible Church existed which endorsed what they preached. We are told what Philip preached in Samaria and what Paul preached in many places where multitudes believed. Not once was there any reference to the gospel being vouched for by some church in Corinth, Rome or elsewhere.
God's Word is " [alive], and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword" (Heb:4:12). As for the claim that the Catholic Church gave us the Bible, it obviously didn't give us the Old Testament. Romans:3:2 tells us clearly that "unto [the Jews] were committed the oracles of God." The inspired writings were immediately recognized and accepted as such by Israel and became available as they were written. We know Daniel was studying Jeremiah (Dan:9:2).
The prophets knew they were inspired of God. Scores of times the prophets declared, "Hear ye the word of the Lord" or "thus saith the Lord," or "the word of the Lord came unto me saying" (Isa:1:10; Jer:5:14; 13:12; 19:3; Eze:6:3; 25:3; Hos:4:1, etc.). And by the leading of the same Holy Spirit those who heard them knew the prophets were inspired—not because a group of rabbis decided it was so. By the same Spirit we know today that Scripture is inspired of God.
The Old Testament is full of references to God's Word being known and loved by ordinary people. Parents in Old Testament times loved God's Word, taught it to their children, wrote it on the doorposts of their houses and meditated upon it "day and night" (Deut 6:6-9; 8:3; Ps:1:2; 19:7-11; 119:97-105; Prov:30:5; Jer:15:16, etc.). Clearly it was commonly known which books were inspired and they must have been readily available. That a "young man" could understand God's Word and be cleansed by it (Ps:119:9) is proof that it speaks to common people and that no religious hierarchy was ever needed to authenticate or interpret it.
Timothy studied the Old Testament as a child, and he learned it not from some rabbis but from his godly mother and grandmother. Christ rebuked the two on the road to Emmaus for not believing "all that the prophets have spoken" (Lk 24:25). He would not have rebuked them had the Scriptures not been commonly known and available to all. Then it says, He expounded unto them "in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (v 27), indicating again that all of the Old Testament canon was known and available at that time.
Roman Catholicism claims that the church councils decided which books should be in the Bible. That certainly was not the way the books of the Old Testament were recognized as inspired. Moreover, it was not until A.D. 397 at the Third Council of Carthage that we have the first conciliar listing of the 27 books of the New Testament. By Catholic reasoning, no one could use the Bible at all until then, for the church hadn't yet decided what it contained. On the contrary, the New Testament canon had been accepted by consensus at least 300 years before 397. Earlier councils had quoted the books of the New Testament in arguments over doctrine without any council ever having pronounced what books were included in the canon.
How did the early Christians know which books were inspired of God? They knew in exactly the same way the Old Testament writings were recognized as inspired. Paul explains how Scripture was recognized: "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor:14:37). In other words, any spiritual person (i.e., one who is indwelt by and led of the Holy Spirit) will by the Spirit recognize Scripture without any church endorsing it. That is the way it was in the Old Testament, in the early years of the church, and it is the same for us today.
Job:32:8 reminds us, "But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." Romans 1 and 2 declare that God's revelation of Himself through creation and conscience has come to all men. God spoke to Adam, to Noah, to Joseph, Gideon and David, et al. without any church existing. It is on the basis of the inspiration of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, who is able to convince the world of sin, righteousness and judgment to come (Jn:16:8-11), that all mankind knows the gospel is true. Christ is "the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (Jn:1:9)—and He does so without the help of any allegedly infallible Church whose dogmas must be accepted by all! John speaks of individuals (1 Jn:2:27) being guided by the anointing they have from God. Never in all of God's Word is there an appeal to some corporate body of leaders to make an infallible declaration of what is true. Never! In Acts 15, Paul did not appeal to an infallible group in Jerusalem whose word was law. He went there to discuss with and correct the elders if necessary, even rebuking Peter (Gal:2:1-14).
In 2 Timothy:3:16-17 Paul indicates that the Bible contains all the doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness that the man or woman of God needs to be everything God wants them to be. But Catholic apologists debating across the country insist that Paul's "all scripture" meant only the Old Testament because that was all Timothy had.
How does a Berean respond? When the Bible says, "All scripture," it means all Scripture, not merely what had been written to that time. Moreover, this is Paul's Second Epistle to him, so Timothy had at least two epistles from Paul. Furthermore, Paul says, "the time of my departure is at hand" (2 Tim:4:6) so he is about to die. Thus all of Paul's epistles must have been written!
Ah, but they weren't yet recognized as Scripture, says the Catholic apologist, because the Third Council of Carthage hadn't yet met. Nonsense! The Berean notes that Peter refers to Paul's epistles as Scripture (2 Pt 3:15-16), so they must have been accepted and in circulation. He uses the phrase, "the other Scriptures," without having to name them, proving that the canon was agreed upon and well known as it was being written—at least 330 years before any council listed the 27 books of the New Testament.
Roman Catholicism destroys the Berean spirit. The result has been the suppression of truth; the torture, sword and flame of the inquisitions; and the rejection of freedom of conscience and press wherever and whenever Catholicism was in power. It was the Vatican which put Mussolini in office with its 1929 Concordat. In exchange, Catholicism was made the official religion of Italy and it became a crime to say anything against the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican also backed Hitler and was handsomely rewarded financially. Pope Pius XI and his cardinals praised both Hitler and Mussolini as God's men of the hour and German and Italian Catholics were forbidden to politically oppose them. The rejection of the individual's right to be a Berean has brought terrible consequences!
Christ said, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me" and "a stranger will they not follow" (Jn:10:27,5). He also said, "He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God" (Jn:8:47). He said to Pilate, "Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice" (Jn:18:37). Paul said that the church congregation was to judge the words of the prophet to decide whether they were of God (1 Cor:14:29-31). We need to be men and women of God who know God's Word and will not be deceived by false teachings no matter what their source.
Let us weep for and seek to win with the gospel not only those trapped in the well-known cults, but the 980 million Roman Catholics held in the grip of a false gospel that sends them to hell. They've been told they can't be Bereans who understand the Bible for themselves. Challenge Catholics to compare what the Bible says with what they are being taught. Nor is it Catholics alone who need such an awakening. Protestants by the thousands blindly go along with all manner of error without knowing the Bible for themselves. Let us also challenge them.
It is amazing how influential one false teacher can be. For example, much of the aberrant theology of Hagin, Copeland, Hinn, et al. can be traced to one man, Finis Dake. His Dake's Annotated Reference Bible presents, among other errors, the idea that God the Father has a physical body similar to man's; that he eats, wears clothes and lives on a planet called heaven; that Adam and Eve flew back and forth to the moon; that Christians will continue to have children throughout eternity; and even that there will be segregation between races in heaven. Who could believe such antibiblical nonsense? Multitudes. And they accept it from the notes in a "reference" Bible which sold 30,000 copies in 1992!
Let us commit ourselves once again to be lovers of God's truth. May we say with the psalmist, "O, how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day" (Ps:119:97)! And let us by word and example challenge others to be Bereans as well. TBC