Martin Luther dared to proclaim that God’s forgiveness for sins could not be purchased for money. He also declared God’s grace as the only source of forgiveness, the Bible as the only source of divinely revealed knowledge, and that all believers are a priesthood before Christ, not a select few. For these “heresies” he was excommunicated.
When Galileo suggested the radical notion that the earth was not the center of the solar system he was tried and found “vehemently suspect of heresy.” He was not excommunicated, but was required to “abjure, curse, and detest” his opinions and was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.
These actions seem silly as we look at them through the lens of our modern beliefs. The selling of indulgences seems to us to be as foolish as believing the earth is flat. But to the religious leaders of their day, the dangerous thoughts of liberals like Martin Luther and Galileo were a challenge to their belief system and a threat they could not endure.
What if beliefs we hold dear are just as silly?
I’m not saying they are. But what if they are? What if some future generation will look at ours with the same disbelief as we look back at Martin Luther or Galileo? Those who persecuted them had the same Bible we possess. What if, like then, our current understanding of the truth has been so clouded by our cultural, political and social prejudices that we cannot see any other way but ours?
Truth is real. It is absolute. It can be nothing less. The truth that the sun is the center of the solar system did not change because the church leaders considered it heresy. The truth is what it is, regardless of whether we acknowledge, believe, or follow it. The truth exists regardless of opposition by politicians or popes.
But truth is not the problem, we are.
What if we have believed and taught things that are based on our own understanding of the truth, but in reality are far from it? What if we have held others to standards they were never meant to follow? What if, like in the days of Luther and Galileo, our own politics, preconceptions and prejudices have tainted our understanding and caused us to refuse to accept an alternate reality. What if we are clinging to the earth being the center of the universe?
What if we have excommunicated others for less? I’m not talking about some official, church sanctioned excommunication. I’m talking about the millions who have been driven away from Christ by our lack of humility. I have said in a previous post that truth must be handled delicately and with humility, otherwise it becomes a weapon. Beliefs in the absence of love are dangerous things. Wars are fought over beliefs. People die when others become so defensive of their position that they feel the infidels must be eliminated.
The Apostle Paul recognized the danger of that arrogance when he said, “…though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Love tempers us. It softens our actions. It creates a gentleness and patience with those who don’t believe as we do. Jesus did not say men would know we are His disciples because of our correct doctrine, but by our love.
The gospel frees us from the need to always be right. When I truly grasped the enormity of God’s grace shown to a worthless loser like me, it released me from my arrogant notion that it all depends on me. My right beliefs or correct doctrine don’t make God love me more than He already does.
Put down the pitchforks. I’m not telling you what you believe is wrong. I’m not demanding that you accept the sun as the center of the solar system. I’m just asking you to have enough of an open mind to consider the possibility that it might be.
#1 by Rick McConnell on October 7, 2011 - 8:18 AM
Dave- great food for thought. I have many times wondered the same thing. How many things do we do that are out of line with scripture- but we can’t see it- because it’s just part of “Christianity today” as we know it. GOOD words!
#2 by Dave Kirby on October 8, 2011 - 12:42 AM
#3 by Mark on October 7, 2011 - 10:33 AM
I think it would be helpful if you could be more specific and give some examples of common modern “Christian” beliefs that fall into the category of “silly.” Are you hinting at beliefs about abortion? Homosexuality? “Young earth” creationism? I get what you’re saying, but I’m having trouble thinking of specific examples of this sort of thing.
#4 by Dave Kirby on October 7, 2011 - 11:23 AM
I really wasn’t thinking of specific issues when I wrote this post. My intent is really just to encourage us to not be arrogant about what we believe.
Whether it’s the more politically charged issues you mentioned, or differences in theology or church doctrine, it’s so easy for us to lock on to a specific point of view to the exclusion of any other possibility. But we see from the examples I gave that past Christians have indeed ben very wrong about passionately held beliefs.
I’m not asking anyone to change what they believe, only to understand that love is always more important than correct belief.
#5 by Mark on October 7, 2011 - 12:34 PM
Consider this: Real love depends on correct belief. Correct belief is the foundation of true love. Why do I think that people have worth? Because I believe that they are created in the image of God! That belief is a biblical doctrine, and is the reason we think that people need to be valued and loved. Why should I feel a responsibility to love others? Because I believe that God commanded me to love my neighbor as myself and because Jesus said, “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” I think correct doctrine leads to real love. I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition.