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October 23, 2017

The Practical Dangers of Scriptural Relativism

By Anthony Wade

A recent Facebook conversation leads to an examination of the danger of reading the Bible out of context.


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I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.I can do all things through him who strengthens me. -- Philippians 4: 12-13 (ESV)

Moral relativism is a widely known and increasingly embraced mindset in this world. This concept essentially is that morality is relative to personal circumstances, culture, and society. At its heart, it is just another way for man to excuse his sin within an acceptable paradigm. While this problem is also infecting the church, today I want to examine another growing trend -- scriptural relativism. In the church today we see an increase in heresy accepted as doctrine and scriptural relativism is the vehicle that allows it. Do some of these expressions sound familiar?

"Well that's not what that verse means to me."

"Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation."

"I know that I am reading it right because God told me."

Beloved, we must understand something central to our faith or else we cannot recover our way. There is only one correct interpretation of the Bible. One. That is the interpretation which reveals what God has said. Period, full stop. Now, there may be different applications within a given passage but what and why God included it remains the property of God alone for our growth and edification. A great deal of scriptural relativism stems from the false teaching of relationship over religion. Everyone in the world is in relationship with Jesus Christ already. The issue is what the status of the relationship is. He is either your Lord and savior or He will be your judge and jury. There is no third option. Several popular false teachings however have propagated this notion of religion being a bad thing and trading it in for an "intimate relationship" with Jesus. The Bible becomes a stumbling block in these instances because it reveals what is false. I cannot tell you how many times people who follow Bill Johnson, IHOP, or the Charisma News False Prophet Brigade have claimed that I have "put God in a box"; when the reality is that God put Himself in that box and we call it the Bible. He did so to protect us from the deceitfulness of our own wicked human heart.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? -- Jeremiah 17: 9 (ESV)

There are real dangers in allowing our deceitful human hearts determine what Scripture means, not the least of which is we will not hear what God actually wanted to say! Beyond that however are real practical considerations. Sometimes we think only in terms of ourselves and maybe we are strong enough in our faith to survive a setback that might push others away from God. It is not only about us beloved. I will use a recent Facebook conversation as a practical example to flesh out the dangers of scriptural relativism. I do not doubt the sincerity of the person I was having this discussion with. They just have been taught poorly to reflect to the "intimate relationship" paradigm instead of truly seeking out what God is trying to say. The result is the Bible ends up being used as the excuse for supporting what our deceitful heart wants to hear. The verse offered up in this conversation was Philippians 4:13. It is the key verse for today and I included verse 12 for context. Everyone in the church knows this verse because it is so misused and misunderstood. This of course is the "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" verse. This was the argument offered for his view of Philippians 4:13:

"The context means you can endure all sorts of persecution because Jesus is with you. However, if someone is scared and anxious about a job interview and they turn to God's Word and that Scripture sticks out to them, then God is using that Scripture to help them with their problem even though the original context means something different."

This is scriptural relativism beloved. The correct context reveals what God is speaking about has nothing to do with being nervous on a job interview. It actually trivializes what God is saying. Paul is saying that he has learned to endure all situations in this temporal life and find contentment regardless of his circumstances. Thrown in prison? Stoned? Shipwrecked? Does not matter as long as I have Christ. So what is the big deal though? Here are the problems with scriptural relativism, using this example as a backdrop:

1) It is not what God said -- I always fail to see why this is not a bigger deal to Christians. This is how agnostics live their lives. They believe in a higher power but seemingly could care less what He might have to say? The Bible is a glimpse into the mind of the Creator of the entire universe! Why would we so casually trade in what He has to say for what our hearts want to hear? Because that is how we are being taught. Modern churchianity is all about sugar coated feel good messages that are usually proof texted right out of context. It is always focused on making this life somehow better. Every day is a Friday, you are destined to reign, seven steps to a better you. This is what tops the Christian best seller list. There is a reason why Joel Osteen is the most popular preacher today and it has nothing to do with handling the Word of God correctly. The Bible says that people will gather for themselves teachers who will tell them what their itching ears want to hear. When a false teacher wields scriptural relativism the results are shockingly horrific for biblical truth often. Joseph Prince teaches God is never mad so he once taught that the flood was an act of love instead of wrath. One of the central tenets of Osteenism is that we can speak things into reality like God. In order to get there, he routinely mangles Romans 4:17, which clearly says God speaks things into existence, and simply lies to pretend that we can as well. This leads us to the second consideration:

2) It's all fun until someone loses their faith -- I will be the first to admit that the argument offered for Philippians 4:13 seems innocuous enough. Someone just wants to get through the job interview! What if they do not though? What if they took Philippians 4:13 into their deceitful hearts as the silver bullet they needed to conquer this mountain and then they walked into the interview and bombed? I see three possible outcomes. One is they just blow it off but that is unlikely since they were so desperate for help they were scouring scripture before the interview. The second option is they blame themselves. They begin to question their own faith. This sets them up for more instances of failed faith, especially if they are just nervous on interviews as most human beings are! The final option is they blame God! After all, He promised that I could do all things and obviously I did not. Suddenly all of those arguments against the sufficiency and inerrancy of scripture seem more reasonable. We are either actively building our faith or this world is actively eroding it. Once again, no third option.

3) The truth is always better. What God is actually saying is always better then what our hearts want beloved. Let us take the example of this nervous job interviewer. When you understand that Philippians 4:13 actually means godly contentment in all situations then the result of the interview carries less weight. You may want the job but neither having it nor not having it does not change that God will see you through all circumstances. That is real power. The church routinely abuses Jeremiah 29:11 as a cure all for Christians who are down. Don't worry! God has all these great plans for your life. Plans for a future and a hope! Except that is not what Jeremiah 29:11 actually means. First of all, it was not even written to you or me. It was written to the exiles in Babylon. This is a descriptive text in that it describes what is occurring. It is not a prescriptive text which would mean direct application for us in our lives. Does God have a plan for our lives? Sure in the context that He sees all time and therefore knows what our end will be. This purpose however is often not very grand. It is may not seem gloriously important. It may even be boring. It could be that we die for the cause of Christ or face unspeakable trials. Sometimes the storm does not end beloved. This brings us to sunny point number four:

4) What life are you focusing on? The promises of Christianity are in the eternal life. Jesus Himself said that we will face tribulation in this world. That we will be persecuted for our faith. That we must deny ourselves and pick up our cross. Can some prosper materially? Of course but how hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God Jesus once asked. Most modern false teachings make the Bible to be about you and how God can serve you in this life. The result is we are then yoked back to this world. There is freedom in scriptural truth that cannot be found in scriptural relativism. Maybe you read Philippians 4:13 and ace the interview and land the job but what have you taught yourself? You have taught yourself that what you feel is thus sayeth the Lord and while it worked out this time, there are no guarantees the next time and maybe that will be dealing with something a lot heavier than a job interview. Maybe next time you are facing the illness of your spouse and feel that God is speaking to you through the verse that says by His stripes we are healed. You have heard false teachers such as Bill Johnson or Todd White exclaim that this verse means God must heal us and you cling to something God never said nor promised. Then your spouse dies and you faith dies with them. You cannot even correctly reflect to Philippians 4:13, which could provide the comfort of godly contentment. We cannot look at these things in a carnal vacuum. God says things for a reason and we ought to be very concerned about those reasons and not as much listening to what our heart wants to say. Just off of the top of my head here are some deep theological nuggets for today

Judge not does not mean we are not supposed to be mindful and critical with each other.

Malachi 3 does not establish New Testament tithing. The church is not the storehouse. God is not waiting to be paid before throwing open the windows of heaven.

Ask and it will be given to you is not a Christian lottery ticket.

Proverbs 29:18 has nothing to do with carnal vision and everything to do with the Word of God.

The enemy that has come to steal, kill and destroy is not the devil -- it is false teachers.

If you do not believe me, go and check the context for yourself. The Bible is a never ending source of the wisdom of Almighty God. It has the answers to anything we might face in this life. When we approach it seeking confirmation, reassurance, or anything other than what God actually means to say, there are always consequences. Maybe not in that one instance but leaven spreads. Bill Johnson and Bethel Church essentially teach that anything that pops into our wickedly deceitful hearts must be treated as direct revelation from God. So does IHOP, the NAR, the various cliques of false prophets and far too many local churches. The sadly ironic part is that this is done under the deception of being in an intimate relationship with someone that you then pay absolutely no mind to what they are actually saying. Moral relativism is dangerous as it excuses our behavior and beliefs but scriptural relativism is far worse because it excuses our behavior and beliefs but blames God for it.

Reverend Anthony Wade -- October 23, 2017

Authors Bio:
Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.