This post has the potential to hurt a few people, but faithful are the wounds of a friend. I've written this because I love my friends.
I have some acquaintances that I correspond with on occasion. They present a challenge to me. They often post passages of scripture after making a comment on something I’ve said. It’s rare for these brothers and sisters to make any comment without some kind of reference to the bible. They frequently request others to provide ‘chapter and verse’ when they make statements having to do with spiritual life.
I’ve become increasingly concerned with this behavior and I have a confession to make. I was one such person, not long ago. I’ll describe this from my own experience.
After coming to the Lord in 2000, I began a 7-year journey; relentlessly devouring everything I could find to help me understand the bible. I became an expert of sorts. People used me as a resource for theological questions. I was always quoting chapter and verse. I questioned (and sometimes criticized) ideas, statements and positions that didn’t square with scripture…or rather, my understanding of it. If there were a banner over my life it would have said, “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.” It was the word, not the spirit that was leading me. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.
It was during this time that God showed me how dead I was. I had been born again, but not baptized in the Holy Spirit. I had a dream in which Luis Palau was present at a meeting. A woman at the meeting informed me I was spiritually dead and told me I became spiritually alive when I registered for a Kim Clement concert. That gave me reason to re-evaluate a lot of things. One of them was my obsession with biblical accuracy. I heard pastors say you could be so right that you were 'dead right'. Who knew they were talking about me?
I began having experiences that were hard for me to understand in the context of biblical Christianity. Although the bible has much to say about dreams and their interpretation, I’d never had a dream I remembered as an adult and never hear a sermon on dream interpretation. Suddenly I was having many dreams. God showed up in a few and He had a lot to tell me. Some of the experiences I've had while sleeping defy explanation. I have no memory of seeing, hearing or feeling anything. When I wake, I have an awareness that something 'spiritual' happened. But I can't find words to describe it. I know my spirit man was up to something, by my natural mind had no clue what was going on. I retained no memory of it. I have no chapter and verse for something like this.
It was also at this time that God began speaking new words to me, like 'prophet' and 'healer'. I had no grid for these things. But this was my new identity, like it or not. I reluctantly began the process of transformation, and in this new life I moved from servanthood, to sonship. Having my identity confirmed from the Lord freed me from the insecurity that compelled me to prove to men who I was.
I began having visions, visitations, angelic encounters and seeing miracles. Some of the images I see in visions aren’t found in the bible. Am I supposed to ignore them? How can I interpret them? This is where we have to lay the bible aside to come before God and ask what He’s saying, what it means, and how to apply it. As I hear the voice of God and declare His rhema word for a person, group or season, much of what comes from my mouth doesn’t have chapter and verse attached. Biblical principles should be found in it and the heart of God should be revealed through it. Prophecies must be judged. The question then comes – how do you know you’re hearing from God?
This is a case where relationship must have priority over the written word. I'm not suggesting experience trumps the logos. But God isn't a book. As His children, we must believe that we’re hearing the Spirit of God and trust that He is revealing the truth to us. Unfortunately, there have been errors in the past and there’ll be more in the future. I’ve missed my share of interpretations, and learned from the mistakes. I’m new, and making mistakes is part of the process of maturing.
I see problems in always demanding ‘chapter and verse’ to support statements. The first is, not all ideas and experiences have biblical references. The second is the fact that we don’t all have the same familiarity with the word of God. Most of the people who do this are very skilled in handling the word and know how to use electronic bibles to gather a mountain of verses to support their idea. They scan people’s blog or Facebook posts, looking for ideas that seem out of harmony with their understanding of the bible. When something hits their radar – they make a corrective observation, insert an adequate supply of bible verses and wait for a response. They are not intimidated, but seem eager to engage in a battle of words. They seldom back down. And that bothers me. Remember, I once did this myself.
I know there is much exhortation in the word to avoid false doctrine. But this behavior resembles what a bully does on a playground. Bullies look for those who are weaker and beat them up. It’s usually done out of a weakness or insecurity that torments them. When bullies grow up they become thugs who terrorize everyone around them. The people I’m referring to in this post could be called intellectual bullies. They go around looking for people who are intellectually weaker and beat up their ideas with a superior set of ideas. The references to scripture are nothing more than an iron bar or a baseball bat that says, “Don’t mess with me.” Is this the kind of life Jesus would have us live?
In a continual search for error they have become known as ‘heresy hunters.’ Bill Johnson made a profound statement that forever impacted how I see heresy. (I’ll paraphrase) He said that if you react to error, you won’t arrive at truth – but another error of a different kind. As long as error is your starting point – you can’t arrive at truth. The truth stands on it’s own ground, independent of and in no relation to error. Man wasn’t designed to react to error, but to respond to truth.
God wants us to be a culture that honors its members. Intellectual bullying dishonors everyone involved. This behavior needs to end. In some, a lack of identity may be the cause. Allowing God to tell us who we are can begin the healing process.