I don’t remember who first coined the phrase, “The Father, Son and the Holy Bible”, but when I heard those words I had to stop and think. My impression was that some people had elevated their understanding of scripture to a place where their interpretation was the final arbiter of fact and truth. The three-faceted revelation of the Godhead is a beautiful thing and so is the scripture, but not as beautiful as the One scripture reveals. From time-to-time we need to be reminded that Jesus was the Word before people had the written word and these people did some very remarkable things for God.
A few months ago a good man who struggles with some of my understanding of God’s Kingdom said to me, “Our group is like the Bereans – we like to search out the scripture to find what is true.” I was happy my friend searches scripture, but I was saddened he used his understanding of what he thought the scripture said to distance himself from me. His words were like a theological stone wall constructed to let me know I did not fully understand certain elements of God’s Word because I had not come to the same conclusions as he or his group. I let his comment rest. This week, as I was reading Acts 17 where my friend found the text to justify his reasoning, I saw something more.
When Luke wrote Acts 17 he described a segment of one of Paul’s journeys when he visited Berea. The text does say the Bereans searched the scriptures to see if what Paul and Silas were teaching was the truth – a valuable use of scripture. What we can miss is the first part of the same verse that says, “All the people in Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message.” (Acts 17:11) The evidence the Bereans were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica was revealed when Paul spoke to the Bereans – they listened. They had open minds allowing the Spirit to reveal something more about Jesus outside the boundaries of their current level of understanding. When the close-minded Thessalonians heard what Paul had to say, there were riots.
The word Paul used to describe the open-mindedness of the Bereans has been defined as “forwardness of mind” and “willing”. In others words, someone who is open-minded to truth is willing to think forward beyond their current understanding. This willingness is not a compromise of an essential doctrine, but a place of vulnerability requiring a new level of faith enabling us to see where the Spirit is revealing a deeper dimension of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus told His disciples when the Spirit comes He would lead us into all truth. This means the Spirit is the One who interprets the scripture, not those of us who think our insight of scripture is final and without error.The leading of the Spirit invites listening, not riots. No riots please!