“Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).
In the months leading up to the U.S. involvement in the Second World War, our country broke the Japanese secret code. This means that Army and Navy personnel were reading Japan’s messages. We actually knew where their forces were most of the time and what they were planning.
All signs indicated they were going to attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.
And yet, when they did just that–December 7, 1941, that day of infamy–we were completely unprepared. Our battleships were parked side by side close up and made a great target for the Japanese torpedo bombers. Our planes were parked in rows, as though for the sharpshooters at the county fair.
The Japanese had a field day. A turkey shoot.
How had this happened? How had they managed to catch us so completely off guard when we were reading their coded messages and knew what they were up to?
We did not believe what we were reading. This could not possibly happen.
It was unthinkable that their aircraft carriers could get close enough to attack Pearl Harbor. So, we stupidly walked into that ambush.
We had no one to blame but ourselves. But did we blame ourselves? Not hardly. Our people blamed conspiracies, the incompetence of Admiral Kimmel who was in charge of Pearl Harbor, conniving by President Roosevelt (to get us into the war), and a hundred other scapegoats.
We weren’t alone in this foolishness….
Early in that war, Britain managed to decypher Nazi Germany’s brilliant contraption called Enigma. This coding machine was so complex that the Nazi leadership refused to believe the Allies could possibly be reading their messages. Even when confronted with evidence, they preferred to believe the Allies were “just lucky” rather than admit their precious coding system had been broken.
“Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” is how First Corinthians 10:12 puts it.
“It couldn’t happen to me.” “It couldn’t happen here.”
We’ve just commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 wake-up call administered by Middle Eastern terrorists to our beloved country. The same principle applies. We “just knew” no one would dare attack us on our soil.
Each Christian worker could mess up royally. No one is too strong, too mature, and too valuable to the Lord’s work to be subject to the same discipline as everyone else. Be faithful.
Every eminent theologian could be wrong. No one knows it all and understands it perfectly. Even the strongest and best theologians change positions over the years. Be humble.
Denominations could be wrong
For over a hundred years, Southern Baptists (my denomination) would declare that we were non-credal, meaning we did not go in for creeds. We would say, “If you believe the Bible, we’re on the same team.” And then, we discovered that this open-ended approach was giving us Bible teachers and seminary professors who were blazing new trails in heresy. There must be guidelines. The seminaries produced “statements of faith” which all professors were required to sign and follow.
Soon, the denomination got into it.
Our leaders produced something we call The Baptist Faith and Message. Now, if it seems to you we’re bending over backward to keep from calling it a creed, you’d be right.
It’s a useful tool. Churches’ constitutions and by-laws no longer have to spell out “what we believe,” but can simply insert an article that “This church accepts the Baptist Faith and Message as its doctrinal positions.” On their resumes, pastors say they adhere to that statement.
That’s all fine but in my not-so-humble opinion, the BF&M could use one thing more. At the end, this and all other creeds should include a statement saying something like This is how we see things. But we see through a glass darkly and our understanding is not always perfect.
Some would protest, “Oh no. We’ve got this. Scripture teaches this and anyone saying otherwise is denying the Lord.”
And that’s the problem. “We could not possibly be wrong.” Presumption.
Now, this may actually be true on some issues. But our SBC leadership does not seem to know when to quit adding more statements as to who is in and who is out. We keep drawing the lines tighter and tighter, shutting out more and more believers who do not cross their T’s the way we do. Those who speak the loudest and insist the strongest will stir the pot and put on a campaign and bring this issue before our denomination’s appropriate groups and the next thing you know, one more article is being added to the BF&M, this time saying that, “Any church not having a sign in front of their campus at least 4′ x 6′ is declared to be in non-compliance and shall have its orthodoxy license revoked.”
I’m being facetious, of course. About that. But not much.
I’m thinking of a church in California that suggested that the homosexual issue is not quite as cut-and-dried as some want to make it. The pastor said, as I understand it, that it’s possible to be gay but celibate and thus belong to our churches. Nothing very profound or earth-shaking. Well! Pastors in that area were so upset that some of them wanted to kick that church out of the denomination. Just for raising a point for discussion, just for the pastor stating a contrary position.
Sounds like the Joe McCarthy era, doesn’t it? People are attacked just for wanting to discuss issues, trying to see if there is a better way.
Church splits happen. Denominational fissures open. Good people differ. It can happen anywhere. Let those who think they’ve got it all together and have all the answers and need no outside counsel from anyone, let them take heed lest they fall.
O Lord, keep Thy people from presumptuous sins.
To be faithful is to be humble. To be faithful is to love our brethren, not only when we disagree on issues but particularly when we disagree. Anyone can love their best friends. But let us love the left-wing, the right wing, and the no wing.
By this shall everyone know we are His disciples, that we love one another.
I didn’t make that up. It’s actually in the Bible. John 13:34-35. You knew that. I’m just pulling your chain.