Friday, October 24, 2014

The scriptures are more progressive than innovative

God is an infinite God. He dwells outside of time and space. He is not limited by the finiteness of this creation or the limitations of our mind, understanding, and imagination. As God is infinite, so is His knowledge and understanding. The Psalmist says, "Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite." (Psalms 147:5) and the prophet speaks for God saying, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9) Seeing we serve such a God, it is reasonable to expect that such a full knowledge and understanding of God is incapable of being written down in a few thousand pages of any single book, even within the Holy Scriptures. The scriptures have just scratched the surface of who God is and what He wants to reveal of Himself to us.

However, knowing that there is so much more of God to understand and learn, we must always be cognizant that the revelation of God is more progressive (building upon and clarifying past revelations) than it is innovative (making large unexpected or disconnected leaps to new doctrines and/or ideas). Phillip Schaff, in reference to Vincentius, a fifth century monk, put it this way.
"In like manner Vincentius Lerinensis teaches, that the church doctrine passes indeed through various stages of growth in knowledge, and becomes more and more clearly defined in opposition to ever rising errors, but can never become altered or dismembered... The criterion of the antiquity of a doctrine, which he required, involves apostolicity, hence agreement with the spirit and substance of the New Testament. The church, says he, as the solicitous guardian of that which is intrusted to her, changes, diminishes, increases nothing. Her sole effort is to shape, or confirm, or preserve the old. Innovation is the business of heretics not of orthodox believers. The canon of Scripture is complete in itself, and more than sufficient." (Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume III, Chapter 118).
With the appearing of Jesus Christ, the Word of God was once for all revealed to mankind; the fullness of God's revelation being revealed for all to see and hear. Having seen and heard Jesus, we have seen and heard the Word of God. Further, Jude reminds us of, "the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." (Jude 3) When we consider the continued revelation of God, we must acknowledge it as a continuation in scope and depth and not in innovation and evolution. The revelation of God, especially as recorded in the scriptures, paints a continuous line of knowledge stretching from the very beginning, with the creation of the world and of Mankind, and running to the end of all things, with the destruction of the world and the eternal reward and punishment of mankind. Along that line we have the revelations of the prophets and the teachings of the apostles. Progressive revelation is that which builds upon the words of these prophets and apostles. However, innovation, new "revelation," that is not traceable back to their words, is automatically suspect and oftentimes heresy. Paul said that our lives and our faith should be "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone," (Ephesians 2:20) Revelation built upon anything else should be shunned or at least approached very cautiously. Everything we think we know, or believe we have received, should first be run through the filter of the prophets and the apostles; it must some how stretch back and be connected to that continuous line of revaluation and knowledge.

Turtullian warns us of receiving that which is innovative or novel in comparison to the scriptures we have already received.
"For in as far as what was delivered in times past and from the beginning will be held as truth, in so far will that be accounted heresy which is brought in later. But another brief treatise will maintain this position against heretics, who ought to be refuted even without a consideration of their doctrines, on the ground that they are heretical by reason of the novelty of their opinions." (Tertullian, Book 1, Chapter 1, Against Marcion)
God's word is always true; truth descends from truth and revelation from revelation. With great assurance we know that God spoke to the prophets and that the apostles taught the message that was personally delivered to them by Jesus Christ. All other and subsequent revelation must be based upon, and must be in agreement to, these previous revelations and teachings. In our search for more of God, we must never allow ourselves to wander outside the bound of truth as laid our for us in the scriptures. These scriptures, and their teachings, should form for us an orthodoxy that serve as the white lines marking the edge of a roadway; guiding us safely down the path and keeping us from the perilous cliffs that line the sides of the roadway. Within the lines we are free to roam, search, wonder, and discover, but outside the lines lies danger and shipwreck. In this case, the lines truly are our friends.

It has been my experience that, with each new wave of God, there is also a lot of debris that rides in on the wave; not all that comes in is clean and preteen. Along with the new thing that God is doing, there often comes some of the old heresies wrapped up in new clothing. Often times, in our excitement, we are all too willing to receive all the new teachings and revelation the "new wave" has to offer without properly vetting each new doctrine we receive. Paul warns us to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22) There is much to know and learn about God, but let us be careful to examine every new thought or idea to make sure it is consistent with, and connected to, the eternal revelation of God as recorded in the scriptures.

David Robison

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