“but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires”
2 Timothy: 4:3
This is a warning that we need to take seriously. However, I believe we often fall into this error from the other side. When we read this verse, we think of someone who runs after teachings they want to hear. I don’t know if I ever heard someone warn us from not listening to doctrines we know nothing about or that are even distasteful to us. So often, we have our itching ears satisfied by listening only to our current set of favorite teachers.
The people in Thessalonica drove out Paul because he brought a teaching that did not itch their ears. They were satisfied having their ears itched by their current teachers. The Bereans, on the other hand, allowed Paul to come into their status-quo synagogue service preaching a message that messed with their theological comfort. And yet they received this message with great eagerness.(Acts 17:1-15)
I don’t think we can truly understand what happened – just how radical the message was for them and just how much they had to yield. Not only did they listen with eagerness but received the message with eagerness. They didn’t just hear what Paul was saying and resist reacting to it, they embraced what was said and came into a believing knowledge of the message. Only then did they go to their scriptures to check it out.
They did not go to the scriptures to find arguments against Paul nor did they go to the scriptures to find arguments for Paul. They went to the scriptures to see if it was so. I know from experience how easy it is to go to the scriptures to quickly dismiss someone’s ideas or theology. I also know how easy it is – for me at least – to hear a new idea and run with it, using scripture superficially to justify this new idea or belief. The hardest thing to do is to come to the new belief in a real and honest way and then go to the scriptures to see if it is so.
I humbly say that I hold to, or at least strive at holding to the mindset of the Bereans, free-thinking and open-minded people not afraid to challenge their own preconceived opinions and beliefs. Laying aside my own beliefs to take up and embody new ones being proposed to me, I have willingly challenged many doctrines (trinity, deity of Jesus, women in leadership, end times, inerrancy/ role of the bible).
Sometimes I have returned to my original belief with as strong or stronger conviction; more often I find that this practice of open-mindedness refines and fine tunes my beliefs, like iron sharpening iron; and sometimes I walk away with a completely new belief.
For example, one doctrine that I have recently wrestled with is the doctrine of sin, the fall and the atoning work of Jesus and the Cross. After much deliberation and study I have left behind the traditional Protestant view of an atonement of substitution; of a fall that resulted in a vast and unbridgeable gap between us and God due to the inherited guilt and punishment resulting from a legal consequence of disobedience.
Instead, I now see the fall as resulting in a distortion of reality, a severance of communion with God and a very real sense of separation and disharmony with God and between one another. All this resulting from our sin [missing the mark] and the shame that it brings. Jesus’ obedience, even unto death on the cross, was not to appease a wrathful God. After all, how can forgiveness occur if it requires a payment? That would be like saying to someone who owes you money, “I’ll forgive you if you give me your new car”. This is not forgiveness and neither is God forgiving us only because Jesus paid for our dept.
God’s wrath was never aimed at us, His children, but at the sin that kept us from truly entering into a relationship. It was not an angry wrath but a cleansing wrath. Jesus did not die on the cross to appease an angry God but to appease our sense of shame. On the doctrine of atonement I have moved to an ‘eastern’ Orthodox position.
Anyway, the main reason I write this is not to discuss any particular doctrine, rather to bring light to what I believe is one of the greatest issues facing the church today. Our problem is our itching ears.
We have within our congregations today, the atmosphere of denominational-ism. Our little group gathers with others of like mind. We read books by those in our group, listen to podcasts or bring in speakers from within our own group. And heaven help the one who reads an author that is black-listed due to the fact he is an outsider. We are quite happy having our ears itched by our charismatic ear scratchers; or our New Apostolic ear scratchers; our evangelical, our reformed, our prophetic ear scratchers; or our liberal or emergent ear scratchers.
The great down fall of the Reformation is denominational-ism. Everyone could read the scriptures for themselves and were responsible for their own doctrines. The result? 30000+ protestant denominations! And we claim this diversity is a good thing. Diversity with unity is a good thing. But diversity with division is anti-Christ. And it is this anti-Christ spirit we are, for the most part, stuck with today as a result of the Reformation. I am tired of having my ears scratched by the same old charismatic, conservative, evangelical ear scratchers.
The printing press was the catalyst to a divisive diversity. Maybe the world wide web will be the catalyst to a unified diversity. It has become so much easier to hear other sides of the divisive issues. I do not need to wait for a Paul to come into my synagogue, I can now go to his blog and hear the word of God there. And together, in this world wide congregation, we can have a conversation and go to the scriptures to see if it is so. And it is this engaging fellowship that should not be forsaken.