The Church is the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That is a fact. Jesus did not say that the church ought to be the salt of the earth, but that it is.
It is true that what is taught in the church becomes currency in the world’s market of ideas. The present state of emotionalism and irrationalism in Western Society has come from the church.
It was the church that taught its members that the words of the Bible were unreliable. The Bible was not to be thought of as a book of covenant between God and His people, a covenant that was understandable and plain. Instead, the Bible was to be read for its personal and emotional content, and each man had the right to place his own meaning and content upon the words, twisting them to his own desires and ideas.
For you see, the Holy Spirit was not to be found in the words of the Scriptures, but in the experiences of the Christian. America has suffered from this virus from the time of the so-called “First Great Awakening,” which moved the churches away from the study and understanding of the Scriptures to emotion and experience. Revivalists excoriated the professional and learned clergy as being “dead” and “cold.” Proof was to be found in the experiences of the “revived,” not in the words of Scripture. Look what God is doing in the lives of so many people, was the answer given to objectors. The emphasis was shifted from inspired Scriptures to inspired people.
American churches came to believe that the Bible was just a tool of the learned to hinder the liberty and freedom of the common Christian, to hold people in bondage. People should be free to follow the leading of the Spirit. Translation: Follow your feelings, no matter how irrational or how contrary to the Bible. One of the most obvious manifestations of this lawless spirit was the thrusting of women into the gospel ministry, for the 19th Century revivals gave prominent place to women preachers, directly contrary to the words of Scripture. Spirit-inspired women replaced inspired Scripture.
But ideas have consequences. The church taught America to look to emotion and experience rather than to the book of the covenant. Was it any wonder that her citizens extrapolated that spirit into the political process?
People learned from the church that the words were their enemy, that the Spirit was their true and proper guide. No wonder they looked on the law and the Constitution as barriers to progress and liberty. No matter that the words provided a way to amend these political documents—that was too slow and too restricted by careful process. Inspired men will replace the words by fiat and judicial decision. Do the clear words of the Constitution get in the way of what we want to do? “Well,” we reply. “The Constitution is a growing and living document, and we must not be bound by the dead letter of words.” In the same way that revivalists subverted the covenant of Scriptures, the national covenant was subverted by emotional and lawless individualism.
So it is somewhat ironic that the evangelical community of Christians today is trying to lead the nation back to constitutionalism. The emperor has no clothes. We taught society to rely upon emotion at the expense of reason and our senses. While claiming to believe the Bible we ignored its plain teachings in order to follow our prejudices and our own agendas. We insisted on our own private interpretations, refusing the “bondage” of creeds, substituting our own ideas for the clear words of Scripture. While claiming to love and obey the Scriptures, we left them unread and un-heeded.
We sought a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ that was extra-Biblical and rooted in experience. We forgot, or ignored, the truth that the “Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” 2Tim. 3:16,17 We closed our Bibles and tried to hear the voice of Christ in our own souls, substituting our humanity for the Spirit of God. It was very exhilarating and pleasure-packed, but deceitful none-the-less. We really did not believe that we could be perfected by the Scriptures and be thoroughly furnished unto all good works. No, we wanted something more personal, and longed for the next revival. The problem: every revival, every bit of spiritual “progress” was made at the expense of the Covenant that God had made with His people. We hated that idea of being bound by words. Covenant was too narrow for our tastes.
We mourned the defiling of our national agreement and covenant. We complained when those in high places trampled the constitution underfoot in the name of liberty. The irony was that the church had supplied them weapons and taught them where to aim, and we were powerless in the face of our own weapons. It is time to repent.
“Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” –Matt. 23:24
The following are some disjointed and random thoughts that I jotted down over the last few years, thinking to write an article about gnats and camels. The article never seemed to get itself written, so I decided just to put the ideas down for the benefit or amusement [amazement??] of you dear readers.
Ø Man’s sanctified wisdom ought to direct him even in the study of the Bible. The Bible speaks about both gnats and camels, and blind people cannot tell the difference. Discernment requires judgment, an exercise of reason. This does not place reason above the Bible, because the Scriptures speak of the weightier matters. The scribes and Pharisees were without excuse. Of course, Gnat-Slayers and their blind followers will alike fall into the ditch, sometimes while on safaris for gnats.
Ø There are many more gnats than camels and gnats can occupy a great deal of time. Blind people who go after gnats do not think they are gnats. Of course they don’t. They have elevated their reason above the Bible so that the gnats look like camels to them. This is exactly the point of Christ—if they perceived them to be gnats they would not regard them so much.
Ø Gnats are unpleasant and troublesome, but they are not camels. Gnats deserve a little bit of attention, of course, but they are not a real threat unless we perceive them to be camels. That’s where the trouble is. The gnat is never a problem; the problem is the one who is so obsessed with filtering it out that he swallows a camel.
Ø People who chase gnats are never aware that they are blind guides. Instead, they think are more diligent than others. They see the present and real danger of gnats. They see themselves as a voice crying in the wilderness, but they are crying about gnats, not the Lamb of God. They have thought it through and are convinced that the danger is real. As a result, they persuade other blind people that there is a great threat in this or that gnat, and want to spend a great deal of time and effort straining it out. “I shan’t take anything with a gnat in it, for that would defile me.”
Ø Blind guides and their blind followers are persuaded that those who do not perceive the threat of the gnat are blind, because a person’s spiritual acuity is known by the number of slain gnats. Once the gnat is slain it become a trophy, which hangs in the church as a witness to unusual clarity of sight.
Ø Gnat-Strainers are expert on the history of the Gnat-strainers of the past. They are experts on the history of men of renown who did valiantly against the gnats.
Ø Not only is a special blind eyesight required to see the threat of a gnat, but also an unusual way of looking at Scripture is needed to find gnats. Paul, for instance, did not spend much time explaining the real and present threat of gnats, and so some of his statements are enigmatic about them. It takes unusual powers of reason to see the outline of a gnat in these obscure statements. On the other hand, false accusations against brethren and bitterness and pride are very carefully dealt with throughout the Scripture, as well as the wickedness of division and strife.
Ø Gnat-Filterers gauge their vision by their ability to see the gnats, turning Christ’s words on end, for His Wisdom was to see the camels. Blind guides and their followers, unlike Jesus, glory in their ability to discern the real and present danger of gnats. But they also must develop the special eyesight needed to find these gnats in the Scripture, in order to be able to justify their preoccupation with them.
Ø Gnats may be found in Scripture, certainly. They are right behind the camels. Just swallow down a camel and you will see the gnat clearly. Others may not see the gnat so clearly, because they are having trouble with the camel. The trouble with camels is that they do not stay swallowed, and become a nuisance to Gnat-slayers.
Ø It takes a great deal of time and effort to slay gnats. It is really, really hard to be right about everything all the time. It is necessary to make several pretenses in order to be a Gnat-Slayer. We must pretend that there are no camels around, and that if we can just overcome these gnats, we will have achieved perfection. It takes a very well-developed blindness to see this. There are many irritating gnats hiding behind the camel of perfectionism, and the camel doesn’t stay swallowed. It must be swallowed again and again. It is really hard work.
Ø “But why can’t we have a world without gnats?” Yes, it would be nice. That world is called Heaven, and those who don’t swallow the camels will go there. Until then, there are crooked places that cannot be made straight, because God has made them crooked; there are things that are deficient, because God has made them lacking. [That is also in the Bible; find it for yourself] These crooked places are there for the purpose of teaching us patience, forbearance, love, and mercy. In spite of the crooked places, God has promised that His grace is sufficient for us. [God is filled with patience, forbearance, love, and mercy. Gnat slayers are uncomfortable about that, and wish He would help them shape people up.].
Ø “But the Bible is very plain about my gnat. Let me explain it to you again.” Yes, you are right. The gnat is there. But what will you have to swallow? You are going to have to swallow the division of the church, the marginalizing of the church, the taking of resources away from subduing camels. And will the church really be better by the slaying of this particular gnat? How many camel-slayers are you willing to destroy in order to subdue that gnat?
Ø “But this is what the Bible says about this gnat. You are just using reason. Who are you to say it’s a gnat?” Yes, Jesus said I was supposed to be able to see the difference between the gnat and the camel. It will be a test of my vision. He didn’t say I was to be a blind commandment keeper, following things I did not understand.
Ø “But it is sin to tolerate the gnats.” Yes, I suppose so. Sin is certainly bad, and it crucified the Lord of Glory. As we read the Bible we become more and more aware of sin. Jesus knew what sin was all about and is not saying that gnats are ok; He is just calling us not to think we have done some great thing by straining one out. “There is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good and sinneth not.” The HC says that we break every one of the commandments every day. The commandments, that is, not gnats.
Ø The Gnat-Slayer pretends that only gnats are left to subdue. It’s a lie, of course, for Gnat-Strainers always neglect the three things commended by Christ: First, judgment—the ability to discern [between gnats and camels in this case] Second, mercy—the ability to abide gnats in others; Third, faith: the knowledge that Christ forgives all our sins, the gnats as well as the camels.
Ø The Apostle Paul was a MSG [Mighty Strainer of Gnats], until he met Christ. From then on he just wanted to talk about Christ and His righteousness. “If ye bite and devour, take heed that ye be not devoured of each other,” he warned. “I want to know nothing from you except Christ and him crucified,” he told the Corinthians who were all divided into various MSG denominations. “All that stuff about me I just count as garbage—the real value is Christ and Him crucified.”
Phil. 3:4-7 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
Ø A confessional church recognizes the difference between gnats and camels. The camels are in the creeds. It is just wrong to dissipate the energy of the church in straining gnats, when we have a huge job to teach the world about the camels identified in the creeds. The blindness that afflicts Gnat-Slayers is called perfectionism, which comes in many different varieties, for there are lots of gnats.
Ø “Wow! Sounds like you don’t care about the Scriptures.” MSG’s do care about the Scriptures, but they use them to fortify their own sense of righteousness, ignoring total depravity in themselves and the futility of the law to bring righteousness. “But that’s antinomian!” You mean that warning people about staining at gnats and swallowing camels is antinomian? Hmmmmm.
Ø Things that are not important enough to be in the creeds aren’t important enough to squawk about. If we preach Christ and him crucified and connect men to Jesus Christ, they will be all right, even if there are some gnats flying around. If ministers want to be astute and wise, let them become wise in this.
Ø If ministers will dedicate themselves to preaching and teaching the doctrine of the creeds they will have plenty to do, and shouldn’t waste their time following their independent and private side trails. It is also very important that they not swallow the camel of contentiousness and strife.
Ø The River of Grace is free and flowing and very, very deep. The marshes around the River are acrid and bitter, and very shallow. The gnats live in the shallows. [Ezekiel 47]
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. –Heb. 5:12-14
The writer of Hebrews was really frustrated that his targeted readers [Jews] were unable to understand what he wanted to say about the man Melchisadec. You would have thought that a man to whom Abraham paid tithes would have impressed the Jew. Especially when later on David spoke of a priest arising after the order of Melchisadec (Psalm 110). The Jew was so filled with pride of race, that they could not imagine someone greater than Abraham. But that is not the subject of this article.
As the writer rebukes his readers for spiritual immaturity, he gives a formula for spiritual maturity. His readers had been followers of the true faith long enough to become teachers, but instead they needed to be taught over and over the first principles. He gives this formula: “Strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Wow!
Discernment of good and evil is not automatic. It is a skill that must be learned, and comes because of the exercise of the senses. On this passage Calvin says,
Of full age, or perfect, etc. He calls those perfect who are adults; he mentions them in opposition to babes, as it is done in 1 Corinthians 2:6; 14:20; Ephesians 4:13. For the middle and manly age is the full age of human life; but he calls those by a figure men in Christ; who are spiritual. And such he would have all Christians to be, such as have attained by continual practice a habit to discern between good and evil. For he cannot have been otherwise taught aright in the truth, except we are fortified by his protection against all the falsehoods and delusions of Satan; for on this account it is called the sword of the Spirit. And Paul points out this benefit conferred by sound doctrine when he says, “That we may not be carried about by every wind of doctrine.” (Ephesians 4:14.) And truly what sort of faith is that which doubts, being suspended between truth and falsehood? Is it not in danger of coming to nothing every moment?
But not satisfied to mention in one word the mind, he mentions all the senses, in order to show that we are ever to strive until we be in every way furnished by God’s word, and be so armed for battle, that Satan may by no means steal upon us with his fallacies. It hence appears what sort of Christianity there is under the Papacy, where not only the grossest ignorance is commended under the name of simplicity, but where the people are also most rigidly prevented from seeking real knowledge; nay, it is easy to judge by what spirit they are influenced, who hardly allow that to be touched which the Apostle commands us to handle continually, who imagine that a laudable neglect which the Apostle here so severely reproves, who take away the word of God, the only rule of discerning rightly, which discerning he declares to be necessary for all Christians! But among those who are freed from this diabolical prohibition and enjoy the liberty of learning, there is yet often no less indifference both as to hearing and reading. When thus we exercise not our powers, we are stupidly ignorant and void of all discernment.
All of the senses must be exercised. “Senses” means “faculties,” reason, will, affections. The whole man must be trained and disciplined by the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture before a man can trust his ideas of right and wrong. The Bible is a difficult book, and a great many sins have been committed in its name, by serious people who thought they were doing God service. The muscles of the soul must be exercised in the Scriptures or we will do evil in the name of God.
Don’t take right and wrong for granted. A great deal of folly has been committed through the years in the name of simplicity. We need to have muscles in our soul, trained and exercised in the Holy Scriptures.