Thoughts on Gnats-Slayers and Camels
Written early in 2001
“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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.”
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. “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.].
12. “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?
13. “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.
14. “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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. “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.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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]