What Do You Mean It’s Unbiblical?
I received a message from a friend asking my thoughts on the teaching that we could live in our physical bodies for several hundred years or longer and that we could avoid physical death altogether. I have a couple of friends who have embraced the idea of physical immortality. This friend knew that and she was curious to know if I supported the teaching. I wrote back saying that presently, I’m not convinced that this idea is true, though I respect the right of my friends to hold this view if they choose to. She wrote back saying this teaching was unbiblical and she didn’t understand how anyone could support it.
I replied that the idea—whether true or not—is easy to support, biblically. Off the top of my head, I came up with several passages from the Bible that supported it. The one that came to mind first was when Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
Both Enoch and Elijah were translated into heaven without physically dying. It wasn’t hard for me to see that this idea was biblical. Whether it’s true or not is a completely different matter. The idea that we can escape physical death is not new and it’s one of several minor doctrines that people have explored lately.
I don’t like dismissing people’s ideas before hearing them out and asking the Holy Spirit if the idea is worth investigating. (If that sounded like an invitation to send me your manuscript on the subject, it wasn’t.)
Some doctrines are more important than others. And some are so minor they don’t demand that we take a position on them. Salvation, the resurrection, the person of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit are major doctrines. I’m less flexible on those issues, but on matters that are not essential to the faith, like physical immortality, I think there’s more latitude for divergent views. I have some concerns about how we handle discussions of non-essential doctrines, and that’s what the rest of this message is about.
My friend had rejected the teaching of physical immortality mostly because it wasn’t being taught by any mainstream leaders (as far as she knew) and that made her think it had to be false. And it wasn’t just that she had rejected a doctrine. She seemed ready to end her friendship with the people who embraced it. After all, if someone is teaching a doctrine that’s false, that makes them… (you guessed it) false teachers. And who in their right mind would want to be friends with a false teacher? Lastly, if the idea were false, she thought it must be false because it was unbiblical. Because as we all know, if something is biblical, it can’t possibly be false.
So here’s the crux of the problem:
Many believers have been conditioned to think that the words “biblical” and “true” mean the same thing and that the words “unbiblical” and “false” mean the same thing. But this is not the case.
I can’t say an idea is “unbiblical” simply because I don’t believe it’s true. When I say that I believe something is untrue, I’m expressing my opinion. Opinions don’t carry much weight and we all know that. So to make a more forceful argument against something we disagree with, we prefer to say it’s unbiblical. When we say something is unbiblical, we’re trying to use the Bible to prop up a weak opinion. Sometimes we’ll disagree with a teaching and say it’s unbiblical, but in many cases, we haven’t searched the scriptures yet. Rather than admit that our objection is based on the fact that the idea lies outside our present grid of understanding, we tell ourselves it’s unbiblical.
Even when we do search the scriptures, the fact that an idea is mentioned in the Bible does not prove its truth or falsehood. All the pseudo-Christian cults draw heavily from the scriptures for their doctrines. While they all have extra-biblical writings which help explain their systems of belief, they all believe in Jesus. Many of them teach that He is the Son of God and that he died and was resurrected. Many of their doctrines are perfectly biblical. What makes them cults is the fact that their biblical truths have been twisted ever so slightly, rendering distorted versions of the truth. While you can say that many of these views are false, you can’t say they’re unbiblical.
Satan knows that the best way to appeal to religious minds is to build arguments directly from the scriptures themselves. The whole reason why people accept false teachings is because they’re biblical. Over the entire church age, the most pervasive heresies have been the ones that are best supported by the scriptures. Heresies that have no basis whatsoever in the scriptures are the easiest to disprove.
Many people think that having a thorough knowledge of the Bible is the best defense against error, but many who have become experts in the scriptures did not recognize its author when they stood in His presence. Knowing the Bible can certainly help us know the truth, but D.L Moody hit the nail on the head when he said, that reading the Bible without the illumination of the Holy Spirit is like reading a sundial by moonlight. Knowing the scriptures and knowing the Word who was made flesh are not the same thing. The only way we can ever know the truth about the things of God is by developing a deep, personal relationship with Jesus, learning to hear the Holy Spirit and spending time among those who manifest His presence.
Doctrines and Friends
One approach to living in a spiritual community is to associate only with those who agree with your views of God. If you belong to a group which insists that all its members agree to the same set of doctrines, you’re a member of a religious sect, which is how the Pharisees and Saducees developed and lived out their theologies. These groups get their identities from their belief systems. Those who take their identities from their belief systems can’t have any of their beliefs challenged. Because you’re not just challenging their beliefs, you’re challenging their identities.
The other approach to living in a spiritual community is to live with people who are allowed the freedom to disagree on minor doctrinal points. These people take their identities from the Father. Those who take their identity from the Father can have their beliefs challenged because you aren’t challenging their identities, you’re only challenging their doctrines. I think it’s healthy to allow friends to have divergent views without placing taboos on the subjects they discuss. The fact that we remain friends with people who hold doctrines we disagree with doesn’t mean we support their doctrines. It means we value their friendship above their doctrines. Kris Couchey said this:
“Years ago when I was taking a class on CAD (computer aided design) the Spirit of God showed me how it takes three perspectives of an object to fully perceive its makeup and dimensions. In the kingdom of God, this is a reality as well. There is no one perspective that can fully perceive the totality of the reality of what and how God is manifesting Christ in us. He gives different people different portions that when brought together give us a clear perspective of the whole. And when we embrace the perspectives by the Spirit and realize there is “further” truth we do not personally have but is given to others; we need the humility to recognize our completion is in union with the rest of the family.”
As our friends explore ideas about God that we haven’t considered, the truest expression of love may be to give them a little room to stretch their theological muscles.