I am usually completely indifferent as to whether other people share my beliefs on matters of faith. Over the years I have spoken of these things to so many, and in most cases have been so badly disappointed either over the failure of their minds to work, or the emergence of evidence that they do not really care, that I have intended, when among nominal Christians, to withdraw into comparative isolation.
All the teaching of Scripture warns me this is no more than I should expect, a form of godliness but the denial of its power, refusal to endure sound teaching, the proliferation of knowledge "falsely so-called"; nevertheless, the holding of beliefs so strong as to be absolute conviction impels my attempt to propagate these; the net result being either frustration or temptation to think, like Elijah, that "I only am left", so that there is need to remind one's self of the answer, "I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee unto Baal".
So the effort to understand and teach truth must go on, even if those who receive it are pitifully few; just individuals here and there, a tiny minority who read magazines such as those I write for, and the odd man among thousands who is really searching for truth. In my experience God supplies such a need when it is genuine, always. Many earnest people find satisfaction in becoming religious, performing charitable works and living in accord with a high code of conduct, vaguely based on a belief only that there is a God about whom the Bible tells some interesting things which only a theologian can interpret; and since these same theologians cannot agree among themselves, nobody can be very sure about anything; it is, they say, "All a question of interpretation".
You know that I value our personal friendship, and I realise that you cannot understand why I do not involve myself in the activities of your church, and I cannot accept that situation as it is without trying to explain my position. I do not possess any unusual intellectual capacity; just, I trust, common sense; nor do I believe such a capacity is needed in order to understand Scripture, although I am ever grateful for able and enlightened minds of those who are especially gifted, like the Scriptures say, as evangelists, pastors and teachers.
When you suggest that certain things I advance are my "views" or that a line of thought is my "interpretation" I wish you to see that is not really so. The things I submit are Scriptural FACTS and the line of thought is the expression of my understanding of those facts. My understanding can be wrong (in which case I must be shown WHERE) but the facts remain facts.
Thus what I am writing you here is an attempt to show how my own mind works, hoping that you will have the patience to think about it, for necessity is laid upon me.
Let us start from a point on which we are in absolute agreement: We both believe that the original Scriptures are absolutely infallible. Rightly so any teaching which we hold must conform absolutely to the whole of Scripture, which it is our duty to try and understand. If we hold a belief which Scripture does not confirm, then somewhere along the line our understanding must be wrong, for Scripture cannot be wrong. Over the centuries many good men and true have devoted their lives to this matter of understanding Scripture; on the other hand many religious scholars have gone to great lengths to make known their DEDUCTIONS from Scripture; or their theological, philosophical and even political interpretations of Scripture. The net result has been complete confusion of thought, because there never has been any clear-cut distinction between an exposition and an interpretation, although either is check-able, for they need only to be placed alongside the infallible FACTS, which men will only very rarely do. Most of us seem more anxious to be proved right than to really discover the truth, and this, unfortunately, applies even to some of the finest and most accurate scholars. Whoever we may read or follow, the only safe course for us is to check, check and re-check all interpretations against the infallible FACTS of Scripture.
Now the Scriptures are a REVELATION which tell us all but ONLY all that we need to know about our human relationship to God. Many things we may seek to know are purposely not revealed, and thus should not try to read answers into Scripture which are not there. I deem it a grave sin either to add to or take away from Scripture. I believe God, not men's views about Him, and it is my task to find out all I can that He says about himself in His own revelation. Expositions by others can be helpful, so we use them, though always checking these against the FACTS as we do with our own. We NEED the fruits of what others have discerned, for life is not long enough and 'We are not gifted enough to work all things out for ourselves. Many things I now understand are due to the labors of others. Many expressions I use are the thoughts of others who can express things better than I can, but their understanding as well as mine is fallible, while the FACTS remain infallible.
The understanding of facts depends upon the accuracy of translation; the understanding of the meaning of facts depends upon the internal evidence of Scripture as a whole. There is no inaccuracy or discrepancy in the original Scriptures. If there appears to be, our UNDERSTANDING is at fault, not our interpretation. The Scriptures are a revelation, not a foreign language, and God does not need an interpreter. Since He originated all language We is perfectly capable of expressing Himself, as He also does in the originals with quite fantastic accuracy, far beyond any degree of precision by any human writer. Thus our task is to find out EXACTLY what God says and try to understand it in relation to all else He has said, and then BELIEVE it.
Orthodox religion is not seriously concerned about the originals. It prefers to interpret Scripture according to its own theories; and as far as such theories are concerned, it is just as well that many do not believe anything very much. Scripture, as you realise, is concerned with God, while religion is concerned with man; but man is a write-off unless he is recreated in Christ. The Scriptures are objective, pointing always to God through Christ—His righteousness, His will, His purposes. But religion is subjective, concerning itself with man; his sins, his worries, his personal and social problems, and so on. Its true basic idea is as a means to an end—the bringing of man to God—but in all churches that I know of the means becomes more important than the end. Scripture brings God to man.
It seems to me that the contemporary idea about the Scriptures, at least among the more faithful, is that they are God's Word but are not intended to be taken literally, since they are capable of "spiritual interpretation". I quote from a modern writer:—
"Man, with his passion for infallibilities, prefers the authority of the letter to that of the Spirit speaking through and in human words, hence the rigidity in the fundamentalist conception of verbal inerrancy. Authority resides in Scripture because it unitedly witnesses to the acts of God, culminating in the act of God through Christ, and through it speaks to men".
Now that sounds most impressive, does it not? But it is typical nonsense. HOW does Scripture "witness to the acts of God"? Which parts of Scripture are these "acts"? Which parts are only fables and myths? And how do we find out which are which? If, as the writer says, it "unitedly" witnesses to these "acts" how, logically, can there be any parts outside this witness? The question I ask is: How does, indeed how CAN, God speak through Scripture if the letter of Scripture has no authority? And how are we to distinguish between "the letter" and what he refers to as "the Spirit speaking through human words"? If these human words are the words of the Spirit, Why should we be expected to reject the letter of them? If, however, these human words are partly erroneous, how can "the Spirit" speak through them? If "the Spirit" is in fact the Spirit of Truth how then can such truth speak through erroneous words? They WOULD be erroneous if the letter of Scripture is fallible. If some but not all of these words are true, who is to distinguish between the true and the false, and how is he going to do it? To anyone who can think in a straight line at all it becomes obvious that all this means only someone WHO KNOWS BETTER THAN SCRIPTURE ITSELF can hope to sift out false from true, and this leads me to ask whose "interpretation" would you care to believe in preference to what "the letter" actually records?
Talk about confusion of mind! And this sort of thing is typical, for the religious world is full of this nonsense, so it is no wonder that most clear-thinking men of the world consider that "religion" in that sense is only fit for children and fools.
When one challenges people like this they invariably say "SURELY you do not literally believe the opening chapters of Genesis?" or something like that. It would be foolish to deny that Genesis is a difficult book to understand in a perfectly satisfactory way, but it is also true that those parts which are mentioned in the "New Testament" present no difficulties at all. Here again, the problem is in our understanding and the first objective is not to magnify the difficulties but look for someone who will carry out a really thorough scientific examination of the Hebrew text and translate that as accurately as possible. Then we might be getting somewhere. In fact, such an attempt is being made already, but not by the so-called "modern scholars", believe you me! These have everything already worked out to their own satisfaction, splitting the book into "J", "E" and "F" sections, as you must know. Excavations all over the Bible lands never have revealed the smallest trace of such documents from which Genesis is supposed to be put together.
It is quite impossible to determine whether any part of Genesis is allegorical until we really understand its literal meaning, and this applies also to the "Gospels". These likewise are supposed to be composite documents (say the moderns) yet nobody has ever set eyes on even one of the supposed originals like "Q", "Ur-Markus" or "Proto-Luke". There is no basis in fact for thinking they ever existed; not one ancient text, not one quotation from the Fathers, not even one reference anywhere! Yet people who believe in such trash are considered intelligent scholars. I prefer to be among the ignorant who believe God.
Now personally I do not worry about the mental aberrations of the moderns, for I am immune, but the trouble is that those who are not Christian become difficult to approach with Scriptures which they have been told are not authentic. We really cannot blame such people when they will not accept as authentic fact those documents which CHURCHMEN already have told them are compilations seasoned with guesses and interpolations. They can believe only as the superstitious believe superstitions.
As for people who tell me that they reject the authority of "the letter" for that of "the Spirit", they never explain what they mean by this. Such phrases are cant, advanced only as a substitute for exact thought, just a deliberate attempt to confuse the issue. What is "the Spirit" to which they refer? As an answer to this, they point us to the Scriptures (and to the LETTER of Scripture too). From this, they say, they have learnt that the Spirit will lead us into all truth, but how they know this apart from the letter which they so much despise they never explain. Of course they cannot explain, for the whole idea is basically irrational. It seems their objection is not so much to the idea of God revealing Himself to humanity as it is to having this revelation written down in a book. But no amateur who wants to build a radio set objects to a book of instructions. He does not blame the author for writing the book or those who are so "fundamental" as to read it! Why should it be right to receive a revelation from God but wrong to write it down? The agnostic who frankly does not know and the atheist who frankly does not believe are rationality itself when compared with "the believer" who by his own admission has nothing fixed to believe, does not quite know what he believes, and mutters that it is all a matter of interpretation. I do not wish to be impolite, but all this talk about the opposition of "the spirit" and "the letter" is so much humbug. When we consult the Scriptures at any point we are consulting "the letter". If this has no authority we are wasting our time, but if it IS an authority we must believe it all. I know people who wriggle and tell me that on some points they DO believe the authority of Scripture—THIS IS HERESY! In fact it is the very essence of heresy, picking and choosing on one's own account. Yet, as you know, they are opposed to people like myself because we believe ALL the Scripture. IT MUST BE ALL OR NOTHING.
And this, my friend, you must personally know to be true; that whenever leaders of churches and denominations meet to discuss "the faithful" of their sects, they always agree on disbelieving one or more of the teachings of Scripture, yet they can never manage to agree on what to believe without inventing some "formula", while the more vague and ambiguous it is the more they can whole-heartedly believe it. You will recall how Paul once said he was not ashamed of the gospel. He did not say he was willing to tone it down and smooth over its sharp edges in order to find a "formula" which would be acceptable both to the Pharisee and to the heathen Gentile.
Perhaps I have written too much here along these lines, but there is so much more that one could add; instance upon instance to show how much men depart from Scripture and how ridiculous are the mental processes by which they do so. But what I wish you to note is that these are CHURCHMEN, "the enemy within the gate".
I would also add that this sort of thing, in a different way, is found among those who consider themselves fundamentalist, although they have a strong case against the stupidity of the modern critic. But one who believes the Scriptures has a strong case against THEM. Very few fundamentalists are content with holding to God's Word as found in the originals for their ultimate authority. Some strange itch drives them to add some interpretive devices like the Apostles' Creed or some denominational formula, so their teaching rests on two pillars; one firmly built on the Rock and the other in the quicksand of fallible human speculation. It requires a compromised observance of Scripture; not with the mind but mainly with emotion (the more emotion the better); mixing up everything as one inglorious mess of pottage; no distinction between Jew and Gentile; Church and Bride; past, present and future eras. As long as such exponents pay lip-service to "the Bible" which they neither understand nor really believe, they can proclaim the same false message for the world and the Church alike. They profess to be saved; yet not really by faith but by "hope so"; and, as far as God's further revelation. is concerned, THEY REALLY JUST DO NOT WANT TO KNOW. How very disturbing it must be for them when someone like myself comes along and says "Yes, but God's word says so and so". While they answer in some evasive way, it means in effect, "Go away and let us enjoy our hobby of being religious". They suggest that the customary adult Sunday School class of Bible study is all the laity really needs; then abruptly change the subject to present prevailing world wickedness; Sunday movies, liquor, gambling, or children born outside of wedlock. The prime mission of the Church, we are told, is world reform and programs of social welfare. "As church members", they say, "we are too busy with such PRACTICAL things to deal with 'abstractions' like God, Truth and Scripture. What does it matter if we run in some different way, just so we run? Surely God will reward us for doing good!"
So you see people such as I have no sympathy from or for either side, Fundamentalist or Modernist. We are more modern than the Modernists because we believe in a scientific and logical search of Scripture to discover its meaning. We are also more fundamental than the Fundamentalists and, although we honor them for not accepting the rubbish of the Modernists, we believe the Scriptures ALONE whereas their belief in Scripture is buried beneath a mass of traditional doctrine incompatible both with Scripture and Reason. If I say I am not a Fundamentalist you may well charge me with unbelief; but if I say that I am, this at once identifies me with all their traditional nonsense. As our Lord said to the Pharisees, you have made the word of God of none effect through your traditions. Though my answer is unacceptable to Fundamentalists and Modernists alike, I believe that the Scriptures, correctly translated and rightly understood, are God's revelation, and are true.
At some rare moment of our lives, I am prone to feel that each one of us receives the opportunity of turning away from traditional error to embrace the truth of the Scriptures, but most people do not recognise this or otherwise fail to respond. The inevitable effect of accepting error is that truth becomes harder to accept, just as yielding to temptation makes future resistance weaker. An odd notion of many is that they can have Christianity without dogma. To many the word dogma is like a red rag to a bull. Dogma is simply what is TAUGHT, a tenet, a settled belief. We can accomplish no mental activity, not even adding up an account, without a dogma—the dogma enshrined in elementary arithmetic. What people really hate is the dogma of OTHERS.
In much confusion of religious thought we often hear people say they would like to know the truth, and that it is a pity we cannot go back to Peter, John and Paul to find out where we have gone wrong. Well, anyone who wants the Truth CAN go back to Peter, John and Paul, for they will find them in the Greek Scriptures, more commonly called the New Testament. There we are told plainly enough why we have all gone astray if one will only believe what the Scriptures say and not gloss over plain statements with preconceived ideas. People will rarely do this and prefer to receive almost any solution but the right solution to their problems. The great sin of the nominal Church and the reason for all her problems is that she deliberately turns away from the one infallible source of truth. To you as a preacher I can say with assurance that you may preach anything you like—from town planning to temperance, from sanitation to soul-saving, from poetry to politics—and you will be popular. Only do not make the mistake of faithfully proclaiming the Word which is sharper than a two-edged sword, for it will cut your listeners to the quick! It strikes through all their tangle of mental undergrowth and makes them most uncomfortable; but religion, on the other hand, SHOULD be comfortable, a snug little couch to lie upon enjoyably. "The Word of God is living and active", able even to separate soul from spirit; a force to be reckoned with, for IT CUTS. The Greek text shows it literally separates soul from spirit, but since few Christians know what soul is, all this is lost on them.
Here let me offer a simple illustration:—There is a Scripture which says "The dead know not anything". Is this true? Well, Scripture says so over and over again in one form or another and much teaching is properly based on this fact. One or two Scriptures in the accepted versions, either wrongly translated or burdened with centuries of tradition, do appear on the surface to contradict what the preponderance of Scripture plainly says. A little study soon reveals and confirms the truth. Indeed, no one who has ever really studied Scripture will concede even for a moment that there is any conscious existence between death and resurrection. This is basic among all serious students. On the other hand, both Modernists and Fundamentalists teach as a cardinal doctrine that man has an "immortal soul". Is this teaching a lie? Of course it is, for we are told emphatically and unmistakably that our Lord Jesus Christ "ONLY" has "immortality"; and though others eventually will receive it, no such others past or present, dead or living, have immortality now.
So one could go on to list error after error, aI1 widely accepted and proclaimed, all subject to undeniable rebuttal; ALL MAKING NONSENSE OF GOD'S TRUTH AND FALSIFYING WHAT GOD REVEALS OF HIMSELF.
Please observe this is not my OPINION; rather, a perfectly demonstrable and scientific fact; irrefutable if only the basis of research is agreed upon; the infallibility of the original Scriptures.
Perhaps these things were never pointed out to you before but now they have been exposed. This is certainly not to say that I have the answers to everything long unknown, many things both obscure and complex. I do not attempt setting myself up as a know-all; I regard myself rather only as a sign-post. You need not believe me; believe only the Scriptures. Every passage means exactly what it says or when a figure is used to represent some subject, the Scripture itself interprets the figure.
If until now I should have puzzled you a little, I trust this letter of mine will not unintentionally project a wrong image. I am not suggesting that everyone else is out of step, for until all truth still concealed in Scripture is yet revealed, we ALL have been more or less out of step. I assume to be nothing else than ordinary, though quite frankly realistic, and I sincerely seek to be logical; free from all "ists" and "isms" common to one or another of many esoteric movements. If some of my remarks here should seem strange to you, I appeal to the Scripture "Let God be true but every man a liar". I do proceed on the conviction that God is verily true though every man may be subject to suspicion because, by the very nature of our human inheritance, we are man-like rather than God-like, the same in our thoughts as in our acts; so if we were to be viewed apart from Christ, there is as the Scripture also says, "None righteous, no, not one".
I know you to be a perfectly sincere Christian, devoted to the God whose name you proclaim, and I "esteem you highly for your work's sake". I know you feel a deep responsibility to the members of your church who constitute your "flock", and I pray that, unlike the shepherds of Ezekiel's day, you will have built with what Paul calls "gold, silver and precious stones" so that you may receive a much higher reward than the prophet's words then implied: "I am against the shepherds, for the shepherds feed themselves and feed not my flock... I will require my flock at their hand".
Do not feel any need of replying to this, but please do think about it when your time may allow. What you DO about it then is not my responsibility; the matter rests between you and your Lord.
Very sincerely yours,
Cecil J. Blay (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Eight, February-March 1973) and Truth)