By Mark R. Rushdoony
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness; from such withdraw thyself. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
Hell is full of brilliant men. It is not the quantity of what we know that matters; it is the essence of what we understand. We make fools of ourselves when we feign knowledge of things beyond our expertise. We realize this when we talk to someone who is a true expert in his field.
By God’s standard, we play the fool whenever we try to wax eloquent on matters settled in Scripture, “doting about questions and strifes of words” is intellectualizing the faith in order to make it understandable only to the initiate few.
This is not to say God’s word is not worthy of intellectual discussion; it only means that it is not to be intellectualized by the “proud” (v. 4) who teach men what is contrary to sound doctrine (v. 3).
The starting point of all higher criticism, within or without the church, is the humanistic assumption that man is an autonomous, rational being. Once you believe that man’s reason can understand all, then all must be subject to man’s reason or it may be dismissed as irrational. Rationalism, including much textual criticism of Scripture, places all within the understanding of man. “Man is the measure…” the rationalist holds.
But man is not the measure of all things; God is the Sovereign Lord and Sustainer of all things. Any scholarship or intellectualizing which makes man’s mind the measure of truth follows after the rebellion of Adam. In its pride it puffs itself up in “perverse disuptings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth” (v. 5).
God is Truth. He reveals his truth to man by his infallible, inspired word. He details his truth in historical narrative, prophecy, poetry, and in encouragements between believers. He shows us its proclamation to many generations and the consequences of their responses. Revelation is intended, as its name implies, to reveal. God revealed secrets and unknown truth so man could understand; he did not give a mystical book only a few innovators could expound. This would give priority to a few human minds. Scripture would then become their revelation, not God’s.
Paul condemns all teaching that is not sound, especially by those who enjoy argument, disputes and speculation in the name of religion. Doctrine must be “according to godliness” (v. 3). True teaching about Scripture must accomplish what its Author intended: confirming us in the fear of God, building up our faith and patience, and educating us in our duties before God. If teaching does not increase our understanding of Scripture, it is not according to godliness. It must profit the Faith or it is so much vain babbling. Paul charges profitless teachers with pride — a pride that is foolishly empty because they know nothing. He also instructs us to withdraw ourselves from them. At times that will mean withdrawing ourselves from the most respected teachers and movements of our day.
The harm of these profitless teachers is real. They destroy others and themselves. Their “doting” and “strifes” lead them to enjoy the process of argumentation as a child enjoys his play. The truth becomes their first casualty in their logical and scholarly but irrelevant word play. If they cannot say why their lofty teachings are of consequences to understanding God’s revelation, we must leave them to their own foolishness. Answering them will accomplish no more than entanglement.
God’s word must be viewed as his revelation. It is to be accepted, not argued. It is a profane use of Scripture to use it as a mental exercise. But even this probably gives too much credit. Many argue over Scripture because as long as something is in dispute, it is not settled. As long as they can make Scripture a series of questions, it will not be words of instruction. Here again, the autonomy-seeking mind of man denies Scripture as authoritative by using it as a basis for argumentation.
If we approach Scripture as a curious riddle we will always seek to outwit it. God commands us instead to hear, repent, and obey in humility.
“In a time of universal deceit—telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”… Even if the whole world has gone mad, speak the truth anyway. It’s the revolutionary thing to do.”(George Orwell)
Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony is president of Chalcedon and Ross House Books. He is also editor-in-chief of Faith for All of Life and Chalcedon’s other publications.