Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Proof Texting and Its Dangers

I read a blog article some weeks ago where a Roman Catholic apologist discussed the issue of proof texting and its uses. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term, proof texting is the use of a select number of texts (usually a verse or two each), to try and “prove” your premise. For example, we in the church of Christ are famous for our use of Acts 2:38 to try and prove that baptism is for the remission of sins and that, without it, no one can be saved. Now, I’m not at all saying that such use of that verse is necessarily wrong. Nor am I implying that there are not doctrines that are very well contained within a couple of verses (take for example what Paul declares to be the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). But I am saying that we can run afoul of the truth of Scripture when we make it a habit to develop our theology from a few isolated verses here and there.

In a previous article entitled “The Dangers of Verse Against Verse Hermeneutics,” I spoke of how some Christians attempt to disprove a particular doctrine by appealing to scriptures that support their particular point of view. Thus, if you happen to believe that you do not need anything after belief in order to be saved—and that includes repentance, as is the case with the so-called Free Gracers—then you will point out that Romans 10:9-10 does not mention repentance. Of course, we can see how that approach is completely erroneous and misses the point of why we have 27 books in the New Testament. If God wanted us to have all the necessary doctrine for life and godliness in a few verses, he would not have given us the 130,000+ words contained in the Greek New Testament.

Well, after all that, I finally get to the point of the article. For the last couple of articles, I’ve been reviewing a book titled “Inside the Churches of Christ.” And the reason I bring up the proof texting issue is that that is the subject the author tackles in chapter two of his book. It is instructive to see how we often engage in the very things that we accuse others of doing. I mentioned in a previous article how the author complains loudly about the Pharisaical judgmental attitude that the members of the CofC have, and then turns around and  does the same thing in denigrating the members of that body, going so far as to literally call them names (Pharisee being the most frequent one). And when it comes to the issue at hand, once again our author is guilty of the very thing he accuses others of doing.

Take for example his claim concerning the name “church of Christ.” Now, let me say at the outset that there are many within the CofC who are of the mindset that unless you use that particular name you cannot be the church of the New Testament. That obviously ignores the many names the church is referred to throughout the NT such as the church of God, the church of the Firstborn, etc. But our author focuses on the particular moniker found in Romans 16:16 to lambaste the members of the CofC who want to use that name simply because it’s in the Bible. Needless to say, I cannot see why it would give someone such heartburn for other Christians to want to use a biblical name. Aside from the folks I mentioned above, no one in the CofC will tell you that unless you call your church “the church of Christ” that it cannot possibly be following true doctrine.

The most distressing issue here, however, is the fact that our author decries the use of proof texts by the CofC in deriving its name, but does the exact same thing without any regard to context or situation. One of the most important rules of biblical exegesis is the fact that we need to examine all scriptures within their context. We run into problems every time we attempt to lift a verse or two from their context and formulate a doctrine from them (a good example of this is the baptism for the dead that Mormonism has appropriated from a single, obscure verse in 1 Corinthians 15). Our author does this with John 10 and 13. In John 10, Jesus speaks of His sheep and then says that there are other sheep who are not of the present fold. The clear allusion is to the fact that there would be Gentiles who would be added to the fold. Within its context, it is obvious that this is what the passage is teaching. However, our author abandons all such context and tells us that the passage is teaching us that “inclusion” is what the passage teaches us. In other words, the CofC is not the only true church because Jesus said that there are others who can also be Christians. I think you can see that this falls of its own weight as it is an obvious anachronistic reading of today’s standards of inclusion into the text.

He then tells us that John 13:34-35 is a fail-safe test for those who are Christians. How so? In a continuing attempt to prove that there are Christians outside the CofC, he tells us that the passage under consideration points to the fact that if we love each other then we show the world we are Jesus’ disciples. Again, that’s true as far as it goes. But within the context Jesus was using it he did not mean that anyone who loves others is showing that he is a Christian any more than John telling us in 1 John 4 that if we love others that shows we love God. Many people are very loving, but are not in Christ. To try to prove that you’re a Christian because you love others, without regard to your belief or relationship to Christ, is not only fallacious, but also dangerous.

In the end, the moral of the story for us is that proof texting can be used in some limited instances, but is a weapon that should be wielded with much care. Many of us are not knowledgeable enough to know how to do so effectively and often end up making matters worse rather than better. That is not to say that people should shy away from defending the faith or standing up for the truth until they feel themselves ready. But it is to suggest that we need to have more than a cursory knowledge of the Scriptures in order to be effective defenders of the faith. We do ourselves a disfavor when we simply read a chapter or two a day and expect that to somehow make us powerful witnesses for the truth. In an era when information is so readily available, we cannot afford to have surface knowledge. Our Lord deserves more than the minimum!

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