Lonnie Mozingo, Jr
One of the hallmarks of the Bible is the harmony of its teachings. Each individual doctrine harmonizes with the other and is consistent with the whole of scripture. This is reflected in the doctrines of grace. For example, the doctrine of election (The Father chose a definite number to save in heaven) harmonizes with the doctrine of particular redemption (the Son redeemed those the Father chose), which harmonizes with the doctrine of effectual calling (the Spirit regenerates those whom the Father chose and the Son redeemed). Thus the Bible can be viewed as systematic theology, no doctrine contradicting the other, but each harmonizing with the other, all going to make up the doctrine of Christ. John Gill’s Body of Divinity is a prime example of this method of interpreting the Bible.
But does the Lord expect us to “give up our mind” in order to believe his word? Do we have to stop thinking in order to accept what his word is saying? To the contrary, the Lord says to his people “Come now, and let us reason together…” (Isa 1:18). In fact, reasoning from the scriptures was the apostles’ manner of persuading men of the truth. Ac 17:2 reads, “And Paul as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures…” (see also Ac 18:4,19; 24:25). Knowing that only reasonable men would receive his teaching, he requested prayer that he might be delivered from “unreasonable men”. Far from giving up his mind, he told the Romans, “… with the mind I myself serve the law of God…”. In Nehemiah’s time the people understood the law of God because the Levites “read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” They did not declare contradictory teachings and then absolve themselves by pleading mysteries that can’t be explained.
Some assert that harmonizing doctrine subjects faith to rationalism. Spurgeon said, “Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of divine revelation”. But why would God, “who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation…”, give us a revelation of irreconcilable teachings? The word reason literally means rational. To be rational is to be “agreeable with reason”. God is the most rational being in the universe. His word is not a series of contradictory teachings, but a harmony of systematic truth. Faith is not blind, accepting irreconcilable teachings. Faith sees the sense of God’s word and believes it. In fact, the peace of mind a believer experiences is due in part from seeing the harmony of truth. Just as “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”, even so His word is true and has no contradiction in it. Simply put, truth does not contradict itself.
James said, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” The interpretive model that sees “two lines at once” leads to unstable preaching that confuses the people of God. Men confuse the Lord’s people when they cause the gospel trumpet to give an “uncertain sound” by advocating principles inconsistent with each other. One minute the preacher sounds like a Primitive Baptist, teaching that no man can come to Christ unless the Lord draws him, and the next minute he sounds like an Arminian Baptist, indiscriminately calling on men to come to Christ. One minute the preacher sounds like an absoluter declaring that all things are decreed by God so that all our actions are foreordained and the next minute he sounds like an Arminian declaring that men make decisions of their own will. Matters are only made worse when these men suggest that those who point out the contradictions in their doctrine just misunderstand. “God is not the author of confusion.” The “simplicity that is in Christ” is easily understood by “the people that know the joyful sound.”
Those who have made the decision to give up their mind and stop thinking critically may be heard to say, “I am going to read and you just let the Bible speak to you.” This really means, let me read this verse out of context and don’t bring up any verse that I can’t harmonize with it. But can one interpret the Bible by ignoring context and discounting the verses he can’t harmonize? Our most able ministers reject this. In years past, they exhorted young ministers to never preach on a subject until they knew what the Bible as a whole says about that subject and cautioned that to interpret a text while ignoring its context is to presuppose its meaning. This is ever so true.
The traditional paradigm of harmonizing doctrine and reconciling scriptures by “dividing” texts that deal with eternal salvation from those texts that deal with temporal or time salvation produces a clear understanding of God’s word. To be sure, some men have abused this method of interpretation, going to the extreme of deism and antinomianism, but the abuse of this paradigm is no excuse to abandon it. When properly used, it disproves deism as well as antinomianism.
Spurgeon’s departure from the traditional method of Bible interpretation, coupled with his outstanding abilities as an orator, had great mass appeal. Like the televangelist of our day, he had the ability to draw large crowds and fill giant meeting halls. Through his prolific writings he greatly influenced his and succeeding generations. Eventually, the vast majority of Baptist preachers left the old paths and adopted Spurgeon’s “two-line” philosophy, taking their congregations with them. With few exceptions, the only people who maintained the traditional method of reconciling scripture and harmonizing doctrine were the Primitive Baptists in America. To those who believe they are returning to the “old paths” by adopting the reformed paradigm, we contend this is actually a return to the ‘old departure’ and beseech them to reconsider the systematic method of biblical interpretation our people have historically embraced.
The implications of this matter are far-reaching and grave. Andrew Fuller, the founder of the modern mission movement, who preached general atonement while maintaining that he “believed in particular redemption”, lived to see his disciples completely abandon particular redemption and spawn the Baptist division of 1832. Likewise, Spurgeon lived to see many of his “students” abandon his principles during the “down grade controversy” in the 1880’s. Those who use the reformed paradigm to advocate that inconsistent principles are but “two sides of the same coin” not only bring confusion and division in our day, but may live to see those that follow them abandon many of the doctrines of grace altogether.
I earnestly beseech those brethren who have turned to the reformed method of Bible interpretation to return to “the simplicity that is in Christ” so that once again we may as in former days “reason together” and “see eye to eye”.
In Hope~ Elder Lonnie Mozingo, Jr.