Whom Do You Trust?

Balancing Unity with Discernment in a Divided World

by Calvin Smith on June 21, 2021
Featured in Calvin Smith

The incredible pressures put upon the Western church reveal that its foundation is perhaps a lot shakier than previously thought. Although many church websites declare an unwavering commitment to the authority of Scripture, their response to biblical marriage, gender identity, sanctity-of-life, and so-called racial issues often exposes a fear of man rather than a fear of the Lord and his Word.

As the old adage says, you don’t know how strong a teabag is until you stick it in hot water—and you could say there is certainly a lot of hot water you can easily find yourself in these days.

Many believers have felt adrift over the past few years as they’ve watched churches, pastors, Bible teachers, authors, and entire ministries they once admired fall into error and apostasy, leaving many to wonder, “Whom can I trust?”

Of course, the balance between unity and discernment is one in which we must tread carefully. We should not become an online (or in-person) “heresy hunter” who needlessly provokes, quarrels, and divides. Scripture reminds us,

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil. (2 Timothy 2:24)

A Divided Church

Speaking to the divided Corinthian church of his time (but applicable to the church at all times), the apostle Paul said,

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Believers need to unify and work together as the enemy presses in. Divisions within the church have immeasurably weakened the body of Christ. So we need to strengthen bonds as much as possible while not compromising God’s Word. How can we do that more effectively?

The Genesis Issue: Should We Trust Ministries That Don’t Support Biblical Creation?

Believers have asked me many times over the years if we should trust ministries and teachers who don’t support biblical creation. Since most Answers in Genesis supporters (and biblical creation believers in general) understand that Genesis 1–11 is the seedbed of all Christian doctrines, they realize that those who don’t get Genesis right are vulnerable to errors in other areas. Warranted or not, this discrepancy can lead to mistrust and suspicion.

First, Scripture says that we are all sinners, have wicked and deceitful hearts, and all have feet of clay, so we need to understand that belief in the plain reading of Genesis is no litmus test or guarantee of inerrancy, let alone that it implies salvation. Only trust in Christ as Lord and Savior provides the latter.

Having said that, I believe a Christian who holds to biblical creation and lives out their walk consistently within its teachings is less likely to fall into many of the errors seen in churches today. For example, I’ve rarely seen a church with leadership that adheres to biblical creation support ideas such as same-sex marriage, worldly philosophies like critical race theory, or woke, Marxist ideologies.

Dividing Lines

The biggest overarching question many believers struggle with is this:

How can Christians know whether to sit under Bible teaching from individuals or ministries in general?

And the question many biblical creationists in particular wrestle with is this:

Should we trust the teachings of an individual or ministry that does not hold to the biblical creationist position?

Now it should be admitted that many Christians who compromise on biblical creation have very good insights in the resurrection of Jesus, the reliability of the New Testament, and many other biblical doctrines.

However, I also think most Christians agree that they should submit themselves in every way (intellectually, emotionally, and in all activities) to the authority of God and his revealed Word. Supported by his strength and wisdom, Bible-believing Christians agree that they should sanctify the Lord in their hearts (1 Peter 3:15) and conform to and live out the way God says his children should according to Word. To reach that goal, they need to understand how to read their Bible and understand it.

Interpreting Rightly

Historically, in principle and general practice, the standard hermeneutical rules of interpretation that by far the majority of church fathers and reformers adhered to (and that most conservative evangelical colleges and seminaries still espouse) is the historical-grammatical (HG) method of biblical interpretation. That is, they tried to find the most straight-forward meaning of the words based on an understanding of the historical and cultural settings in which the book was written.

Sometimes people misinterpret this hermeneutic as “taking the Bible literally,” but this is a misunderstanding. For instance, when the Psalmist asks God to hide him “in the shadow of your wings” (in Psalm 17:8), adherents to the HG method aren’t saying that the Bible teaches that God has wings and feathers, because contextually psalm is using figurative language. The passage is clearly connoting the idea of God providing love, refuge, safety, and compassion, like a mother bird sheltering her young. So, HG is interpreting the text the way the author intended, as indicated by the context. In other words, take the Bible as plainly written.

Proverbs 3:5 tells us not to lean on our own understanding but to trust the Lord with all of our heart. We can’t simply go by feelings, inclinations, intuition, and worldly wisdom. No matter what other method of understanding we hear taught, regardless of whether it’s from a professing Christian or not, if it contradicts the plain reading of Scripture, then it should not be adopted. Second Corinthians 10:5 commands us to take every thought captive, obeying Christ to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.”

Answering the First Question

So, the answer to the first question above is to always seek Bible teachers that abide by the correct rules of Bible interpretation. They won’t always “get it right,” but if they have a heart inclined to honor God’s Word and strive to understand it as plainly written, then we, as “good Bereans,” should be open to hearing from them.

Now, different Bible teachers, both adhering to the same, correct method of interpretation, may come to different conclusions about various Bible topics such as baptism, eschatology, soteriology, and so forth. After all, the Bible’s landscape is quite vast and some of its content quite sophisticated. Perhaps one person may have more knowledge of the subject, a better ability to connect certain passages of Scripture, or have a better understanding of the original languages. Yet we are all still sinful creatures, prone to error even when we have the best of intentions.

Nonetheless, if a Bible teacher (who Scripture says will be judged more harshly) abides by the HG method of interpretation and humbly seeks God’s wisdom to teach God’s Word, we should listen.

Answering the Second Question

The answer to the second question is simply this: If a Bible expositor rejects the HG method of understanding and interpreting God’s Word, Christians should hesitate to accept the teaching, for ultimately, the expositor is interpreting God’s Word by using an authority outside of Scripture.

Now, the concern for the biblical creationist is this: Anyone who compromises with ideas like gap theory, day-age theory, or theistic evolution ignores what the text actually says. So, we know that any interpretation other than a literal biblical creation does not consistently hold to the HG method of interpretation. Every compromised position on Genesis ultimately bends to secular interpretations of science, not to the plain reading of the Bible.

However, there are many excellent Bible teachers who do profess belief in the HG method of interpreting Scripture and do not hold to a biblical creationist viewpoint, meaning that they are being inconsistent, though they may not even realize it. They likely have been exposed to many arguments they think justify old earth or evolutionary beliefs within a biblical framework and may simply have not recognized the extra-biblical nature and/or origin of these positions.

Understand that many wonderful Christians, even prominent pastors and excellent teachers, have not looked deeply into the creation/evolution issue. Therefore, they don’t understand key problems like the death before sin issue or realize the presuppositional nature of the debate. However, a word of caution: These people may be fantastic Bible expositors, men of deep faith, sincere lovers of God and his Word, and powerful leaders used by God to feed his sheep. Yet, sadly, we’ve often seen leaders who’ve compromise on Genesis compromise increasingly in many other areas later on. Why is that?

I believe that once a person accepts a method of interpretation (making extrabiblical information the final authority over God’s Word) to conform Scripture to a foreign understanding in one area, there’s no logical reason not to apply that method of interpretation to other areas of the Bible as well. Man’s word over God’s Word is still the ultimate battleground where sin dominates.

Same Old Song and Dance

Remember, the eating of the fruit was just the outward demonstration of the mental decision that Adam and Eve purposefully made to act against God’s command: the choice to abandon God’s clear revelation as the ultimate authority. It was their attempt to become autonomous over whether to obey God’s commands and in effect become like gods (Genesis 3:5).

Whenever man puts his own understanding against the pronouncements of God, he is sinning. All other methods of interpretation put man’s fallible interpretations above God’s Word. We still struggle with the same rebellion that led to the fall of man, a questioning of God’s clear revelation: “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1).

Unity in Biblical Authority

Believers need to gird themselves to stand on the authority of God’s Word and practice discernment even more today in our post-Christian times. All Christians are called to rightly divide the Word of God, starting with a foundational understanding that we should apply the plain reading of Scripture from the very first verse.

Christians are pressured to conform the Bible to whatever the world is teaching, so it’s easy to see why the creation/evolution debate is such a stumbling block to many Christian leaders. One could hardly point to an area where what the world teaches contradicts God’s Word more! We should pray for our pastors and leaders frequently, and where fitting, we should try to develop deeper relationships with them and share insight and resources regarding this vital issue when possible. Let’s help the church to heal with the unifying message of biblical authority—starting in Genesis!

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