The Bible Doesn't Say That God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It
Over the centuries, there have been plenty of controversies in the church. These controversies began not long after the church started nearly 2,000 years ago when early church leaders were trying to figure out which Jewish rituals and traditions Christians needed to follow. And they continue to this day as we debate and discuss the importance of our digital ministry in 2022. Some of these controversies have focused on important issues – like who has access to the Bible. And some of these controversies have been kinda silly – like I’ve heard stories about plenty of churches that have fought and split over what color carpet to put in the sanctuary.
But way back in the 1880s there was a controversy that was brewing in the life of the church that was unlike any other. And this controversy was brewing because of a few verses found in the book of Deuteronomy. Now, that may be a little hard to imagine because most of us don’t read or study the book of Deuteronomy very often…I mean, I’ve been in ministry for almost 15 years and I’ve preached less than a dozen sermons based on a passage from the book of Deuteronomy.
So what could you possibly find in the book of Deuteronomy that would’ve created a major controversy less than 150 years ago? Well, let me read this controversial passage for you. But first, let me warn you that you’ve probably never heard a sermon preached on this passage before…and there’s a good reason for that. So keep that in mind as we look at Deuteronomy 23 together, and we’ll start reading in verse 12. Here’s what it says:
12 You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. 13 With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. 14 Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.
Deuteronomy 23:12-14 (New Revised Standard Version)
So, the book of Deuteronomy is basically one big speech that Moses gives to the people of Israel before he dies. And in this speech, Moses tells the people of Israel what they need to do to make sure they’re committed to God when they return to the Promised Land. And, in the passage that we just read, Moses gives them rules about how to use the bathroom.
Now, you’re probably wondering how any of this could’ve created a controversy in the church. Well, it wasn’t because people were just uncomfortable with their pastor preaching on this particular subject…although I’m sure that’s probably enough to make this morning’s sermon controversial for some of you. But this passage was controversial back in the 1880s because of a major development in our world.
What was that development? Well, by the 1880s indoor plumbing had become the standard in most cities across America. And that means that for the first time ever churches had to decide if their building would have indoor plumbing or not. Now, I know that in 2022 all of this sounds ridiculous. We wouldn’t dare build a building today without indoor plumbing. But this was a major controversy more than a century ago because a lot of people believed that if their churches had indoor plumbing that God would turn away from them because they were doing something indecent in the church.
But what does all of this talk about church controversies and indoor plumbing have to do with us? Well, right now at Melbourne Heights, we are in the middle of a series of sermons called The Bible Doesn’t Say That. And throughout this series, we’re taking a closer look at some of the things that Christians say that aren’t really in the Bible. And today we’re going to be talking about a statement that has led to more controversy and problems in the church than any other…including the one about indoor plumbing.
But before we get into this week’s statement, I want to take just a minute to remind you about why we’re talking about what the Bible doesn't say. We’re doing this because when we believe that the Bible says things that the Bible doesn’t actually say it can distort our understanding of who God is and who we are. Or to put it another way: Sometimes the things we don’t know about the Bible can hurt us.
Sometimes the things we don’t know about the Bible can hurt us.
So a couple weeks ago, we started this series by talking about the statement “Everything happens for a reason.” And we saw that when we believe this statement – which is not in the Bible – that it portrays God as a monster who is responsible for every murder, every war, every act of abuse. And it portrays us as people as being nothing more than robots who have no choice in what we say or do.
And last week, we talked about the statement “God helps those who help themselves.” And we saw that this statement – which isn’t in the Bible – is the complete opposite of the truth. Because the truth is that God helps those who cannot help themselves…and God wants to use us to help them.
So that brings us to today. And what statement are we going to be talking about today? Well, here it is: God said, I believe it, that settles it.
God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
Now, I told you a minute ago that this particular statement (or at least the mindset it conveys) has led to more controversy and problems in the church than any other…but you might be wondering how that’s possible. Because this statement sounds right. I mean, if God says something, of course we should believe it. If you or I had a question and then an angel stood before us and told us God’s answer, that should settle the matter.
But, here’s the thing, when you hear someone say that, “God said it…” they don’t mean that God has spoken directly to them. What they really mean is that the Bible says it, so they believe it, and that settles it. But, as we saw in the controversy surrounding indoor plumbing in the church, this statement just isn’t true.
The book of Deuteronomy – which is in the Bible – has very clear instruction for what we’re supposed to do when nature calls. But if we actually believed what this passage says then none of us would have indoor plumbing in our homes. And this is just one example that I can give you that we don’t really mean it when we say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
So let’s try another one. How many of you had bacon or sausage with your breakfast this morning? Well, you’re not doing what the Bible says because in Deuteronomy 14:8 we’re told:
8…the pig—because it has a divided hoof but doesn’t rechew food, it’s off-limits for you. You may not eat these animals’ meat.
Or guys, how many of you woke up and shaved this morning before church? Well, you’re not doing what the Bible says either because in Leviticus 19:27 we’re told:
27 You must not cut off the hair on your forehead or clip the ends of your beard.
Or how many of you mowed your lawn yesterday, or did laundry, or cleaned up around your house? Well, you’re not doing what the Bible says either because Exodus 35:2 says:
2 Do your work for six days, but the seventh day should be holy to you, a Sabbath of complete rest for the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath will be put to death.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. You might be thinking that all of those verses come from the Old Testament but, since we’re Christians, we don’t have to worry about the Old Testament. Well, there are a ton of problems with that line of thinking that we don’t have time to go into today. But here’s one of the biggest ones, in the New Testament – in the book of Matthew – Jesus says this about the Old Testament, he says:
17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-19 (Common English Bible)
Did you hear what Jesus said? Jesus said that as long as heaven and earth exist that not even the smallest letter or the smallest stroke of the pen will be erased from the Law – which Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy are all a part of. So we can’t really say that we believe what the Bible says if we ignore what Jesus says in this passage. And Jesus tells us that we can’t ignore the Old Testament.
But what does this mean for us? Does it mean that we need to quit eating bacon, give up shaving, and stop doing chores on Saturdays? Not at all.
But it does mean that we all need to realize that the statement “God said it, I believe it, that settles” simply isn’t true. And it isn’t true because it oversimplifies the Bible. It turns the Bible into nothing more than a list of do’s and don'ts. But the Bible isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts. The Bible is a compilation of stories and poetry, words of wisdom and letters…and all of these writings need to be interpreted.
And, whether you realize it or not, every time you read the Bible you are interpreting it. Adam Hamilton, who is an author and pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas drives this point home in a story that he shares. As the story goes, Adam Hamilton was speaking with a member of his church and this church member told him, “I don’t interpret Scripture; I just take it all as God’s word and try to live it.”
So Adam asked him, “So does that mean that you don’t eat pork and that you go to church on Saturday?”
He replied, “Well, no, that’s all Old Testament stuff.”
Adam continued “Okay, but does that mean that you insist that your wife prays with her head covered*, or that your daughters don’t braid their hair**, or that you don’t have a savings account***?”
He replied, “No, those passages were about the times when the biblical authors live…not today.”
To which Adam Hamilton replied, “In other words, you interpret Scripture.”
So Adam Hamilton’s point is clear: We all interpret the Bible.
We all interpret the Bible.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with interpreting the Bible. Because what the word interpret means is that we’re trying to understand something. And when we read the Bible, we should try to understand it. But, we need to make sure that we are interpreting the Bible through the right lens.
And, as Christians, the lens that we need to use when we are interpreting the Bible is Jesus.
The lens we need to use when we are interpreting the Bible is Jesus.
And what this means is that when we read a verse, a passage, or a story in the Bible that seems inconsistent with something that Jesus said or the way he lived, and we need to choose between the two, then we need to choose Jesus every time.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. In Leviticus 20:10, we’re told:
10 If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with a neighbor’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be executed.
Leviticus 20:10 (Common English Bible)
But in John 8, when a group of men drag a woman who was caught in the act of adultery in front of Jesus, Jesus tells them:
7b “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.”
John 8:7b (Common English Bible)
So, on one hand, the book of Leviticus tells us that anyone who commits adultery should be put to death. But in the book of John, Jesus tells the crowd that only someone who hasn’t sinned can throw the first stone to begin the woman’s execution.
So how do we interpret this passage? The Bible tells us two different things. So which one is right? Jesus is.
And fortunately for us, Jesus gives us some really basic guidelines to follow when we’re trying to interpret – or understand – what the Bible says. In the book of Matthew, or Matthew’s biography of Jesus, Jesus is approached by an expert in the law. And this expert in the law asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. Or to put it another way, this expert asks Jesus, “What is the most important thing to understand in the Bible?”
This is what Jesus tells him:
37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Matthew 23:37-40 (Common English Bible)
Jesus says that all of the Law and all of the Prophets – or all of the Bible – depends on two things. So, if we really want to do what the Bible says, we have to do these two things. And what are they? Love God and love each other.
So many of the controversies that we face and have faced in the church over the years could have been avoided if we stopped trying to convince ourselves that “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” about passages of scripture as obscure as the passage in Deuteronomy about bathroom behavior. So many controversies that we face and have faced in the church over the years could’ve been avoided if we remembered what God really says. God says that what really matters is that we love him and love each other. So when you have the choice…choose Jesus and choose love.
* 1 Corinthians 11:5 tells us: But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.
** 1 Timothy 2:9 says: 9 I also desire that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes.
*** Matthew 6:19 tells us: 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal them."