Sunday, May 17, 2020

Lost Light

How does the word of God go missing among God’s people? How does the plain teaching of scripture get overlooked for months, years and even centuries, only to be suddenly rediscovered? You would think it impossible if we didn’t have both historical and biblical evidence that it happens, and happens with sad regularity.

For example, in the days of King Josiah, the Book of the Law was found in the house of the Lord and taken to the king and read to him. When Josiah heard the Law read, he tore his clothes, humbled and stricken by the degree to which the people of God had departed from his commandments and the wrath they had incurred because of it.

How Does This Happen?

How does that happen? The Law itself required it be read every seven years before all Israel in their hearing, in order that:
“... they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God.”
And yet this had demonstrably not been done. So a plain, perfectly understandable command in God’s word was overlooked for a period of slightly over 700 years, and not just one command, but many. After all, even Josiah’s reforms didn’t stick.

The Much-Overlooked Safety Feature

Moreover, the Law also bound the kings of Israel by the obligation to an even higher standard of attentiveness to the commands of God. Anticipating the disobedience of the nation and the people’s desire for a king to reign over them, God built into the Law the command that every king of Israel:
“... shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”
What a great safety feature! But evidently this also was way too much work. It doesn’t appear that any king of Israel ever did it.

Forgotten Truth

If plain, perfectly understandable commands with precisely zero theological complexity and no doctrinal debatability whatsoever can be overlooked for more than 700 years, pretty much anything can. Light gets lost. Truth gets forgotten. The word of God gets filed away, consigned to dusty shelves instead of filling hearts and changing lives.

Again in the time of Nehemiah, the words of the Law were opened and read to God’s people by Ezra. We are now another hundred years down the road, and Israel suddenly discovers this interesting thing called the “Feast of Booths”, the very thing God had instituted in his Law to ensure his word was read regularly to his people.

Here again, the sad reality was this:
“... from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so.”
Light gets lost. Even the easy stuff.

It Could Never Happen to Us ...

Well, you say, they didn’t have BibleGateway. They didn’t even have leather-bound copies of the Law in their homes. The printing press had yet to be invented and the word of God still had to be copied by hand. A largely non-literate population could easily become distanced from the truth. Fair enough.

But bear in mind this was also true throughout most of church history up until a little over 400 years ago, and it explains a great deal about why doctrines are constantly lost and rediscovered. Christian populations in most countries depended on the institutional church to share the truths of scripture with them faithfully and intelligibly, and the institutional church repeatedly let them down.

Expanding Responsibility

Moreover, the number of God-given truths available to be forgotten had greatly expanded over that period. When Ezra read the Law of Moses to the people of Israel, they all stood and listened. He started early in the morning and finished by midday, so we might estimate he read for three to four hours max. That’s a lot of light, but it’s a manageable amount. And they still lost it.

Today, if Ezra were to reappear and stand up to read the entirety of God’s revelation to a gathered crowd, it would take him slightly over three days reading non-stop. Even with concordances everywhere, and internet search engines at our fingertips, is it just remotely possible that in all that massive wealth of revelation handed down to us, there might be one or two truths about the word of God that we have overlooked?

I think it is.

Evaluating “Newly Discovered” Doctrine

So when you read that a doctrine taught in your local church is “not valid” or “false” or “heretical” or whatever simply because its critics say it was not widely held in the early church or taught in the institutional church over the last two millennia, please give that argument all the credibility and validity it deserves. Which is none.

The validity of a Bible doctrine is not to be determined by whether the church fathers wrote about it or some synod documented its discussion, or whether some significant historical sect can be shown to have practiced it, but rather by whether it is what the scripture teaches. Period.

Light gets lost. When by the grace of God we are privileged to rediscover it, the thing to do with it is thank the Lord for it, enjoy the hope and the challenges it brings to us, and start living out what we have learned.

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