In the last installment of this series I shared with you how I recently completed a one year Bible reading plan focused solely on the gospels. I was using what they call “a harmony of the gospels” that conveniently gathers together in chronological order the stories in the life of Christ laying them side by side so it is easy to see how one writer sometimes differs from another. In order to get the whole story one often needs to read all four accounts. It’s not unusual for one gospel writer to leave something out that another writer includes. For an example, come with me now into the garden of Gethsemane to witness the betrayal and arrest of Jesus.
Although Matthew, Mark and Luke tell of Judas leading the mob to arrest Jesus, only John includes Jesus identifying himself as the one the mob was looking for which results in the soldiers falling to the ground. Matthew and Mark tell us how someone with Jesus drew a sword and cut off the ear of a servant of the High Priest. Only Luke tells us that Jesus healed the man and only John identifies the man swinging the sword as Peter and the servant being Malchus. Only Matthew records Jesus’ words, “Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
For me, one of the beautiful things about the Gospels is that although there are four different writers recording events from four different perspectives, when you bring them together you get the big picture. Leave one perspective out and you’re going to miss out.
Reading a “harmony of the gospels” reminded me of the different branches of Christianity in the world today. Some studies suggest that the number of denominations might be up to 43,000. One thing we need to remember is that most of these groups agree on the fundamentals of the faith or what we might call “orthodoxy.” Having said that, all of these groups disagree with one another on certain lesser points of doctrine. The number 43,000 is a loud reminder that we don’t agree…and yet, together we make up the body of Christ. As I pointed out in my previous post, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do not always agree with one another and yet together they give us the big picture of the life and teachings of Jesus. The relatively few times the gospel writers differ from one another does not bother me. Their differences are not over anything important. Their similarities far outnumber their differences.
We agree that there is orthodoxy but we can’t agree on our definition of orthodoxy. For one group something is regarded as ‘essential’ and for another it is ‘non-essential.’ In one group someone is branded a heretic and in another group they are accepted. One denomination calls another apostate because they interpret the Bible differently than they do. Every denomination believes they have the Bible on their side.
If I am right then you must be wrong.
Once I buy in to this way of thinking an adversarial relationship develops between us. The apostle Paul once called the scriptures “the sword of the Spirit’ and Christians have been stabbing each other with it ever since. Let’s return once more to the garden of Gethsemane.
When we read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John side by side here’s what happened.
Jesus and his disciples are alone in the garden. Judas arrives leading a group of soldiers charged with arresting Jesus. Judas had informed them that he would welcome Jesus with a kiss thus making it clear to the soldiers who it was they were to arrest. Judas kisses Jesus. The soldiers arrest Jesus. Sometime before or after the arrest, Jesus asks them who it is they have come for. They answer, “Jesus.” Jesus says, “I am he.” The soldiers fall back to the ground under some unknown power. They get up and start to take Jesus away. Peter gets a sword and intends to defend Jesus but in the confusion manages to cut off the right ear of the High Priest’s servant who is named Malchus. Jesus then touches Malchus and either heals the wound or puts the ear back on. Jesus says, “Stop it!” It is then that Jesus tells Peter, “Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Peter meant well. He was just trying to defend Jesus but in so doing he cut off Malchus’ ear.
There are too many who are rushing in with swords drawn to defend God’s word. There’s too much of this. Does Jesus need me to defend him? Does God’s word need me to defend it? Does truth need me to defend it? If there is a need for Christian Apologists, do they need to be carrying a sword? Apologists always seem to morph into doctrine-police or orthodoxy-officers who patrol the streets looking for criminal activity. But they are rogue officers taking upon themselves the combined role of judge, jury, and executioner. They and they alone decide what is a violation of the law. They have no place or patience for an interpretation of the law other than theirs. When they find someone in violation they draw their sword and let it swing. Someone always loses an ear, or worse.
And Jesus said, “No more of this!”
If you are a hammer you see everything as a nail. If you are an orthodoxy-officer you see every point of theology as black or white, no gray, and the black gets lopped off like Malchus’ ear.
Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. What goes around comes around.
If I am short on grace, mercy, love, and respect towards those I have serious disagreement with, there will come a time when my need for grace, mercy, love, and respect will come up short.
I believe that there is a place for Christian Apologists. I believe that there is a time and a place to ‘defend the truth.’ I realize that the New Testament epistles are filled with correction of false doctrine. Paul defended the truth in his letters, as did Peter and John and James. But I’m not worried about them. I’m worried about us. I’m worried that we have too many apologists swinging swords and too many doctrine-police locked and loaded.
I’m puny and insignificant in comparison to God, kind of like an ant versus an elephant. God’s truth has been standing the test of time without my help. God does not need me to defend the truth of his word. I intend to continue to teach the truth as best I understand it. I will attempt to inspire all those who will listen to do their best to line up their lives with God’s truth as found in the Bible. I have no interest in being a sword-carrying apologist nor to enter into a mission to defend the Bible, especially towards those who love the Bible as much as I do but come to different interpretations than I do.
There are enough defenders of the truth out there already. I don’t think the world needs another one, especially not me. I think the world needs more Christians and pastors who are peace-makers. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” I want to be a peacemaker. I invite you to join me.