Interpretive Anarchy

anarchyCritics claim that by eliminating a sole figure of authority—the Pope—the Protestant Reformation unleashed interpretive anarchy on Christianity. While this may appear to be true on the surface, the interpretive anarchy prevalent today goes deeper than that.

What has occurred is a cheapening of the necessity of sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1) built upon and from a solid biblical basis.

There is indeed, an anarchy of interpretation prevalent in the modern church with each man doing that which is “right in his own eyes.” (Deut. 12:8; Judg. 17:6; 21:25) As a result, one can find just about any interpretation that will suit the particular need of the moment regardless of how far-fetched the interpretation may be. This is causing a chaotic (mis-)understanding of the Scriptures.

Men and women without any training, sometimes without much education at all, can declare themselves a leader in the Body of Christ and will assuredly find and develop a following. About all that seems to be necessary is a modicum of bible knowledge, a persuasive personality, and a few highly gullible persons. With these tools at hand, a new church will be born while the devil dances with glee.

Much of this was born out of the Jesus People Movement of the late ’60s to early ’70s. Recall that at this same time was the ’60s Revolution of society spurred in part by the Viet-Nam War. Flower children, Hippies, Woodstock, the Summer of Love ran concurrently with the Black Panthers, the Students for a Democratic Society, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, jr and Robert Kennedy, all of which were preceded by the Tet Offensive in Viet-Nam.

The Jesus People Movement fell in line with those elements of society, their peers within the radical movements, and marshaled a quiet revolution within the Church. Somewhat earlier, a movement had begun within the Church which has come to be known as the Charismatic Renewal or Charismatic Movement.

The first iteration was called “Renewal” as it sought to stay within the confines of the established denominations of the time. It became known as “Movement” when many of the churches rejected what God was doing and the people were forced to find their own places of expression in church. Thus were born the Charismatic churches now populating the religious landscape.

Bible schools and colleges sprung up all over the country to try to provide an educational basis for the many young people wanting to enter into ministry.

At the same time, there was a push-back against this sort of learning. The spirit of independence was rearing its ugly head.

Having seen and experienced the dry deadness of much of denominationalism, many of the young people (myself included) rejected the standard way of doing things, knowing that God was quite capable of using us in ways outside the confines of man’s expectations. (Lk. 16:15: 1Cor. 1:26-29)

The music of the time echoed these thoughts. Chuck Girard and Love Song came out with “Little Country Church,” in which the lyrics speak of a “real” Church setting that must have sounded very counter-culture at the time and to the ears of the local Baptist or Methodist minister.

There was to be no “doctrine” but “love.” (Similar to and influenced by The Beatles, “All You Need is Love”, 1967)

We sang the limerick, “You may go to college and you may go to school, but if you ain’t got Jesus, you’re an educated fool.”

Even in the Bible Colleges we learned that “a text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text.” Even so, most of our understanding of today is built upon these so-called proof texts. That is, one verse being used to build an understanding of something.

Listening carefully to the rhetoric of today, you will come to the conclusion that there are only two meaningful verses in the Bible—Matt. 7:1 and 1 Jn. 4:8 (Don’t judge, [because] God is love.)

Step by step, move by move, experience upon experience, we have been led away from sound biblical understanding.

Today the rotten fruit is readily available for the undiscerning to fill their empty minds with the husks provided by those who care not for God’s people, but only care about themselves. (Lk. 15:16; Jude 4, 12, 16)

Amos 8:11 is finding its fulfillment—”The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine on the land–not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the LORD. (NLT)

This is not a new situation, never before experienced in the history of the Church. This same dark time precipitated Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church. While Luther’s intent was not to split the church, but to reform it, his experience was such that the leaders of his day would not tolerate anything that threatened their position. Luther’s conscience, being persuaded by what he read within the pages of the Bible, forced him to part company with the Catholic Church.

For my own part, I have been forced to separate myself from the so-called charismatic movement, which has been dubbed by many as “charismania.” Charismania is indeed a derogatory term, but from where I stand it is not far off the mark.

I find that I am not alone.

Some have quit church altogether, which is a path I have tried but found wanting.

Some have returned to their roots, many of which are within the Catholic tradition. Neither can I go there.

I need the fellowship of God’s people. I cannot live without a life of interaction with my brothers and sisters, even when we do not see eye-to-eye.

However, that interaction must be based on four non-negotiable attributes—

  1. Bible believing
  2. Jesus exalting
  3. Spirit filled
  4. Gospel oriented

Numbers 1, 3, and 4 leave room for differences. Number 2 does not.

All four of them, however, find their basis in what the Reformers found to be one of the essentials of true Christianity—sola scriptura—the Bible alone is our highest authority.

While it may appear at first glance that I have argued myself into a corner, allow me to say that I have not.

Whenever we allow only one verse of scripture to describe a doctrine we will most assuredly be led astray.

However, when we try to take all the Bible has to say about a particular theme—an exercise known as systematic theology—we may avoid being led off into the morass of interpretive anarchy.

It is possible.

Even without a formal education.

But not without the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13)

And the Word. (John 17:17)

Semper Reformanda

2 Responses to “Interpretive Anarchy”

  1. Charlotte Says:

    Excellent word, Dale. I’m in complete agreement with your non-negotiables. God has us in a very different place today. It’s interesting.

  2. Interpretive Anarchy | Gracie's Quest Says:

    […] via Interpretive Anarchy […]


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