"… watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned … By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people" (Romans 16:17-18).
These are very strong words. They are words which have a great deal to say to the Church at a time when it seems that the voice of permissive society is threatening to drown out completely the voice of Holy Scripture.
When Paul addresses the problem of divisions among God's people, He calls us to be faithful "to the teaching you have learned." Behind Paul's words concerning "the teaching you have learned", there is something else: "according to the Scriptures."
We see this in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Paul begins by speaking about "the gospel which I preached to you" (1 Corinthians 15:1). As we look on to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, it becomes clear that he is not concerned with drawing attention to himself. What he is concerned about is this: "according to the Scriptures" - "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
There are differences of opinion among God's people which cannot be resolved on the basis of the "according to the Scriptures" principle.
What are we to do when we find it difficult to reach agreement? Are we to take the "according to the Scriptures" principle less seriously? Are we to retreat into a more subjective approach to reading the Bible, dipping into the Bible, here and there, focusing only on passages that seem to us to give support to our own point of view?
"Dipping into the Bible" - looking for support for a view that we already hold: This is a very appealing approach. We can go with the flow of the world without really taking very seriously the call: "be holy in all your conduct" (1 Peter 1:15). We can make much of "love" - "All you need is love", while playing down the message which comes to us so clearly from Hebrews 12:14 - "Without holiness no one will see the Lord."
The problem with this way of reading the Bible is this: It shows no real interest in assessing whether a particular point of view is consistent with or contrary to the "according to the Scriptures" principle.
Sometimes, when people dip into the Bible, looking for support for their own point of view, they can give the impression of being very scholarly. People think, "This man really knows what he's talking about. Look at all the books he's read." When, however, we look more closely at what's being said, we start to wonder, "Where is all this coming from? Is it really coming from the Scriptures? or Is it just coming from the scholars?"
Sometimes, we hear people saying, “This is what the Bible really teaches.” When we look at what they say, we wonder if they have paid sufficient attention to what the Bible actually says. Sometimes, there can be more reading between the lines than reading what the lines actually say. We must take care that we do not come to the Bible with an unwarranted assumption – the Bible will always tell me what I want to hear - and read into it a preconceived conclusion – the Bible tells me what I wanted it to tell me.
When we approach the Bible in this way, we can ignore the passages that we don’t like. They no longer speak to us. They are silenced. Is it really as simple as this? No! It’s not. The passages we don’t like are still there. They refuse to go away. They continue to speak. They keep on saying, “Are you listening?”