Inbreeding, Butterflies and Responsible Discipleship

It was not because there was a lack of conviction or a deep passion for the message that a problem existed. The crisis Jeremiah encountered involved a simple but fatal activity which boiled down to inbreeding.
An amazing story unfolds before our eyes from Jeremiah 23. Anyone today, who might lightly dismiss the power of what it would have been like to have been caught in the dynamics which were at work, would be leaving themselves wide-open to repeating being whisked away by forces equivalent to a raging torrent. So what was happening?
To put the story in modern terms, a bunch of preachers were reading each others books, attending each other’s lectures and building upon each other’s messages in order to present to God’s people a powerful solidarity in proclaiming a comforting message./1 Unfortunately, their message originated no higher than their own imaginations; their message did not come from the LORD./2 But with the people wanting the message to be true and relying upon the claim that it was from the LORD, the reality that it was actually man-made could in no way diminish their appetite to readily consume it and find comfort in it.
Inbreeding is always a danger when any group only listens to itself. For example, how will those who embrace the common Protestant teaching of salvation by faith alone be able to arrive at an accurate understanding of the text if they only listen to their proponents and would refuse to dialogue with their detractors about the text? Conversely, if we totally disengage ourselves from dialoguing with those with different understandings, might not we also be subject to inbreeding? While we may be confident in our understanding, should we not always remain open to receiving the legitimate message of the text … even though it might be different than what we currently think is true? Our allegiance should be to the faithful message of the text.
In order to avoid the ditch of inbreeding, it would be quite human to over-react and thus plummet off the other side of the road into the ditch of becoming a butterfly. If someone were to flatly assert that truth equally comes from many sources or that we should listen to all voices, then life becomes the flimsy flitter from one attractive flower to another with no particular guiding direction or ability to distinguish the quality of each message.
Responsible discipleship requires more than the naivety of inbreeding or the flittering to embrace every new and appealing idea. The path the Jewish Bereans chose illustrates a responsible approach to those who claim to present truth. They examined the Scriptures daily to see if the message they were hearing was true./3 They neither walled themselves off nor did they wildly embrace something just because it was new. They tested the message they heard against Scripture. As a result, they embraced the truth of the gospel and became disciples of the Lord.
Scripture reveals what is true; Scripture is the standard./4 We have been repeatedly warned that personal feelings and experiences are unreliable./5
1/ Jeremiah 23:30, 27, 17
2/ Jeremiah 23:16, 21, 25-27, 32
3/ Acts 17:11
4/ 2 Timothy 3:16-17
5/ Romans 10:2; Galatians 1:8, Deuteronomy 13:1-3; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They are the parents of two young men.

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