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Pointers along the way #538

Christian writings
- Jacob Ninan

We have now with us, in addition to the Bible, writings by many Christian leaders which help us to get a clearer view of what the Bible says. We have the writings of 'apostolic fathers' like Ignatius and Polycarp who lived close to the time of Jesus' apostles. Then we have people like Athanasius (known for his 'creed') and Augustine who were theologians who tried to deal with heresies that were coming out in their times and wrote down their understanding of Biblical doctrines. Later came Martin Luther and John Calvin who spearheaded the protestant revolution and their writings are also classics. Coming to the present day we have the advantage of reading and studying all these and many more writings of earlier and present day theologians and thinkers.

One thing we must keep in mind as we read any Christian writing is that these are but interpretations of what the Bible says in the author's opinion. Much as we may respect any of these writers, their writings are not scripture and they do not hold the same validity as the Bible itself. When we read the writings of godly people it is but natural that we hold them with respect and try to learn from them. At the same time we should recognise that they are not perfect, and that they may contain errors in the light of the understanding we now have of the scriptures.

Earlier writers did not have the advantage of the breadth of understanding of the Bible that is possible these days because their sources were limited. If we look at Luther or Calvin it is easy to see how the theology they came from coloured their thinking, and how it leaves much to be desired. Modern writers are also affected by their own background and experience. Even those who quote directly from the Bible and say that they are only saying what the Bible says may be picking verses out of their context and their teaching may not have the balance that would have come from the verses they are not quoting (it is also written)!

It is not wise for us to base our theology entirely on what any great Christian leader has said or what some church holds. My personal conviction is that there is no one (including me) who is completely right in what he understands and teaches. We all see things imperfectly (1Co.13:12), and we may even have blind spots that prevent us from seeing some part of the truth. It will do all of us good to keep our mind open for correction and new learning. Even if what we learn in one grade of our spiritual school seems to be sufficient for us at the moment, let us recognise the fact that there are many grades ahead of us. The more we learn, the better our own lives can be changed, and the better we can help others to come to the knowledge of the truth and grow in it.

It is also prudent to keep away from speakers and writers who bring out heresies or say things that cannot really edify us (2Jn.9,10). This will preserve our own soul, and also save a lot of time and effort for us.


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