Who said “Elementary, my dear Watson?” From what movie was the line “Play it again, Sam?” How certain are you about who said, “Give me liberty or give me death?” These quotes are burned into our culturally memory, but it turns out they are all wrong. (HT: Dallas News Religion) Sherlock Holmes never said that. The line from Casablanca is “Play it, Sam.” The famous Patrick Henry quote is almost certainly made up. Why is it that despite the horrible record of “conventional wisdom” we continue to rely on it and trust it?
While this problem is widespread in culture, it particularly impacts the church. Once something becomes adopted by the majority of Christians – biblical or not – it is almost impossible to change their minds. Well meaning Sunday School teachers would stake their life on the “fact” that Adam and Eve ate an apple, even though it is nowhere in the Bible. Most believers just know that the three wise men came and presented their gifts to baby Jesus in the manger just like all the nativity scenes show, even though the Bible never says how many wise men there were and that they came to see Jesus as a small child living in a house. Or one of my personal annoyances – calling the church building God’s house, even though scripture tells us that since the Holy Spirit came the heart of the believer is where God has chosen to dwell.
In one of my favorite movies, Men In Black, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to explain to soon-to-be Agent Jay (Will Smith) how there are aliens living on earth and no one knows about it:
A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Everything they’ve ever “known” has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on it. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.
As humans, we have the distinct disadvantage of not being God. Therefore, in our current situation, we have to work with limited knowledge. God has revealed Himself through the Person of Jesus Christ and through His Word, the Bible. We can know with all certainty that God loves us and that Jesus died in order that we might have the ability to have a relationship with God. The core doctrines of the Christian faith have been around since the foundation of the Church and are demonstrable true. Apart from those central beliefs of our faith, we must admit that we don’t know.
That’s not the same as saying, “God doesn’t know” or “Christianity may be wrong.” God has all knowledge and Christianity is God’s means to restore humans to Himself. What it does mean is that we can quit wasting our time arguing over non-essentials. I have strong personal opinions on most theological issues, but as long as you can accept basic Christian orthodoxy, I will work with you to proclaim Christ and bring Him glory.
We don’t have to stop having opinions on all but the most important topics. I probably have more strongly held beliefs than the average person, but the tendency is to elevate my personal opinion on a topic of Scripture to the point where it is pivotal to the Christian faith. Different people, depending on their background and personal experiences, are going to stress different issues and points.
But here’s my point, when you first read this column, you just “knew” that Patrick Henry gave the famous death wish. You also may have “known” that the Church will be raptured out before the tribulation or that TULIP is the equivalent of sacred writ. Just remember that while some issues for Christians are cut and dry, others are not quite as “elementary” as we think.