The Anvil of God’s Word
Last eve I paused beside the blacksmith’s door,
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
Then looking in, I saw upon the floor,
Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
“How many anvils have you had,” said I
“To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
“Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye
“The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
And so, I thought, the Anvil of God’s Word
For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The Anvil is unharmed, the hammers gone.
—Attributed to John Clifford
There is a movement often referred to as the emerging or emergent church. One of its basic concepts is that truth is not as clear as we often assume and is quite mysterious and certainly not absolute. The Bible, then, is not an inerrant record from God but a mere medley of man’s attempt to express God. I believe this movement has emerged from a culture that finds issue with the Bible’s stand on such issues as homosexuality, gender rights, hell, and the absoluteness of truth. These issues of the age have become so important to them that they have begun to think of the Bible as a mere document of men who expressed things from the viewpoint of antiquated cultures of the past.
In other words, to such people the Bible is merely an account of people experiencing God as best they could and expressing it from their limited perspective. Rob Bell, author of Velvet Elvis, wrote, “This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that ‘Scripture alone’ is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true” (Velvet Elvis, p. 67, 68). To Mr. Bell, scripture is just another means of seeking truth as long as we don’t take it too seriously. The subtitle to his latest book is “Repainting the Christian Faith” which tells you where he is coming from.
Further he says the Bible is the “…expression of the spiritual experience of God's people through the ages.... We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God. Doubting the one true God” (Velvet Elvis, p. 6). The Bible is merely a “passionate account” of people experiencing God. It is mysterious, not always comprehensible and certainly not without error.
Is this genuine Christianity? I think not. The Bible itself embraces the notion that a supernatural God took it upon Himself to inspire an accurate written account of His dealings with mankind. Throughout the book of Genesis we see the words, “these are the generations of” followed by the name of the record keeper (Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10 etc.). When we get to Matthew we see the record of the generations from Abraham to Christ (Ch. 1). Luke contains the record from Jesus back to Adam showing that someone had kept the record through the ages (Luke 3:23-32).
The Bible is a historical record of the dealings of God with man. Paul wrote to young Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). Scripture is inspired. God breathed it out through the instrument of faithful men showing people how to live in fellowship with God.
Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News expressed the false notion of many people today: “The Bible is not a historical book. It is a book of theology.” I would say to Mr. O’Reilly and to this generation of God seekers that the Bible is not a book of theology at all but an accurate, historical account of God’s dealings with mankind through the ages. O’Reilly and others have bought into the notion that many of the supposed historical events such as creation, the flood, the parting of the Red Sea, Jonah and the whale etc. are mere allegory or simply man’s feeble attempts to explain God.
When you begin to equivocate in this way about God’s written record you will find yourself drifting away from the truth revealed in it. For example O’Reilly, a Catholic, must explain how the Christ He apparently believes in expresses agreement with the story of Noah and the Flood, which he says is mere allegory, not historical (Matt. 24:38). Supposedly, Christ, who is God in the flesh, did not fully understand that the flood story was mere allegory. When we reject the historicity of the Bible eventually find ourselves rejecting its Author.
Genuine Christianity embraces the inspired nature of the written record of scripture. To do otherwise will result in creeping unbelief concerning the things of God until eventually God Himself is rejected. Real Christianity is supernatural in origin and has no problem embracing the supernatural workings of God through the ages in producing an inerrant record of His involvement in history.
Genuine Christianity, as expressed in real God-ordained church life, is the context in which truth is tested so it can be embraced. It is not a gathering of passive bystanders who swallow the doctrines of elite purveyors of doctrine, but an active assembly of truth seekers who listen to God’s word, and to His Spirit, and submit everything people say to the unmovable anvil of God’s word.
Nowhere does Paul tell believers to merely listen to and accept what they are told without discernment founded in God’s word. He assumes, as we all must, that truth is absolute and that it has been revealed to those who seek it. Jesus made it clear that He was truth and that to know Him was to be in the truth (John 14:6). The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth (John 15:16) and He comes to lead us all into truth, into the true expression of Christ in our lives. It is upon this revelatory foundation that Jesus said He would build His church (Matt. 16:17, 18). Genuine Christianity begins with genuine revelation of truth.
Jesus promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). Truth is knowable and available and the Spirit will lead us into all of it. It is not mysterious or dependent on the culture of the age. The culture of the age bows to His truth, not the other way around. The Holy Spirit is available to us even today to help us know and embrace and live in truth.
Truth is like the anvil in the poem above that cannot be moved and destroys the hammers that beat upon it. It is not a pile of mud that takes shape according to the external conditions, or sand that shifts under our feet. It is a steadfast, unmovable anvil that men have beat upon over the years to no avail. It will not change to suit our clever, new ideas. It is the rock upon which Jesus tells us to build (Matt. 7:24). We can build with confidence knowing that God’s truth will not change according to the shifting concepts of fallen humanity.
One of the problems we face in modern Christianity is that we have become passive church-goers instead of active truth seekers. Many Christians have fallen prey to the tendency Paul spoke of: “…having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3, 4). This is an accurate description of American Christianity today. We accumulate teachers by the dozens who tell us what we want to hear and as a result we wander off into false ideas invented by men. As Paul put it, many of us are “…always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). We know the doctrines and concepts but have little relationship with the One who is Truth. We insist that God, the Creator of all things, bow to the knowledge we contain between the six inches of brain between our ears.
Even if these accumulated teachers are teaching correctly it is a dangerous thing for us to sit passively without sincere discernment. We are not like the followers of cults who accept without judgment the pronouncements of the elite teachers. We are those who know we have a God-given brain governed by a God-filled spirit enabling us to know and embrace truth. We can test all things so we can know what is good and hold fast to it (1 Thess. 5:21). We are like the Bereans who searched the scriptures to validate the words of the apostle (Acts 17:11). We do not swallow the pronouncements of the prophets without active discernment (1 Cor. 14:29). We respect our teachers but follow only what flows from faith, holding them accountable to God’s word (Heb. 13:7).
Genuine Christianity is composed of sincere believers who know that they are people like John describes who “…have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things” (1 John 2:20; NKJV). Because they avail themselves of this anointing they will know the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:21).
But this anointing is not the exclusive possession of independent believers. It is the possession of the body of Christ and therefore must be relied upon in the context of fellowship (1 Cor. 12:12). Paul speaks of discernment as the responsibility of gathered believers (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Cor. 14:29; Eph. 4:12-16). You are compelled by God’s word to seek truth in fellowship with other truth seekers committed to the word of God as His inspired revelation of the truth.
We were made to be part of the body of Christ. We are members of one another (Rom. 12:5). This relationship demands that we cooperate with one another in our search for truth. We are never to browbeat one another into believing what we believe but submit to one another in love as we all seek truth together (Rom. 12:16; Eph. 5:21).
Christianity as it is expressed in America today is factionalized and divided because we have forfeited our responsibility to seek truth and have abdicated that responsibility to professional theologians. Paul warned the Corinthians about the danger of gathering in click groups according to elite preachers like himself, Peter or Apollos. He appeals to them to be in agreement and have no divisions and then pinpoints the reason for their divisive behavior—their tendency to gather around famous teachers instead of taking responsibility as discerning, spiritual believers (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 2:12-16).
If I could give some serious advice to many of my Christian friends it would be this: stop chasing after popular teachers and new popular doctrinal ideas! Chase after God! Be one who follows Christ not one who follows the coolest preacher or trend of the day. Stop seeking ideas that make you comfortable and fit your limited perspective and open up to the vast truth of God revealed in His word and inspired by His Spirit. Let the Holy Spirit lead you into truth. Begin your search for truth and then find others who will search with you. Through that attitude you will find the makings of genuine Christianity.