On Proof Texting

When I was a young warthog, in college to be precise, I was drinking beer with a co-worker and one of his friends at a little hole-in-the-wall called “Sportsman’s Pub.” I tip my hat to Pr. Ryan Loeslie, who joined me in holding the pool tables there for hours against any challengers. In any case, there sat across from me my coworker’s friend, who had recently become a Buddhist, which is for many Minnesotans in college, as any alumni of its University should be aware of, a relatively common occurrence.

This young man was railing against Christians. He was particularly interested in Christians believing what they were taught without thinking about it. “They only believe it because they were taught it by their parents,” I think is a direct quote.

I challenged him, not about Christians, but about Christianity, and the truth of Christ’s teachings. I said that the Bible is true. I argued something along the lines of there being many witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, and that all other religions only point us inside of ourselves, which is a foolish place to look for truth, while the Bible teaches us the truth about ourselves and about God.

The young man was likely unaccustomed to having his hapless lambasting of Christianity challenged as, eyes widening, he said with as much sincerity as one can detect in another’s voice, “I didn’t mean you! I meant those who just repeat what they are told without thinking. You’re different. You’ve actually thought through what you believe. I respect that.”

I had two responses to this. The first is what I actually said to him: “Just because people aren’t able to explain something doesn’t mean they haven’t accepted it sincerely.” My second response was what I thought in my head, remembering that I wasn’t wrestling against flesh and blood: “Thank you, devil! What a fine compliment! I’m so glad that I have been lifted up above those poor plebian little ones whom Jesus teaches me not to despise. Would you please join me in thanking the God you rebelled against, for not making me like other men, thoughtless and blindly following what God says without ever doubting it?”

Obviously, I want God’s Word to be understood, to be pondered, meditated on, and applied to our lives. Anyone who knows me knows how much I abhor the destruction of children’s imaginations by not giving them anything to think about.

This, however, is not the issue. The issue is what the truth is and who has it. Jesus says, “Of such is the kingdom of God.” He says that about little children. It is the Pharisees who want to silence the children from singing, “Hosanna!” to Jesus. “They don’t know what they’re saying! They’re just repeating the praises of their parents!”

The Pharisees were attacking the true doctrine about Christ. They attacked the truth by attacking the ignorant and weak. But they were not ignorant. God has made foolish the wisdom of the world and says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” He is indignant at those who would say that laying his hands on the children’s heads and his words spoken to their little minds would be a waste of his time. On the contrary, they are worthy of his time more than we grown-ups are. His Father laughs at the rulers of the earth who set themselves against Christ, and Christ is opposed to those who would silence the little children for confessing what is true.

I have heard the cry against “proof-texting” from many in my life. “You just cite one passage without context!” I have heard it from earnest theologians urging us to learn how to defend the truth. But more often I have heard it from those who claim there is a greater context only to deny the truth that the “proof-passage” demonstrates.

Jesus uses proof-passages all the time. In fact, he teaches us to live by them when he teaches us His prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” He begins our new life and faith in Him with a simple proof passage, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

There is all our confidence. There is all our salvation. A simple Christian who works at Burger King can rely on that passage, unable to show himself eloquent or conversant in all the intricate arguments the devil has against these words, but nevertheless fully protected by these same words. He’s baptized into God. He knows who God is. Christ is his Savior. He knows the Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit. “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” This verse proves it. He accepts it because God said it to him.

The world considers the opinions of men to be on par with the Word of God. She gets angry when we don’t give credence to her arguments. It is good for us to learn to defend the truth against Satan’s lies, but it is not good for us to criticize Christ’s little ones who sing “Hosanna” without the ability to explain to the world’s satisfaction why they can do this. We don’t get our confession or our ability to confess from the world or our intellect. There is a simple reason for this. We didn’t get our faith by our own reason or strength. The Holy Spirit called us by the Gospel in baptism and continues to call us, poor sinners, with no strength in our wills or wisdom in our minds that could bring God to us or the truth closer to our hearts. But the Lord and Giver of life can and has and does bring God to us when he makes us like little children who are Christ’s model theologians in the kingdom of heaven.

By all means, learn the context, but don’t you give up that proof text. Without going into much detail about what exactly He meant when His Spirit spoke by the prophets, Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” The only explanation He gives is, “If he called them gods to whom the Word of God came” (cf. John 10).

And there is the truth. The simple and smallest Word of God gives to the smallest, the least of Christ’s little ones, the right to be called the children of God and makes them partakers of the divine nature. And they have the right, they have the desire, they cannot but confess this truth. Not even Satan can silence them.

We desire people to understand and argue and convince. Let us never let this pious desire result in despising the true faith of Christ’s little ones who believe what God has said to them.

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