I unlocked the door and pushed it aside as the damp air from the morning seemed to sweep past me. It was a bit chilly. I was still a bit groggy since I hadn’t had my morning coffee. It took me a few seconds to get a handle on who was at my door at 8:45 on a Saturday morning. Needless to say I wasn’t especially happy to be bothered. But there they were, two well dressed older women of some minority descent. We exchanged greetings “Good morning” they said and I replied in kind.
“We’re going through your neighborhood visiting folks with the news of God’s Kingdom.” Before I could open my mouth she continued with a set of rapid questions. “Do you think there is too much violence in the world? Don’t you believe that the world’s governments have failed to solve mankind’s basic problems?” “Uh…yeah I guess so. That seems pretty obvious to me.” I replied. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I tried to work my face into something like a presentable appearance of interest. It was difficult.
Then came the pitch. “Well, God’s Kingdom is coming where He will set right all the wrongs that earthly governments have done. We have an article on this very subject that we’d like to leave with you. Maybe we can come back and discuss it with you at another time? We’d be happy to answer any questions you have about it” By now I had my sea legs. “Well, I was thinking as you were talking just now about a question I’ve had for a good while about a part of the Bible. But I don’t want to hold you up so maybe it is better if we talk about it whenever you come back.”
“Oh no, we’d be happy to answer a question about the Bible.” “Really?” I asked. “Oh sure, we answer Bible questions all the time!” she said with a slight laugh and a glance at her companion. I could tell they thought this was going to be a piece of cake. “Well, I was reading the book of Acts and I came across a passage in chapter eight. Do you know the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch?” I asked. “Sure we know that story.” She replied. “Well then you know how the story goes. Philip notices that the Eunuch is reading the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Book of Isaiah. And Philip asks him as he is running along side the chariot if the Eunuch understands what he is reading. Do you remember what the Eunuch says in reply?”
It took a minute or so for their answer to come to their lips. “Doesn’t he say that he couldn’t unless someone interprets it for him?” “That’s right!” I said with a bit of a jump in my voice. “Exactly! So before he could properly understand the Bible he needed to have someone interpret it for him. Isn’t that an amazing statement?” I said. Their eyes lit up, especially the older and seemingly more experienced lady who had been leading the conversation. “This is why we have God’s Organization to give us spiritual food at the right time. The books and articles we publish and read help us to understand the Bible better. And this is why we came to your neighborhood to help people understand the good news of God’s Kingdom and help them become part of God’s organization and his plan for a new earth.”
“I see” I said. “But there is something else I think is worth noticing here about the story of Philip. If Philip is right, then I can’t interpret the Bible for myself. I have to rely on God’s Organization to do so.” At this point the two ladies became quite enthusiastic. “Oh surely, people have all kinds of crazy ideas about the Scriptures.” They said. “Oh I know. You wouldn’t believe half the stuff people throw around in books or magazines or now on the Internet about the Bible.” I replied. “But here is what I have been thinking and wondering about. If I can’t interpret the Bible for myself, because then I would go off into God knows what kind of darkness, then I need to be able to find and identify God’s Organization on Earth so I can rightly and authoritatively interpret the Bible.” I said. The two ladies let out “uhmm hmmm, that’s so true!” I was on a roll it seemed.
“But I am wondering how you think I can do that?” I asked. “When we go to the Bible” one of the ladies began “we can see in Acts 2:46 that Jesus’ disciples went house to house…” At this point I interrupted. “But did God’s Organization interpret that passage for you to tell you what it means or did you interpret it on your own and your own authority?” She looked confused. She didn’t seem to understand what I was asking. “What do you mean?” she queried. “Well, I am just like the Ethiopian Eunuch. I need to indentify God’s Organization first before I can understand the Bible properly. So I can’t use the Bible to identify God’s Organization. If I did that, then I’d be interpreting the Bible on my own. And we already agreed that we can’t do that because of what the Scriptures say about needing someone to interpret it for us. Or did you change you mind about that?” I said.
“We certainly can understand easy things like this.” She said. “And there are lots of easy things like that in the Bible such as, don’t steal, don’t murder…” “I wondered about that too.” I interrupted. “I agree that there are some cases that are really easy to understand, but then there are hard cases, where it is difficult to know if something counts as murder or stealing or something else. And not everyone agrees on those cases. And your organization isn’t the only group that goes door to door, is it?” I said. “Besides, did you mean just a few minutes ago that we needed God’s organization to understand just the parts of the Scriptures we think are difficult or all of them? I thought you meant all of them but maybe I misunderstood you?” I asked.
“No, I meant all of them.” She said somewhat reluctantly. I had the momentum now. I wasn’t going to let the conversation get away from me. I asked, “But on the other hand, maybe you’ve got a point.” I paused for a moment. “Maybe we can interpret the Bible on our own? That would make things easier I guess. What do you think?” Her eyes lit up for a moment, but before she could get a word out I began in again. “But then I’d have to do a lot of work.” She asked “What do you mean?” “Well” I said “I’d have to read everything I could from your group and lots of other groups and compare their interpretations to see who is right and who is not. And then I’d have to do the same for all the new groups that crop up every now and then. And that could take a long time, maybe even my whole life. And I could die any time along the way. If I hadn’t figured out which is true, that could be very bad for me. And besides that I could make all kinds of mistakes and that would be bad for me too. On the other hand though, if I could interpret it for myself, I wouldn’t need your organization or anyone else’s. You can see now why I asked you about this passage from the Greek Scriptures and how confusing this can all be.”
Both ladies nodded. At this point the other lady chimed in. “But lots of those groups teach some horrible things. And just look at all the corruption that these other groups sweep under the rug like the Catholic church. The Bible says you can know them by their fruits.” This was going to hurt and I knew it. “Maybe that is true on both points. But can I ask you a question about that?” I said. Lady number two nodded so I proceeded. “The passages in the Bible about knowing them by their fruits, that is about loving each other isn’t that right?” She said “It sure is.” “And” I continued “sometimes it is loving to do things other people don’t like, isn’t that so? Sometimes people will find those things taught or done offensive, isn’t that right?” “It sure is.” She replied. Before either of them could get a word out I pressed on. “Well maybe what you find horrible and such is actually them being biblical? Maybe they are just being loving? About the corruption, I thought Judas steal out of the disciples’ money bag? And wasn’t Judas one of the Twelve? So, do you mean to say that while even Jesus couldn’t eliminate corruption, your organization has and so has done a better job than Jesus? I don’t think you want to say that do you? Besides, are you interpreting that Bible passage on your own or did you get that interpretation from God’s Organization?”
She replied, “I believe God’s Organization and that they give me spiritual food at the right time.” “Great!” I said. “But this is what I don’t seem to understand so maybe you can help me. If I can’t understand the Bible properly without God’s Organization, then I can’t use the Bible to discover which Organization is God’s. So how do you know your organization is God’s Organization without using the Bible and their interpretation of it? I mean, we just can’t assume that your group is God’s Organization because that wouldn’t be reasonable. If we did that, we could just assume any group we wanted to.” You could almost hear their collective gulp. If there had been crickets in the morning, you surely could have heard them chirping at this point. Gone were all the appeals to the Bible. Gone were the hours upon hours of doorstep battles over this or that word in Greek, the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. It all just vanished.
At this point, the elder lady piped up. “How would you identify God’s Organization?” It seemed we had turned a corner in our conversation. “That is a great question!” I blurted out with a bit of enthusiasm. “I’ve been thinking about that too for a while. I’ve got some proposals so maybe you can tell me what you think?” I said. “So here is the first one. Suppose God entrusted a special task to someone or a group of people, something more important than just about anything else. So take the Scriptures for example. Whomever God entrusted and authorized to select the books of the Scriptures and canonize them, that would be a good way to identify God’s Organization. Did your organization do that?”
I waited a bit. I wanted the point to sink in. “God did that when he inspired each of the books.” She answered. “Oh, I see” I said. “So when God inspired each book he made it part of a list of inspired books?” She seemed confused. “What do you mean?” “Well it seems that you’re saying that when God inspired these books he gave you a list of them too. Did that list come with the Bible?” “Uh…no” she stammered. “So whom did God use to pick with authority which books were inspired?”
Trying to save the day, the other lady chimed in. “You said there were other proposals. What other proposals did you think of?” She asked. “Well, perhaps if someone or some group had given some prophecies that came true or performed some stupendous miracle, that would be a good reason for thinking that God had selected them to be his organization. Does your group have any prophecies or miracles?” The didn’t seem to want to engage those options and hurried back to the original proposal.
“Well God used the Jews to select the books of the Bible and to pass them on to us.” The elder lady said. “So, are you Jews?” I asked. “No.” She replied. “Then I don’t understand how that really helps. I might help with the Old Testament, but how does that help us with the New Testament? Didn’t the official Jewish leadership reject the New Testament writings and the early Jewish leaders of the Church? And didn’t they reject Jesus as the Messiah too?” They both replied in unison, “Yes.” They were getting nervous so I thought I’d better let them come up for air for a few moments. “Here is something else to think about. Suppose we went with the Jewish idea you gave a minute ago. Wouldn’t that mean that we’d be following Jewish tradition? But you reject Jewish tradition right?” They seemed to agree.
The younger lady seemed curious, so much so that she asked me another question. “Well, what group do you think God used to select the books of the Bible?” “Ah” I said with a wide mouth. “That is why I am Orthodox.” She looked confused and ask “So you’re Jewish?” I chuckled. “No, I am an Orthodox Christian…you know, like Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and so forth. Haven’t you ever been to one of those Greek festivals or heard about them?” “Oh yes”, the younger lady said. “they sell those wonderful pastries and things!” “Well” I said “that is what I am. If you read the New Testament and about places where the apostles established churches like Antioch, Thessalonika and stuff. Well you can go and visit those same churches started by the Apostles and they are Orthodox churches. And it was those churches that over time and through the decisions of bishops and councils of bishops that selected the books that make up the Bible.”
It seemed to finally dawn on the elder lady what had just transpired and she didn’t seem very happy. “Do you mean churches after the apostles died?” “Yes, those churches continued under the successors of the apostles, being various bishops that they appointed.” “But” she replied those churches all fell away and became corrupt and part of Satan’s organization!” “Huh” I said. “I am not sure I understand what you just said so let me see if you can help me to understand.” She nodded. “Are you saying that after the apostles died that all the churches they started they all fell away from the true faith? And that they all lost the right teaching and instead taught the doctrines of demons? And that they came under the control of the devil promoting false religion and idolatry in the world?” “Yes!” she exclaimed. “That is exactly what I mean.”
I rubbed my chin. “I guess I am only wondering about one thing then.” I waited a moment to draw them in. “What’s that?” They both asked. “Well, do you trust Satan?” They seemed not to get it. “Well of course not! That is silly! Satan is the father of lies so he can’t be trusted with anything.” The elder lady said. “Huh” I said, “Well, why do you use a group of books selected by Satan and his organization in the fourth century? That doesn’t seem very reasonable to me. I don’t think I could be associated with an organization that depends on Satan for its teaching. Could you? I mean, if you think the church fell away after the apostles died, and came under control of the devil, why would you trust an organization controlled by Satan to collect and preserve the right books and then hand them on to you? I don’t get it.” At that moment, the elder lady had a flash of insight and I could see it on her face. She couldn’t wait to let it blurt out.
“But we got those books from Martin Luther when he protested against all the corruptions of the Catholic church!” “Hmm” I said to myself. “I think I am more confused now than before you came to my door!” “How come?” The younger lady asked “It is just that I don’t understand.” I said. “I thought you said that the churches founded by the apostles all fell away.” “That’s right” they said. “Well if they did, what church was Luther a member of? Either he was a member of the Catholic church or he was a member of the Lutheran church, but do you think either of these are God’s organization?” “Uh….no” the younger lady said. So you’re not Lutheran or Catholic then right?” “No. They said somewhat emphatically. “If either of them were, and you’re not a member of them, then that means you are outside of God’s organization and so can’t really understand the Bible properly. If on the other hand, both of them are part of Satan’s organization, then I can’t understand how you’re not back to trusting Satan and his organization. It seems wrong somehow to make God’s Word depend on Satan. Don’t you think?” I asked. “It just seems like if I take your view and join your organization I’d have to trust the Devil and that doesn’t seem reasonable to me. In any case, I don’t understand how any of that helps and so it seems we are back to the original question, how do you identify God’s organization apart from the Bible so that you can properly understand the Scriptures?”
At this point it was clear we had reached a terminal point in the conversation. “Well that is all very interesting.” Said the elder lady. “And that is why we’re out here to discuss spiritual things with people. We’re not trying to take people away from the Bible. It seems you’re thinking about spiritual things and that’s good but we’re here to talk to people who aren’t.” This was code for “Please, let us go and don’t hurt us anymore.” “Oh sure,” I said. “I understand that and that is why I talk to people about God’s organization, the Orthodox Church, so that they can gain true saving knowledge of God and his Son Jesus Christ. Maybe you two can come back some other time and we can talk about it some more?” They just said goodbye, have a nice day and walked away. I left the front door open…just a bit.