Americans have tremendous faith in themselves. In 1950, a Gallup poll asked high school seniors: "Are you a very important person?" 12 percent said yes. Gallup asked the same question in 2005 and 80 percent said, "Yes, I am a very important person." Time magazine asked Americans: "Are you in the top one percent of earners?" 19 percent of Americans said they are in the top 1 percent of earners. Americans rank 25th in the world in math, but if you ask most Americans if they are good at math, they often say “yes.” As columnist David Brooks has said: “We are number-one in the world at thinking we are really good at math.”
We Americans are also certain about our faith, despite the contrary. When Jay Leno was still hosting the Tonight Show he frequently did "man-on-the street" interviews, and one night he collared some young people to ask them questions about the Bible. "Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?" he asked two college-age women. One replied, "Freedom of speech." Leno said to the other, "Complete this sentence: Let he who is without sin ____." Her response was, "have a good time." Leno then turned to a young man and asked: "Who, according to the Bible, was eaten by a whale?" The confident answer was, "Pinocchio."
Yeah, I understand that we will quickly say that all the aforementioned people are not you and I, to which proves my point: we are much too often full of ourselves to see that we are really ignorant about a lot of things, and too proud to admit it.
When it comes to church ministry, we can be so certain about what needs to happen based upon our clear understanding of the Bible, that all other ideas, thoughts, and discussion is ended. We can be so convinced that our experiences, our understanding of the good life, and our friendships are the way it should be in the world that we superimpose our paradigm on every other culture, church, and individual. We are right; they are wrong.
It is the height of hubris to believe that my (our) interpretation is the only way to look at Holy Scripture. It is the pinnacle of ignorance to think that my church, my friends, my geographical place, and the kind of life I live is the right way to live. All other ways of viewing Scripture and life are wrong.
When we hear or make statements like “The American people want…” and “Everybody in the church thinks…” then we have become masters of very small worlds, projecting our smallness and insecurity onto others who do not share our predilections.
Here is my conviction: I don’t know. The truth is that I don’t know what I should be doing half the time in this life, even as a pastor in a church, which is why I am constantly and continually running to God in prayer with all the humility and openness to the Spirit that I can muster. It’s also why I keep interacting with people of other cultures very different from my own and seek to read Scripture with them because I don’t have the corner on how everything should be done.
Ignorance is bred by only interacting with my small circle of friends and family and excluding all others. Sinful pride is the inevitable result when I climb on an ant hill, believing it to be the mountain that oversees all creation. No one individual, one church, one denomination, one culture, or one geographical place has all the answers to how life should work, how church should operate, and how Christianity should be lived.
So, let’s not put our provincial ignorance on display by reading our Bibles in isolation from the wisdom of the early church fathers, the experience of medieval mystics, the perspective of the sixteenth-century Reformers, the passion of nineteenth-century revivalists, and the insight of contemporary cultures different from our own. Let’s humbly bow before the Master of the universe, King Jesus, and allow God’s Holy Spirit to penetrate our pride long enough to learn the ways of Christ’s love for all people.