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The modern world’s reverence of science has gone too far

April 30, 2013 4 comments

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a long time, but somehow just never got around to it. I think a lot of people have never really taken the time to think about this. In today’s world, science’s place as the ultimate truth-finder in the modern world is taken as a given. I think this can have some dangerous and foolish consequences.

What does the Bible have to say about worldly wisdom? Here’s just one passage (1 Corinthians 1:18-25):

19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

I was going to highlight or bold certain parts, but I think pretty much all of it sends a strong point across to the reader. Please take the time to digest it on your own, and maybe apply it to what we’re talking about here.

Before people start accusing me of “bashing” on science, let me make something clear. Science has made amazing contributions to this world, and I think that was an intentional part of God’s design when He decided to share dominion of Earth with us. I am all for taking medicines to help cure illnesses, and knowledge of the human body has helped doctors make proper treatments all across the board.

I am also relatively supportive of technology. I could not write this blog without it, nor enjoy many of the creature comforts I take for granted every day. AIR CONDITIONING! (Sorry, just had to get that in there.)

But what I’m talking about is a more specific realm of science; the part that purports to tell us about the universe and its past. I am talking about scientific “facts” such as naturalistic evolution, archeology that seemingly contradicts the Bible, and other such fields. Much of this science is based on theory and speculation rather than repeatable, testable results. I am not talking about science that we see and use on an everyday basis (and therefore can easily find faults with over time). A big bulk of science cannot be contained in a laboratory and “proved,” but this doesn’t stop people from swallowing these “truths” wholesale and allowing them to dictate their beliefs.

Here are three primary reasons I do not place science on the same pedestal as other people.

1. The scientific community is not as truth-driven or open-minded as some people assume.

In a perfect world, the scientific community’s sole purpose would be to find truth regardless of logistics, politics, and greed. But the fact of the matter is, real truth is often not the sole (or even primary) aim. There are often strong competing factors at play that cannot be ignored or brushed off as something on the fringes.

For instance, a lot of science is driven by the need and desire for funding. Where there is money, there the scientists will flock. Can we blame them? They need to pay their bills and make a living just like we do. This often means that they will do the kind of work that interests rich philanthropists or the public eye at the time. This also means results could be tweaked or pushed in a particular direction to keep the money flowing.

As C. W. Adams puts it: “In the real world, research is not the rational pursuit of knowledge many might imagine it to be. Rather, it is a system riddled with competitive forces; greed; profits; the pursuit of personal recognition; and quite simply, survival issues for the individual researcher.”

Furthermore, there is a strong pressure toward conformity in the scientific community to avoid being ostracized by one’s peers. Breaking from the mold requires a strong sense of purpose and conviction, for this is often considered to result in career suicide. C. W. Adams calls this “peer-control.”

“…it must be understood that the range of study, and the ability of these professors to travel outside the box, is also severely limited by the educational institutions that employ them. Maintaining job security in these institutions usually requires some sort of peer control process that research scientists undertake when determining hypotheses. Although speculation is obviously encouraged, the topics and range of speculation are thoroughly restricted.”

Remember that Satan is referred to as the “god of this world,” so wouldn’t you think that he’d do anything to keep the true God out of the picture as much as possible? Do you think he’d push the tides of academia toward biblical truth or away from it? You be the judge. Remember also that true scientific facts never contradict the Bible nor render God obsolete. They are simply observations of His creation at work, and His fingerprints remain on everything. For instance, learning how lightning forms does nothing to disprove the God who put those forces in place to begin with.

2. Science is continually changing and amending prior “certainties.”

Nietzsche once said that “madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups.” This aptly describes why so many of the world’s brightest minds can often be in complete agreement on certain “truths” that later end up being completely (and sometimes hilariously) wrong. A scientific consensus is far from a sure thing, as history would teach us.

Carl Sagan once wrote: “Even a succession of professional scientists–including famous astronomers who had made other discoveries that are confirmed and now justly celebrated–can make serious, even profound errors in pattern recognition.”

The bottom line is that just because you throw more people into the mix doesn’t mean that you can prevent blindness. What often happens is a phenomenon that Yale psychologist Irving L. Janis terms as “the groupthink syndrome.” There are three main symptoms of this:

1. Overestimate of the group’s power and morality, including “an unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, inclining the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their actions.” [emphasis added]

2. Closed-mindedness, including a refusal to consider alternative explanations and stereotyped negative views of those who aren’t part of the group’s consensus. The group takes on a “win-lose fighting stance” toward alternative views.

3. Pressure toward uniformity, including “a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view”; “direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes”; and “the emergence of self-appointed mind-guards … who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.”

Think about some of the failed assumptions and certainties of the past: the world is flat (bogus); the atom is the smallest building block of matter (false); the universe is necessarily infinite (now we know of the Big Bang)…the list goes on and on.

Did you know that there have been a large number of prominent scientists and experts who have published material “proving” that the Bible wasn’t factual? That certain people-groups mentioned in scripture never existed? And usually what happens is that years or decades later, some archeologist will unearth new evidence to validate the claims of the Bible, not those ever-sure experts.

If science ever seems to run counter to what God’s unchanging and eternal Word says, I’m hitching my wagon to the source of truth that has never been proved wrong.

3. Scientists are made up of faulty and biased people just like you and me.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the word “scientist,” I am not immediately struck with reverence and awe. Respect, sure…many of them work very hard and are gifted with relatively bright minds. But at the basic core, they are people just like us who deal with insecurities, fight against stubbornness and pride, and are shaped by the influences around them.

I suspect that people who look up to scientists as the end-all-be-all have never really known a scientist (or at least one from a “respectable” school). Guess what? They range from academic hermits to clumsy goof balls. Many of them, due to their narrow focus on studying, lack common sense in important areas that some of us take for granted. They are sometimes unsuccessful in love due to a basic misunderstanding of human interaction. Sometimes they are great at it. I would no sooner take advice from someone who works in the sciences than a trusted friend.

(Be honest: don’t we all laugh at Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory because we can relate to the brilliant-at-something guy who is seriously lacking in other common areas? I alluded to his difficulty in grasping sarcasm in an earlier post.)

The point is, they are no more reliable as finders of the truth than the average reasonable adult. It is easy to see how these people could be swept away in a cool and exciting new idea, rather than putting on the brakes of common sense…especially if being at the forefront of this thinking puts them in a superior intellectual position.

* * *

The point of this post was not to bash on science or scientists, but rather to give a reminder/reality check that man is just man. We are fallible creatures and our systems are bound to be flawed as well. To be sure, we have been given great power and authority over this world, but there is always One who is supremely higher. Let’s not make the mistake of getting so full of ourselves that we miss the fact that we are His creation. The creation cannot be greater than the Creator, can it?

And that very thought was what drove Satan to rebel in the first place…isn’t it funny how it all naturally fits into this world, his current domain?

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Is the “sinner’s prayer” a legitimate way to get saved?

April 18, 2013 2 comments

If you’ve been in the American church for any amount of time, you are probably familiar with the concept of the “sinner’s prayer.” Basically, a preacher asks people in the congregation to repeat after him if they are interested in having Jesus Christ come into their hearts and save them. The prayer will generally go something like this: “God, I know I’m a sinner, and without you I am destined for eternal punishment. I repent of my sins. Please forgive me and come into my heart. Be my Lord and Savior. Amen.”

Poof! If you’ve repeated this prayer, then you’re now magically saved, right? Well, not exactly. It doesn’t work like a flu shot.

People will often point to the fact that when they repeated these words, they “meant it” and therefore, it has to be legitimate. Well, maybe or maybe not. The problem is, the words that come out of our mouths can often be at odds with what’s actually in our hearts—even if we feel like they are the same.

People can be swayed very easily by their feelings, whether it be the lovey-dovey atmosphere created by the powerful preaching, dim lighting, or soothing music. It could also be peer-pressure-induced, where friends or loved ones nudge you into saying the prayer or answering the altar call. Either way, the Bible warns us in Jeremiah 17:9 that human hearts are deceitfully wicked…who can know it?

There is not one place in the Bible that tell us that repeating a formulaic prayer will grant us salvation. A simple man-made prayer does not have special abilities. However, these prayers often contain a lot of correct elements that clue us in on how to actually find Jesus. Using my sample prayer, let’s break it down a bit.

“God, I know I’m a sinner, and without you I am destined for eternal punishment.”

The first step toward real salvation is acknowledging and understanding fully that we are sinners. This is more than saying “I’m not perfect” or “I have done wrong at least once in my life.” Everyone in the world could admit to that! No, this means recognizing that we have broken God’s law and that as sinners, we are broken beyond repair. This is letting go of the secular idea that we are essentially “good people” who slip up sometimes. Rather, it’s a realization that our sin nature leaves us in a very grave situation. We are rotten to the core, and there’s nothing we can do about it on our own. In light of a fully just God, we deserve hell.

Do you really believe that? Or do you look at other people around you and say that you are comparatively “good”? Do you secretly think, “If God turned me away from heaven, that would be unfair!” If you feel this way, you are not ready.

“I repent of my sins.”

Do you really? In addition to genuine remorse for your sins, are you ready and willing to do whatever it takes to turn completely away from that lifestyle? Do you see those things in a different light now, as dirty and serious? Or do you cling to your desire to dabble in sin, do enough “good” to cancel out the bad? Do you wish to be saved but have no desire to be sanctified?

Do you think this way? “Of course, I want to go to heaven! But while I’m here on earth, I don’t need to be a saint or anything. I’ll live it up because Jesus loves me and forgives me.”

If this is your mentality, then you are not genuinely repentant. Someone who is ready to be a Christ-follower may slip up time to time, but they do not brush it off as if it were nothing. When they slip off the narrow path to life, God comes for them and they continue fighting their flesh. If this is not you, you are not ready.

“Please forgive me and come into my heart.”

Let’s think about our own lives for a minute here. Let’s imagine you are married and you’ve had a heated argument with your spouse. Hurtful words were hurled and you’re still stinging from the pain.

Now, let’s say he or she comes up to you and says, “Please forgive me.” You look at them, and they are not truly sorry, nor do they have any intention of trying to improve themselves in the future. They just want the fight to stop so you can cook them dinner or give them other benefits. Would you forgive them?

In the same way, God is not interested in idle words and empty gestures. As Paul Washer once said, “the greatest heresy in the American church is that if you ask Jesus to come into your heart, he will definitely come in.” No, this isn’t how it works. If Jesus sees your heart and you are not ready or willing to do what it takes to make it work, he will not come in. He does not force himself upon you just because of some words you’re repeating in an instant of conviction.

There’s a reason why many will come to the gate and say, “Lord, Lord,” only to hear Jesus say to them: “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23) How do you know this isn’t going to happen to you?

“Be my Lord and Savior. Amen.”

People often think about Jesus as their savior, but that’s it. They are glad he will whisk them away to heaven and save them from the flames of hell, but they forget about the other requisite part.

He has to be LORD.

Most people in America will call themselves Christians, but they are the furthest thing from Christ-followers. They prayed a prayer and called him “Lord,” yet they live their lives as they see fit.

When someone is your LORD, that means he is your master. You are his servant/slave. Does your mentality really reflect this at all?

If the Bible says something is sinful or commands us not to do certain things (or support them), do you brush it off as outdated “advice”? Do you regard the opinions of man and culture more highly? Do the things that scientists proclaim to be true take precedence in your life?

Do you gloss over the uncomfortable portions of scripture that do not appeal to you, but rather focus heavily on God’s grace and love? Do you profess to love God but fail to live out his commands? John 14:15 tells us that if we love Him, we are to obey.

If you have the (surprisingly common) mentality of “I’ll follow, but only when I really agree,” then Jesus Christ is not your Lord. ANYone will follow someone’s commands if they fully agree with them already. Are you willing to obey even when you don’t fully understand or it rubs you the wrong way?

If God is not your Lord, then He is not your savior. Please don’t fool yourself.

So…

If everyone who calls themselves “Christian” is capable of deceiving themselves and feelings are an unreliable measure, then how in the world can you know if you are really saved? Well, the Bible says that a good tree will bear good fruit (and a bad tree will bear bad fruit…and be cut down and thrown into the fire) – Matthew 7:17-19. It exhorts us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) to see if we are in the faith. The test is not whether we prayed a prayer one time in our life, but rather whether our lives are truly changed and on the narrow path in this world. Are we being sanctified? Are we convicted of our sin and repenting continually?

Granted, change is a gradual process for most people, but the trend should be unmistakeable over time. If you were “on fire” for Christ for a short period of your life but have fallen back to a secular lifestyle, there is a possibility that you are like the second or third (unsaved) soils in the Parable of the Sower.

James calls faith without deeds useless and dead. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14)

If we are living our lives just as we were before, or we appear just like the world around us, then this is a serious symptom of a “dead” faith. This doesn’t mean that you are simply living a feeble Christian life, but rather, it means you are not His at all!

In conclusion, reciting the so-called “sinner’s prayer” has no magical powers on its own (though it does have some useful elements in it). This is not the way to test if you are a Christian. The true test and evidence comes in the way you walk and talk, the way you think. Is it conforming to God’s Word, or do you still belong to the world? Remember that you cannot serve both the world and God; it’s one or the other.

In fact, if you are truly a child of His, chances are at some point, the world will hate you or find you foolish (e.g., Matthew 10:22; 24:9; John 15:19). If the world finds you perfectly agreeable, then raise the red flags…there’s something wrong.

The pitfalls of (Roman) Catholicism

April 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Sola scriptura. That’s how it should be in the church, right? By scripture alone should we determine authoritative truth.

Sadly, the Catholic church has strayed far from this ideal for centuries. Are Catholics still “Christian”? Well yes, by definition they believe in the fundamental doctrines of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, the Trinity, the virgin birth of Mary, and so on. However, I do think that Catholics have more obstacles and pitfalls in the way to true understanding. As I’ve pointed out in earlier posts, many (if not most) churchgoers who identify themselves as Christian may actually be in danger of lacking salvation. This danger is even more pronounced in Catholicism where distractions and false doctrines abound in alarming fashion. Some even say that deep, hardcore Catholicism toes the line that could condemn the souls of its adherents. I’d want to stay far from this line if possible, and my hope is that others will feel the same.

So what’s so wrong about Catholicism anyway? If I had to summarize it in two very succinct points, it’d be like this: 1) It is not biblically sound in some of its beliefs and practices; and 2) the work of Jesus Christ seems unfinished in the eyes of Catholics.

Let’s examine some specific points and you can decide for yourself.

Sacraments and Rituals

Out of all of Catholicism’s distinct features, the emphasis on sacraments might be the most understandable. For instance, many Catholics believe that baptism and the eucharist are necessary parts of being a true believer. In other words, in addition to placing one’s faith in Christ and following Him, a person also needs to carry out the sacraments to activate their faith and salvation. They justify this by pointing out that Jesus himself commanded that believers be baptized and to carry out the eucharist in remembrance of him.

However, while we should obey Christ and even carry out the sacraments carried out in the Bible, these are not prerequisites for salvation. Many verses clearly state that we are saved by faith alone and not by any works we do. Ephesians 2:8-9 states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Furthermore, Jesus told the thief on the cross next to him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The thief was saved by a repentant heart that chose to place all faith in Christ alone. He obviously didn’t get baptized or carry out any other sacrament. When it comes to salvation, God does not make exceptions to the rule of redemption by faith. While I certainly do not recommend disobeying God, acts of disobedience alone cannot disqualify someone from salvation. After all, Jesus also commands us not to hate or lust, and yet none of us would seriously consider breaking these commands on occasion to mean that your spiritual doom is ensured.

As far as Catholic rituals such as all the kneeling, chanting, and repeating what the priest reads, this is purely human tradition and nothing more. The Bible does not prescribe these things at all, and personally, I don’t see how anything repetitive and habitual (and relatively mindless) could be edifying to one’s soul. If anything, it would simply foster a sense of false accomplishment and holiness. But these empty works do not earn you brownie points in God’s eyes. Works are evidence of what’s within, but they have no saving power in and of themselves. Apart from a real relationship with God, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). The only time rituals had any place in worship was when God specifically instructed His people what to do (i.e., Leviticus), and each step had a purpose. God never told us to go ahead and develop our own.

I imagine that when a Catholic person visits a Protestant church, it would seem “too easy” and almost like cheating. In their minds, perhaps religion is supposed to be difficult, as most good things in life come from hard work and effort. But rituals on Sunday do not qualify. If coming to worship God is painful, something is probably wrong in either our hearts or in the service itself. The difficulty in the Christian life comes from daily sanctification, dying to ourselves, and from letting the Word of God pierce our hearts even when it hurts and is uncomfortable to our pride.

Reverence of Mary (and other “saints”)

Surely, being chosen as the earthly mother of Jesus Christ is an immense blessing. Mary deserves our respect and admiration. But there is no biblical basis to think she plays any further role in our relationship with God.

There is not a single mention in the scriptures that we need to pray to Mary or come to her as an intermediary. Paradoxically, Mary is a child of God—just as we are. Why do Catholics pray to her or use beads and such? I imagine this came about as some kind of guilty response after generations of sexism and relegating women to second-class citizens in the church. Perhaps it came from human logic after recognizing the importance and authority of mothers. But this is a unique case in human history where the child was superior to the parent in every way. Jesus obeyed her in accordance to the scriptures as an example to us, but also to indulge her out of his love and sympathy. When I read the stories of the wedding miracle (wine to water) or even when Jesus stayed behind in the temple and worried his parents, I don’t sense that he feels subjected to Mary or is dependent in the usual way a child is, do you?

The reverence of Mary is not biblically based and frankly, it is a distraction away from our complete focus on the triune God. In fact, you see frequent examples of apostles and spiritual leaders deflecting attention away from themselves and calling attention to Jesus instead.

Priesthood

After Christ’s death on the cross, the traditional role of priests became obsolete. They are no longer necessary as far as acting as intermediaries between us and God. Sorry, but that’s just how it is. Sure, they can still serve an important teaching role, but Catholic priests unknowingly overstep their bounds.

Why can we not come directly to God in prayer and confession? Are we not called children of God after we are saved? Can children not openly and honestly talk directly to their fathers? Is God a worse version of Captain Von Trapp? What gives priests the authority to take our confessions and to give absolution? Even worse, what gives any “man of the cloth” the authority to ex-communicate or condemn anyone? Only God is the righteous judge with this authority! (I won’t even delve into the grievous offenses of the past, such as indulgences and other corruptions.)

I couldn’t help noticing when watching the recent The Bible series (backed by the Catholic church) on The History Channel that there was very little emphasis on the tearing of the veil in the temple of Jerusalem. In fact, it was quickly portrayed as a thin, silky curtain falling to the ground after Christ’s death, which could happen to any curtain in an earthquake. The reality was far more miraculous: a hefty thick curtain supernaturally tore in half down the middle. This event had massive significance.

Before this happened, a High Priest would have to approach this place—the Holy of Holies—with much cleansing, prayer, and trepidation. They would even tie a rope around themselves in case they dropped dead from God’s fearsome presence…then his fellow clergy could pull his body out without risking their own lives by entering. But the tearing of the veil was a clear signal that we can now approach God boldly as his children. Once we are washed with the blood of Christ, we are pure in His sight and no longer need a priest to act on our behalf.

Only Christ can forgive our sins. A priest has no such authority, and actually never has, even according to Levitical law.

Another strange part of the Catholic priesthood is their requirement of celibacy. I’m sure they quote Paul who says that celibacy can be ideal for someone in the ministry since even marriage can be a distraction.

But celibacy is a very rare calling indeed. Most people in history have not been called or built for it. Even Peter the apostle whom Catholics revere so much was married. Are priests today called to something higher than “the original pope” himself, Peter? Marriage is more often portrayed in a positive light and is even used as a metaphor for the church’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

Consider this: Paul had to be single as the most prolific missionary the world has ever known. His calling was much different than the everyday clergyman. He was personally approached by Jesus Christ after the resurrection and ascension. Paul was directly shown glimpses of heaven and the future glories that laid ahead just to empower and motivate him to the end. He spent every waking minute preaching the Word to hostile crowds, traveling, being brutally punished and imprisoned, fleeing from death, and writing letters that compose almost half of the New Testament.

What is it that modern day priests do exactly that precludes marriage in their ministry? Marriage is a blessing and would probably prevent so many of the problems that plague the Catholic church today. It also teaches people so much about their own wretchedness and can be a great source of accountability and support.

The vast majority of men simply were not made for celibacy, and this is not an indictment on character or righteousness.

The Infallibility of the Pope

Where in the world does this notion come from? That once a person is chosen as the Pope that he suddenly becomes infallible? Show me a verse, any verse, please!

Was any person other than Jesus ever perfect and blameless? How can it be that the Pope can declare something and then every follower has to adopt that as truth? The only source of ultimate truth in our lives is the Bible. No man today qualifies as having equal footing with God’s Word.

People may reason that God chooses certain people to be pope, and maybe this could be true. Certainly, nothing happens without God allowing it. But just as kings appointed by God could fail or even fall away, popes are still prone to error. Human sin and free will are always factors.

Maybe people compare popes to prophets. It is true that prophets in the Bible always declared truth (otherwise, they would be false prophets)—even if they were sinful in other areas of their lives—but the Bible and the events that helped shape it are already finished. Prophets are used for specific purposes in light of significant historical events with heavy spiritual consequences. God always chooses prophets directly by speaking to them. God does not appoint prophets using man’s voting procedures or councils.

Crucifixion of Christ

What is it about the crucifixion of Christ that seems unfinished to people? We are not “crucifying Christ over and over again” as some people like to dramatically put it. Mel Gibson, a Catholic, insisted on using his own hands to nail the hands of Christ in the movie portrayal The Passion of the Christ because he feels he crucifies Christ with every sin.

You may notice that Catholics have crosses that depict Jesus hanging on it still. He is risen! He has defeated death and sin on the cross and left it behind. He is in glory in heaven right now, preparing for his triumphant return as king and conqueror. Why is he still on the cross in Catholicism?

To me, this seems like a clever trick of Satan. He may put it into people’s minds that this is a good way to always remember the cost paid and the pain suffered. While these things are important indeed, the more important part is Christ’s victory over death and sin. If he had simply suffered and died, he would be a false prophet and nothing more than every other criminal who died the same Roman death. But it is his resurrection that validates his claims and his deity, not the hanging on the cross.

Purgatory

Jesus uttered his famous words toward the end of his life, “It is finished.”

That means sin was defeated and that people now have a direct bridge to God (and heaven).

How in the world did the idea of purgatory come about? I am utterly confused. It is not mentioned or even hinted at in scripture at all. The Bible tells us that once we come to faith in Christ, we are seen as blameless in God’s sight. We are “white as snow.”

According to the doctrine of purgatory, our sins are NOT fully paid for, and we’re not quite ready yet. We need a little more punishment, a little more purification. Again, this plays into the erroneous emphasis on works and payment for sin outside of Christ’s redemptive work for us. It is completely unbiblical.

This is really just scratching the surface, but you’ve probably noticed the trend again and again by now; unbiblical, Jesus’ work was unfinished, not enough…these are serious red flags that make Catholicism seriously deficient in some ways. No denomination is perfect, of course, but I think this goes beyond small theological differences and misunderstandings. Hopefully, people can focus on the doctrines that are correct and find a way toward a better, more biblical truth. Sola scriptura—not tradition, not man-made systems and bureaucracies.