“And,” “but,” and “or”

I’ve written many times about how much of my childhood (and if I’m truly honest, a bunch of my adulthood) was shaped indelibly by movies, music, and tv.  As with many of my vintage age-wise, a big contributor to how we learned math, civics, and many other subjects perhaps we should have learned better in school was Schoolhouse Rock.  So many songs from that show still stick in my memory … “I’m Just a Bill,” “Three is a Magic Number,” “Interjections,” and probably the most memorable, “Conjunction Junction.”  (no doubt you’re probably already singing the lyrics to it now … you’re welcome.)

You’ll be happy to note that this post is not about teaching on conjunctions … well, mostly not.  It does entail conjunctions but with an emphasis on their effect on God’s word.  Confused?  I don’t blame you.

To understand what I am talking about, have a look at a portion of the lyrics of “Conjunction Junction.”

Conjunction Junction, what’s their function?
I got “and”, “but”, and “or”, 
They’ll get you pretty far.

Yep, “and”, “but”, and “or” will get you very far.  Very far from the truth.  The truth of God’s word, that is.

You see, “and”, “but”, and “or” are super important to the English language.  I’d dare say that we couldn’t probably get through a couple sentences, let alone a conversation … certainly not a full day … without using “and”, “but”, and “or” somewhere.  And that’s great.  Heck, it’s the reason for “Conjunction Junction.”

But, when you add those to God’s word, it’s damaging.

What I mean is … God’s word is all we need.  It is complete.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 tell us …

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

God’s word is all we need to teach us how to live, how to be saved, how to accept God’s free gift of salvation through the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for the whole world.  It’s all there.  We don’t need anything else.

So if we decided what we need for truth and life is God’s word and … God’s word or … God’s word but … we mutate the veracity of God’s word.  It’s basically subtraction by addition.  When we try to add anything to God’s word, we subtract from what is absolute about it.  It is true.  It is whole.  It is timeless.  It is all we need.

Why do we bring “and”, “but”, and “or” to it?  In our humanness I suggest we bring each of them for various reasons.

And … anytime we add traditions, behaviors, actions, even sacramental requirements to what the Bible unambiguously says, we are getting very far from the truth.  In the 2 Timothy passage above, it is clear that the Bible is all that we need to guide us through life.  Salvation (John 3:16, Romans 10:9), right living (2 Peter 1:3, Psalms 119:105), even relationship health (Ephesians 5:15-21) – among other things in life – have fulfillment and root in the word of God.  Don’t get me wrong … I am NOT saying that God won’t or can’t speak to us directly or through other people, or that the Bible speaks with specific reference to all the various circumstances in our lives.  I haven’t yet found any passages in scripture to deal with flat tires, for example.  But there are principles of all kinds that apply to all areas of life sufficiently.  And, the Bible speaks very forthrightly about the importance of prayer, listening to God’s voice, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, etc.  What I am referring to in terms of “and” is adding anything to the wholeness and truthfulness of God’s word.  It is enough.

But … if I struggle with a particular principle in the Bible, I might say, “I agree with most of what the Bible says, but …”  In essence, I might have a propensity to cherry-pick things in scripture I like or exclude things in scripture I don’t like.  The problem is that the 2 Timothy passage above says the “all” scripture is inspired by God (in another translation it says, “God-breathed”) and so each passage of the Bible must be as validly true as all the passages of the Bible.  The Bible consists of 66 books written by about 40 authors over 2,000 or so years, on three continents, in three languages, and successfully predicts the future in advance (which is revealed even within the Bible), and is both internally- and externally-consistent (meaning it agrees with itself, and it agrees with history outside itself).  Hence, we can’t validly choose some of the Bible without choosing all of the Bible.  That doesn’t mean that the Bible is absent of challenging passages or absent of passages that I can’t quite understand or reconcile.  But it does mean that whether there are challenging passages or passages I can’t quite understand or reconcile, I can trust that God understands, and He promises to give us peace that passes our understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

Or … when we use “or” it’s often to give a sense of equivalency to God’s word and other belief systems.  While there may be commonalities in philosophies and other religious beliefs, that doesn’t make them equally valid or equally true.  The Bible expresses an exclusive claim on truth (John 14:6) and is very particular in describing God, His attributes, how we are to be saved, how we are to live, and so on.  To the extent that it is indeed true (it is), then anything that differs from it must logically be false.  I am not trying to make any sort of character assassination, I am rather trying to invoke logic.  So, we can’t equate the Bible’s exclusive claims from anything that differs from or disagrees with them.  “Or” is perhaps one of the most concerning of the conjunctions.

Revelation 22:18-19 says …

And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

I’m not trying to pick a fight.  I’m trying instead to prompt consideration, contemplation, and conversation.  While “and”, “but”, and “or” may get you very far grammatically and linguistically, they can also create slippery slopes of deviance from the truth of God’s word.  God desires His word to truly fill our lives, to complete our community with one another, and to establish a proper and reverential relationship with Him.  If we are not careful, “they’ll get you pretty far.”  Far from God, far from salvation, far from all He truly wants to bless us with, out of the abundance of the love, grace, and mercy that He desires to lavish upon you and me.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

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