Context is Crucial
By David Flick
Context is crucial. Context is crucial whether it is interpreting the Bible, reading a news story, or hearing a sermon. People can misinterpret statements when they take them out of context. They can understand them correctly when statements are in contexts.
Southern Baptists are noted for taking things out of context. They are noted also for not recognizing heresy when it occurs within the contexts of sermons and debates. The most notable instance where someone took a quotation out of context was during debate about the Bible at the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention. They took a statement in a debate over the Bible out of context. SBC fundamentalists went wild. Anthony Sizemore, spoke a single phrase about the Bible. Messengers greeted him with audible gasps of shock and dismay. Never mind that his statement was taken completely out of context.
Todd Starnes, of Baptist Press, lifted the quote out of its context and wrote an article that was misleading to Southern Baptists. He was, of course, picking up on the shock of diehard inerrantists in the denomination. His harmless comment, taken out of its context was, ". . . the Bible is just a book." In "6 words: 'defining moment' between conservative & moderate Baptists," which appeared in the June 21, 2000 issue of BP, Starnes wrote:
Misleading as it was, Starnes succeeded in joining the fundamentalists in leading Southern Baptists to believe that Anthony Sizemore was speaking heresy. Such was not so, but Starnes' article, with vocal fundamentalists, used the phrase to frighten Southern Baptists into thinking that liberalism was sweeping the convention.
Many Southern Baptists will believe anything that simply sounds bad. They fall for the lies told about moderates and conservatives. They claim that moderate and conservative Southern Baptists do not believe the Bible because they say it is just a book. Never mind they blatantly took the phrase out of its context.
Within seconds after he spoke, fundamentalists jumped on Anthony Sizemore like ducks on June bugs. They seized the moment to multiply lies upon lies about what he believed.
Taken in context, Sizemore's harmless statement was meaningful. His argument was that the Bible is not synonymous with Deity and does not belong on the level of the Trinity. The Baptist Faith & Message of 2000 elevated the Bible to Deity status by saying that the Bible is the very Revelation of God.
In reality, the new statement of faith elevated the Bible to a status above Jesus Christ. However, Jesus alone is the true Revelation of God. (John 1:1)
Sizemore was attempting to point out to the fundamentalists that the "Bible is just a book," in the sense that it is the "written revelation of God." Nothing more, nothing less. Yet, taken out of context, the fundamentalists believed that Sizemore's comment meant the Bible is a book of no more importance than Gone With the Wind. Now, a short year later, the president of the SBC sallies forth with genuine statements of heresy and nobody raises an audible gasp. Merritt's heresy has no defense. Merritt's statements, whether in or out of context, are heresy. Hear three statements from the president's mouth.
One might argue that we have taken these three comments out of context. However, taken either in and out of context, Merritt was talking about the Bible. It does not take a rocket scientist or an intelligent theologian to see that his statements are heresy.
Nowhere in the Bible is there a claim that the book itself has salvific qualities. Nowhere in the Bible does it claim to be, "ALONE," the word of God. Nowhere in the Bible are there claims that a book died on the cross for the sins of people.
As Sizemore stated, the Bible is indeed just a book. It is a divinely inspired book and is the record of the revelation of God. It is the record of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it contains the divine qualities only so far as it tells us who Jesus was and what He came to accomplish for sinful people. The Bible cannot save a single soul.
Both in context and out of context, that's precisely what James Merritt said in his sermon. So, on one June day in 2000, a single statement was taken out of context and fundamentalists, with audible gasps, cried heresy.
On another June day, just one year later, the president of the SBC complete with a Ph.D. in theology, issues no less than three statements of heresy and there are no
audible gasps to be heard. Does anyone wonder why? Does anyone wonder what
Southern Baptists are thinking? Here is one Southern Baptist who is filled with
(This article appeared in the August 2001 issue of the TEXAS BAPTIST COMMITTED Newspaper. Also in the August 2001 issue of the OKLAHOMA MAINSTREAM BAPTIST MESSENGER)