“My dear Wormwood, the fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighborhood of the Holy.” – Screwtape
A medical examiner stands over a recent victim of a vicious murder. She begins to take notes. “Thin slice across the neck severing the jugular. There are also two, three, five stab wounds in a circular pattern.” She steps back. Her face says it all. She has seen this before. She phones the forensic team, “The body on my slab has similar patterns to John Doe 245, the cold case we buried last month. I need an order to exhume that body.”
In the news, we hear of stories where patterns have emerged on a recent murder victim to identify a serial killer. When a pattern is found resembling another case, an order to exhume (or dig up) the other body is given. Dissecting a present case can lead to exhuming the past.
In matters of the church, as one investigates, a study into the past may become necessary. Church movements of today may have similarities to patterns of the past. It is not to say that one group today is equivalent to a movement of the past. Instead, it is to see the similarity of ideology.
Behind Pleasant Faces has been our look at the King James Only Movement. It is a recent movement going back to the 1950’s, and then not until the 1970’s was this movement made public. But, does this movement have any patterns to the past? Is it truly a new movement? Or is the ideology found in the King James Only Movement similar to another in church history?
First, we need to have a dissection of the ideology found in the King James Only Movement to see if it warrants an exhumation.
Dissecting the KJVO
Since its beginning, it is difficult to find out what the King James Only Movement teaches in their ideology. Many books and debates have wrestled with the textual criticism in this movement. But, what of their ideology? For this, we need to turn to the men that have pushed this movement forward: Peter Ruckman, Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and Jeffery Fugate. (These do not represent every major name in the KJVO movement, but is an excellent sampling).
“The true Christian stays with the true text of the King James Version which is God’s true Word.” – Jeffery Fugate
This quotes states something very clearly: the King James Version is the true Word of God. This means that God’s Word is only found in the King James Version. Peter Ruckman says that a Christian cannot truly know God or cannot know the full truth without the King James Version. It is clear that in order to know God, one must have the knowledge of only the King James Version. Without that, a Christian will never truly know God. According to these two men, there is a special knowledge that gives a Christian the full truth of God only found in the King James Version.
This view of the King James Version leads to some more ideology in King James Only churches:
First, in observation a visitor can notice that a lot of songs and themes in a KJVO church is that of Heaven and going to Heaven. Songs like, I’ve Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltop, resonate this theme. Heaven is the ultimate goal. It is taught in many of these churches to reject the world and focus on Heaven. The material is bad, but when focused on Heaven one is on the right journey. The earth is seen as “the Devil’s playground.” And, as Jack Hyles mentions, when one does not hold to the King James Bible, the Devil can lead that person away into worldly living. This ideology is also known as Dualism. It is the separation of the Sacred and the Secular. The King James Only ideology teaches that being on your way to Heaven is more important than anything else and a good Christian rejects the material world which is evil. While this is an important theme in Scripture, this teaching fails to look at that God sends us into the world to make disciples of all nations. We were not made for Heaven, but to be God’s image bearers on earth. The New Earth is our real destination in the end, according to Revelation 21. Separation from the world is biblical. Rejection of the material is a different matter. While we are alive we use the materials God has given us in the world to reach the world with the Gospel. We do not huddle in churches, we reach out.
Second, this ideology of special knowledge found in the King James Version leads to a certain view of Scripture. Peter Ruckman states, “The truth is that God slammed the door of revelation shut in 389 BC [the Old Testament], and He slammed it shut again in 1611.” “The King James Bible is God’s work… God is the author of the King James Bible,” says Jack Schaap. With this line of thinking come ways of handling Scripture. “Cherry Picking” and “Proof Texting” become ways of proving the validity of the King James Version. Also, due to the difficult language of Elizabethan English, many preachers in the King James Only Movement will begin to say that passages have a deeper meaning or a more mystical meaning than meets the eye. This leads to allegorizing passages that are not meant to be allegorized. As a result, many think they are getting the “better spiritual truth” of the King James. They are kept in awe and wonder as these preachers and authors wow them resulting in these men’s works seen with the same influence as the King James Version.
This is a sad reality. As one digs deep into these men’s sermons and writing, it comes apparent that these three things are basic ideology of the King James Only Movement.
An Ancient Exhumation
In our dissection of the King James Only Movement we found three things:
1) The ideology of a special knowledge
2) The ideology of dualism
3) The ideology in handling Scripture with mystical meaning and a high view of teachers
Do these three things warrant an exhumation? Have we seen these things before?
Yes. Second Century AD.
While there may be other Church historical movements resembling these patterns, I want to go back to ancient church history. There is a movement that should be exhumed for their ideology: Gnosticism.
The Gnostics were a second century group that is found inside the church. It did not come from the outside, but from inside. They had their own set of documents that were taught from as well as the Scriptures. However, they claimed that one could not fully understand God without their special knowledge hidden in their texts. The Gnostics claimed to possess a secret knowledge that only through their teaching one could learn it.It was only through the “demystifying” of the text through their teachers that one could fully understand it. The text was seen as needing a mystical mindset to understand and to untangle the allegories of Scripture. From the Gnostic teachings, one can clearly see an ideology of Dualism as it was taught to reject the material world and only focus on Heaven. If one departed from the Gnostic teachings, it was taught that something bad would happen to their faith.
The Gnostics were not seen as a good group in church history. Because of these three basic ideologies, they were condemned.
The Churches’ Response
How should we respond to this?
First, how did the early church respond? Iranaeus, a Church Father, wrote a 672-page volume titled Against Heresies. Here, Iranaeus works his way through the teachings of Gnosticism and comes to one conclusion: this is unbiblical. Gnosticism strays from the Bible and teaches things that are not congruent with the teachings found in the Bible. He calls forth a solution. Iranaeus prescribes that the unbiblical teachings of Gnosticism needs to be exposed and taken out of the church. Then, the people need to be brought back under the teaching of the Bible and the church needs to be held accountable for what is being taught inside the church.
How about us?
As we have seen from these past posts, the King James Only Movement is an unbiblical movement. It is teaching house rules as doctrine, and has similar ideological patterns to Gnosticism. It is a poisonous teaching that is feeding Christians a lie. But the solution is not to shut down these churches. It is like dealing with a disease. First, a patient needs a public diagnosis. It needs to be stated that something is wrong. Then, a doctor needs to go in and take out whatever is causing the problem. Finally, a doctor then prescribes good things to be added into the body to help it heal: medicine, diet, exercise, etc. it is the same with the KJVO Movement. We need to begin speaking out when unbiblical teaching sounds in the church. Then we need to remove that teaching and begin to fill in the truth of the Bible in leading people to what the Bible says about these things. Shutting down these churches will do nothing. Instead, we must get back to the Bible. Anything that is said from the pulpit must be checked by Scripture.
Back to the Bible
In the second century, combatting false teaching in the church was to promote the people to go back and search the Scriptures. In the Reformation, Martin Luther, Zwingli, and John Calvin all pointed to the need to know what the Bible says and to check the going-ons in the church with the Bible. This is why we have a translation of the Bible in our own language. We need to stay biblical in our teachings in the church. This means we, as individual Christians, must study the Bible for ourselves.
Being a biblically based church means that we as individuals in the church must have a 2 Timothy 2:15 attitude, we must stand for truth because we know he truth, and we must combat passivity in our churches’ attitude to knowing the Bible (ignorance is not bliss).
In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, as he is training his nephew in how to get people away from the truth says, “The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighborhood of the Holy.” It is only in studying the Bible as individuals in the church that we will be able to see the flower of unholiness and bring truth to the soil in our churches.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word
What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled
*This post is based on a paper written by Stephen Field in 2018. If you would like to read a copy of it, please contact me and I will be glad to send you a copy with all sources.