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27 September 2016

Needing not that any man teach you.

The verse the go-it-alone Christian uses to evade accountability.

1 John 2.27

Ever heard of a “life verse”? It’s a Christianese saying. Means a bible verse which isn’t just a Christian’s favorite verse; it’s one they kinda consider their own personal mission statement. It’s one they base their life, or lifestyle, upon. Heck, there are a few of these “life verses” found in the very same chapter of 1 Thessalonians.

  • People who are big on joy: “Always rejoice.” 1Th 5.16
  • People who are big on prayer: “Pray without slacking.” 1Th 5.17
  • Big on prophecy: “Don’t dismiss prophecy.” 1Th 5.20
  • Big skeptics: “Put everything to the test.” 1Th 5.21

Anyway, I once worked with this woman… and Random Name Generator is gonna call her Svanhildr. Okay, why not. (Doesn’t that mean “swineherd”? Probably not.) Anyway, Svanhildr’s “life verse” was obviously “I need not that any man teach me.” Not just because she quoted it all the time: Nobody could teach her anything. Nobody was allowed to. She wouldn’t let ’em.

The whole verse, in the King James Version, goes like yea:

1 John 2.27 KJV
But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

“The anointing,” Svanhildr figured, is the Holy Spirit, who comes to live in us when we turn to Jesus. John called this anointing “it” instead of “he,” but she figured John was using a metaphor; it’s the Spirit. You know, the Spirit who “shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Jn 14.26 KJV Since the Spirit teaches us all things, what need is there for any other teachers? They’re all just fallible human beings anyway.

Bluntly, this is the favorite bible verse of the go-it-alone Christian. We’ve got loads of them in Christendom. Some of them won’t even go to church, ’cause the pastor and elders insist on trying to teach ’em stuff. The rest do go—’cause you gotta, ’cause it’s all part of being a good Christian, ’cause it’s in their bibles somewhere—but try their darnedest to keep people from telling them anything.

Since I teach, I regularly run into this type. Paradoxically enough, they’ve even attended my classes. But the instant I tell ’em something they don’t wanna hear, up comes this verse like it’s their shield.

Svanhildr did go to church; not mine. She picked one of those fiercely independent anti-denominational types, ’cause if she didn’t answer to anyone, why should her church? But if the pastor dared cross her, she’d go find another church and take her kids with her. She didn’t really need a pastor anyway. She had Jesus.

Didn’t read bible commentaries; don’t need bible scholars when it’s just you ’n Jesus. Didn’t read books by other Christians; can’t trust men, and all she needed was a good King James bible. Whenever she read it, and came to conclusions about it: Didn’t need anyone’s contributions, insights, or especially corrections. She had license to interpret her bible any old way she liked. If someone asked Svanhildr, “How’d you come up with that?” she’d tell ’em; if someone objected, “But the context says otherwise,” she’d point to this verse and proudly proclaim her independence—from any tradition, any preachers, any scholars, any denomination, any fellow Christians.

And while we’re at it: Logic, reason, context, and fruit of the Spirit.

When iron can’t sharpen iron.

Nearly every time I’ve heard someone quote this verse, this is why: It’s to declare their absolute authority to make the bible say as they wish, and declare we have zero authority to correct ’em. “I don’t need a teacher. Certainly not you. I’m anointed by the same Holy Spirit as the holy apostles. The same anointing teaches me all things. That’s why I’m right… and you’re wrong.

Back to Svanhildr. I knew better than to try to teach her anything. I saw others try, and saw ’em get her “life verse” blasted at ’em like buckshot. She wouldn’t be corrected; she knew best. I always kinda wondered what was gonna happen when one of her kids realized their mom’s “life verse” might work just as well as their life verse, and tried pointing that verse right back at her. Never did find out. Bet it was epic.

That’s the core problem with this “I don’t need any teacher” jazz: Works both ways. Ironically, some of them never notice this, and try to become teachers. But you can sling their false interpretation right back at ’em: You won’t listen to me? Fine, I needn’t listen to you either. You have your wacky theories about what the bible means, and I have mine. One of us is right and the other wrong, and each of us think it’s the other. You can go to your church and I can go to mine, and both of us can think the other’s church is heretic. Twas ever thus.

Remember how we Christians are supposed to build one another up? 1Th 5.11 (Why’s that one never anyone’s favorite “life verse”?) Encourage one another to do good; discourage one another from going astray; love one another like Jesus loves us? Jn 13.34 Kinda impossible to do if we’re not permitted to teach one another.

If it’s just me ’n Jesus, and nobody’s permitted to instruct me but the Holy Spirit, it sorta makes all the scriptures’ instructions to teach one another… impossible.

  • Teach your kids the Law. Dt 11.19
  • Teaching the Law makes one great in God’s kingdom. Mt 5.19
  • Teach new believers to do everything Jesus commands. Mt 28.20
  • God’s appointed teachers in his church. 1Co 12.28, Ep 4.11
  • Share good things with your teacher. Ga 6.6
  • Teach in wisdom. Cl 3.16
  • Church supervisors must teach. 1Ti 3.2, Tt 1.9
  • Church elders ought to teach. 1Ti 5.17, 2Ti 2.24
  • Scripture is useful for teaching. 2Ti 3.16
  • Teach good behavior to the people of your church. Tt 2.3
  • There are false teachers, sure; 1Jn 2.1 this also implies there are valid teachers.

But if nobody can teach us but the Holy Spirit, there are no teachers.

Thankfully, God hasn’t designed his church, and his Christians, to be so childish and foolish. We’re to submit to one another, Ep 5.21 which means I need to listen to what the Spirit told you, and you oughta listen to what the Spirit told me. Thus iron will sharpen iron. Pr 27.17 Which isn’t gonna happen when one iron tells the other, “You don’t sharpen me. Only the Spirit gets to sharpen me. You stay away.”

What are we to do with such people? Just as Jesus taught.

Matthew 15.13-14 KWL
13 Answering, Jesus said, “Every plant my heavenly Father never planted will be uprooted.
14 Leave them be; they’re blind guides for blind people.
When a blind person guides a blind person, both will fall in a hole.”

Don’t fret about them. They’ve chosen to learn the hard way—through harsh, unforgiving experience instead of godly wisdom. Through trial and lots of error, instead of learning from others’ mistakes. So let ’em fall into a few holes till they learn to finally ask for help.

The context.

But if you’re actually willing to be taught what John meant in his first letter, here y’go.

Gnosticism refers to the various “divine secrets” religions all over the Roman Empire. Same as now, people would come up with their own theories about how God worked, and some of ’em would try to sell these theories—packaged as “secrets,” ’cause who doesn’t wanna hear a secret?—as a way of making money and gathering followers.

Problem was, some of these “secrets” were leaking into Christianity, and fuddling the Christians. So 1 John was written to reject the false ideas, and remind the Christians they did know about the God whom they and the apostles had met. They did have valid information. The gnostics didn’t have any dark secrets which God had withheld from his people; God doesn’t do darkness.

1 John 2.26-27 KWL
26 I wrote these things to you about the people trying to lead you astray.
27 As for you: The anointing you got from the Spirit dwells in you.
You’re not in need, so certain people might teach you.
As your anointing teaches you about everything—and it’s true, not false—
whatever it teaches you, dwell in it.

The church didn’t have a teacher shortage. (Most churches really don’t. The leadership might think so, but that’s only because they have trust issues. But that’s another discussion.) John’s churches had no such shortage. The gnostics who claimed otherwise—“They can’t teach you what we can; join us”—were just trying to steal sheep from the flock. Still happens, as other churches and other religions try to grab our attention and hope to win a few.

No, John wasn’t rejecting all teachers altogether. After all, he was a teacher. This letter consisted of him teaching his churches. Telling them they weren’t wrong; they did know Jesus, they did have the Spirit among them, and they didn’t need to listen to some antichrist teaching ’em otherwise.

True, the go-it-alone crowd will claim John really wasn’t, and point to his bits about not writing new commands, 1Jn 2.7 or about how fathers already know God, 1Jn 2.13 or about how everybody has knowledge. 1Jn 2.20 They’ll cherry-pick the heck out of 1 John 2 to defend their independent lifestyle. Doesn’t come from a pursuit of real knowledge; doesn’t come from a desire to know God better. It’s all about avoiding our duty to one another. It’s about escaping accountability.

The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s anointing, among other things, is to guide us to truth. Jn 16.13 When we’re wrong, he corrects us. Sometimes personally. Often through fellow Christians, ’cause we aren’t the only people who can hear him. He’s trying to foster community and teamwork, which means sometimes he’s gonna divvy up the knowledge, same as he does his gifts. And we’re to dig through it, dismiss the bias and bad information, get to the truth, and follow it.

Not arrogantly dismiss any teacher but him. That’s the fastest way to go weird. As we regularly see among go-it-alone Christians.

So we need teachers. Even those of us who are teachers, need teachers. We need one another. We need our fellow teachers to test our statements to make sure they hold up. Keep us honest. Fact-check us. Correct us when we’re off course. Ask tougher questions than we’ve thought of ourselves. You know, the whole iron-sharpening-iron idea.

Woe to Christians who think they’re beyond teaching. The time’s coming, and is already here, when they won’t listen to the Holy Spirit either.