The journey of a nerd who loves the Lord

Posts tagged ‘Bible Study’

Emphasis

Matthew 10.37 Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
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Literal Truth

John Piper - One of the most well known Christian Evangelical Pastors

John Piper – One of the most well known Christian Evangelical Pastors

Note: This is part of a series dealing with Christianity and Post Modernism.

Recently, I watched a video by Monica Dennington where she took renown pastor, John Piper, to task for comments he made regarding women’s place in missionary work.  To her point, he quoted the Bible very little, and nearly tripped over his own words in saying that women can do evangelical work in the missionary field, but need to do it in a way that does not usurp authority over men.

I do not write this article for the purpose of exploring that particular subject.  My view on the matter echoes her own.  (For convenience, I have made a link to the ten minute video below for your convenience).  Instead, I wish for us to focus on a much larger subject, how we interpret God’s word.

I once heard a comment made that if one wanted, one could interpret God’s word to support slavery.  Indeed. in doing a wee bit of research on wikipedia, I found the following information under “Southern Baptists,” currently one of the largest denominations.

Slavery in the 19th century became the most critical moral issue dividing Baptists in the United States. Struggling to gain a foothold in the South, after the American Revolution, the next generation of Baptist preachers accommodated themselves to the leadership of southern society. Rather than challenging the gentry on slavery and urging manumission (as did the Quakers and Methodists), they began to interpret the Bible as supporting the practice of slavery and encouraged good paternalistic practices by slaveholders. They preached to slaves to accept their places and obey their masters.

CherrypickerMany of the divisions found in churches result from taking segments of the Old Testament and Epistles, and turning them into various rules and regulations.  At the same time, they completely ignore other parts at their convenience.  One church preaches tithing, as seen in the book of Micah, but ignores Paul’s admonishment to allow multiple people to talk during church gatherings.  Another church says women cannot teach, quoting Paul, but admit that he also says, elsewhere, that women can share prophesy with the group.

If you discuss these clear issues with your pastor, he may mention hermeneutics, the branch of study dealing with interpretation of the Biblical text.   He may have some very good reasons for choosing and emphasizing certain scriptures over others.  However, as I have looked into such approaches, I have become concerned that most use an awful lot of  biased intellect in determining which passages to enforce as church bi-laws, and which to ignore.

Having read the Bible several times, and spoken with a dozen different denominations, I struggled with the issue myself.  The Bible, after all, says that we should look to God’s word for instruction, direction and guidance.  Yet, what do I make of these passages which seem to contradict each other?  Then, a thought occurred to me.  What if those passages explaining the importance of God’s word only referred to those passages where Jesus/God spoke directly or where others spoke about God directly?

Think about it.  Most accept that the psalms, while somehow inspired, reveal the longings, passions and thoughts of an imperfect man, David.  While we consider those words directed by the Holy Spirit, we do not take them as literal direction.  Ecclesiastes, with the message about the meaningless of life, is never preached as a literal truth from any pulpit.  Yet, many church take Proverbs 31 (the chapter about the virtuous woman), and try to interpret it into a set of strong suggestions, or even rules, on how women should live their lives.

IBiblen the old testament, the Bible pulls no punches in showing us the lives of men and women who lead imperfect lives.  While we admire the faith they have, we clearly should not learn from their selfishness, greed and drunkenness.  We have numerous Old Testament laws which, for the most part, we do not teach today.  Yet, in regards to certain subjects, I hear the same passage quoted time and again from those books.

Later, in the New Testament, Paul and Peter write to address problems within the churches of that time.  Many of our leaders take bits and pieces of their direction, and apply it to churches today.  They ‘cherry pick’ those passages that justify subjects such as hierarchy in the church, tithing, and, yes, limiting women’s roles.  Yet, they ignore or minimize other passages which would challenge the status quo.

Jesus laid down few rules and regulations, yet those He did challenge us to the core.  What if the Epistles, rather than existing to give our current church a hidden list of additional regulations, simply showed us Paul and Peter’s attempts to take the truth and love of Christ and apply it to the challenge of the culture of their time?  In other words, what if they show us application of the principles Jesus set forth?

Suddenly, the Bible reads much differently.  The core message of the fallen state of man, the need for salvation, and God’s love, remain the same.  The ambiguous list of rules, regulation, hierarchy, and confusion caused by it all, slowly evaporates.  This is just the tip of a much larger iceberg, but I must leave, for now.  Think about it, and let me know your thoughts.

The Logic of Salvation by Faith Alone

darkheartSalutations.

The challenge of sin and how one may obtain forgiveness overshadows nearly every other theme in our lives.  While some have learned to ignore it, guilt eats many from the inside out.  More than any other motivating factor, most people seek out religion to answer the question of guilt as we have all committed wrongs that have pained others.   More seriously, we have offended our Holy creator, who sets the standard of holiness.

When you compare many of the world’s religions side by side, you can find any number of answers to this challenge.  Buddhism asks you to empty yourself of all desire and negativity to reach nirvana.  Eastern philosophy asks you to do enough good deeds to outweigh the bad.  Catholicism and Mormonism churches theoretically hold the keys to heaven.  To enter, you will need to join and follow various rules and sacramental ordnances .  I have noticed that nearly  religions have you do a multitude of things to either earn or qualify for forgiveness needed for salvation.

On the surface, this almost seems logical.  After all, if one presumes that we create some sort of spiritually based debt when we commit an act of iniquity, than certainly enough selfless or holy acts that benefits mankind could, theoretically, pay it back.  As children, we would try to get away from punishment by promising better behavior in the future.

Yet, if we ponder how justice works, we see the shortcoming in this logic.  When we commit a civil offense, we cannot trade in our good actions, past or future, to get away from the penalty.  Recently, I police officer gave me a ticket for a traffic violation.  Despite my nearly flawless driving record through two decades, and promise to learn from my error, the officer still issued the citation.  An appeal to the judge to waive the requisite penalty based on future promise would fall on deaf ears.  I broke the law, and I must pay the penalty.

The Bible makes it clear that the wages of sin are death, not promised (or actualized) good behavior.  Once we’ve committed even one selfish act, we bring ourselves under the terrible penalty of sin.  And, most of us have committed not one, but a multitude of sin.  Interestingly enough, when asked, most reply that they believe they are ‘good’ people…as if we’ll all be graded on a curve.  Unfortunately, the holiness of God demands that He judge us based on His Holy scale, not our understanding of it.

bornBack to the topic of hand, as I studied world faiths, I saw one, clear contrast as I read the Bible.  John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  In Acts 16 a keeper of the prison “29 …called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Christianity provides the only method of salvation whereby God has already done all of the work.   In just about every other faith, you have to jump through hoops, prove yourself worthy, and hope it is enough.  The Bible, on the other hand, says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2.8-9)  Jesus paid the price, in full, on the cross.

Occasionally, some friends of different faiths will point out that such a message implies that the sinner may continue to go on sinning.  In fact, he probably will knowing that he’s forgiven of all sin, past, present and future.  To make such a statement shows an ignorance of the New Testament message.  When one puts their faith in God, Jesus says they become ‘born again.’  God takes the old nature of that sinner, and replaces it with a new heart.  Where, before, the sinner cared mostly to satisfy his own desires (selfishness), he finds he loves his God and fellow man more.  The Bible states that God grants repentance, or a desire to turn away from sin, as well.  The sinner no longer finds sin captivating or compelling.  While he or she may still struggle and fall from time to time, the characteristics of the Christian life, over time, will include a surrendering of their sinful way to the Lord, and a new heart filled with love for God and fellow man.

The Bible goes so far to state that a life void of love and holiness characterizes a dead faith (and, therefore, not a saving faith).  James says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  A child born of parents will have the characteristics of both.  If he does not have any, people suspect that he is born of different parents.  This applies to spiritual birth, as well.  If one claims to have been re-born by the spirit of God, but lives like the devil, one would logically question if that person ever game to a saving faith in Christ.  For the Bible states that “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Are you born again?  Do you have heart that truly desires the Holiness of God?  Do you delight in His ways?

 

Cherry Picking The Bible

book

In a quick updated I posted a week ago, I mentioned that I read the book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,”  The book covers a multitude of issues regarding women’s roles in society and church as understood by the evangelical church.  Better still, she compares those viewpoints of scripture, as a whole and blows a number of our assertions out of the water.  I hope to take the time to dive into a number of the finer points in future blog posts.

However, in discussing this book further with my wife, after reading it, a major theme popped out.  It seems that as a culture, evangelicalism really cherry picks those pieces of scripture that supports its setup.  In doing so, it completely ignores other passages and, more importantly, misses the most excellent way of love.

For nearly half a decade, I have studied the epistles, to learn more about how they structured their church organizations back then, and how they conducted their gatherings.  Pastors use numerous passages from this section of the Bible to justify a number of church elements including the pastoral leadership system, elder oversight, and programs designed to assist the poor.  Interestingly enough, different domination and different religions (such as Catholicism and Mormonism) also draw much of the inspiration for their current setup from this section of the Bible.  For example, Mormons cite 1 Cor 15: 29 to support their current process of performing baptisms for the dead.

I always felt that most of these denominations and religions ignore huge parts of the New Testament.  For example, Paul gives us fascinating insight into how worship gatherings worked in those early times, with numerous people participating in the discussions.  Furthermore, in addressing a concern with disorderly conduct in the services, Paul makes it clear that if one is talking, and another wishes to say something, the first person should stop talking and allow the second to express what God has laid on their heart.  The idea of one, qualified speaker (a pastor) dominating the entire gathering with a long monologue seems out of place in the context of this passage.  When I have discussed this with Pastors, many feel that this would not work in churches today.  Our gatherings are too large!  It would be chaotic!

This continued to confuse me during my studies.  In questioning about other, ignored passages, I received answers ranging from practicality concerns to “that was limited to the culture of their time”.  Who decides which passages we ignore in the name of culture?  Our church leaders instruct us to read the Bible to learn more about God and important spiritual matters (such as how to conduct church), but how can it mean anything to me if I have to have a PhD in history to understand these passages properly in context of their history so I can decide which ones no longer hold any weight?  If the epistles prescribe to us (or at the very least, give us glimpses) how to run church, then why do we ignore whole parts of it?

Reading this book, I began to understand the evangelical approach to cherry picking certain parts of the bible and turning those into a list of rules patterned the Pharisee’s approach to interpreting Old Testament scripture.  More importantly, I began to see the problem in my own approach of the last five years.  Perhaps the Epistles were never designed to be a prescriptive list of how to run church (or boiled down into such a list).  Perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus said all there was to say on that in the Gospels.  “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul” and “Love your brother as you love yourself.”  And, then, the epistles are examples of Peter and Paul putting those principles into real life context with the Christian groups of their time.  In other words, what if we looked at the Epistles as descriptive instead of prescriptive?    

When I began to consider this possibility, so many things started to make sense to me, and missing pieces of this five year old puzzle started falling into place.  The implications blow my mind.  That would mean, among many other things, that the way we, or any denomination/religion, structure church gatherings is no longer a sacred cow.  I had to work hard to view this ideal outside the context of our culture, which embeds itself deeply into each one of us.

Ultimately, this approach fits scripture best, as well.  God could have written out church organization step by step.  After all, He wrote Leviticus which details the Old Testament temples and ceremonies.  Yet, we get nothing close to that in the New Testament.  And, the reality is, if you want to cherry pick, you can find scripture to support any way you want to live your life and/or structure your church gatherings.   Rachael Evans makes this point wonderfully clear in her book.  If you want to teach people that tithing 10% is a rule, there’s scripture to support that.  If you want to teach people should, instead, give as the Spirit dictates, you can find that.  If you want to keep women from teaching men, you can find that scripture.  And, if you want to teach that the spirit gives all gifts, including teaching, to all people in the body regardless of gender, you can find that as well.  And, yes, if you want to preach that God approves of slavery, you can find passages that support that, too!

Again, the implications are staggering, and you can expect for me to write more about them in future entries, but I’m very close to my 1,000 word limit on blogs, so I’ll save those for later.  In the mean time, consider what Jesus said regarding eternal life and how to best serve God.  You will see little or no mention of church structure or list of rules.  Instead, you see a simple message repeated over and over again.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

 

95 Theses To The Evangelical Church by Greg Gordon Summary

“I have been writing this volume while residing in Germany for a teaching trip. I am humbled by penning these 95 theses in the same country as Martin Luther did many years ago. I submit these to the evangelical church of our day and pray that God would allow anything of truth in these pages to bend and change men’s hearts back to God.” – Greg Gordon –

It is useless for large companies of believers to spend long hours begging God to send revival. Unless we intend to reform we may as well not pray. Unless praying men have the insight and faith to amend their whole way of life to conform to the New Testament pattern there can be no true revival. – A.W. Tozer

I am currently reviewing and commenting on  95 theses to the modern evangelical church “revised” by Greg Gordon.  The following concludes the series.

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95 Theses To The Evangelical Church by Greg Gordon 94-95

“I have been writing this volume while residing in Germany for a teaching trip. I am humbled by penning these 95 theses in the same country as Martin Luther did many years ago. I submit these to the evangelical church of our day and pray that God would allow anything of truth in these pages to bend and change men’s hearts back to God.” – Greg Gordon –

It is useless for large companies of believers to spend long hours begging God to send revival. Unless we intend to reform we may as well not pray. Unless praying men have the insight and faith to amend their whole way of life to conform to the New Testament pattern there can be no true revival. – A.W. Tozer

I am currently reviewing and commenting on  95 theses to the modern evangelical church “revised” by Greg Gordon.  The following concludes the series.

(more…)

95 Theses To The Evangelical Church by Greg Gordon 91-93

“I have been writing this volume while residing in Germany for a teaching trip. I am humbled by penning these 95 theses in the same country as Martin Luther did many years ago. I submit these to the evangelical church of our day and pray that God would allow anything of truth in these pages to bend and change men’s hearts back to God.” – Greg Gordon –

It is useless for large companies of believers to spend long hours begging God to send revival. Unless we intend to reform we may as well not pray. Unless praying men have the insight and faith to amend their whole way of life to conform to the New Testament pattern there can be no true revival. – A.W. Tozer

I am currently reviewing and commenting on  95 theses to the modern evangelical church “revised” by Greg Gordon.  The following discusses holiness.

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