We’ve Come a Long Way, by John R. Gibson

About two years ago the Athens News Courier contained a quarter page advertisement inviting all to a “Free Community Cookout.” The ad went on to say, “Join us as we say, ‘Happy Birthday America’ on Saturday, June 30th. We will begin serving hamburgers, hotdogs, chips and drinks at 6:00 pm and will serve until we run out. There will also be sno-cones, cotton candy, face painting and games. You will have the best view in town of the City of Athens’ fireworks display.”  [The ad is quoted word for word, but capitalization and punctuation have been changed to a normal paragraph style. JRG]

Don’t get me wrong about this. I’m a patriotic American who likes hamburgers, chips, and fireworks, so if this had been sponsored by the Lions Club or some other civic organization I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. However, this Free Community Cookout was sponsored by a local church and that raises a lot of questions in my mind.

  • Is there anything in the New Testament that would suggest church sponsorship of such events is the will of God? Matt. 7:21
  • Are there any examples of New Testament churches, under the guidance of the apostles (1 Cor. 4:17), hosting community events with free leg of lamb, pita bread, chariot races, and such?
  • Can a church rightfully claim to abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9) and engage in practices never found in the New Testament?
  • When did the Lord tell us to change our approach from simply preaching the gospel as his power to save (Romans 1:16) to attempting to draw people with entertainment and food for their stomachs? See 1 Thes. 1:8 where it was said of the church in Thessalonica that “from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth.”
  • Should our conduct be any different than that of Paul when he refused to give either the Jews or the Gentiles what they wanted, but insisted on giving them what they needed, viz. the message of the cross? 1 Cor. 1:21-23

We’ve come a long way from the New Testament pattern when it was the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who were equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12, 13). Now, most churches feel they need a director of basketball operations, a grill master, a face painter, and a host of other things never even hinted at in the New Testament. Yes, many churches, including those calling themselves “of Christ,” have come a long way, but the question remains—who gave the instructions to move?

We’ve come a long way from the New Testament pattern when it was the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who were equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1213). Now, most churches feel they need a director of basketball operations, a grill master, a face painter, and a host of other things never even hinted at in the New Testament. Yes, many churches, including those calling themselves “of Christ,” have come a long way, but the question remains—who gave the instructions to move?

“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” 2 John 9

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Matt. 7:21

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.’” Matt. 28:18

“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Rev. 22:1819

Unless noted, all quotations from the New King James Version, copyright 1994 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE ORGANIZED CONGREGATION, by Doy Moyer

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The twin fallacies of composition and division assume that what is true of the parts is true of the whole (composition), and what is true of the whole is true of the individual parts (division). Composition would take the basic form, “Individual pieces of x have characteristics Y and Z; therefore all of X has characteristics Y and Z.” This is not always fallacious, but it cannot be assumed to be true without proper warrant. For example, one might reason that since particular players are the best at their position, then putting all the players together necessarily makes the best team (though they might not play so well as a team). Division would reverse composition. For example, since this is the best team in the league, then all the individual players are the best players at their position. (These are common illustrations.)

These fallacies can be instructive when thinking about the relationship of the individual to the congregation. It would be fallacious, for example, to say that what is true of the individual Christian is true of the congregation of which he is a part. Likewise, it is fallacious to say that whatever is true of the congregation as a whole is true of each individual Christian who is part of the group.

Once again we should be able to see how these fallacies might be committed. For example:

“These Christians are hypocrites; therefore the whole church is hypocritical.”
“The church is evangelistic; therefore each Christian is evangelistic.”

Both of these statements are fallacious. Hypocrites within a congregation do not make the entire group hypocritical, and a congregation that is overall actively evangelistic does not mean each individual is actively participating very well.

It is not uncommon to hear the argument, “Because the church is made up of individuals, then whatever the individual can do (or is doing), the church can do (or is doing).” This is the fallacy of composition. We can understand how the fallacy is made. The church is comprised of Christians, but individual Christians acting is not identical to the organized group as a whole acting. This is seen in passages like 1 Timothy 5, where believers are told to care for their own needy first (widows) so that the church is not burdened: “If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (vs. 16). This would make no sense at all if there is no distinction to be made between individual action and organized group action. Individuals act in their capacity as business associates, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, citizens, neighbors, etc. These actions are independent of the organized group. No one would reasonably argue that since a husband and wife, both of whom are Christians, share an intimate relationship, this means the entire church shares that same relationship. Clearly, individuals can act on their own without their actions being that of the group. In matters of money, Peter told Ananias, who had just lied, that his land and money were under his (Ananias’) control. We can understand that an individual maintains control of his own possessions and finances until relinquished to the group.

The church (group) is not an institution separate from people (as we have previously argued), but the group still does exist with organization and authorized actions; in this sense the church is an organization (i.e., a group of people organized for a particular goal or work). This organization need not be complicated, and we aren’t using the term here to imply some massive business model. Organization means that there is order to what is going on, under leadership, and has a goal and purpose to which all are attending. Is there biblical evidence for this?

1. The evidence for local congregations is found throughout the New Testament documents, particularly from Acts on. When congregations are addressed, these epistles take on more than simply the idea of Christians who all happen to live in the same city. The epistles were intended to be read in assemblies, implying that they met in order to hear God’s word read and taught. The church at Corinth, for example, came together as a group (or were supposed to) with the intention of edifying, teaching, and participation in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:18ff; 14) . Instead of chaos, and since God is not the God of confusion (14:33), order and organization within the assembly itself was required.

2. The evidence for elders and deacons shows God’s desire for local organization (Acts 20; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3; Titus 1). If we are to put ourselves under the “leaders” (Heb 13:17), who keep watch for our souls, this cannot be done without some level of organization. They cannot do this if they do not know who it is that they are supposed to watching for. This implies some kind of record, knowledge, roll, or something of which they would be aware. People often shy away from “membership” terms, but the idea is simply that the Christians know who is part of their group so they can help encourage and share their activities.

3. The evidence for organized, congregational action is strong. The very fact of assembling together for edification, hearing God’s word, participating in the Lord’s Supper, etc., is evidence of specified group action. Paul wrote of the “churches of Macedonia” acting by collecting funds to send back to needy saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:1ff; note that the plural form of ekklesia here implies local groups acting; if all Paul was doing was talking about Christians generally in the area, why would he use the plural form?). He directed the “churches of Galatia,” and then the church at Corinth, to collect funds for needy saints (1 Cor 16:1-4). Any actions like these require some organization.

Authorization for individual action is not identical to authorization for congregational action. If the church is not to be burdened with some matters that the individual has an obligation toward, then this is proof enough of the point. The congregation exists for a purpose, and God has provided for particular activities within a congregational setting—Christians coming together for His purposes, and in which all are expected to participate in organized action.

The point is that we should not conflate individual action and authority with congregational action and authority. We understand this principle in other matters. If we gave funds to a hospital with an expectation that these funds are used for helping the sick, and they take these funds and form a softball team with it, we would likely be fairly upset with such a misuse. Does this mean we wouldn’t support a softball team in another context? Of course not. This is simply recognizing the context and purpose for which a particular group or organization exists.

God wants Christians banding together in a congregational setting to worship Him and encourage one another in the things of Christ. We don’t find congregations in Scripture acting in any and every way that individuals might act separately, though they are sometimes chastised for the way certain individuals act (e.g, 1 Corinthians; Revelation 2-3). “When you come together as a church” is instructive (1 Cor 11:18), and they were limited by God’s orders as to what they were to do in such a setting (1 Cor 14:37). If no distinction is to be made between church and individual settings, then there would be no context in which the women could speak up (vs. 34).

Everyone participates in various organizations and relationships with different contexts and purposes. Christians might join together to form a business in one context (e.g., a donut shop), but this does not mean the “church” as a whole (congregational or universal) is in the donut business (composition fallacy). Christians working in conjunction with each other in education generally does not put the church in the education business. Context and purpose are everything (as in biblical interpretation, so in life application). In the capacity of a local congregation, there is a context and purpose that differs from other actions that may involve multiple Christians. Again, we recognize this principle in other areas of life. Players on the Giants going to the movies together does not mean the “Giants” are going to the movies (this would imply a more official, organized context and purpose). There is a reason people speak about government abuses, where they recognize that there are limits to what a government ought to be able to do in relation to the individuals of the state. Again, organizations exist for different purposes and in different contexts. Why would this be any different when it comes to local congregations that exist on God’s authority?

Though the congregation is comprised of individuals, the congregation as an organized group is not identical to the individual (division) and the individual is not identical to the congregation (composition). We do well to remember this in discussions about both individual and congregational activities.

Doy Moyer

Via: http://www.mindyourfaith.com/1/post/2013/12/the-individual-and-the-organized-congregation.html

ON INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC IN WORSHIP, by Doy Moyer

My Friend Doy Moyer has written an interesting piece on the subject of how we approach God with the music from our hearts, maybe with your spare time today you could sit down and give it a bit of consideration. -PWM

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[A few disclaimers: 1) I represent no one but myself here. I do not speak for the “brotherhood,” the “Church of Christ,” a college, or anyone else. These are my conclusions. The reader is free to take them or leave them. 2) The intent here is not to cover every single facet of whatever touches on the question. I am making particular observations regarding the question of instruments in congregational worship. 3) I realize this can be an emotionally charged issue. I also know that many disagree with me and that I am in the minority today (though not historically). I do not claim to solve every question by some authoritative declaration. All I ask is for careful consideration of these issues. Please refrain from responses that would insult intelligence or call into question a desire to please God, for I know this much: we can please God without ever picking up an instrument in an assembly. 4) I’m not expecting to provide some all new groundbreaking argument. However, there are some points for consideration that some may not have thought much about, particularly in the latter section.]

The question of the use of instruments in congregational worship has continued to be one of the more emotionally charged issues of today. Some will argue that it just doesn’t matter, and some will charge those who oppose their use with being legalists. While emotions can run high on both sides of this issue, it is yet fair to explain why some of us continue to oppose their use in worship. This is not so much out of a desire to debate the subject as much as to provide reasons for a more well-informed discussion. Here, then, is a synopsis providing a few basic reasons why there are those who still argue against the use of mechanical instruments in the congregational worship of God. The arguments typically fit within the following:

1. While the Old Testament shows their use by God’s authority, the New Testament documents give no indication of God desiring instruments in congregational worship now. With no such indication of God’s desire for instruments under the New Covenant, we are without warrant in using them, and those who do use them have the burden of proof to show such a warrant. The issue then revolves around how to understand God’s silence on an issue. Some argue that silence is permissive, while others argue that silence gives no authority to act. There are many layers to these arguments, of course. The bottom line is that those who argue against instruments do so on the basis of authority. He is in charge of His worship, not us. God is particular about singing (e.g., Eph 5:19), which is one type of music, but gives no indication that He wants instruments, another type of music, added to the singing. Since God was so specific about them under the Old Covenant, His silence on the matter under the New Covenant is so conspicuous that we should be very careful about putting something into His worship that He gives no indication of desiring. Presumption is to be avoided.

2. Historically, the evidence that early Christians used instruments in their worship is lacking. The documented use of instruments does not occur for centuries later, within a Roman Catholic context, and even many of the reformers, like John Calvin, were solidly against their use. For example, Calvin, in his commentary on Psalm 33, argued in the context of speaking about bringing in instruments under the New Covenant, “To proceed beyond what we are there warranted by him [Paul] is not only, I must say, unadvised zeal, but wicked and perverse obstinacy.” It is not just a modern “Church of Christ” issue, as if only churches of Christ began opposing instruments (see, for example, Old Light on New Worship,by John Price, a Baptist pastor who opposes instruments in worship). The use of instruments outside of the Roman Catholic context is, historically speaking, relatively new. The weight against the use of instrumental music in worship is historically strong and not to be lightly discarded.

3. It is sometimes argued that assemblies of Christians were modeled after the Jewish synagogues, yet Jewish worship in the synagogues did not entail the use of instruments, for the Jews saw instruments as connected to the Temple. After the Temple was destroyed, they refrained from recreating those instruments outside of that context. Even many modern synagogues still refrain from instrumental music (though they are divided on the issue). A simple search will show varying perspectives on this. Jewish Rabbi David Auerbach, who defends instruments if they enhance “the mitzvah of public worship,” writes,

“There are those who claim that musical instruments should not be used in the synagogue service because it is an imitation of gentile (i.e. non-Jewish) practice. In its early years, the Church also prohibited instrumental music because it was considered secular and might lead to licentiousness. The Syrian, Jacobite and Nestorian churches still prohibit instrumental music.” (http://www.jewishperspectives.com/music.asp)

4. While everyone can agree that singing is desired by God under the New Covenant Scriptures, not everyone will agree on the use of instruments in public worship. Therefore, instrumental music is divisive in a congregational setting. Many, though not all, will concede that those who want to use instruments in their own private setting are free to do so as they live with their own consciences, but bringing it into the public setting will force it upon others and thus create a divisive situation. Others will respond that if the whole congregation agrees on their use, then no division has occurred and this objection is nullified. It is likely that this objection will not be quite as persuasive now as it might have been when instruments were initially being introduced and causing obvious splits. Yet, should unity not still be a consideration in what a group decides about a practice that will involve everyone? Pushing a practice out of self-will should never be an option for a Christian, especially when admitting that such a practice is unnecessary, if not wrong.

Instruments Under the Old Law

Here we will elaborate on the point about instruments being part of the old Law.

First, God was not silent about instruments in the Hebrew Scriptures, so their use was not presumptuous. They were commanded during the time of David in preparation for the Temple, and God was particular about them — what they were, who would play them, when and where they would be played, etc. In other words, their use of instruments was not a matter of self-appointed talent and desire that they expected God to rubber-stamp, but rather it was an issue of God’s authority: “for the command was from the Lord through His prophets” (2 Chron 29:25). Contextually, the playing of the instruments in Hezekiah’s reforms worked in conjunction with the burnt offerings (see 2 Chron 29-30 where all of this was re-established under Hezekiah as being what God wanted).

The same Law system that had them offering the burnt offerings also had them playing the instruments at the Temple. Let that sink in for a moment. This is the Law system that has been fulfilled in Christ. To take one part of that system as a justification for modern practice, but not take the other part, is to be guilty of proof-texting and misappropriating the passages to favor one’s desired position.

What if we used the same arguments to justify modern day animal sacrifices or a separate priesthood? Why are we not hearing those arguments for these practices? They are part of the same system. If the arguments work for one, they work for the other.

Is it not odd, then, that those who argue so strongly against a Law-keeping mentality (what they call “legalism”) will argue for a practice that is grounded in the Law system, then call those who oppose it the “legalists”? How is not wanting to be presumptuous being legalistic? If the argument for the practice is founded upon a Law system that they stringently believe is not a part of our system of grace, then why appeal to it as justification for modern practice under a New Covenant?

Aren’t there principles that we carry across? Of course there are (cf. Rom 15:4, and see below). What has changed are not the principles or the character of God, but the stipulations. The stipulations included the Laws, commandments, and expectations. Included in these commands, from the time of David, were God’s instructions on the use of instruments for His worship.

If people wish to find justification for the use of musical instruments in corporate worship today, they won’t find it based on appealing to the Law without also justifying continued ritual burnt offerings, circumcision (as a sign of the covenant), the Aaronic Priesthood, and the host of other Laws that went together. Those who would be offended at the suggestion that we bring back animal sacrifices based on the Law should also be offended at the suggestion that we bring back the instruments based on the Law. Why? Because they represent the same Law system we all agree cannot justify us, not the new covenant system of grace. If authority for the instruments is to be found, it will not be in the stipulations of the Law. Justification for the practice needs to be found another way or abandoned.

How, then, should we view instruments under that system? Rather than arguing that these have been “done away with,” I argue that they need to be thought of as being fulfilled in Christ, just as the sacrifices, priesthood, and other items under the Law.

How are Instruments of Music Fulfilled in Christ?

The more I study the Scriptures as a whole, the more impressive is the idea of Christ fulfilling the Law. The concept runs deep and wide. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17). We see this working in so many ways even in statements and events that are not necessarily “law”:

He fulfills the image of God perfectly (Heb 1:3).
He fulfills the Exodus by providing the greatest exodus of all out of the slavery of sin (John 8:31ff).
He is the Prophet like Moses (Acts 3).
He is the Lawgiver (James 2).
He fulfills the Passover as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (1 Cor 5:7; John 1:29).
He fulfills the role of High Priest (Heb 5-8).
He fulfills the Davidic promise of the King who built the House of God in the greatest sense (Acts 2, 13, Matt 16:18).
He fulfills the Temple as God dwelling among His people in the flesh (John 1:14).
He fulfills all the sacrifices (Heb 9-10).
He fulfills the seed promise to Abraham (Gal 3:16-17).

The list can go on, but it doesn’t stop with Jesus. His body (His people, His church), also, fulfills very specific aspects of what the Law represented:

We are the completion of the nation promise (1 Pet 2:9).
We are the fulfillment of the levitical priesthood as a kingdom of priests (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1).
We are, with Christ, the fulfillment of the Temple (1 Cor 3).
We are, with Christ, the fulfillment of the sacrifices (Rom 12:1-2; Heb 13).
As the priests were to wear garments that represented holiness, so we put on Christ and are to live our lives adorned with holiness (Rom 13:14).
We are the fulfillment of the true circumcision, “who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).
We partake of the Lord’s Supper as fulfillment of the Passover and feast of Unleavened Bread — feasts that showed the end of slavery and beginning of a new life.

I don’t want to overdo it, but it seems pretty clear that God intended for specific actions under the Old Covenant to represent spiritual qualities for fulfillment in the New Covenant. God didn’t do anything without meaning, and it is this very point that I want to explore with reference to the instruments of music, by asking this question:

How are instruments fulfilled in Christ? I believe that the instruments are fulfilled in Christ through His people. Like other aspects of the Law and promises, instruments have a typological significance in terms of praise. Just as there was a special priesthood under the Law, there were also special singers and instrumental players under the Law. While Solomon was still trying to serve God, we find this: “Now according to the ordinance of his father David, he appointed the divisions of the priests for their service, and the Levites for their duties of praise and ministering before the priests according to the daily rule, and the gatekeepers by their divisions at every gate; for David the man of God had so commanded. And they did not depart from the commandment of the king to the priests and Levites in any manner or concerning the storehouses.” (2 Chron 8:14-15) Though instruments are not specifically mentioned here, they were part of the very same order (2 Chron 29:25). Notice again the stress on all of this being by God’s command. The Levites had duties of praise.

Now all of God’s people fulfill this purpose of praising God and proclaiming His excellencies (1 Pet 2:9). Under Christ, all of us form a kingdom of priests and all share in the duties of praise equally. God’s specified form of praise is through vocal singing, and the instruments are our hearts: “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). Here the instrument accompanying the singing is the heart. All of us are the priests, all of us are the singers, and all of us are the instruments of praise–and this would extend beyond the assemblies into one’s life of holiness. Yet, as Calvin, again, wrote in his commentary on Psalm 33, when they “frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law.” The argument here is against resurrecting the shadows of the Law, of which instruments were a part.

We should clarify that our reason for refraining from an activity is not just because that activity is found under the Law. Those in Israel taught and sang, too. Yet God has specifically told us how to praise Him through song as we psalm in our hearts to the Lord. The fulfillment of these activities is found in the way that we tune our hearts to His glory. “I will put My Laws in their hearts,” God said through Jeremiah. This doesn’t mean that He didn’t want it in their hearts before, but it does show an emphasis that God intends. It is not through the outward ways by which He had Israel express themselves — a visible priesthood, animal sacrifices, instruments of music, specific clothing, etc. All of these are fulfilled in the hearts of God’s people as they offer up themselves as living sacrifices. Our clothing is Christ. We are His instruments for praise. We are His priesthood. So why do we still sing and teach? Because that’s what God has expressed as His desire. The bottom line is still that it is an issue of His authority. He has the right to tell us what praises Him.

Do I, then, believe in instruments of music today? In fulfillment, yes. I believe that we, His people, are the fulfillment of the shadow cast by the mechanical instruments under the old system. They were given for a reason in connection with the Temple. So we, in connection with being God’s Temple, are also the holy priesthood in holy array, offering ourselves as the spiritual sacrifices, presenting ourselves as the instruments for praise, and offering up prayers as incense. What began in the Temple is fulfilled in us and will find its ultimate completion before God in heaven (see Rev 15 where that imagery is carried forward).

My assessment, then, is this: when we focus on physical, mechanical instruments, we are missing the bigger picture. It wasn’t the physical Temple God was ultimately interested in. It wasn’t the animal sacrifices, the incense, the levitical priesthood or the instruments He ultimately wanted. All these were shadows of the greater fulfillment found in Christ. Instead, let us focus on how we, as God’s people, ought to be a holy Temple, a royal priesthood, and instruments of praise for Him now. Don’t focus on the shadow. Focus on the substance.

Doy Moyer

Keep it in Context, By: Doy Moyer

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As a principle, keeping in something in context is everything. In our Bible study, taking something out of context can be disastrous. It is easy to cherry-pick passages, use them as proof-texts, and make the Bible say whatever suits our fancy.

But sometimes the phrase, “keep it in context,” is also abused. It can easily become a phrase that substitutes for, “I disagree with you, and because I am always right then you are obviously taking things out of context.”

“Keep it in context” is not a catch-all for showing others how wrong they are when they disagree with us. Using the phrase (or other such terms like, “contextually”) does not automatically put a passage in context, nor does it prove we are right because we said the magic words. In all fairness, if we believe that someone has taken something out of context in a discussion, instead of just saying, “keep it in context,” we might want to point to what we believe that context is. If we cannot show how or where something is taken out of context, then do we have a right to say that others have taken something out of context?

In short, there is a difference between actually keeping something in context, and simply invoking the terminology to prove we are right.

To keep something in context requires a number of observations. For example, we might ask the following questions:

  1. What is the overarching context? What is the immediate context? What is the historical context? What’s going on in that time and place that may affect why or the way something is said?
  2. What is the occasion for the writing (particularly in the epistles)? What is the purpose of the work?
  3. What is the literary context? Is this historical narrative? Poetry? What is the genre? What is the nature of the symbolic language employed? How is language being used?
  4. Who is speaking? To whom? When? Why? How? (You know, the typical questions are never out of place)
  5. Is this meant to be limited to its own setting, or does it cross over time and culture? (Is anyone supposed to be building an ark today?)

This is not exhaustive, but these illustrate the kind of questions we would want to ask of a given text. Keeping something in context takes thought and study. Let’s not just say it. Let’s work at it.

via: http://www.mindyourfaith.com/1/post/2013/12/keep-it-in-context.html

Armchair Bible Interpreters, By: Doy Moyer

“Well, you believe in a god who commanded murder, permitted rape, and condoned slavery and homophobia. The same Old Testament forbade wearing different fabrics in the same garment. How naive do you expect us to be?”

These types of comments are not uncommon in discussions about the Bible, particularly among atheists. They take potshots at Bible passages that think they demonstrate the folly of the Bible itself, and thus justify their disbelief, then give no real considerations to responses.

It is amazing how flippant some of these comments can be. They show little to no respect for historical or literary context. They give no thought to the overall themes of Scripture. They just cherry-pick passages that sound bad when they are isolated and then use them (abuse them) to make their point.

This illustrates a problem with what we might think of as “armchair Bible interpreters.” These are people who sit on the sidelines in their comfy chairs while they take their shots at Bible passages. They haven’t done the hard work of really trying to understand the contexts, the covenants, or the themes. They see isolated passages that sound bad, pick them out, throw them at believers, then sit back and enjoy their self-proclaimed victory over those gullible nuts who accept those ancient myths and superstitions.

It is always easier to make a mess than it is to clean it up, and people know this. A sentence or two, or perhaps a paragraph, can make a real mess out of an issue, and it takes a much longer response to set things straight. One sentence can make a mess, and it takes a chapter to fix it. Looking at themes, contexts, and fuller considerations cannot be done in a sentence or two. It takes time, patience, and hard work, which is not typically what people want to do when they are trying to justify a preconceived position.

Bible study is indeed hard work. There is no short cut. There is no way to do justice to a passage or a context in a post of 140 characters. To do the work, one must be committed to it, roll up the sleeves (of the mind), and dig in. Once we do that, many of those alleged problems are not so much of a problem any more. I’m not saying there still won’t be difficulties; I’m not saying we’ll know all that we wish to know. I am saying that difficulties are exaggerated and worsened when given by armchair interpreters who are too lazy to dig in and do the work that is actually needed. Misrepresenting Scripture is easy. It is also lazy.

To clarify, I’m not talking here about an elite group of professionals who alone have the authority to interpret. Scripture should be in the hands of everyone, but that doesn’t make study easy. I’m speaking of the need for everyone to do the hard work of striving to grasp a text instead of just taking a cursory look and making major judgments about its meaning and application.

Even among believers, it is easy to cherry-pick and proof-text. We see a passage that says something we like for it to say, so we go with it before we’ve done any of the hard work of putting it in context and grasping the actual meaning. We might get lucky, but Bible study isn’t supposed to be about luck.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

Of course, this passage is more than just studying (as the KJV puts it). Our diligence needs to go beyond reading the text into the application of our lives. Nevertheless, handling the word accurately is a prime concern for believers, and proper application begins with the initial meaning of a text.

Armchair interpreters are content with finding statements in the Bible that say what they want, whether it be believers or unbelievers. We must not be content with such an attitude. Be diligent. Get in the game. Do the work. Only then will we be in a proper position to talk about the text with more than an unstudied opinion.

Authority: Are We Worshipping the Bible? By: Doy Moyer

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Sometimes, in discussions of biblical authority, we hear the derogatory charge that those of us who push so hard for authority are guilty of “bibliolatry,” idolizing or worshipping the Bible in particular. Since we put so much stress on the authority of Scripture, are we guilty of promoting Scripture over God Himself? Perhaps the better question is this: what is the relationship of God to Scripture?

Scripture is not simply words in black and white (and red) on a material page. There is nothing authoritative about simple words on a page by themselves. The issue is the source of the message that is written down. If we just coldly isolate the words and demand adherence to them without understanding their true relationship to God, then those who make the charge may have a point. On the other hand, making the charge could also be a subtle way of trying to distance oneself from Scripture. If Scripture really is authoritative because of its relationship to God, then there are restrictions to the way that we may acceptably serve God. If we can remove the restrictions by minimizing authority, then we will feel free to serve God as we please. In this sense, then, this issue may be more about self-will (or self-idolatry) versus God’s will. Who gets to decide how God should be served and worship?

The reason for believing that Scripture is authoritative is because of its relationship to God, not because it is someone’s creed from long ago written on paper. While this article is not about proving inspiration, the point should be understood: if Scripture comes ultimately from God, then it bears His authority. To the extent that Scripture is God’s word, then it is authoritative; if it isn’t His word, then it is no more authoritative than what any of us may come up with and put down on paper. That Scripture is from God is the very point reflected in Paul’s statement about the Hebrew Scriptures:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

If it falls into that category of “Scripture,” then it is authoritative because it is God-breathed. This is not the worship of the Bible, but rather the worship and service of the God from whom the Scriptures come. Now the question would be this: can we truly serve and worship God when we ignore or minimize the message that He has given? God is directly tied to His own word, and Scripture recognizes this:

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two- edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb 4:12-13)

Notice in this text how the writer moves from “the word of God” to God Himself. There is really no way to separate the authority of God from the authority of His word. “Then God said” are some of the first powerful words of Scripture (Gen 1), and from this point, “Thus says the Lord” is a continual appeal of the prophets. If the Lord said it, it is authoritative and is not to be ignored. “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking” (Heb 12:25).

The word of God is not to be restricted only to written form, of course. The word of God has been much more than that which is recorded, and not every word God ever spoke (or everything He ever did) is recorded in our Scriptures (cf. John 21:25). Jesus Himself is the Word became flesh (John 1:1, 14). He is God’s message and communication in the greatest sense. But God’s message has been put down in writing, and that message is to be respected as much as anything the prophets, apostles, or even Jesus orally spoke.

The connection of Jesus to His words is vital: “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48). If His “sayings” are written down on paper, does that make them any less authoritative and connected to Jesus? The words spoken by Jesus “are spirit and are life,” and He has the “words of eternal life” (John 6:63, 68). Whether these are heard orally or read from a book, they are still His words, His message, and His authority. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

Indeed, where else shall we go for our authority? Shall we consider our own words more authoritative? Are our writings better than the first century New Testament documents? Where shall we go for the words of eternal life?  Is it worshipping the Bible if we give due respect to these words?

The reality is that if we don’t give Scripture its proper due when it comes to authority (as it is God’s authority), then we aren’t truly worshipping or serving God. To ignore God’s word is to ignore God Himself and give ourselves the authority that only belongs to Him. This isn’t about worshipping the Bible. It is about giving God the proper reverence and respect that only He deserves. We cannot give that respect to Him if we do not pay attention to the message that He inspired to be inscribed with ink on the pages of a material book. The material certainly won’t last, but the word of God will endure forever. If the word of the Lord uses the material for a time, then we are amenable to it and we will be held accountable. The word He spoke will judge us in the last day. Herein is the essence of the need for paying attention to His authority.

via: http://www.mindyourfaith.com/6/post/2013/11/authority-are-we-worshipping-the-bible.html

Must Everything Be Specified To Be Authorized? by: Doy Moyer

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In discussions of biblical authority, it is not uncommon for a conversation to zero in the question of specifics. One might argue the need for biblical authority, and another might then reply with questions like this:

Well, where is the authority for a church building?
Where is the authority for song books?
Where is the authority for a song leader?
Where is the authority for multiple cups for the Lord’s Supper?

None of these items are specified in Scripture, so on what grounds can we say they are authorized by Scripture? Sometimes those questions are legitimately coming from those who really desire the information and haven’t understood. At other times, however, those who bring up questions like this are actually making an argument against the need for biblical authority in all that we do. The implied argument is this:

Since we don’t have authority for church buildings and song books, then your argument for the need for authority either 1) shows that you are wrong, or 2) shows that you are being hypocritical. Since you obviously don’t have authority for everything (like buildings and song books), then your “method of establishing authority” is erroneous.

Though it sounds like a serious strike against authority, those who use this point as an argument misunderstand the basic nature of authority, primarily because they are not being consistent with the way communication works in every facet of life. Here, then, is the the question: must everything we do be specified in order to be authorized?

The answer is “no.” Now the question is, on what basis can we argue that we must have authority on the one hand, but we don’t always need specified statements on the other hand? How can something be authorized if it is not specified?

Once again, the answer to this question goes back to the fundamentals of logic and communication. By doing this, we can avoid making arbitrary rules about authority that fit what we like, and instead we can be grounded in the actual communication process that functions logically everywhere. In other words, this is not just some biblical rule we are making up, but rather it is how communication works in all areas and we are simply recognizing its function in biblical application. The beauty of this is that we already know how it works.

Think about the communication process. We have elsewhere pointed out that we make our wills known to others by telling them what we want, showing them what we want, and implying what we expect them to understand. Are there any other ways to communicate without using these? Now then virtually all telling and showing imply other factors that are not specified. For example, if I told my son to take out the garbage, without any further statements, I am implying that he can choose how to do that. Though I didn’t specify every action involved (walk over to the cabinet, open the cabinet door where the trash is, pull the trash out, tie the garbage bag, pull it out of the can, walk to the outside door, open it with your hand, go to the outside garbage cans, open the lid of the one on the right, drop the bag into the big can … you get the idea!), I implied that as long as he does what I asked, he has some freedom in carrying out the task. I don’t need to specify every single action in order to make my will known, and he has some freedom in carrying out my will. Which door he goes out, which hand he uses to open the door, how long he takes to do it, whether he uses a hand truck, etc. are all part of the choices he makes along the way. Without further orders or specifications, these choices were all “authorized” by the simple order to take out the garbage.

This principle falls under the category of what we typically think of as general authority. Something can be generally authorized by a more specific statement. If I tell my daughter, “Go buy some bread,” there are both specific and general indicators. If that is all I said, then there are several actions that are permissible. She may “go” any number of ways: walk, ride a bike, drive a car, etc. She might even be able to purchase a couple of ways: use cash, swipe a debit card, etc. That would depend on what she had or what I give her. She might buy any number of types of bread: wheat, white, sourdough, rye, etc. On the other hand, the situation may imply that I expect a certain type of bread. We might have just run out of wheat bread for sandwiches, and the circumstances show that I am implying that this is what I want her to buy. Even then, when she goes to the store, since I didn’t specify the brand name, she is free to pick up whatever she wishes … unless, of course, we always only buy one brand and she already knows this.

When we communicate, there are many factors that need consideration. What we bring to the table as communicators, and what the recipient of the communication brings to the table need to be factored into the process. Further, the context under which the communication occurred must be considered. Most of this we unconsciously accept and we don’t typically need it spelled out. We already know how it works.

When Scripture commands that we go teach and preach, the general entails the specific ways in which we can fulfill these commands. Whether we walk, ride, fly, or drive, we are still going. The fact that the Lord did not specify this part leaves us open to any number of ways of going. When we know it is the Lord’s will that Christians meet together on the first day of the week, a variety of places to meet are included in fulfilling this. The general nature of the order allows for the options.

We must also be mindful of another important principle that we learn from the communication process: the more specific something is, the less freedom we have; the more general something is, the more freedom we have.

Again, this is not an arbitrary rule for Bible authority, but it is a principle of the communication process. If I tell my wife to buy me a red pen for grading papers, I surely don’t mean to get me a blue one or a black one. Red is specific enough to rule out the other colors for my purposes. On the other hand, if I just asked for any pen, it is general enough to allow for all colors. The principle is fundamental and logical.

The principle works the same in biblical communication. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we find the principle at work. “Gopher wood” was far more specific than “wood.” “Levites” as a term is more specific than “people,” and the family was Aaron is more specific than “Levites” for priests. The specifics of the tabernacle were clear and didn’t allow for much variety. In the New Testament documents, we find the same principle. There are many ways to sing, but “sing” is specific enough to mean just that, as opposed to a more general “make music” (Eph. 5:19). “Fruit of the vine” is more specific than “drink.” “Bread” is more specific than “food.” The principle is logical and found everywhere.

Since not everything must be specified, does all of this mean that we are free to do whatever we want to?

General authority does not equate to “whatever we want.” If the command is general, we must still obey the command within boundaries. Going back to the store with my daughter, I might be general in asking her to buy bread, but she must still buy bread instead of whatever else she wanted. Even if I said, “Buy whatever food you think we might like for dinner,” she still needs to come home with food. A general order allows for more variety in carrying it out, but variety does not mean fundamentally changing what the general order expresses. If I ask for a writing instrument, then a pen or pencil will work, but if someone hands me a rock to write with, the point will have been missed.

Not everything needs to be specified in order to be authorized. Therefore, when some argue that the authority argument insists that everything must be specified, they are misunderstanding the nature of the argument, if not the process of communication. Authority is grounded in fundamental logic and communication. Such communication includes the way we both specify and generalize our desires. God has communicated with us in the same way. Since we already know how it works, we are simply making the application to the communication that comes from Scripture.

Doy Moyer

Via: http://www.mindyourfaith.com/6/post/2013/11/must-everything-be-specified-to-be-authorized.html