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.

Racism and Christ, By: Doy Moyer

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He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26).

Racism is not just a political issue, and it cannot be fixed through political means or force. It is the symptom of a much greater problem, and this is not a problem that will ever be legislated or forced away by violence. First, and even most significantly, racism is a moral and spiritual issue. It is, at its heart, a failure to understand and appreciate that all humans are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). “Human” is not a skin color or ethnicity. Being human does not depend on being a particular ethnic background. The greatest human quality is that of mirroring God’s image, and this is shared by all humans, however imperfectly.

As sin entered the scene of human history, God put a plan into effect that would allow humans to be saved from their sins and the corruption of the world. To do this, He called out a particular person, Abraham, and through him a particular nation, which came to be called Israel. Through this nation He would bring about His promises. His purpose in doing this was so that “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). The reason He maintained a distinction between His chosen people and all others (gentiles) was to keep them holy as His people (see Josh 23:4-13). The danger was not in other ethnicities per se (as is seen in the fact both Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles who became part of Christ’s lineage); the danger was that paganism had become standard among the nations and He wanted them to stay away from the influences that would lead them down that path of worshipping other gods.

God’s plan all along encompassed the idea that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would bring together all nations into one. This is not to say that all nations would become one big worldly kingdom. Rather, all nations would unite together in Christ as one “chosen race” and “holy nation” who would proclaim God’s excellencies (1 Pet 2:9). In this holy nation, there are no distinctions to be made when it comes to the outward matters of skin color. In Christ, there is no “white church” or “black church.” Such distinctions are unknown to the Gospel. Should Christians, then, continue to perpetuate them? Shall we willingly participate in the worldly stereotypes that only divide?

Perhaps the earliest, most significant challenges for the church came in the form of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles (cf. Acts 15). Let’s just say they typically didn’t care for each other very much. There was initial reluctance on the part of the Jewish Christians to preach to the Gentiles, as is seen in Peter’s response to the Lord’s desire for him to go Cornelius, a Gentile soldier (Acts 10). It took a vision and a command for Peter to get it, and once he did, there was no turning back. “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (vs. 28). It may have been a bit shocking, then, for some fellow Jews to hear Peter declare:

“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

God’s will is that all come to repentance, that all will come to the knowledge of the truth (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Pet 3:9; 1 Tim 2:4). Racism is a denial that Christ died for all. It is a denial of God’s desire for all to know the truth. It is a denial of the unity desired by the Lord. It is a denial of the gospel. It is sin.

Again, Peter said, “He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:42-43). Everyone. No one is out in this endeavor.

Political agendas will be what they are. God’s people need to transcend the clamor and evil trappings of the world in order to be what God intends. To be effective in reaching out to the world, we cannot pull back our hands because those of another person are a different shade. All hands are made by the same God, who desires all to be in His fellowship. Dare we deny this most important desire of God?

In truth, there is only one race. It is the human race. And there is only one holy nation, comprised of all of God’s people, who transcend the boundaries and borders of worldly kingdoms and earthly cultures. May God help us all to see all humans for who they really are—made in His image, fallen, and in need of His grace and mercy.

Doy Moyer

via: http://www.mindyourfaith.com/1/post/2014/01/racism-and-christ.html

 

A Stable Foundation

stbhic5a1I recently caught just a bit of “the Herd with Colin Cowherd”. Colin had a radio show in Portland when I was preaching with the church at Wilsonville, Or. When he moved on to the larger stage of ESPN, his time slot changed, and it was no longer convenient to listen in to the broadcast. Colin always has a wide range of subject matter that he incorporates into his thoughts that have centered around professional sports. (though he had a more non-sporting material with his local show).

Colin was extrapolating how recent studies like this one “Homeownership boosts children’s educational achievement” (and others done at USC and UC San Diego) correlate stability to success from academics, to teen pregnancy, poverty, etc. Colin argued that stability was the primary key to success for modern NFL franchises noting the coaching shuffle for the bottom of the brackets and perennial winners had a stable coaching staff.

It is not really that big of stretch to link this simple concept:

24  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.
25  “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
26  “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
27  “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 7:24–27). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

So my suggestion is to build stability in your life, heart, and home. It clearly begets success

Phillip W. Martin

 

A Teenager’s New Year’s Resolution, by Bill H. Reeves

While preaching in El Salvador I found the following New Year’s resolution attached to the door of Mercedes Hernandez, daughter of Joaquin Hernandez who preaches in Central America. The paper was written by his daughter for her benefit alone, a few minutes after greeting the New Year. She went to her room, wrote her thoughts on the paper and fixed it to the door. She did not know anyone else would see it. I was impressed by it and asked her to let me have a copy of it to share with others. Her example may inspire the rest of us to greater zeal in the Lord’s kingdom.

January 1, 1988. 12:15 a.m. This year I desire, if the Lord wills:

1. To study in order to learn.

2. To persist in useful things.

3. To forget things which are not pleasant.

4. To smile more and be more pleasant among those about me.

5. To be punctual and constant.

6. To be better toward Said and Yasser (her two little brothers, BHR).

7. To do all things whole-heartedly and with love toward the Lord.

What I have written I propose in my heart, asking the Lord that I might fulfill it.

I desire, oh Lord, that you permit me to accomplish it in accordance with your divine will, and when I feel weakness in me I ask you to accompany me.

But above all I supplicate thee to be with me and accompany me always, Lord of heaven and earth.

Permit me to read the Holy Bible and to pray every day.

Pray: many times daily.

Read: one or more hours daily.

Blessed be thou Lord Jesus. Be with my brothers. In your great love. Amen.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 6, p. 171
March 17, 1988

via: http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume32/GOT032082.html

The Public Worship Of God, by Robert Turner

Early in this century some preachers in the midwest advocated an “order of worship” based upon Acts 2:42. Public worship had to begin with “the apostles’ doctrine” followed in strict order by “fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers.” Perhaps they got “Singing” into that order, by considering it a part of “apostles’ doctrine.” I remember “fellowship” was said to cover the giving of our means, by virtue of koinoneo in Philippians 4:15. Although they probably did not think of it this way, they advocated a liturgical concept of worship – as Webster puts it, “a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship,” something unknown in the New Testament.

This strict order of worship is not common among brethren, although traditional patterns (three songs and a prayer) may seem to have gained the status of law. Perhaps worse, some seem to regard public worship (with its “five items”) as the exclusive means and place for worship. We can believe (as does this writer) that brethren are directed by divine precept and example to assemble; and when assembled to sing, pray, edify, lay by in store, and partake of the memorial supper. But we should not conclude that this is the whole of “worship.” We must praise and give glory to God in every aspect of our life. W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says, “The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture. A consideration of the above verbs shows that it is not confined to praise; broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment of God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deeds done in such acknowledgment.”

Ever so often some “reformer” or iconoclast uses such definitions to ridicule our practice of orderly public worship. It is said there is no indication in Scripture that saints “gathered to worship.” There are therefore no “acts of worship.” One writer argued such acts as breaking bread or reading Scripture are worship only in the sense that talking, feeding the dog, and all the rest of daily activities are worship. No doubt some have a limited concept of worship, but this does not warrant “throwing out the baby with the wash water.” If we must live a “worshipful life” (and I believe it), our public worship is a part of the whole. A general life does not negate its parts. Further, as a funeral service is a part of general mourning, a special period of worship and praise has its place in a life of service to God.

Abuses in conduct do not negate the practice of public worship. The iconoclast pounces upon any indication of “perfunctory” singing, prayer, etc., as reason to question our very concept of worship. We certainly are less than perfect in our praise of God, and our failures furnish ammunition for the malcontents, but there are much higher motives for changing our conduct. We want to improve our service to God because it is “to God,” and we want to be acceptable in his sight. The Lord said some draw nigh, and honor him with their mouth and lips, “but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them” (Isa. 29:13). The A.S. footnote says, “learned by rote.” Our reverence for God must be more than quietness in an assembly, learned as a courtesy. We must truly bow our hearts before God when we engage in public worship. Our spirits must “fall at his feet.”

Tainted lives may also invalidate our worship. Israel’s multitude of sacrifices were “vain oblations” before Jehovah because “your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean . . . seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:11- 17). Jesus said, “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; Leave there thy gift . . . first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). If our Monday-Saturday life is corrupt, our Sunday life will not be acceptable to God.

The very mechanics of a large number of assembled saints pose certain problems. Two families assembled in a living room may feel closer ties in their worship than four hundred assembled in an auditorium, but the problems are not insurmountable. One critic wrote, “We must look at the backs of each other’s heads because our facilities are set up for a ceremonial performance.” It seems to me any large number of attentive worshipers might face in the same direction, but this does not warrant a “ceremonial performance.” The saints who come for the purpose of truly worshiping will do so, regardless of externals. I have seen brethren so wrapped in their prayers they were unmindful of their surroundings. But carpers may be too busy looking for faults to worship God.

We are told “the primary focus of our assembly should be horizontal, not vertical.” Public worship does indeed have a saint-to-saint aspect (Heb. 10:24-25), and the saints are benefited by all things done (Col. 3:16); but the throne of grace is in heaven (Heb. 4,16) and the prayers of saints are “golden vials full of odors” presented before the throne of God (Rev. 5:8). If we are truly worshipping God the “primary focus” must be upon God (Heb. 13:15).

There are genuine problems in public worship, but they need something more than artificial corrections. We do not help the situation by ridicule or by denying “public worship.” When “unstructured” service becomes spontaneous breaking forth with song, prayer, or exhortation the “decently and in order” of 1 Corinthians 14:40 gives way to emotional disorder. In a few years the unstructured service becomes a “structured unstructured” arrangement, with emotional opinions taking the place of authorized praise (Matt. 15:9). Scriptural “mutual edification” can be practiced without expecting ever male saint to be a qualified public teacher. Walter Scott once characterized a church which tried to practice this as “all mouth.” Traditional procedure is neither right nor wrong of itself. Sometimes experience teaches us a good and useful way of doing things. Finally, “mere formality” in worship can not be corrected by the equally artificial dim lights, holding hands, mood music, and the like.

There are a growing number of attacks being made on public worship as taught and practiced by the church, and this article is only a brief notice and reply to such. We have cited excerpts from many sources rather than review one critic, but be assured the attacks are genuine. We know that our teaching and practice is not the standard of right (2 Cor. 10:12f), and we have tried to avoid “taking a stand” for our traditions. Far better, we believe, to acknowledge that some brethren have wrong concepts of public worship. False concepts and attitudes toward worship need correction; and we should not try to answer even ridiculous charges with anything less than Bible truth. But “three songs and a prayer” are not wrong because of a long history, and the public worship of God must continue if we are to follow Bible precedent.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 16, pp. 487, 490
August 18, 1988
via: http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume32/GOT032230.html

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

“Jesus’ Wife” Fragment: A Continuing Puzzle

Interesting continuance of similar thoughts from another article I read yesterday @

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2013/12/plagiarism-personality-driven-leadership-and-the-problem-with-evangelicalism/

Larry Hurtado's Blog

A few weeks ago I asked here what further news there was about the so-called “Jesus’ wife” fragment announced to the world in late summer 2012.  Since then, despite direct inquiry to Prof. King (the email address listed for her no longer valid) and asking several scholars who were in various ways directly involved in the analysis of the item last year, it has proven impossible to get anything further than the last notice about it given in early 2013, that it was undergoing further “tests”.  (How long does it take to conduct such tests, after all?)

We do know that the article on the fragment by Prof. King on the fragment announced as forthcoming in Harvard Theological Review was put on hold, and, so far as one can tell, seems now likely permanently so (i.e., it isn’t going to appear).  It also seems that the TV programme in preparation…

View original post 550 more words

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