“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More on Reading

I have received several personal queries as to why I believe that it is important to get back to reading the Word of God and using the tools I listed in Monday's post.

The line of reasoning that people use for reading junkfood is as follows: "I don't understand the Bible, therefore I like how Pastor X explains it for me", or "Yes, I know that this author is out to lunch on most areas of the Gospel, but he has some really thought-provoking, and beautiful stories in his book; he is inspirational."

These are two very weak reasons to be spending time in the junkfood section of your favorite Christian bookstore.

The first reason above: "I don't understand the Bible..." is interesting on several fronts:

First, it makes me wonder if I am failing in my role as Pastor (when these are my congregants). I am examining this currently, ensuring that Scripture not only saturates me, but that I give proper exegetical emphasis to it every Sunday.

Second, if you do not understand the Word of God, I would ask WHY; what is it about the Word that do you not understand? I am not referring to the weightier arguments that theologians spend time looking at, but simply the message of the Bible itself, what is it about the Bible that you do not understand? I think, truth be told, that people in many instances are simply illiterate, it is not the Bible they do not understand, but actually it is the written word that they are incapable of grasping.

Reading has taken a backseat to all of the other input around us; I mean, why read when I can have it given to me via a video, skit, drama, podcast, streaming MPEG? This is painfully apparent in the absolute idiocy, and blasphemy that passes for church in many places in our country. Their methods of communication are, at best, badly done, and worst, blasphemous. As I have stated before, I am not a Luddite who believes that we should sing only hymns and then, with only a pipe organ for accompaniment. I believe there is a time and place for using various methods of communication, BUT the emphasis needs to be on God and his Word, NOT on entertainment. It seems to me that many churches out there are going for the laugh, like some cheap stand-up comic on open-mic night (and honestly most of these people are NOT funny anyway). There was a time when the centrality of God's Word, and it being read, defined WORSHIP. Today, worship is defined by entertainment, in which the Word of God, if accidently mentioned, is relegated to a supporting role.

Third, If you do not understand the Bible, how do you know that Pastor X is properly 'explaining' it to you? Many pastors today are equally illiterate in Biblical areas; why would you want them explaining anything, ESPECIALLY something of eternal weight to you? Now, this is not to say that we, as pastors, are not to exegete the Scriptures and explain them, but there is a responsibility on the reader, and that is to be like a Berean and ensure that what we are saying is true. The situation today harkens back to the days when the Priest was the only literate person in town and therefore he was the sole party capable of expounding on the Scriptures. This led to abuse of power and many other negative things.

Also, the current method of Scriptural referencing in many books is to quote the first half, or more familiar portion of a passage, and then, either leave off the last half, or rephrase it. For example, in a popular book where the armor of God is being referenced, the writer says that we are to don the shoes of peace, and then goes into a lengthy explanation on being peaceable, and being peacemakers etc. While the concept of being a peacemaker is not incorrect, the use of the Scripture is, as it actually says that we are to put on the shoes of the GOSPEL (εὐαγγέλιον) of peace. What keeps us, as soldiers, holding our ground? It is the knowledge of the Gospel, knowing our position, that we are at peace with God through the atonement of His Son. That is the peace that keeps you on solid ground. Yes, there is more to this, but I am not trying to exegete the entire passage, rather I am simply trying to show how leaving a word or two out of the passage changes the emphasis.

The second reason for reading junkfood is this "...there are beautiful and thought-provoking stories in there..." OK, but does that make them true? NO! Also, is it profitable? When you claim to have little, or no time for the Word of God, how is it that you have time to be reading lovely little stories about how little Jimmy saw angels when he was pressed under the garage door? I get innumerable emails from well-meaning, and wonderful people, quoting some apocryphal Internet 'Christian' legend about angels showing up and talking to children and dogs. Many of the people who send these simply need a link to snopes. And the tragedy is this; while the story may be beautiful from a human emotional perspective, many times it is simply unbiblical in its principles.

Friends, the Christian community has never been as illiterate as they are now, and this only leads to error. This is why the draw to the Roman and Orthodox churches is being felt by many protestants. The Roman church is full of folks who will tell you what the Bible says, and they have wonderful, tear-jerking stories, and LOTS of tales about angels and saints talking to children. Plus, they have a beautiful, and intricate liturgy, and some semblance of a historic faith that they stand on.

Today, what can be expected in many protestant churches is: (MAYBE) a quick drive-by of the Word of God, and then time spent watching a mime perform on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, followed by communion (donuts and Starbucks), and then several hundred repetitive choruses about US, and then a time of candle-lighting, followed by a walk through the 'reflection' maze...

Pastors, we need to get our congregation into the Word of God, it needs to be preached from our pulpits week in and week out. We also need to be saturated with the Word of God, not with the latest growth concepts and secular ideas.

Christians overall; step away from the drivel that is being spewed forth from the Christian publishing industry and get back to the Word of God. Spend time there, and when you begin to understand the principles of our faith, then you may find that your favorite author is in the weeds, or worse, an out-and-out heretic!

6 comments:

Don said...

Brother, you have hit upon one of the most neglected disciplines of the Christian life. Neglected first by many pastors/teachers and then understandably by the rest of us. Why don't we read anymore? Particularly why don't we read The Word like our forefathers did? I reckon that not much will change positively until we recover that discipline.
Your opinings are always thought-provoking. May your tribe increase.

Ray said...

Thank you for your comment Don (or may I call you baba mkhulu?) :-)

I agree, until we get back to the basics we (the church in the USA) will flounder about, chasing one fad after another.

Willow Creek, Prayer of Jabez, PDL, Emergent, where does it end? I am not trying to comment on each of these books/movements, but simply trying to say that the life of a believer should not be driven by a fad; what the martyrs of the first century died for is the same thing that the modern martyrs die for.

The problem is that many of these pastors in the new movements are not only illiterate regarding biblical knowledge, but they have displayed their lack of faith in the power of the gospel.

Many argue that they simply changed the METHOD and not the message. Well not only have I attended some of these churches, but have read their books, and the message is definitively different than the one in the Bible.

Their theology is COMPLETELY man-centered, and mentions God or Messiah as mere adjuncts that 'help' you find your purpose/happiness/direction, without actually addressing the reality of sin, and the fact that repentance is involved in a true relationship with the Father.

The current batch of 'cutting-edge' pastors have taken the 'fun' parts of the gospel and made them the ONLY parts. "Join the Jesus Rave Club, and FIND your purpose in life, and OH BY THE WAY, you get to live in heaven as well!"

how different is that message from the message ""Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit..."

I thank you for your ecouragement, may the Lord of all bless your ministry....

Ephraim said...

Ray,

That was a good one brother! You're right on the mark. I would only add a piece of my own experience, which is this; there are many denominations and groups and so forth, that have preached the idea that there is only a limited amount of scripture that actually "needs" to be read. You've seen this as well.

One example would be the Church of Christ. I call them severe dispensationalists. And one of the things they teach is the irrelevancy of the Tanach. I have heard people from those type of groups say that there is no need to read the prophets because you can't understand them anyway! How sad.

When speaking with some of these folks it is almost funny how quickly they throw Galatians on the table as soon as they find out that you are the least bit observant of anything in that "bad old Old Testament". Or that you may think that you understand some of the prophecies concerning YHWH's people. It's as if you walked into the room and announced that you are a socerer, and now they must defend their faith to the bitter end.

And these are often people who can quote many verses. And know the location of others.

But as you have seen in your own walk with Messiah, knowing the words on the page may have little to do with the heart of the meaning or the overall message.

But, then, I do understand that when a subject is beyond someone's understanding, they will naturally spend less and less time with that subject.

Fresh water, green grass, safety. This is where He leads us. And the shepherd who hears His voice will bring the Master's sheep there.

May YHWH bless your work in His field

Shalom

Charles North said...

Thanks for some great thoughts Ray. I should give a book recommendation. It is, in my opinion, one of my ten most valuable books: "For the Glory of God" by Rodney Stark.

Ray said...

ephraim -- I have had pastors tell me that the Sermon on the Mount was exclusively for the Jews of Messiah's day, and not applicable teaching for the 'church'.

It seems, in some minds that all of the hard teachings and curses belong to national Israel, and all of the blessings and 'good stuff' belong to THE CHURCH.

And what I really find interesting is that some of these folks will actually take a blessing out of the Neviim and apply it to the church, and a couple of passages later take a curse from the same Nevi and apply it to Israel (national).

That is SOME KIND of consistent hermenuetic!

Shalom

Ray said...

Charles -- I looked that book up; it looks quite interesting...