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A New Path 6

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False or Mistaken?

Today, I am going to talk about something that is very common among members of the churches of Christ; the labeling of one as a “false teacher”.  We are warned of false teaching in the Bible and it seems that cofc’ers see it everywhere we go.  We see it so much that many in our tradition would view our group as the only true teachers while everyone else is a false one.  The slightest error in doctrine and we slap the label on the teacher with little to no restraint.  But are we so sure that we are making this judgement accurately? I am not and this why:

There is a difference between being “false” and being “wrong”:  It takes more to be a “false teacher” than just being wrong.  Apollos was wrong when he was preaching the Gospel inaccurately but was never called a false teacher.  Aquila and Priscilla were not told to avoid him or not listen to him. They corrected him, yes, but he was not shunned or thrown out of the church for teaching what he was teaching. He made a mistake. He was never a false teacher.

There is a difference between labeling and intelligent conversation:  Sometimes we use the label “false teacher” when we really have no intelligent argument against the teacher.  We believe them to be wrong because they don’t teach what we believe but we really don’t know how to intelligently counter the argument.  We use the label so that we can categorize a person so as not to deal with what they are saying.  If we disagree with some idea, we should know why and be able to communicate that to others.  Labeling the other person is a way of dehumanizing them so that we can feel better about hating them.  Calling a person a “false teacher” makes our hate sound Godly but I don’t believe that it is.  A person with a new idea is not always a false teacher. They may be making a mistake.

There is a difference between “false teaching” and a “false teacher”:  You may not think there is much of a difference but there really is.  There is a difference between a good Christian who makes an error in doctrine and an evil person.  For example, a person who is right on many other points of doctrine may fail on one point and unknowingly deceive others.  This person does not know what is wrong with what they are saying and they are not trying to hurt anybody. They are making a mistake.  Another teacher may be an incredibly sinful person who is just teaching to make money (or some other sin).  This teacher may be teaching correct doctrines and really helping people to grow in Christ. This person, however, is the false teacher according to Scripture.  This is the thing about Scripture: you can teach everything right and still be wrong.  The second man is the false teacher while the first (wrong) man would go home justified.  He might be making serious mistakes; but is not a false teacher.

We should be careful about labeling people.  A label doesn’t solve the problem it just creates disguised hate.  “False teacher” is not the only such label. Terms such as liberal, anti, progressive, and even conservative should not be tossed around in the church.  These things hurt people and are not at all accurate.  When you throw a label on something, you probably haven’t confronted the issues and had intelligent discussion with people on both sides. We should be careful what we say when dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with us.  So before you use the term “false teacher” maybe try and consider whether using that term is the Christlike thing to do and whether the teacher is “false” or “mistaken”.    

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Written by freeinchrist

July 13, 2008 at 1:05 pm

A New Path 5

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Backwards Theology

We must be careful in the “new” way of reading Scripture that we don’t accidentally participate in what I like to call backwards theology. Backwards theology is sometimes referred to as “scholasticism” but I don’t find that many people use that term so I came up with my own (I may have heard it somewhere but I’m not sure).  When it comes to the Bible, BT is when we read our current situation into Biblical texts instead of letting the Bible inform us.  Our example from Ephesians in “A New Path 3” is an example of where the cofc has made a passage about acappella singing when it never had that meaning to the original audience.   

You may not think that BT is very common, but it may be more common than you think.  When you read the word “church” in the Bible; what do you think of?  Do you think of a building with pews in it?  Do you think of an institution or denomination?  If you do, you have just done backwards theology.  In Acts 20:7 when they take communion; do you imagine that they used a cracker and grape juice? That they had no other food present? That they took an offering afterwards?  Do you imagine that Paul’s sermon on this occasion had three points?  That he ended with an invitation and invitation song?  If so, you may be making a serious error when reading many passages that deal with the early church. 

A very important thing about doing exegesis (see “A New Path 3” for more information) is making sure that we are letting the Bible speak for itself.  It means what it meant.  We must let the Bible educate us instead of us trying to make the Bible fit in with things that we have done throughout history.  There may be nothing wrong with the way that we have chosen to live out the Christian faith but it is wrong to read those things into Scripture to try to claim that they have always been true.  This is a major error among churches of Christ.  We have read our patterns into Scripture when Scripture is not as specific as we would like it to be.  I hope to get more precise on how we have done this in future posts but, for now, I think if you will keep this in mind as you read, many past abuses of Scripture will be changed and you will be able to read Scripture more in line with the way it was written. 

Written by freeinchrist

July 12, 2008 at 2:02 pm

A New Path 4

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A New Law

After implementing a better way to read the Bible, I would expect that some new things would start to come to light for the believer.  One of these is that the commands are not just arbitrary commands to be obeyed but are based on principles.  These principles give us more of a commitment to obedience because they create a greater purpose for it.  However, I think there is a deeper question here: If commands are based on principles, what are the principles based on?  This might sound a little strange, but it is one of the most important ideas if we are truly to grasp what Jesus is trying to tell us.  It is the basis of everything that we are supposed to do.  It is the New Law. It is love.

The Pharisees counted the number of commands in the Law of Moses as 613.  I can count the commands of the New Law on one hand (with two fingers even).  The New Law could be put this way:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Luke 10:27) (NIV)

Two simple commands.  Love God, love neighbor.  The foundation of the Christian faith given in two sentences.  What all of the principles are truly based on.  Can it really be that simple?  I am glad to tell you that the answer is “yes”.  This is the basis of the freedom in Christ that I am trying to proclaim here.  Jesus didn’t want us to spend our lives wrestling with the precise details of every possible doctrine and idea.  He wanted us to love.  Jesus didn’t want us to figure out our own set of 613 and take pride in the fact that we obey them better than everyone else.  He wanted us to love. Jesus didn’t want us to spend all of our time nit-picking the doctrine of the denominations. He wanted us to love. 

The New Law is evident in many other passages of Scripture as well:

But seek first his kingdom (love others) and his righteousness (love God), and all these things will be given to you as well. (Mt. 6:33) (NIV)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress (love others) and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (love God). (James 1:27) (NIV)

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love (love others) and of self-discipline (love God). (2 Tim 1:7) (NIV)

How long are we in the church of Christ going to be looking for a rule that is better than the one that Paul gave:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  (Gal 6:2) (NIV)

After all of the years I spent trying to figure out every detail of biblical teaching, I felt quite foolish to discover that the New Law was only one thing: love.  After hours of biblical study to determine what God wanted for me, I found out it was love all along.  He wanted my love.  For Him and for those He created.  It was so easy that I nearly missed it.  That is what we in the church of Christ have done by always insisting on our own way.  We have missed the love that Christ had planned for us to live in.  We looked so hard for a set of rules that we could take pride in keeping that we missed the love and kept the pride.  Think about it and listen to these words from Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3) (NIV)

You can know everything about the Bible and still not know anything about it.  If you missed the love of Christ, you have missed everything.  I spent many years with knowledge but am only starting to live in love.  Join me.

(A great book on loving God and others is The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others or  40 Days Living the Jesus Creed both by Scot Mcknight. You can also read Scot’s blog at http://www.jesuscreed.com )

Written by freeinchrist

July 7, 2008 at 4:09 pm

A New Path 3

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A better way to read the Bible

In this post I want to lay out what I believe is a better way to look at the Bible and how to interpret it better than we have done in the past.  You may already, basically, know what I am going to say by reading my previous posts but I felt the need to expand on it a little more.

I want to give these steps to better Biblical interpretation:

Read the documents the way other documents in the same genres are read:  I think the first step is just to read the documents (I am purposefully refraining from using the term “books” in this post because I’m trying to show the difference between the genres) the way we would read other documents of the same type.  When we are reading the Gospels, for example, why shouldn’t we read them like we would read a biography? They are written to give us historical accounts of the life, teaching, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and we should read them the same as we would historical accounts (except, in this case, we can trust their authenticity more than some historical accounts).  Also, when we are reading the letters shouldn’t we read them like letters.  The author, audience, and occasion of the document should always be in our minds as we are trying to accurately interpret what we read.

Try to determine what the original audience took something to mean before trying to apply it  to today (exegesis):  I think that this is one of the most important places where we miss the point of some parts of Scripture.  We must try (as best as possible) to see the meaning that the original audience had of a teaching before we try to apply it.  If we apply it before knowing exactly what was going on, we run the risk of making improper application.  For example, in Ephesians 5:15-20, Paul says this:

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV) 

We have generally applied this to a worship assembly as a commandment to sing in the assembly (I will save the issue of instrumental accompaniment for a later post) but would we have found a slightly different meaning if we had first done exegesis.  I think so.  If we look back to what the Ephesians would have taken this to mean we would see something like this:

“Instead of going out and getting drunk like the unbelievers do (which is not pleasing to God) you should be filled (the same word in Greek as “drunk”) with the Spirit.  So as an alternative to what the world does, you should “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” so that you can lift up the body and have joy in Christ”

After exegesis has been done, the command/principle should be extracted:  In the case with Ephesians 5:15-20, I stopped before making an application so that I could show how I think that we should apply this.  In this case, the command could be extracted because we could say that we should sing as opposed to sinful activity but does this verse necessarily require us to sing? Actually, I don’t think so.  This is because, along with the command, I also tried to extract the principle that the command is based on. Every command is based on some principle because God does not give us a command without having a reason to do so.  We may not always know why the command is given, but I don’t believe that God would give us a command for no reason.  When God gives a command He seems to always have a reason behind it.  I don’t think I need to prove this. 

In this case the principle is “In opposition to sinful activities, Christians should come together in holy activity to lift one another up and thank God for everything”. The part about singing is Paul’s suggestion on how this should be done and I believe it is a very good suggestion and one that I think we should participate in but I don’t think that it always has to be singing.  We could gather at a Christian’s home (or church building) for a time of fellowship or go to a lectureship or camp.  There are many things that we can do that are holy and pleasing to God besides singing.  The point of the passage is that Christians should create holy alternatives to sinful activity that the world is engaged in.  When we apply this to a worship service we miss the point of the passage.  I am not arguing (nor will I) that singing should not be in the worship service, I am simply arguing that these verses do not say so and have a meaning that we are better off not to miss.  This is just an example, though, because their are countless passages that we have applied before exegeting and missed the point.  Most of this series will likely be us going through this process on issues and coming up with some different answers.

We should admit the task of interpretation is difficult and not be too dogmatic:  I have heard many people in my life say something like “you just have to read the Bible and do what it says” or “their is no need to interpret”.  I think these people are just plain wrong.  If the Bible were so easy to interpret, how is it that so many people (whose dedication to God and Scripture are equal) disagree on the meaning of the text.  Interpretation is not easy and even the method I am giving here won’t solve all of the problems.  I don’t know everything about the Bible so how can I expect anyone else to.  I am just trying to share what I think so that maybe others can benefit from it.  I think in interpretation we should be careful before giving others a hard time because we all make mistakes.  We just need to admit that some things are hard to understand and that we don’t have it all nailed down.

The litmus test; if its not Christ, its not true:  The last thing that I would like to say about interpretation is that, many times, correct interpretation is not based on method but is based on how well a person knows Christ.  If we don’t know Christ, we will not know what He would teach and what He wouldn’t teach.  This is important because sometimes we can use a good method for interpretation and still end up with something that we know Christ wouldn’t approve of.  All I am saying here is: Before adopting an interpretation just ask yourself whether Christ would have the same one. That is all.

(Many thoughts in this post came to me through reading Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and I highly recommend anyone read this book. It goes farther than I ever will in breaking down the genres and dealing with some issues.)

Written by freeinchrist

July 5, 2008 at 3:13 pm

A New Path 2

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Problems with CENI

One cannot make much progress speaking of the traditional cofc without discussing their traditional hermeneutic.  For those who may not be familiar with this term, a hermeneutic is the method by which a person interprets something that is read (some scholars use the word hermeneutic only to indicate how it is applied while others use it to describe the entire study of interpretation).  In this post, of course, I am speaking of how we interpret the Bible.  I will mostly use the terms “exegesis” and “application” on this site since those are my preferred terms.  Exegesis is reading a text for what it meant “back then”.  This is used to try to indicate what the original audience of a document took it to mean.  I will use the term “application” to indicate how I believe Christians should apply the text to their lives today.

The traditional hermeneutic of the cofc has been referred to as command, example, and necessary inference (CENI).  Command indicates that if the New Testament contains a command than that command must be followed. Example indicates that if the New Testament contains an approved example (an approved example is an example that God was pleased with) than that example also must be followed.  Necessary inference means that some conclusions (inferences) must be perceived by an astute reader that are not in command or example form and that these too must be followed. This is a simplistic way of describing CENI and I will admit that some may find it too simplistic.  For the purposes of this blog, however, this definition will have to do because space does not permit an entire historical analysis of this method (this is a blog, not a book).

Although my definition was short, I think the holes in this method are evident.  I give the following reasons why this method falls short even though I am sure there are more I haven’t thought of:

CENI rejects the genres of the Biblical narratives:  It does this by reading the New Testament the same all the way through as though it is only a single Book.  This is not the way it should be read, though, because the New Testament is a collection of many different documents bound into a single Book.  It contains biographies (Gospels), histories (Acts), a sermon (Hebrews), a Jewish apocalyptic (Revelation), and the rest are letters.  Using an all encompassing method of interpretation ignores this fact and leads to many errors because of it.

CENI rejects the occasion of the Biblical narratives:  Related to #1, CENI in rejecting the genres also rejects the reason (occasion) that the letters were written in the first place.  Many of the books in the New Testament (especially the letters) were written to solve problems in the early churches or to speak on specific issues of the time.  Ask yourself this: Would 1 Corinthians (for example) have been written if their were no specific problems that needed to be addressed in Corinth?  Think about this. No really.  I think that we should seriously consider the fact that the letter would likely not have been written if the Corinthians were not acting inappropriately for Paul would have had no reason to draft it.  If this is true, shouldn’t we consider this fact when reading and applying the letter to our lives? What about the rest of the NT? 

CENI gives too much power to examples:  One of the biggest problems with CENI is that it makes biblical examples binding on all Christians even though the New Testament doesn’t do this.  This basically states that if something was done a certain way in Scripture, we should still do it that way.  This may sound good to some, but the Bible does not require us to look at an example and translate it into a command.  Examples are not binding! They just show how a command was carried out by the person who heard it.  We are never told that we have to obey the examples as well as the commands. We should also note that the cofc is incredibly selective about the examples that it chooses to bind.  The Lord’s Supper, for example, was taken on Wednesday or Thursday (Matthew 26, this depends on how you calculate the day) by Jesus and on Sunday by Paul (Acts 20:7). How do we know which example to bind? Truly, somebody decided that Acts 20:7 was more of an authoritative example than Matthew 26.  Jesus could not have given it on a Sunday because it was given “on the night he was betrayed” which could not have been a Sunday if He rose from the dead on Sunday. There are many other cases in which a command is actually followed in more than one way in Scripture, but the cofc only binds one. Think about it.

CENI allows for too many views of what a “necessary” inference is:  I find necessary inference to be the oddest of the three because it basically is a category for anything that the cofc has decided but does not have any command or example for.  The main problem with it is that it is incredibly subjective because a person must be able to determine which inferences are accurate and which are not and nobody controls this.  If the cofc had a system like the Roman Catholics (which I am not suggesting), it would have some “authority” to determine which inferences are necessary and which are not.  Because the cofc does not have this, however, each person is left to their own ability.  If one person makes an inference that is different from another person’s inference, than the two will label and disfellowship the other.  This is chaos and cannot be the way that God intended us to read His Message.  

CENI turns the New Testament into a textbook:  The last problem that I will mention is that CENI turns the New Testament into a textbook.  You may have heard this before if you read this type of literature but I would like to expand on it a little.  When God gave us the Scriptures, He gave us a set of stories and letters to show us what He wanted from us.  We have taken these stories and letters (using CENI) and extracted the commands, examples, and necessary inferences for our own use.  This is not the way God wanted us to use this.  If it was, God would have given us 3 books: the book of Commands, the book of Examples, and the book of Necessary Inferences.  Because He did not do this, CENI cannot be the correct way to interpret Scripture (regardless of whether some correct doctrines may come from it). God gave us stories and we made lists.  God wants us to learn from the stories and read them like stories.     

In the next post I will try to lay out what I believe a better hermeneutic would be.

Written by freeinchrist

July 4, 2008 at 4:35 pm

A New Path 1

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Introduction

I want to start a series here that I’m not sure will ever really end.  I want to say up front what I think the problems are in the cofc tradition and where I believe correction should be made.  In this series I hope to confront the issues that are holding us back from where I really believe that we should be. 

If you have spent any time among the traditional cofc than you have undoubtedly heard the expression “old paths” come from a preacher who is trying to fight against some change or “new” teaching.  The term “old paths” comes from the book of Jeremiah 6:16:

Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old  paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. (KJV)

Using the term “old paths” is just a way for the cofc preacher to sound biblical while calling people to stay constant even when change is truly needed.  I was told many times that the “old paths” that were good enough for older generations should also be good enough for me but I eventually realized that this just wasn’t the case. 

I live in a different world than the people who cleared those paths and today new paths are needed.  We need a new path that we have paved.  Thus the title of this series. I hope to help people who are trying to go down a new path in a new world to join me on this adventure.  I can’t wait to see what we find along the way.

Written by freeinchrist

July 4, 2008 at 3:53 am

Posted in New Paths

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