Opinions on faith and life

The B.I.B.L.E

2008-09-24

That’s the title of a traditional Sunday School song, and the lyrics I learned go like this:

The B.I.B.L.E Yes that’s the book for me I stand alone on the Word of God The B.I.B.L.E

Yet in practice we don’t really believe that. We think anyone who stands on the Word of God alone is a maverick or loner who lacks accountability, and increasingly, merits the epithet “fundy”. What does it mean to rely solely on the Bible?

First of all, since it is the Word of God, it is no less reliable than spoken words of God. As I’ve said before, it isn’t the medium but the Author that makes something sacred or spiritual. God had many of his words written down for a very good reason: they don’t ever change. Sure, we need to remember the context in which they were written, but it is that contextual understanding of words that never change which keeps us from being “blown about by every wind of doctrine”.

The average person can indeed understand and apply the words in the Bible, as long as they are aware of context. There is no need of official sanction by a person or institution in order to deem a person’s Biblical views as worthy of consideration. In NT times the apostles themselves were there to teach, and their written words are preserved for us. That is our basis of authority; I see no such authority conferred on anyone else, ever. That is our “authoritative teaching”.

The Holy Spirit is quite capable of guiding even the lowliest believer. Yes we need good teaching while spiritually maturing; yes the NT shows “elders” being appointed for that task. They are people who have shown spiritual maturity and thorough grasp of the Word. And subsequent elders were to be appointed by existing elders. But through these many generations many teachers have been appointed without meeting the stipulations Paul gave; the churches will typically appoint any willing warm body for the job. So the problem of misunderstanding scripture is not laid at the feet of “uncovered” believers, but of untested and untrained teachers.

I say all this to address the problem of many of us who are challenged to produce some kind of official sanctioning body. Where are the Bereans today? Isn’t the Bible itself still our authority, our measuring stick? If what we say matches scripture, why is it to be rejected solely because we don’t list people with worldly credentials who put their official stamp of approval on our writings? Who sanctions those people? Is it not that same Word of God?

I still abide by that old children’s song; I still go directly to the Source. Judge my writings by that.

11 Comments

tiro3

I’ve been wondering something about the elder question lately. Yes elders were ’appointed’ by Timothy and Paul at those times. And there were qualifications. However in addition to those facts is that desiring to serve in elderlike ministry was praised by Paul. Thus there may have been a balance between desiring, being qualified and noted by the leaders as a means of coming into those services.

Todays methods in most churches are so different from the epistles, I think we’ve lost something of the blessing of it all.

Lin

I could not agree more. And I believe seminaries have become indoctrination centers for some leaders pet doctrines that are extra biblical. Seminary cannot teach you to love. It cannot teach you to be guided by the Holy Spirit. All those things are supernatural outpourings of the Holy Spirit within us. Without love and the Holy Spirit within, the bible becomes a club or even a history book.

I see great danger in how church is done, too, with one guy doing all the preaching. In Corinthians we see Paul saying that several should preach and several judge what they teach. There is great safety here in the Word being the only authority when it is done like that and the preachers become secondary as it should be. And the Corinthians were probably using the OT to teach about Jesus. How much richer we are today with the NT.

A few things I want to clarify about what you wrote:

"The Holy Spirit is quite capable of guiding even the lowliest believer. Yes we need good teaching while spiritually maturing; yes the NT shows “elders” being appointed for that task. They are people who have shown spiritual maturity and thorough grasp of the Word. And subsequent elders were to be appointed by existing elders. "

I question this because as I was reading in Acts a while back, I noticed that the word ’appointed’ meant something in Greek that was a bit different than what I thought. It was described as ’hand stretching’ or voting. So, it seems that when we see ’appointed’ it could actually mean the Body voted for the elders which would make sense as people instintively know who is spiritually mature among them in that setting. (not so in mega churches today:o)

"But through these many generations many teachers have been appointed without meeting the stipulations Paul gave; the churches will typically appoint any willing warm body for the job. So the problem of misunderstanding scripture is not laid at the feet of “uncovered” believers, but of untested and untrained teachers."

My experience has been that well known businessmen are usually chosen for these posts in large churches. It becomes a sort of club with wealth and influence being the main determining factors.

Paula Fether

I was careful not to use "ordained" as that carries way too much baggage, but AFAIK "appoint" is a good English meaning for the word. But yes, the bottom line is that elders were those whom everyone recognized as having spiritual maturity and following the teachings of the apostles, our NT. Existing elders would of course be best able to test people. I think it means more than a simple vote, but that in the judgment of the existing elders the person has been tested and found qualified. The purpose of recognition, then, would be so the people knew who they could trust.

Which, as you said, is quite unlike the selecting of elders since the apostles died.

Paula Fether

And of course the elder was aspiring to a lowly "position", one of real service, not that so-called "servant leader" crud. Shepherds are supposed to serve the sheep, not the other way around.

tiro3

Exactly, those who SERVED well were worthy of double HONOR. Some churches today read that as those who wield authority well are deserving of double pay. :( That’s not even in the same ball park.

Paula Fether

Which brings up a question nobody ever thinks about asking:

If elders get "double pay", then who gets "single pay"? :-P

Greg Anderson

Paula,

I learned the same song when I was a little kid too. I also revel in its simplicity of affirmation. What I no longer accept however, is when apart from the essentials of the faith, the Bible is set forth as an iron-clad belief system.

Whether it’s Calvin’s institutes, Luther’s large catechism, or Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology tome, they all want to reduce God to an Aristotelian wizard behind the curtain and then tell you to ignore him when Toto pulls the curtain aside.

Lin

I would be interested to hear your all’s thoughts on Systematic Theology and how it is used today.

Paula Fether

Greg,

Good point to remember about the wide gulf between the Word of God and the interpretations of people. It seems most theologians have had a tough time telling them apart, throughout church history. That some of them, then and now, would go so far as to think they should silence all who disagree with their views, has been one of the most damaging forces of all. We could almost hear Jesus saying, "With followers like these, who needs enemies?" As Paul said, let everyone be very careful how they build on the Foundation.

Lin,

There is a decent and brief definition of Systematic Theology at Got Questions. I think the problem lies in a subset of that, referred to in the article as "Dogmatic theology". We use ST as the way to find the unity among the various books of the Bible, recurring themes, and unfolding revelation. Seeing how God has dealt with mankind through various stages is one aspect of context we need to understand.

But people have a habit of picking a verse or two out of context, creating their own system, and then imposing it back onto the text in defiance of context. Today, more than ever it seems, a lot of theological dynasties are vying for preeminence. Careers are at stake and control must be kept over the unwashed masses. It’s essentially an ego-based approach.

I’ve never put much stock in the old creeds beyond their historical value, or in "church fathers" due to, in far too many cases, the glaring opposition of their lives to their teachings. There is little love seen in many of them.

At the heart of the matter is the lack of sound, basic reading comprehension being applied to scripture. If we read a newspaper or even a self-help book the same way we read the Bible, people would eventually give up reading completely because none of it would make any sense. But many just throw out all the normal rules when the open the Bible, and then they wonder why there are so many interpretations.

Lin

Thank you for that link. Red flags go up for me when people can only quote a Systematic Theology book or a creed/confession

Greg Anderson

Paula,

I concur wholly. So long as any "systematic" treatment of theology is focused on salvation through Christ and Christ alone, our structure will be like steel and concrete caissons sunk into granite. No matter what gale blows and however powerful the deep ocean swells that batter the lighthouse, it will stand.

Sometimes, peripheral structures will be washed away, and in many cases, good riddance. But the core elements of the faith will stand sure.