In my last post, I spoke about the danger of zeal without knowledge.
Ironically, those who feel most strongly about the church’s health can very often become a hindrance to it. If we are passionate Christians, the onus is on us to make sure that our passion is both formed and informed by a solid biblical framework.
The question, then, is how do we make sure that our strongest convictions are truly biblical? The reality is that in the Christian world, everyone thinks that they are biblical. This is especially true in the Evangelical world. Yet what is painfully obvious that too many of those claims prove to be false.
I want to propose a few simple questions to help discern the biblical strength of our convictions.
1. Is it what the Bible teaches?
This question is, in some ways, a lot more complicated than it sounds. My aim at this point is not so much the fine-points of biblical interpretation, but rather to ascertain whether our concerns reflect the Bible’s priorities or merely our own hobby-horses.
a) Does the Bible actually say it?
If no, then you have probably found your first problem. If the concept that you are most concerned/passionate/agitated about in your church is not even mentioned in the Bible, the alarm bells should be ringing. It sounds so obvious doesn’t it? As a pastor, I hear people voicing their opinions, some negative and some positive, on a regular basis. I would say that 80% of those opinions concern matters that the bible does not explicitly address.
For example, many Christians have strong opinions about the style of music within the church service, and the instruments that accompany the singing. Yet how many of those opinions arise out of anything taught in the Bible? Better that we call it what it is…personal preference.
b) Have I made sure that I have understood the verses correctly?
Once you’ve made it past this first step, there is another worth asking: am I using the Bible responsibly? The simple principle behind sound biblical interpretation is whether or not we are “reading the Bible as it was written to be read.” You might call it reading the Bible in context or even just using common sense. There are many excellent resources available to us that can offer a great deal of help in our study of the Bible and, at the very least, it is worth referencing a good commentary or study-Bible before calls others to join our campaign.
c) What does the Church have to say about it?
The Church is a wonderful God-given resource to help us understand the Bible. Interpreting the Bible is a community affair…you do not have to do it all by yourself. In fact, you should not. Cross examining your interpretations against how Christians have understood the Bible past and present safeguards us against pride and error. It is not a good sign when you arrive at an interpretation of the Bible that is rejected simultaneously by the leadership of your church (assuming your leaders take the Bible seriously), all of your friends at church as well as orthodox Christians in church history.
2. How important is this issue in the Bible?
a) How often does the Bible mention it?
If the Bible only says something once, it does not make it any less true but it might make it less important. So it is worth asking not just whether or not our passions and concerns are found in the Bible but whether or not they are shared by the Bible. This will protect us from “majoring on the minors” or focusing all of our energy on the least important issues.
b) Are there any warnings or promises associated with it?
It is, of course, not simply about repetition. It is more about the weight that the Bible places on its doctrines. Repetition is one way to discern this but it is not the only way and it is not fool-proof. Another way is to ask whether or not there are any promises or warnings associated with this particular aspect of the Bible’s teachings. We know that the deity and humanity of Christ are important because we are warned that anyone who says teaches anything contrary is, according to 1 John, a false teacher. We know that justification is important because Paul tells us in Galatians that anyone who teaches another way to be justified is anathema.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list so I would be interested to know what questions, or principles, you would add to those mentioned above . My prayer is that these questions would lead to fruitful meditation and increased discernment.