I had a professor at Lubbock Christian University that once wrote an article entitled, “Is God an Atlanta Braves Fan?” In the article he used archaeological evidence and the Bible to prove that God cheered for the Braves. He used tomahawks found at archaeological sites in Israel to prove that God instructed the Hebrews how to correctly perform the “Tomahawk Chop”. Those avid Atlanta Braves’ fans out there know about the tomahawk chop. It has been used in Braves games for many years. The tomahawk chop is almost as important as “Calling the Hogs” in Razorback games! Added to this archaeological evidence were passages of Scripture to show how displeased God was with Israel’s enemies for not doing this important ritual correctly.
Obviously, his article is of a humorous nature. He wasn’t being serious. But his main point was this: You can use the Bible, incorrectly, to prove anything!
When I was growing up there was a magnet on our family’s refrigerator that said: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Underlying this matter-of-fact statement is the conviction that we should just “Do what the Bible says.” “Don’t ask questions.” “Just do it!” “Stop theologizing. Stop exegeting. Stop interpreting scripture.” “Just do what it says!”
What do you think? Should we just “Do what it says?”
Now, before you answer that question, consider carefully the implications of your answer. Because according to I Corinthians 11:5-6, any woman who preaches or prays with her head uncovered disgraces herself. I notice that not many of our women this morning have arrived with veils or head coverings. Should we not take that passage at face value? The Bible says it…doesn’t that settle it?
Deuteronomy 20 records Israel’s preparations for taking the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 20:16-18, God says to Israel, "But as for the towns of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the LORD you God has commanded" (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). I’ve heard some Christians rail against Muslims in recent years. I’ve heard them say that Koran condones holy wars and Jihads. What about the Bible? How should we take these words of God to His people? The Bible says it, doesn’t that settle it?
I Timothy 2:8 says we should “raise our holy hands in prayer,” but not many of us do that. Romans 16:16 says when we gather together, we should greet one another with a holy kiss! Now, I’ve seen a few junior high boys try to get us to follow this one, but not many others.
In Ephesians 6, Paul records what have come to be known as “household codes.” In this list of household responsibilities, he writes this: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slave or free" (Ephesians 6:5-8). The writer of I Peter says it a little more plainly: "Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly" (I Peter 2:18-19). The Bible says it, does that settle it?
But we protest. “Well, but that is cultural!” “Paul didn’t mean for us, more enlightened citizens of the 21st century, to have slaves.” “They may have used a holy kiss, but we use a handshake, it’s the same thing.” “War back then was a necessary evil, but God would never condone a holy war today, not in the 21st century!”
Really? Who makes those calls? Who gets to decide what is cultural and was is binding for all time? What if I think this scripture is binding for all time and you think it is cultural? What then? Can you see, church, how the way we read scripture can sometimes put us in a bind? But you need to understand—we haven’t always read scripture this way.
There were some people in our “family tree” who greatly influenced the way we read scripture. Two men in particular—Moses Lard & David Lipscomb. These two men, who were members of Churches of Christ, lived in the late 19th & early 20th centuries. They helped develop a way of reading and interpreting Scripture that has continued to shape our movement even today. In answer to the question: “How should we read Scripture?” they offered three suggestions. They said we should look for: commands, examples, and necessary inferences.
Even if you have not heard that language before, I am convinced most of us have been influenced by their idea. If the Bible commands us to do it, we should do it. If the Bible gives us an example of God’s people doing something, we should do it. If the Bible infers that God’s people were doing something, we should do that too.
Here are some concrete examples. The Bible “commands” us to be baptized, so we should be baptized. The Bible gives us an “example” of Christians meeting on the 1st day of each week, so we should meet then too. Though the Bible doesn’t come out and say baptism is for adults, it is inferred. People who were baptized made the decision to be baptized, and the word “baptism” means literally to go under the water. By inference, we have concluded that baptism is for adults and is by immersion.
This way of reading scripture has shaped us. People from our tradition have treated the Bible as one might treat an owner’s manual. Carefully looking through the pages for life’s “directions.” Taking special care to follow each direction to the letter. Another analogy you may have heard for scripture is that of a blueprint. By following the blueprint given to us in the Bible we will build the church God envisioned for us.
Alexander Campbell, another important early leader in Churches of Christ, called the New Testament our “constitution.” It is our “founding document.” As our lawmakers in Washington go back to our constitution to ensure that we are making laws that support the vision of our founding fathers so we should regularly consult our constitution, the New Testament, to ensure our laws support God’s vision for His church.
So, church, what do you think: “What is the Bible?” Is it a blueprint? A constitution? An owner’s manual? Are we meant to follow it to the letter, literally, 100% of the time, as one would follow these documents? If so, then what about slavery, Jihads, head coverings for women, raising our hands in prayer, the holy kiss. And if we are given license to ignore parts of Scripture, who determines which parts of the blueprint we can ignore?
I am not alone in suggesting that we need to find a new hermeneutic, a new way to read and interpret Scripture. The natural byproduct of the way we have read Scripture for the last 150 years is division. Because we do not all agree on what the “blueprint” says. Our tendency has been that when we realize our pattern is different from their pattern, we start a new church. And brothers and sisters, I don’t think that is what God had in mind for us!
But our hermeneutic is not only deficient in its ability to help us do church right.
If we view the Bible as simply a rulebook for life, we find ourselves at a loss when the Bible fails to address contemporary issues. You know, the Bible doesn’t give us a direct command about abortion. It doesn’t give us a clear example or a necessary inference about immigration laws. The Bible doesn’t discuss American nationalism. Our traditional biblical hermeneutic leaves us ill-equipped to answer these questions that are raging in our contemporary world.
But we are tempted with each of them to run to the Bible and find one text that gives us a quick answer—a pattern to follow. We try to find a simple “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” kind of answer to these tough questions and sometimes we trivialize these issues & hurt real people in the process. You know, Paul doesn’t tell us what to do when our daughter comes home and tells us she has just had an abortion. The Bible doesn’t tell Christians how to respond when the Southern Baptist Convention calls for a national boycott of the Boy Scouts because of their decision to allow homosexual boys into their organization. The Bible doesn’t give us a script to follow as we talk with a father from Mexico who risked his life to bring his family to America, hoping they can have a better future. But, church, God does not leave us in the dark on these issues. God’s Word is every bit as relevant today as in ages past. God, I believe has something to say about these issues.
Listen to what Paul says in I Corinthians 2:6-16 (NRSV):
"Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.
“For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
As the people of God spend time with the Word of God, guided by the Spirit of God, we will over time come to understand better the mind of Christ.
The more time we spend with God in His Word, the better we will know God, the better we will understand how God might answer our questions centering on abortion or homosexuality or immigration or war or countless other issues with which we struggle. It is not the case that we go to the Bible to find quick answers. Instead, we spend time in Scripture, over time getting to know God better. Slowly being transformed to a place where our habits and thoughts and actions resemble those of Christ
Over the next several weeks, I will be preaching a series on some of these topics. I’m convinced that God does have something to say about what is taking place in our world today. God is not only concerned about meat offered to idols and the conflict between Jews & Gentiles. God cares deeply about our world and the pain caused by our present-day problems, and I believe His Word can help us address some of these tough issues even today.
The title of the series is: “Can You Hear Me Now?” I believe God is calling to us still. In the 21st century…in America…in Tyler. The only question is: Are we listening?