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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Some Closing Thoughts on the View of Scripture

The last two posts have generated some really deep discussion, and not a little discomfort on the part of some! For those of you who have participated, thank you for taking the time to talk through this topic.

Ray commented that he wasn't sure where we were headed with some of this discussion, and so I want to take a few minutes to sort of wrap up some of my thoughts on this subject, and then see where we go from there. Admittedly, the subject has introduced a few rabbit trails, and there is way too much temptation to chase all of those trails!

As I mentioned in a brief response to Ray, much of this discussion (from my standpoint) is a reaction against my own perception of what could be called "bibliolatry". Specifically, I have been put off by the insistence by some on other blogs that we have a relationship with a book, and the reference to the book itself as "the living word of God". (For some other interesting reading on this problem, see this essay by the Internet Monk.)

I'm trying to find the balance (middle-ground) position of respecting the writings for what they are, and seeing them as a means to a relationship and revelation of Jesus Christ Himself.

Like with some other doctrines, I think we (and by "we" here, I mean Christianity as a whole) settle on certain points of doctrine, deduced from what has been revealed, and then over time, those deductions become as firm in our collective minds as the word of God itself. Eventually, we build other deductions on those previous deductions, but continue to say that it is "clearly taught in Scripture".

I fear sometimes that the sola scriptura position of the Reformers, in reaction to the convoluted (at least in their mind) elevation of Tradition by the RCC, was a healthy position that, over the last 450 years has evolved into an unhealthy "worship" of the revelation that is designed to point us to the true object of worship -- Jesus.

In other words, if we step back and look at the "forest" (the over-arching story of God's dealing with man) instead of the "trees" (the little stories that take place at any point in time), we see a desire on God's part to have face-to-face interaction with His people.

God walked in the Garden after Adam sinned, saying, "Adam where are you?" Then, after selecting a people for Himself, He called all of them to the mountain. They were scared, and asked Moses to represent them and tell them what God said. This set in motion centuries and centuries of prophets speaking the word of God to the people.

Finally, God comes in human flesh Himself and reveals Himself to us through the person of Jesus. And through the written Scripture, we can come to a place where we can believe the testimony of those who saw Him and walked with Him and talked with Him. And through their report, then, we can come to a place of knowing Him ourselves.

When we then know Him (and I don't want to, for this moment, get bogged down in Calvinistic vs. Arminian language, so bear with me while I just write from my heart here!), He has promised to indwell us -- this is the "hope of glory"...Christ dwells in us!!

We, on this side of the incarnation, have something available to us that was only foreshadowed in the Old Testament! Based on what I see in the prophets, God has followed through on His promises (more physical fulfillment still to come, I believe) of dwelling with us, writing His law on our hearts, etc.

If our handling of Scripture does not lead us to this kind of intimacy, then we have mishandled the Scriptures, I believe. And it is this perceived mishandling that I am reacting to.

It's not that anyone here has promoted this idea, or anything like that. I'm reacting to what I have seen and heard for many years, and more recently in the blogosphere.

Dan Phillips, in the post that started this mess, claims that we cannot "know" anything about Jesus other than what we have in the Bible. And there is an immensely strong reaction against anyone who says that we can know Him in any way apart from what we read.

But if this is true, Jesus never needed to come in the flesh. And, quite frankly, we really don't need the Holy Spirit inside of us. If all that is needed for a relationship with the Father is a book, we already had that! And this is where the doctrine of inspiration can start to actually cause some difficulty. Because the Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, we need the Holy Spirit to "illumine" the text for us, and teach us what it means. But to be rather blunt, Scripture itself does not mention anything about the Spirit "illuminating" the written Word.

Yes, yes, He uses that word as part of the process. Don't ever think that I'm arguing against that. But to restrict His work to that goes beyond what is actually revealed in Scripture itself. And that's one of the basic points I've been trying to make in this. We cannot let our derived doctrines then force us to a position that goes beyond what the text says to begin with!

But as soon as someone mentions this kind of idea of an intimate relationship, it is assumed that we are talking about wacky, subjective insanity. The mockery of Dan Phillips to my questions about the Holy Spirit show either 1) fear of something greater than he is willing to acknowledge, or 2) lack of understanding of what God revealed in Jesus.

When Paul talked about knowing Jesus, I don't believe he was referring merely to knowing facts about him. He was not referring to reading historical accounts about Jesus. I believe he was speaking to an intimate knowledge of a relationship with Jesus. The metaphors that Jesus Himself used (such as the vine and branches in John 15) reflect a relationship that is far different from a relationship with a book.

This position does not equate to "discontentment" with anything that God has given. To be misrepresented as such shows an unwillingness by the critic to even consider the merits of this position. And I would humbly suggest that there are merits for this position within the very Bible from which some claim to get all of their doctrine. We can look at those together, if anyone is interested, but quite frankly, I don't think you need me to spell it out! :)

Until next time,

steve :)

Monday, June 26, 2006

More on the Proper View of Scripture

In response to my last post, frequent commenter Gordon Cloud wrote:

I think that ultimately we must ask ourselves, "What is the Word of God?"
Regular readers of my blog already know that one of the things that marks my blog is a willingness (some might even say "eagerness") to ask the hard questions and challenge the status quo. I hope, however, that you all understand that this tendency in me is not just an attempt to question for the sake of questioning. It is how I think through issues and work through beliefs. And it's a practice that refreshes me, even if it annoys some of my readers! ;)

So, when I read Gordon's comment, it struck a chord with me, because I was already heading in that direction. Let's start by taking a look at some common teachings and assumptions in the body of Christ today:

  • The term "Word of God", with the exception of in the context of John 1 refers to the Bible.
  • Any references to "word" (such as Psalm 119:9-16, Psalm 119:89, Psalm 138:2, John 17:17, Colossians 3:16, James 1:22, etc.) are references to our Bible
  • When Paul says that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16), he is referring to the sixty-six books of the canon that we call the Bible
  • The Bible is the complete word of God to us today, and contains 100% of the instructions we need for life (this belief is called "the sufficiency of Scripture")
  • We are commanded in Scripture to study the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15 in the KJV) in order to show that we are "approved workmen" and so that we can "rightly divide" the Scriptures.
Now, I must first of all say that I am not automatically saying that all of these notions are bad. Nor am I even saying that they are all totally wrong. But I think we owe it to ourselves to take a step back and look at what we are really saying, and make sure that we are speaking accurately. With that in mind, I want to take a look at some of these points and see how they hold up.

As with most of my posts, I'm "thinking out loud" here, and welcome any comments, even in disagreement. I sincerely hope I don't lose readers on this one, but hopefully most of you will give me the grace to talk through this, and may even talk through it with me.

Do all (or even any) references to "word of God" refer to our Bible? To answer this question, we need to be aware of a few things. First of all (and I already mentioned some of this in the comments on the previous post), there are generally two Greek words that are often translated as "word" in the New Testament. They are familiar to most, and are logos and rhema. I have often heard it said that logos refers to the written word, while rhema refers to the spoken word. However, this does not hold water in New Testament usage. For example, in Matthew 8:8 the centurion says to Jesus, "Just say the word", which is the Greek word logos. Unless he was asking Jesus to quote from the Old Testament, I think it's rather difficult to say that logos is a written word there.

Getting back to the question at hand, though, if references to "word" in Scripture referred to our Bible, then the fact remains that every usage of that in the Bible would have to be prophetic in nature. In other words, when David says, "Your word is a lamp unto my feet", he would have to be referring to a future "word", including the sentence that he had just penned. Now, I am entirely willing to concede the idea that David could have been speaking prophetically to some extent, but the context of his statements (especially all the many references in Psalm 119) doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, if the meaning is mostly prophetic.

Even beyond David, however, what of all the references to "the word" in the New Testament? When Paul wrote to Timothy and said, "Preach the word", was he talking about expositional preaching? Was he referring to preaching the Bible? Even if he was, what "Bible" did Timothy have? It was only the Old Testament. (Somehow, I have difficulty picturing Timothy preaching expositorally from Paul's letter to him, but that's beside the point!)

As I have noted in previous comments, there is a bit of an anachronism for us to assume that "word" in the Bible refers to our "completed canon". And this is demonstrated even more so by the fact that translations such as the NASB translate both logos and rhema as "message" on more than one occasion. I think the translators understand something. It is not so much the specific books that we have canonized that are the "word of God", but the message that is contained within them.

Now, I realize this flies in the face of many popular evangelical notions about inspiration and inerrancy, but for that I'm not sure I can really apologize. If looking at what the Bible actually says causes us to rethink our popular notions, than by all means, let's rethink them! Many would draw a very clear distinction between saying the Bible is the word of God vs. the Bible contains the word of God. And those who would draw that distinction most likely would say that the former is the "correct" view, while the latter somehow demeans the value of Scripture.

So, since I've brought up the subject of inspiration, let's look at that with relation to the topic at hand. The classic "proof" of inspiration of the Scripture is Paul's statement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16. In this verse, we read that "all Scripture" is inspired by God. This statement is (again, anachronistically) extrapolated out to refer to the sixty-six books we hold in our bound Bibles. But I think we need to be really honest here and look at what Paul actually says. (I realize I'm stepping on toes, but please hear me out!) Let's look at the context in 2 Timothy 3:14-17. I'll use the NASB here:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
When Paul says "all Scripture", to what is he referring? I believe that the best interpretation is to see this as a reference to the "sacred writings" of the previous sentence. And again, what would these sacred writings have been? The Old Testament. This is what Timothy had been studying.

Now, am I arguing against an inspired New Testament? Honestly, no. At least not at this point! But let me say that I don't believe we are completely straightforward in our normal evangelical treatment of this topic. For example, when Paul states to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7:25 that he does not have a command from the Lord, but gives his opinion, we have only two possible interpretations as it relates to the doctrine of inspiration.

  1. Paul really was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but just didn't know it, and so he thought he was giving his opinion.
  2. Paul knew that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but said it was his opinion anyway.
Now, unfortunately, in both of these scenarios, someone is either lying or being manipulative. (Hang with me, folks. I know this is difficult.) If Paul was being inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this statement, and the Holy Spirit told him to write that it was his opinion only, the Holy Spirit is being deceptive. Obviously, I reject this idea immediately! But that leaves the other possible alternative that Paul himself was being deceptive. Unless we consider a third possible alternative: Could it be that, at least in that sentence, Paul really is writing his own opinion and is not under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? I'll leave my horrified readers to think through the implications of that alternative. ;)

Suffice it to say that I don't believe the doctrine of inspiration is completely honest about situations like that one. There also seems to be a distinct difference between Old Testament writers who fully understood they were writing "the word of God" and New Testament authors such as Paul who seem to be fully unaware that they are writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

How does all this relate to the issue at hand? Quite simply that we have to be careful in casually applying 2 Timothy 3:16 to the canon itself. (Please note that I am not saying it is impossible! I just think that we have to be honest about the problems it presents.)

This post is getting lengthy, and most of my regular readers have stopped reading by now and taken any links to my site off their blogs, I'm sure! hehe So let me wrap up by looking at the last of my initial bullet points.

Are we commanded to "study" the Scripture? Is studying the Scripture a way of proving anything to God? Does it make us "approved" in His sight? 2 Timothy 2:15 is the key verse for the AWANA program in so many churches. AWANA stands for "Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed" and their entire program is based on Scripture memory.

Well, I took some time yesterday and today to look at this verse. Once again, I have this annoying feeling that what I've been taught for so many years does not necessarily stand up to scrutiny. You see, nowhere else in the New Testament do the translators of the KJV translate that Greek word (spoudazo) as "study". In fact, that same word appears in the same form (imperative) two other times in the very same letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:9 and 2 Timothy 4:21). And in neither case did the translators use "study". In fact, it would not have made any sense. In both of these other verses, they translated it as "Do thy diligence", presumably a 17th-century way of saying "Be diligent".

So, if that is the case, why would it be any different in 2 Timothy 2:15? To this end, the translators of the NASB chose "Be diligent" as the translation in 2:15. In the chapter 4 case, they used "Make every effort". Same concept. This seems so much more consistent to me, and makes sense. Paul wasn't telling Timothy to try to excel in Scripture memory. (In fact, Timothy probably already had huge portions of the Scripture memorized since he had been taught it from a very early age.) Why would Paul tell someone who has already been diligently studying the Scriptures to "study" those same Scriptures? That seems odd to me. But the idea of being diligent to be an approved workman fits nicely with a lot of what Paul wrote elsewhere (such as his analogy of running the race, etc.) in his letters.

So what does this all mean? I've thrown a lot of information out there, with probably a lot more questions than answers. However, let me sum up a few bullet points of where I'm currently heading in my thinking:

  • Jesus' statement to the Pharisees in John 5:39 shows us the danger of making Scripture the focus of our study as opposed to Jesus Himself. The life does not come through the Scriptures, but rather through the One to Whom the Scriptures point.
  • As Paul mentioned to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15, Scripture is "able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus". In other words, it is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.
  • The "word" that is referenced so often in the New Testament seems much more related to the actual message contained in the Scriptures, not the very Scriptures themselves. And specifically, it is the message of Jesus Christ. To whatever extent we teach or preach (regardless of church system), it seems to me that we must be preaching and teaching the message of Christ. And while it is true that Paul said Scripture is useful for teaching, doctrine, instruction in righteousness, etc., it is the relationship with the living Word, Jesus Himself, and the indwelling Holy Spirit that we are to move toward.
You see, Paul didn't say that Scripture was the only thing, or that it was "sufficient". He said it was "useful" (or "profitable") for these things. I challenge each of my readers to try very hard not to go beyond what the Bible says about itself in formulating our view of the Bible itself.

From that standpoint, I find it ironic that Dan Phillips accused me of being "fascinated and enthralled with the blank spaces in between the lines of Scripture." It would seem that those who elevate Scripture to the point of it being an end in itself (even claiming to have a relationship with the Scriptures) are adding their own thoughts in between the lines of Scripture.

Until next time,

steve :)

Friday, June 23, 2006

What Is the Proper View of Scripture?

This is definitely going to be one of those "thinking out loud" posts. Let me set up the discussion with this information to bring my readers up to speed:

The other day, there was a post on Pyromaniacs entitled How we "do" Christianity, and the reverse. It dealt with a comment the author had come across which said basically that Christianity is not a relationship with a book, but is a relationship with God. Dan Phillips, the author of this particular Pyro post, wrote in conclusion:

So do we have fellowship with writings, or with God?

It's a false dichotomy.

God tells us that we have fellowship with Him by means of the words that He moved men to write.

To the degree that something else, some other method or direction, entralls us -- to that degree, we are no longer "doing" Christianity.
In the comments section that followed, I attempted to try to understand what role the Holy Spirit plays in all of this in the daily life of the believer. I was soundly ravaged by Mr. Phillips for apparently being a TBN-wannabe (TBN as in Trinity Broadcasting Network) fringe heretic who is "fascinated and enthralled with the blank spaces in between the lines of Scripture."

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I fully acknowledge that, in the past, I have been a part of a regular broadcast on TBN, albeit as a keyboard player and not a "theologian". But my appearance as a musician on that network does not, in any way, serve as my endorsement of all the teaching that comes from that network. In fact, I would have to say that, generally speaking, I do not endorse most of what is taught on TBN.

Even while I've been writing this post, Mr. Phillips has jumped in with more sweeping accusations against me, saying that I have demonstrated a "disdain" for the written word of God. Unfortunately, Mr. Phillips mistakes difference with his interpretation of particular verses to be disdain for God's word itself.

Despite all that, I think that this really is a legitimate discussion for us to be having, and in particular I wanted to respond to something written by Mike Young in our discussion there. Mike has definitely taken the level-headed approach in handling my questions, and I started to type a response to him. However, my response got so lengthy that I figured it was better to take it up here. Besides, I would like to get input from my other readers on this topic.

In one of the comments on that lengthy discussion, I wrote:

God does not hide behind a book. He does not limit Himself to only giving us a book.... The ultimate revelation of God was in Jesus. Yes, we learn a lot about Jesus through the Bible, but the goal (by Jesus' own words, as recorded in Scripture) is for us to be "in Him" and for Him to be "in us".

Like it or not, there is a danger of putting the written "Word of God" above the actual, living Word of God, which is Jesus. And if you want to hold to a belief that the only way the Holy Spirit works today is through pointing us back to the Word, I just don't see how you get that from Scripture itself.
Mike wrote the following in response to me (specifically in response to the very last sentence in my quote above):
You really are arguing against scripture, even if you don't think you are. And I'm really not trying to attack you on this, so I hope you'll be patient with my observation....Apart from scripture, how do we know we're in him? Again, 1John dealt with this and instructs us to test such spirits to see whether they're of God. I previously asked how we were to do this. Well, it's through the scriptures. John makes this clear in chapter 5. It was the purpose for even writing the epistle.
Following is the response that I composed to Mike.

Mike, thank you for your response. You and I actually are not very much in disagreement at all. In fact, I think any disagreement between us at this point on this issue may possibly be semantics.

There is one paragraph that I'm not positive I fully understand what you're saying, and so I would like to clarify, if possible:

Apart from scripture, how do we know we're in him? Again, 1John dealt with this and instructs us to test such spirits to see whether they're of God. I previously asked how we were to do this. Well, it's through the scriptures. John makes this clear in chapter 5. It was the purpose for even writing the epistle.
I don't disagree at all that the writing of the epistle was for the purpose of instructing in assurance of eternal life. But his epistle (to my reading -- correct me if I'm missing something else here) does not point merely to the written word. He says in verse 10 of chapter 5 that anyone who believes in the Son of God "has this testimony in himself" (NASB...the NIV says "in his heart"...Greek has just the reflexive pronoun).

Now, I may be way off base here, but it sounds to me a lot like what God talked about in the Old Testament when He said that there was coming a day when He would write His law on our hearts.

Again, this does not in any way negate the written word, because it is through that written word that we are introduced to Jesus (since none of us were alive at that time when He was physically here!), and we have some of His teaching recorded in the written Bible.

But it seems like the thrust of the biblical writers is that the life that comes through Jesus (actually, the life that is Jesus) becomes more than just studying written words on a page. It becomes a life within us. Simply put, the written word is not the end in and of itself, but the means to that end. (And to that extent, you are correct that the bulk of my argumentation has been against an incorrect elevating of the written word. We are in agreement on that.)

Now, I really do understand that this causes grave concern for many. But let me use your own analogy to show my side, too. You said that the KJVO folks unhealthily elevate the written word, specifically the KJV. Fully agreed. And you likewise cautioned against writing off the idea of living by the Scriptures based on their distortion of it. Again, agreed.

But the same holds true for an understanding of an indwelling Holy Spirit. Just because TBN and other "crazymatics" (as another blogger recently termed it) have gone overboard with "thus saith the Lord" should not negate the reality that we are to walk by the Spirit.

Let me explain a bit more what I mean by those words, because I do not believe that walking by the Spirit comprises a 1:1 relationship with simply following the "letter" of the written Word. (That is absolutely and positively a part of it.)

What I have a hunch is being taught in Scripture, and is sort of my "working hypothesis" in this subject (and please note the word "working", because I am not claiming to have all this figured out by any stretch of the imagination) is this: The process in which a believer/disciple of Jesus Christ grows in maturity is one in which the written word forms a foundational aspect to knowing the voice of Jesus and learning what life in the Spirit looks like. But, as a believer matures in their walk, and "practices" (not the best word) walking in the Spirit in their daily living, it seems to me that more and more of their understanding and guidance comes from the Spirit's voice within them, not only the written word.

In other words, when they encounter a situation or a decision or a question, it's not so much, "Well, let me search the Bible and see what God already said about it" as it is a sense in which they are so familiar with what God has already said that they can discern quite readily whether this new situation/decision/question is of God or not.

Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. By that, I don't really think He was merely saying that His sheep would have a correct doctrine of inspiration so that they would trust the written word.

So I open it up to Mike (if he comes over and reads this) or any of my other readers. What, if anything, does Scripture say about its own "sufficiency"? And what role should the Scripture play in the ongoing life of the believer?

Until next time,

steve :)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cherry Cobbler and Simple Church

Last Monday (June 12) was our second wedding anniversary. Two years of being married to God's gracious and wonderful gift to me named Christy. And to celebrate our anniversary, we were blessed enough to have the opportunity to get away to a quiet little cabin for a couple of nights. (I was very happy that our anniversary fell on a Monday this year, which is my only full "day off" from the theater productions I do during the summer. Additionally, since we are currently in production with a show, and not in rehearsals, I was off from 4:30 on Sunday until 7:00 PM Tuesday, so we were able to be away for more than just a day. When we're rehearsing a show, it's 10-6 Tuesday through Sunday, so I would have only had from 6:00 Sunday until 10:00 AM Tuesday. But I digress...)

One of the activities that we had decided to do on our little mini-vacation was to visit Levering Orchard near Ararat, VA. In recent months, we had read a book called Simple Living written by the owners of that orchard, Frank Levering and Wanda Urbanska. Since the orchard was only about a 45-minute drive from our cabin, we took time Monday morning to drive up there and pick sweet cherries.

After climbing tall ladders and picking about 21 pounds of cherries, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and stroll in Mt. Airy, NC, stopped at the grocery store, and then headed back to our cabin. (Yes, there is a connection to simple church coming up in this essay. Bear with me while I enjoy remembering this fun vacation with my wife!)

Back at the cabin, we proceeded to pit a few cups of the cherries and use the other ingredients we had bought at the store to make cherry cobbler for that evening's dessert. That evening, we enjoyed a wonderful marinated london broil cooked on the grill, a delicious salad, and the freshest, yummiest cherry cobbler I can ever recall having in my life. It was so good!

As we ate all of that wonderful dinner and dessert, I began thinking of the alternative. We could just as easily (probably more easily, actually) gone to a nice restaurant somewhere for dinner that night. At that restaurant, we could have had a delicious steak, and perhaps even had some cobbler for dessert. But something about this meal we enjoyed far surpassed dinner at a nice restaurant. And I came to the conclusion that what made this dinner so much greater and more fulfilling was the fact that we had contributed quite a bit to the making of it.

The cherries that we were enjoying in our cobbler had still been on the tree a mere seven or eight hours prior. We had taken the time to climb the ladders, select the cherries on the tree, pick them ourselves, wash them, pit them, mix the other ingredients and bake it. We had put forth the effort to make a cobbler, rather than just eating one that someone else had made for us.

That thought made me realize what it is that makes simple church so much more meaningful and powerful for me. It's the idea of everyone contributing to the "meal" that makes it much better. And when I'm in a situation where someone else has already done all the "cooking" and preparation work for me, the "meal" is not as special. It may be really good, but not as personally meaningful.

Somewhere, once upon a time, I read something similar that I have often shared with other simple church folks. When we gather as a simple church, we usually share some sort of a meal together. And usually it's some form of a "potluck" where each family brings something to contribute to the meal. If only one or two families brought something, there would not be nearly as much food to go around, and it would not be as fulfilling a meal. It works best when each brings something for the group.

Likewise, with the spiritual "meal", if each one brings something to share with the group, there is more "to go around". It is those times together as a simple gathering of believers, when several are able to share, that I find the most fulfilling meals. And it is those meals when I am able to contribute something myself (obviously, it must be assumed here that I am talking about contribution under the guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit) that I experience the most from the meal.

I haven't written this analogy in the most clear and elegant way, but I hope the metaphor at least comes across.

Until next time,

steve :)

Monday, June 05, 2006

1 Corinthians 14:26 -- Descriptive or Prescriptive?

In a recent post on Spunky Homeschool's blog, the subject of house church came up. The comments section (viewable here) sparked some interesting discussion (still in progress) between myself and several other readers. Spunky gave me permission to "hijack" her blog comments for the discussion, for which I'm grateful. It's a subject I love talking about.

However, as I was talking in that discussion about biblical accounts of New Testament church activities being descriptive or prescriptive, a question came to my mind that I have not allowed myself to fully deal with in the past couple of years. It's one of those "am I really being honest with the text here" questions, and I thought I would throw it out here for discussion.

Many times in discussing principles related to simple church, I reference 1 Corinthians 14:26. Now, please understand that my beliefs about simple church do not all hinge on this one verse, so it's not a "make or break" issue for me. Quite honestly, open participatory meetings are described throughout the rest of 1 Corinthians 14. However, I want to be honest in my dealing with this particular verse.

Let me quote the verse here in various translations so that we can get a feel for it, and then I'll ask my question:

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (NIV)

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation Let all things be done for edification. (NASB)

So here's what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (The Message)

What then, brethren, is [the right course]? When you meet together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a disclosure of special knowledge or information, an utterance in a [strange] tongue, or an interpretation of it. [But] let everything be constructive and edifying and for the good of all. (Amplified)

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (KJV)

Well, my brothers and sisters, let's summarize what I am saying. When you meet, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in an unknown language, while another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must be useful to all and build them up in the Lord. (NLT)

Now, my question relates to the part where Paul says something to the effect of "When you come together...." Is this statement a description by Paul of what was currently happening in Corinth? Or is it what he is telling them should happen when they gather? In other words, were the Corinthians overemphasizing the idea that everyone could participate? Or was Paul saying that everyone should participate? Is it descriptive or is it prescriptive?

In favor of it being descriptive, there is a similar use of the "when you come together" phrase in this same letter. That is in 1 Corinthians 11, specifically verses 18 and 20. (It also appears in verse 33, but that actually falls under the next idea of being prescriptive, so hold that thought.) In 11:18,20 it is obvious that Paul is describing their current condition. In fact, he even says explicitly in verse 18 that he has received word to this effect ("when you come together...I hear..."). So, this would lend possibility to the idea that Paul is describing a current situation. In this case, he might be issuing a correction to them when he says, "Let all things be done for edification."

On the flip side, however, we have a prescriptive use of this phrase in 11:33 where Paul is correcting the problem identified in 11:18,20. In this interpretation, then, 14:26 would be seen as prescriptive. Additionally, we have the word "whenever" in 14:26, which does not exist in any of the uses in chapter 11. The uses in chapter 11 (from my very limited remembrance of Greek) carry the idea of "coming together...", whereas 14:26 is more of a "whenever you do come together..." idea.

An additional aspect of 14:26 which might possibly lend itself to understanding is the way the verse starts. Paul says, "What is the outcome then, brethren?" In other words, this verse ties in very much with what Paul had just discussed. In the context immediately preceding, Paul has discussed tongues and prophecy very specifically. And in the verses following 26, he is again going to speak about tongues and prophecy very specifically. Prior to verse 26, he uses the phrases "if all speak in tongues" (14:23) and "if all prophesy" (14:24). Verse 26 then provides a contrast very much in keeping with his discourse on the gifts in chapter 12. It is a description of the varied gifts that should all be exercised for the edification of the body.

I'm sort of answering my own question, but I want to leave it at that, and ask for your thoughts in return. Do you think Paul is describing (in 14:26) a current situation in Corinth that needed correction? Or is he prescribing for them the correct approach that should be taken? (This latter viewpoint would be consistent with most of the translations I quoted above. Not all the translations are very clear grammatically, though, as to the intended interpretation.)

Until next time,

steve :)

Friday, June 02, 2006

Prayer Update

Thank you to all who prayed. I am writing this update tonight with incredible joy and gratefulness. The meeting that Christy had today with her superiors turned out to be a huge relief. Truth prevailed, and they saw these accusations for what they were: retaliation. (To be fair, they didn't actually use that word, but the manner in which they chose to deal with it shows that they understood that's what it was.) They went over each accusation with Christy and gave her a chance to respond to each one. Christy was able to tell them which ones were lies and which ones were innaccurate representations of actual events.

Christy is understandably worn out from all of this, and I'm sure it will take a while for the emotions of this week to settle down. And I'm sure some of the words of the accusations will continue to bounce around in her mind for a while, but I am praying that God will cause these memories to fade very quickly.

Thanks again to all who prayed. It is greatly appreciated!

steve :)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Please Pray for my Wife

I don't normally post these kinds of personal things on this particular blog, but this is way too important to me to not post it here tonight. My wife needs a lot of prayer right now.  She is just finishing up her teaching year in the public school before we start homeschooling our 9th grade son this fall (he just finished 8th grade today).  She still has two more days of teacher work days to go.

These last couple of weeks have been extremely hard on her, because she had to deal with a situation with one of her co-workers.  Unfortunately, this co-worker has retaliated against her, and has filed some very serious allegations against Christy with their school and district administration.  Most of the charges are outright lies, and some are misrepresentations of actual events.  None of the charges are warranted.  However, it has caused deep hurt for my wife as she has had to face these allegations.

Tomorrow, she is to meet with her principal, and two other administrators in response to all of this.  We have no idea how they will handle these allegations, or if there will be any repercussions from them.

Please pray for 1) truth to be revealed, 2) for Christy to remain peaceful and calm in the face of false allegations, and 3) for God to be glorified.  Some of these allegations even revolve around Christy's expression of her faith in front of her co-workers, so there is an actual element of spiritual persecution to all of this (i.e., suffering for her faith in Christ).

I'm very proud of my wife for her testimony and faith, and it hurts me deeply to see her hurting like this.  Please pray for her, and maybe drop a note on her blog to let her know you are praying.  I (or she) will try to post an update soon to let you know how this all turns out.

Thank you very much.