A First Century Interpretation Of The New Testament Has To Proceed A 21st Century Application
A recent Sunday was another reminder of our present day plight. The speaker was obviously genuine, but the clarity of scripture was missing. I would say, God’s words were secondary to the sermon. I am quite sure that he did not necessarily think that he was preaching in this way, but he was. His talk was full of stories, humor, and, “street talk,” but the chosen passage was “skimmed” rather than faithfully taught.
In theological terms, we are not a generation of good and faithful exegetes. We run too quickly to a “relevant” application. Leaving the actual contextual meaning of the passage we have chosen, almost untouched.
Often and ultimately, “acceptable” things are concluded. By that I mean that heresy is not necessarily the result of the bad, or better said, weak, interpretation of what is actually said, and, what it meant to the speakers and hears of the day in which it was written.
The fact that the conclusions are “acceptable” only means that what is said can probably be found somewhere in the Bible. Of course, too often weak interpretation does yield applications that are not only not in the Bible, they are antagonistic to the Bible. They have crossed the line into heresy.
Among the many concerns that we should have for the present challenge, mine are at least two.
First, if we really believe in the priesthood of the believer, then treating scripture in a way that more adequately demonstrates it’s straightforwardness, becomes the foundation upon which a believer can go home and “do the same” with God and His word throughout the week. They can learn to discipline their lives listening to the Holy Spirit giving them insight, wisdom and obedience in their daily walk with the Heavenly Father.
And, all of this is based upon an inspired, revealed and understandable word from God, that every follower of Jesus can and must access daily. We simply say to those who listen to us regularly, do as I do!
If what we do is so full of incomplete or non existent faithful interpretation of what is actually written, then we ought not be surprised at all about the results in the lives of confessing believers. If we are in too much of a hurry to find “relevant,” 21st applications, with little regard to the passage we say we are teaching, then we ought not be surprised that culture overwhelms those for which we have been given responsibility. They never develop the God directed ability and power to distinguish good from evil.
If they are believers at all, their lives still look like the rebellion and brokenness from which they were supposedly rescued. Is this why James warns us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1
My second great concern continues from this last thought. We have become a generation of biblically illiterate people. As a result, cultural corruptions have creeped into our stated convictions and our lives. I am not referring to the growth process that all believers go through, and the ups and downs that come with this growth.
I refer to blatant lifestyle contradiction to the clear teaching of scripture. As one recent study about the teaching of pastors, and the convictions of our people has demonstrated: syncretism has overwhelmed us. Syncretism is in short, “the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.” (https://www.arizonachristian.edu/2022/05/12/shocking-lack-of-biblical-worldview-among-american-pastors/)
We must ask, where does this “shocking” realty come from? At the very least, it’s foundation stems from weak biblical teaching from our leaders. In an effort to attract and keep people coming, we bend the truth of scripture bit by bit until nothing is left of the transformational power in the word of God as it was originally given.
What to do about it? I am not sure. It is not as if we are without lots of training schools, schemes and seminars. The availability of training resources does not seem to have translated into measurable actions on the part of leaders and followers.
I would like to think that we could easily repent in the face of such an alarming moment. But, arrogance is so fundamental to our original sin that, repenting and seeking a different posture before God and people is always most difficult.
I have been both intrigued and alarmed that so many leaders seem to think that their role in the local church is to be “right.” Let that idea fester long enough in their lives and they will become dangerous in managing the influence that does indeed come with the leadership role.
The fortitude to say “no!” to the personal and internal drive to “succeed,” and the demand on the behalf of so many confessing Christians, to be “interesting, ie “relevant,” will not be easy.
History from other nations who have walked this road before us, is not encouraging in this regard. To say nothing of the risk of being “canceled” that we face in ever increasing doses.
But, there are three things that could help:
Availability on the behalf of older and proven leaders to give up position and invest large amounts of time informally mentoring younger leaders
Embracing humility on the behalf of younger leaders. My experience tells me that it is safer to take the posture of a learner, even into your 40’s.
Accept and work with the reduced receptivity to the Gospel that dominates our western nations. Do the work of the Church in regards to the Gospel in the world and let the Holy Sprit take care of the results.