CHURCH TRAMPS Thursday, Nov 20 2014 

Our readers probably thought I had run out of subjects to fire people up. Actually, there is still a long list of these waiting to be tackled. This subject is not new, and I found a statement by J.C. Ryle that makes the point for this article. “There is an amazing ignorance of scripture among many and a consequent want of established, solid religion (theology). In no other way can I account for the ease with which people are, like children, ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine’. (Ephesians 4:14) Because of this plague of biblical ignorance, people are drawn quickly into all kinds of error.” Bishop Ryle goes on to speak to the impact of this ignorance: “There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true.” (Holiness: Its Nature and Hindrances)

Ryle never intended his words to be prophetic, but they do aptly describe that situation in which we find ourselves mired. In years gone by, there were large groups of people who traveled from church to church in search of something different. They usually did not last long at any one place; their heads were soon turned to something new. They were often referred to as “church tramps”. Not everyone had a need for that kind of novelty, and many families remained a part of their local church as their generations passed on. These people were strengthened by strong pulpits and regular meaningful Bible studies. They put down their roots and “rolled with the punches”.

THE WAY IT IS TODAY

The “tramp syndrome” has a new face today. The people moving from church to church are more like a parade. The word spreads like wildfire that there is a new show in town, a better form of entertainment. The problem is fed by the mega-church mentality. After all, it is so easy to move on; who knows, and who even cares when you are gone? This syndrome demonstrates a terrible lack of integrity, because so many churches today have camouflaged their names so as to hide doctrinal error. That is patently dishonest. Folks who are ignorant of a theology that is biblical slide in and out of those churches, carrying more and more error with them.

The strange thing is that anyone who knows the scriptures and wants to participate in God’s holiness are in big trouble if they attempt to point these things out. They are tagged as “unloving troublemakers”, while the real villains are those who profit from their ignorance. Many young, unlearned men have been caught in this flood. They are sure that if they follow the religious gurus, the churches they lead will grow and become well-known. Most of the time, however, these men end up being tools of their own destruction. They have an ungodly disdain for the history of a church, its heritage, and its doctrinal standard and instead become immersed in their own trickery and smitten with the god of change. Many of these wayward ministries end up closing, and others wither on a long road to a certain death.

GET TO THE POINT

Over the past year, I have observed this tragedy from a personal point of view. Looking back over fifty-four years of ministry and thirty-seven as a senior pastor, we tried to maximize learning that would help people to know the scripture. Everyone knows something about the Bible, but that is not the same thing as actually knowing the Bible. Knowing Bible stories or narrative is good, but one needs to know the God of the Bible and the meaning of the revelation that God has given us. To accomplish this we used, in the main, an expository pulpit to study books of the Bible verse by verse. In addition to the Sunday school with some excellent teachers, there were all kinds of Bible studies for every level. We opened a Bible institute and created a strong Christian school with six years of intensive Bible study. Then there were Bible-reading projects, several radio programs, and Bible conferences – all to study the scriptures. But it seems that I failed.

How could it be that so many people who had the opportunity to feed on the Word through all those years could have missed the point or walked away from the basic truths they had received? Many of them have moved on to churches where doctrinal error is at the heart of what they believe. Some have even gone where cultic teaching is dispensed (on the sly), but those people don’t appear to have a clue.

I know all the pat answers. Of course they are responsible for their own choices, but if they had the information and if they chose to believe it, how could they tolerate blatant abuse of the scriptures? Perhaps it is no longer important, or the entertainment atmosphere has dulled their senses. It could be that many individuals were not saved to begin with, since that is a widespread problem in all churches.

While I grieve at the embracing of doctrinal error by those who have fallen, I must admit that my heart has been encouraged by those who did recognize a theology that is biblical. These folks practiced holiness and walked away from nonsense and the open teaching of error. They were wise enough to catch the undertone of heretical teaching, but then found it extremely difficult to find a place where the Bible is not taught as a sort of “fill-in-the-blanks” book.

THE ANSWER

While the questions may be many, the one answer is still the same: there is no substitute for immersing oneself in the Holy Book. Pastors must find more ways to get people into the Book. True believers cannot be satisfied with a few minutes of real Bible content in their Sunday activities. There must be a constant hunger for truth, because this alone will sound the alarm when error is taught.

SINGING LIES Tuesday, Oct 21 2014 

The underlying purpose of Shepherd’s Staff is to create discussion. By choosing controversial subjects, we often manage to “tick off” some segment of our readers. That is done on purpose, since it is at the heart of what we do and also because it gets people’s attention. This issue is bound to get just about everyone thinking, because it has to do with the lyrics of music used in churches today.

Our concern for truth in music is not confined to what is often called “contemporary” music. One only has to pick up a well-worn old hymnal to find endless illustrations of non-truth in some of the lyrics. An error, no matter how old, is still an error. While some statements might be borderline, there are those that are downright offensive to scripture. Some of this has to do with ignorance on the part of the writer, while others are a deliberate repetition of doctrinal error held by religious groups or movements.

Old standard hymns have often reflected a brand of universalism. Many current items of music sound like a gathering of proof texts thrown into a blender, in that they do not represent the clear statements of scripture. Some of the old, as well as the new, are so egregious in theological error that they approach heresy. Music is often chosen just because we like it, when it’s “foot stompin’ fun” or rises from a current rock style. In pleasing ourselves, however, we may fail to please God. Frankly, God is not pleased when we are singing lies and then daring to call it worship.

SPLITTING HAIRS

The serious Bible student will pick up on doctrinal error, even in music. People who are bent on having their own way and accommodating the flesh argue “What’s the big deal, anyway?” The big deal is that God has condemned false witness, lies, and the doctrines of man and devils.

Does it really matter why people write and sing lies? Many song writers don’t have the slightest idea about what God has clearly said on certain subjects. If it sounds good and feels good, it has got to be good. Ignorance is a terrible thing, but ignorance of God’s Word could be eternally fatal. The majority of worship leaders – past and present – do not have enough theological understanding to know the difference. They often plead that they carefully go over lyrics to make sure they agree with the Bible. The question is, how can you candle music by the Bible when you know so little of the Bible?

The underlying problem here is that church members in this day and age seem to know less and less about what God has said. The translation issue is one of the reasons. Another is dependence on elite scholars for theological answers. Those who tout excellence in grammatical interpretation can’t agree, and they leave us wondering if anyone could possibly know what God has said. Thankfully, every believer can know what is the clear teaching of God’s Word, but many are too lazy to expend the energy necessary to do so.

EXAMPLES OF SINGING LIES

You are keenly aware that I avoid using names in this publication, because the minute I do, those who worship that person will stop reading. In this situation, however, a few theological subjects may be able to put us to shame in our lust for entertainment when we offend God’s Word. The sloppy use of the word “kingdom” is high on the list. It is sung with boring repetition and constantly thrown into conversations. What kingdom are you talking or singing about? Even an elementary student would know that there is more than one. A Bible student might know that there is the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Darkness, the Old Testament Theocratic Kingdom, and even The Millennial, Messianic, Davidic Kingdom, just to begin with. So, which kingdom are you talking about? You say it doesn’t matter? It may not to you, but it does matter to God when we sing lies. You say that many good people disagree. The Bible isn’t about good people; it is about a good God. The liberal crowd used to talk about “growing” or “building” the kingdom or “enhancing” the kingdom. What kind of arrogance is that? God is building His own Kingdom, and He neither needs nor wants your help. I’m sure you get the point.

The things that are missing from “misunderstood” worship are just as dangerous. When was the last time you heard a song, hymn, or chorus that clearly taught the any-moment return of Christ for His church, the Blessed Hope? Erroneous prophecy provides a boatload of lyrics, and so much of it is error. If it isn’t what the text clearly states, then it is error and a lie.

WHY WOULD YOU ARGUE FOR LIES?

You don’t have to listen to me; I know that lies are popular and are well hidden in the skin of a truth. The Bible is not a dart board, and you don’t get to create your own truth. The Bible has nothing but truth in it; we don’t have the luxury of private interpretation. Yes, I read the article last week, even if you didn’t. If we are not careful about the plain, clear statements of the Bible, how could anyone believe what we have to say about any part of it?

It seems to me that each of us needs to back up and ask, “Am I actually singing a lie?” “Does it matter to me?” “Does it matter to God?” My wife and I just returned from several months on the road. I could not count the times when, in various churches, I simply stopped singing and thought, “Am I the only one in this room who realizes that we are singing lies?” All I ask is that you think, and don’t run from the obvious.

WHAT IS CONGREGATIONALISM? Friday, Sep 12 2014 

God blesses only what He orders. For a local church that desires peace, tranquility, love, and effectiveness, this is no light matter. For several years I served as moderator for a statewide fellowship, and it seemed as if at any one time there were only a handful of churches that experienced the kind of peace that God planned for them. For much of the time, these churches were on a pendulum between anarchy and tyranny. I outline this issue in my book The Weeping Church, now published by Faithful Life Publishers in North Fort Myers, Florida. The book has been in constant publication for over 35 years and sets the bar for dealing with the crisis in church polity.

The purpose of Shepherd’s Staff is to create discussion in key areas. Most of these areas appear to be too sensitive for others to handle. I have dear friends who do us a wonderful service by providing devotional material and subjects for application. My concern is for a theology that is biblical, one that will let the Bible speak for itself. We get that truth by asking questions of the text. The center of this particular effort has to rest on the one biblical hermeneutic. When people ignore this system for the use of language, it is impossible to come up with a right answer. This is the problem with human definitions of congregationalism. Human systems are the result of ignoring the one biblical hermeneutic or misusing the rules that God has provided for us.

DEALNG WITH HUMAN INVENTIONS

What some people have done is to use a partial hermeneutic to invent their definition, which in turn allows them to insert personal or collective ideas into the text. The major problem with these additions to the text includes the insertion of their view of the culture or the current government under which they have lived. It would be one thing to just admit that they added it to the text; it is another and more serious matter to force the text to support a specific cultural view.

Admittedly, the Bible is used in their conclusions, and that is the problem. The Bible is used rather than allowing the Bible to use us in the pursuit of truth. The original languages are used as well, but it ends up being a grammatical pretzel rather than biblical principle. As in many doctrinal inventions, the process is meant to “complicate to confuse”. Our task is to simplify to clarify, which is why God has given us some effective tools to test theological inventions. I would remind you that the Bible was not written for scholars; it was written for the common man and woman.

THE TOOLS THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US

The Weeping Church details the many errors I have referred to, and you can read it for that information. In this article, I want to focus on some of those simple things God has given us to shine a light on error. You can compare your personal view of polity and congregationalism with those tools. Let me warn you that this is where an individual will discover his/her own system of interpretation. Is your polity system a monarchy, a dictatorship, a republic, a democracy, or a form of socialism? Is it papal, Episcopal, Presbyterian, congregational, or a theocracy? You just might be surprised!

The Body of Christ is the heavenly church, and it includes all those who have been redeemed, from Pentecost to the Rapture. Entry to this heavenly congregation is through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (I Cor. 12:13) This heavenly truth is pictured on earth through the local church. The local church is a congregation, a body. God illustrates the heavenly truth through an earthly body. Since baptism is a local church ordinance, entrance to the local church is by water baptism. The earthly body is not perfect, and there may be unsaved people in the local congregation. The desire of Christ is that we emulate the heavenly body as well as we are able. A disjointed body is painful, and this often happens when a particular body does not pay heed to the things that provide good health.

God is good and has given us a way to understand how the local church should function. Good health, joy, peace, and comfort rest in understanding how God intended for the body to function. The body has a local resident head; we all should easily understand how that works, how it makes decisions and implements them. This collection of body members, or congregation, illustrates for us how the local church should function, make decisions, and stay healthy.

So how does your church government stand up to God’s clear illustration of the body? I know we are tempted to insert our own system into this, so be very careful.

Jesus Christ is clearly identified as the Shepherd of the heavenly congregation, the flock. This heavenly truth is best displayed on earth with the local church. It is a flock with a local under-shepherd, a pastor who is appointed by Christ. The function, decision making, good health, and safe setting are simply displayed in this humble illustration. God knew we could understand this. He also knew we wouldn’t like it and would insert anything we could, including our cultural context, so we could have it our way.

There is more – for instance, the church as a family. That one is so simple that it is embarrassing that anyone would even try to corrupt it! So how does your church government compare to the simple illustrations that God has given us? It is by this simplicity that we can discover if the elite has been pulling our leg about congregationalism. We both really know why they don’t like it, and that is because it reveals the human system of hermeneutics that they use.

THROW DOWN YOUR ARMS Monday, Aug 11 2014 

On the morning of April 19, 1775, British troops marched into Lexington, Massachusetts. They were met by a small group of patriots on the village green. The minutemen were armed and ready to protect their homes and families. While it is true that their guns were used for hunting food and for protection, they also kept weapons handy in case they had to stop tyranny in its tracks. That is why they could not, and would not obey the command to throw down their arms.

It is not up to me to do your research for you. I have done a more than adequate amount to be able to tell you that the following is reliable and has a common thread among those who possess spiritual insight. After the British had sent a volley or more of shot into those good men, eight of them lay dead, with others wounded. Some of them were shot in the back, since their own leader had ordered them to disperse.

THE REST OF THE STORY

Almost all the dead and wounded were members of the church, and their pastor, Jonas Clark, had stood with them in the midst of the brief conflict. Caleb Harrington was shot dead on the steps of the church. He was going back into the meeting house to get more powder, since that is where it was stored. The primary edifice on the green was the church building, so the fight had taken place in front of the church. Clark had repeatedly warned his flock about the coming danger to their freedom and liberty from the tyranny they faced. His own diary is a record of what took place in the pulpits and other small communities as well as his own.

In 1864, J. T. Headley wrote of the broad involvement of clergy and believers in the events that lead to the Revolution. His book was entitled The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution. The book was first published by Charles Scribner of New York. Headley identified a long list of pastors who personally and publicly opposed the tyranny of the king. They fully understood the responsibility of the believer to obey constituted authority as God’s rule, but they also understood that life, liberty, and freedom were gifts from God.

The involvement of the clergy in energizing the coming conflict did not include the loyalists of the Church of England who were, by duty of the church, bound to the king. The Quakers were pacifists and therefore opposed any fighting. There were others who opposed the coming conflict, but the record indicates that the number of these dissenters was smaller. The Colonial army was made up of local militias; and since the pastor was often the only professional in town, in many cases he led the men of his parish into battle. Like it or not, these are the general facts behind that great event known as the American Revolution.

DID THESE MEN SIN?

I will let you do your own study on the above. There are hundreds of books on the subject. There are some who feel that their action had been wrong and that the patriots sinned in what they did. Often these individuals fail to fully study the wrongful actions of the king which brought this separation. There are others who have gone to the scriptures to demonstrate that the separatists were wrong. What I have found, however, is that in almost every case these writers have limited their view to a few proof texts without reflecting on the whole of this teaching.

Any serious student of this issue will want to read Headley’s book. It is now published as the Forgotten Heroes of Liberty by Solid Ground Christian Books of Birmingham, AL.

The current issue of the World Magazine, published in Ashville, North Carolina, has an article worth your reading. Rod D. Martin writes “Was the American Revolution sinful”? Not only does he cite the Bible texts where the legitimate authority must be obeyed, but he is careful to look at the scriptures that deal with exceptions. No thinking person could believe that all laws made by temporal authority are to be obeyed. For instance, you would not obey a law that said your wife must abort a baby if she already had two children. Martin also deals with the issue of constituted authority and what happens when authority breaks its covenant with the people.

Finally, there is the continuing debate over the doctrine of the “right of revolution” when constituted authority is replaced by tyranny. I leave you on your own with this one.

THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

My own doctoral dissertation was abridged and printed some years ago. It has recently been republished by Faithful Life Publishers of North Fort Myers, FL, under the title The Coming Conflict. This is the heart of the issue. What does the entire Bible teach about this subject? While all the records of history may only provide some of the facts, the Bible is crystal clear on the relationship between the church and state. This is not a political issue; it is a theological issue, so secular views have to take a back seat.

Now our nation stands on the verge of an internal conflict. Tyranny rules the administration, the courts, and public opinion. The unlearned on the right tend to be too quick to respond. The academic community has rewritten the rules. The left has given credence and support to those who want biblical Christianity removed from the fabric of our country. Where does that leave you? I suggest you read, study, pray, and get ready to obey God.

WHERE DOES ERROR COME FROM? Tuesday, Jul 8 2014 

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (II Timothy 4:3,4)

One does not have to struggle to discover that doctrinal error often rises from the unread and unlearned. It always comes from the hearts of men and women who simply make up doctrine as they go. The cults serve up an unhealthy diet consisting of the doctrine of devils, and they are persistent in their task of blinding the eyes of men. It really doesn’t matter what this crowd of false teachers dreams up; it is all the same, and their evil teaching is condemned by God.

Thus, when moderate evangelicals give credence to these cults, making them acceptable evangelicals, we are left wondering why. It is often the intellectual scholars who laud these strange pronouncements that turn a blind eye to doctrinal error. This observation, then, leads us to a serious consideration: how is it that these scholars are comfortable with error that often damns men’s souls?

TIRED OLD ACCUSATIONS

When error, however, is clearly assigned to the intellectual crowd, people who know better are often quick to call others “anti-intellectual”. This is an old liberal trick, and it doesn’t work with thinking people. Anyone who knows anything about my fifty-four years in ministry can tell you that for most of my life I’ve been involved in education. Learning is very important, and people who are able should go as far as they can on the education ladder. We should never stop learning; study should be a way of life.

I am not against intellect or serious study. It is also wise for a person to pursue a single discipline and to follow it as far as possible. No one can be an expert in every discipline, but we need to be as broad in our understanding as is possible. You will no doubt read materials that leave you with the impression that the writer has a full grasp of everything; that is a serious mistake.

ERROR THAT FLOWS FROM THE ELITE

Like it or not, much of the theological error being spread abroad does not come from the simple-minded, unread, and unlearned. You would think that the more knowledge one has, the more likely that person would be to maintain a theology that is biblical. That, however, is not the case. It appears that the higher a student climbs on the academic ladder, the greater the danger. Not all of this is deliberate, but intellectual pride can be a terrible thing. It seems to provide a license for error on the part of the scholar.

Recently I jotted down a list of ten theological errors that are currently floating around, many of which are being disseminated by some popular theological gurus. I honestly didn’t fix the list, but every one of them has been sourced or popularized by well-known men who we would recognize as being scholars. It is clearly evident that scholars can be, and are, wrong occasionally – and sometimes frequently. That is not to say that everything they teach is wrong, because “diamonds come from dirt”.

A TRAGIC FALLOUT

I travel a lot and read as much as I can, and my email box is full most mornings. My soul is grieved at the creation and dissemination of theological error, but that is only the beginning; the real tragedy is in seeing how blind people so often have become. You can almost tell who and what people read by the error they spout.

We all need to read broadly, and should even include authors who have proven they can popularize erroneous doctrine. The question is, why are not the readers asking the right questions? It is imperative that the reader be able tell when his theological leg is being pulled. Young men are most often caught in the web of intellectualism simply because they think they know more than they actually do. It is a heady thing to be able to discuss some of the technical positions being spread abroad. It is a terrible thing not to be able to recognize when a teaching has departed from the authority of scripture.

I confess that, when I was a young student and preacher, pride took the lead in my following error. At the same time, I will be forever grateful for godly men who sounded the warning that allowed me to focus on the Book of God rather than the books of men. Just because someone is well-known or has churned out many publications does not mean that what he says is correct. We need to be like the Bereans of old who “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so”. (Acts 17:11)

Read the writings of men. They offer great questions, but not always the right answers. Read with one eye to the works of men and both eyes solidly on the Word of God. The elite in theology are not necessarily the authority. If they are offering you “false teaching”, they may well be false teachers – wolves in shepherds’ garb, as it were. Error can come from any source, and scholars and intellectuals are no exception. Don’t let people make this a personality issue; stay with ideas so you will not be hindered by the cloak of the elite.

Wednesday, Jun 25 2014 

FACING THE FUTURE

Our nation is in big trouble. Every area of life has been affected. Nothing has escaped the impact of humanistic socialism with this tidal wave of decay and destruction. Our education system has been a major tool in turning the culture to atheism, and the economy has fallen so deeply into debt that the average person cannot even begin to perceive the danger. Our government has left the rule of law for the whim of the individual, and the flawed courts leave little hope for even the law-abiding citizen. Moral standards have sunk lower than those of Sodom and Gomorrah. Like it or not, this nation stands on the verge of civil war if something isn’t done soon to rein in the lawlessness of our high national leaders.

WAIT JUST A MINUTE…

Is it really that bad? It is probably even worse, because we haven’t yet mentioned the rapid rise of Islam and the daily growth of hate speech and anger toward true Christianity. Now that I have your attention, let me take a guess at your response to such strong language. There are three possible responses: one would come from the optimist, another from the pessimist, and a third from the realist.

The optimist would say “It’s not that bad; things are pretty much like they have always been. There are some good things, and others are getting better”. That is actually denial, apathy, or ignorance; and it doesn’t respect reality at all. Some believers would say “It really doesn’t matter; God is in charge, and everything will come out all right in the end”. Their thinking is that such things are not our responsibility, that all we need do is to love people and share the gospel. The problem with that view is that it is derived from only a small part of scripture. The Bible’s answers and important truths are always supported by the whole of Bible truth, not just a part.

The pessimist would wail “All is lost; there’s no sense in trying. I knew it would all fall apart, so what’s the use, anyway?” Or what is even worse is when the pessimist is so filled with fear and an absence of hope that he decides he will solve the problem himself, and consequently we end up with another mass shooting. There are probably a lot more people in our society who hold this view than you could ever imagine. This part of our culture is a time bomb ready to go off because they really think that they, along with their friends, can fix it. The problem with this one is that it is based on philosophy, just as is the optimist’s view.

The realist is the person who sees the problems and seeks to understand both the problems and the reasons behind them. Liberalism is not reality, but rather a dream world. The liberals don’t understand the problem and have no idea how to fix anything. This movement tends to create problems and then blame them on someone else. The realist knows that there are some good things going on. He knows that God is in charge and that in the end true believers will have already won. He knows that love and the gospel are powerful elements of change. He knows that God is the only answer to all the evils in this society, and he seeks to know the whole counsel of God, not just a part that relieves him of responsibility. Unlike the optimist, he is willing to accept his assignment from God and His Word and to participate in the answers God has provided. He is not a coward, nor is he willing to hide truth under a bushel of excuses.

GOD’S ANSWER FOR THE REALIST

Love for the lost and the glorious gospel of grace are important, and they carry mountains of truth that God intended for us to communicate in the midst of a pagan culture. Some prefer silence, but silence isn’t always golden; sometimes it is just plain yellow!

The whole of scripture is clear: God has given us truth, and it is our obligation to clearly repeat that truth, because it is truth that will set one free. One cannot be an obedient believer and stay quiet where God has spoken on an issue. We want sinners to love God, but they hated the Savior and He warned us that they would hate us as well. God has spoken on the issues of abortion, infanticide, sodomy, etc. He has not been quiet, and He does not expect his servants to be silent. It is our sovereign God who decides what we are to speak about, and not temporary earthly leaders. That means we cannot abandon the public forum where God has spoken.

AN ILLUSTRATION

In my book, The Coming Conflict, published by Faithful Life Press, I point out that The Separation of Church and State is not a political issue; it is a biblical issue. What God has said in His word about the relationship between temporal government and the church is the final word. This is also true of the believer and temporal government. While our Baptist brothers claim this as a distinctive, there is little understanding of what the Bible teaches in this area. That lack of understanding is going to bite us very soon.

Our country is about to come apart, and most churches have no idea what should be the response of the church and the average believer. We have our pat philosophical responses, but they are empty. Let me whet your appetite. How many details do you know about the opening of the American Revolution? Do you know what part pastors and the churches played? Do you know where the first battle took place, where the munitions were stored, or who was the first casualty of the battle? Do you know that there are philosophers who believe that Americans were wrong to fight for freedom? (Watch out for their theology!) Are you familiar with the doctrine of “the right of revolution”? No wonder there are so few realists. My task is only to make you think.

WHAT IS TRUTH? (Part 3) Tuesday, Apr 29 2014 

This is the third article in a series on hermeneutics that demonstrates why the one biblical hermeneutic exposes errors of interpretation. I have been reading a number of wide-ranging articles particularly dealing with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the church, and church polity. Many of them illustrate how easy it is to insert personal presuppositions into a text. A partial hermeneutic is often responsible for this. Ignoring texts that clarify or failing to use grammar, context, or the historical setting of the text is a sure formula for theological disaster.

God, the author, in His wisdom gave the average believer a clear way to understand what He intended to convey in the text. The unlearned person, as well as the intellectual, has no trouble finding ways to corrupt the scripture. Sometimes this is done by adding to the text and other times by taking away from it. Every error you can think of has violated either some part of or the entire single biblical hermeneutic. Pride would make us think that our positions are pure and without flaw, but that is not true. Baptists are proud of their doctrinal distinctives, but few are able to give explanation for them without violating the text. Much of what we have adopted has come from culture or history and is only a reaction to the wrong interpretation others have used to build their error. That is not to say there is no truth in what they propose, but we tend to be selective in our use of scripture in order to build our own tower of Babel.

AN EXAMPLE

If I have any area of expertise at all, it is in the doctrine of the church and particularly church polity. Not a single one of us is infallible, and that is why we need to be willing to honestly challenge each other’s conclusions. I am amazed at how blatantly our own crowd will often make a “grammatical pretzel” out of the text, twisting it in an effort to insert a cultural polity into their position. God has given us clear tools to define congregational government, but those have to be ignored to arrive at a political structure. One reason this is done is in reaction to error. It is right to oppose the idea of the pastor’s acting as a despot or dictator, but the answer to this problem is to let the text speak. The interpreter does not have to destroy the office of the bishop/elder/ pastor/shepherd to deal with that error. To relegate the office of pastor to one of a mere lackey who only serves as an example is desperately misguided. This is often done by tossing proof texts around and ignoring all the teaching on the subject. In the text, the whole of the teaching about this office gives a powerful picture of the function of a true under-shepherd.

Sometimes the office of pastor has been developed in response to cruel and despicable treatment of pastors by those who often are goats, and not sheep. Even this sinful practice does not give us leave to create an unbiblical style of pastoring. Both of these described errors rest on the ignoring of the context and the historical setting of the text. God gave us simple examples so we couldn’t possible miss what He wanted our polity to be. Can you imagine a shepherd who led only by his example? The answer is so elementary that even a child could tell you what sheep and shepherds do.

EXTREMES

We have already noted that a study of grammar, language, and words is the first task of the interpreter. Few believers are trained grammarians, but that does not mean we cannot know what the text says. The problem with language experts is that they too often tend not to observe their limitations. Let me say again that when we have done our best with the language, words, and meaning in the text, we are still left with a question; an accurate conclusion needs to be tested by a study of the full context and the historical setting of the text. This is where the average believer should begin to ask questions about an uneasy conclusion provided by the experts.

The answer is not in just a part, but in the whole. The sinful nature is prone to wander. When someone wants to be free to sin, he will even use selected scriptures to give credence to his unwarranted conclusions. This selectivity in choosing texts that agree with them is well illustrated in today’s rush for schools and others to approve the drinking of debilitating alcohol. Lust is a terrible thing, and it causes us to do what even common sense tells us is wrong. How could you possibly trust the conclusion of anyone who seriously believes in the Big Bang theory? I personally wonder how you can even trust the theology of anyone who says that the Bible does not condemn booze as a beverage.

In case you are wondering about these strong words, let me tell you that being this close to the Bema tends to discourage one from giving support to sinful practices. The crowd who reject plain words like “sodomy”, or “murder” for abortion, have tipped their hand. We are too close to the end to be nice to the devil and make sinners comfortable about the heinous moral error that God hates.

FINALLY

People who often say they believe in literal interpretation may not mean what you do when you use that term. Even Luther and Calvin claimed to use literal interpretation – and they did – but not when it came to eschatology (prophecy) and soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Not all their teaching was bad, but that still is no excuse for giving them or anyone else a pass when it comes to the clear, normal, plain, consistent use of the Bible text. Go ahead – make my day!

WHAT IS TRUTH? (Part 2) Monday, Mar 10 2014 

The reader will want to go back over the previous article, since this issue builds on that premise. There is only one biblical hermeneutic, and it produces a theology that is biblical. That one system is simply the normal, plain, clear, consistent, literal use of language. All other systems fall into one category and will allow the interpreter to insert into the text whatever he may choose. The one biblical system is scientific, and it is mathematical. If you use the system and its clearly defined rules, you will always come up with the same answer.

It is extremely frustrating to go to five different commentaries, written by experts, and find five different interpretations of a single passage. These scholars are supposed to be the authority, but it seems they cannot find a common answer. Since each text can have only one interpretation, one of those scholars may possibly be right, but…they could all be wrong, too. It makes one wonder if any of them is right and how many other things they may be wrong about. How can we ever be sure?

The answer is simple. It isn’t that they have different interpretations, but rather that they use different systems of interpretation. Since all those systems allow the reader to insert his own sincerely held views, the text becomes corrupted. The one biblical system, however, will deliver a correct message if its rules are obeyed.

WHERE WE BEGIN

One of the major problems in this discipline is where to begin. You have to begin and end with the Bible text. If you begin with a denominational creed, or a theological confession, you will end up with error because you began with error. If you begin with a covenant or reformed hermeneutic, it is impossible to end up with a theology that is biblical. This may shock you, but there is no such thing as a dispensational hermeneutic, so you cannot begin there if you want to know what the text says for itself. It is true that the use of the one biblical system will lead to a dispensational theology, but that theology rises from the text and not from a preconceived hermeneutic. For some, eschatology is not important; and they would say it doesn’t matter. If you begin with the text, use the biblical system, and obey the rules, it does matter. Foundational truth is not like a cafeteria or a dart board. The biblical hermeneutic is clear and plain, until such time as it is corrupted by a humanly devised system. It does matter that there is a Millennium, and it does matter where and when Christ is coming for His church. These are clearly stated with the normal hermeneutic.

THE WORD “LITERAL”

This is demonstrated in the accidental, or deliberate, misuse of the word “literal”. It is dishonest to say that those who hold a literal interpretation see everything as literal, meaning that even pictures are the real thing. There are some fine works on this subject, and the serious reader should consider reading them. The normal, plain, clear, consistent, literal use of language is just that. It is the text that tells us the answer, not some twisted grammatical pretzel. We take everything in the text as the normal, literal use of language unless the text clearly tells us it is some other form. Literal interpretation simply means that we accept what the Bible states, including language forms.

An illustration of this is Revelation, chapter 20. Five times at the beginning of this chapter you see the term “one thousand years”. What is the normal, plain, clear, consistent, literal use of this term in language? Even a first grader could answer that one! So why would anyone choose to corrupt the answer, as some scholars have done? The answer is that they use the wrong hermeneutical system – one that is humanly devised – and they begin with the wrong system. These intellectuals say that when it comes to eschatology, you have to use an allegorical system. Who gave them the authority to make such a conclusion? Are they smarter than a first grader? This reminds me of the Lucifer syndrome: “I will know as much as the most high God”.

STRONG WORDS

Someone will very likely write and tell me that I am not being very charitable in this discussion. There are lots of things we do not know and about which God has not given us an answer. Those are the areas of charity. When the normal, plain, clear, consistent use of language that God has chosen to use is being trampled underfoot, I am not obligated to be silent.

We don’t seem to have any trouble shining a light on other people’s foibles, but we are not keen on our own being looked at. That is why we don’t use the same rule and rhetoric on our own crowd; but let me do that now. We complain about the misuse of interpretation and systems on the part of those who “sovereignly” decided that eschatology is allegory, while at the same time we do the very same thing in our own circles when the subject is church polity. We use literal interpretation until it comes to the doctrine of the church, and then we turn left. Of course, we are more “respectable” than they are. We “complicate to confuse” in order to get our own way when we really know that our practice in polity is nothing more than an adoption of cultural politics.

THANKFULLY CAUTIOUS

I am thankful for our forefathers in the faith. They have been a wonderful blessing to us, but they are not God and they are not perfect. Historical theology has great value, but those tenets are not the same as the Bible itself; and we should not be afraid to challenge things that jettison the plain teaching of scripture. A strongly held view that is wrong is still wrong, no matter how many years it may have been taught.

WHAT IS TRUTH? Friday, Feb 14 2014 

Truth, for the true believer, is simply what God has to say about anything. It is interesting to note that in the Gospel of John this subject is dealt with often, and it is Pilate who asks the question in John 18:38. While it is correct that Jesus Himself is truth (John 14:6), John makes it clear that the Word of God is the truth (John 17:17) and that the Holy Spirit will lead the believer into all truth (John 16:13). Not only does this ministry of the Spirit as our guide and teacher lead us into truth, but that truth is used in our sanctification (John 17:17). The text also clearly states that the Holy Spirit will carry on that ministry of truth because He indwells the believer as He began to do at Pentecost (John 15:26; 16:7, 13).

In the church age, every believer has the advantage of access to the clear statements of the Bible text and the guidance of the indwelling Spirit. The Scripture, on which we depend for truth, was inspired in the original writings and is without error. Truth is stable and consistent within the text because its words and the whole were supervised by the pure oversight of the Holy Spirit.

SO, WHAT HAPPENED TO TRUTH?

Concepts are clarified as we stand back and look at the whole. For instance, there are only two religions in the world. One is Biblical Christianity, and the other is what I have come to call “Humianity”. All religions other than Biblical Christianity find part or all of their sources in flawed human thought. The names of those religions are irrelevant. Their beliefs are legion, but they all have the same source even if their degrees of error are wide as an ocean. Final truth is found in God’s Word. Even if those religions use some Bible and have some truth, that truth is negated by the infusion of human reason.

The same concept is true in the science of hermeneutics. There is only one biblical hermeneutic that God has given to the believer. Man has invented multitudes of hermeneutical systems, but once again they all fall into the same category. They are humanly devised so that there are only two hermeneutical systems: the one biblical system and the one whose source is man. There is a wide variety of systems outside the biblical one, but they are all one because they all use the same human source.

Truth is found in the clear statement of the text before man adds his convenient adjustments to the scripture. Theological error does not come from the Bible text; it comes from man’s attempt to force the Bible to agree with human thought. Truth is safe within the bonds of the biblical hermeneutic because this system is simply the normal, plain, consistent, literal use of language.

SO, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

There are many who confess that they practice this normal use of language. They even use it some of the time…but the minute man begins to play God and gets carried away with his own ideas, truth is lost. Failure to use the biblical system and the clear rules all the time creates the same human error.

I’m constantly reading from a number of sources and am amazed at how frequently writers ruin a perfectly good study of the text by finding ways to add their own thoughts to its content. In the biblical hermeneutic, the very first step is exegesis. We are obligated to use the appropriate grammar, definition, syntax, etc. Now, this may sound simple – but it isn’t. It is far too easy to manipulate the text by forcing a meaning into it and then making that appear to be the only possible answer. This is a favorite trick used by grammarians. Remember, the Bible was not written for scholars. While we are grateful for the ministry of these godly men, God in His grace has given the rest of us believers a way to know when our theological leg has been pulled.

When the interpreter has finished with the issues of the language, all he has is a question; but he does not have an answer until he has completed the hermeneutical process. The next step for authentication is context. We all know that a text without a context is a pretext. Unfortunately, there are few who practice the rule, and this is the big bear trap. No interpretation that rests on one text can be trusted. If the teaching is central to the faith, it will be supported by both the micro and macro texts. Even here, though, it is possible to go astray; and this is another trick used by those who ignore the biblical hermeneutic. Contextual authority must be clearly identified by the text itself. That simply means that passages being considered must actually – and without question – apply to the subject under consideration.

The next step in the one biblical hermeneutic has to do with the historical setting of the content of the passage. This step enhances our understanding of the grammatical conclusion, but it does not create the doctrine. This is one of the reasons we don’t develop doctrine from the parables. On the other hand, this step is a bright light in exposing the insertion of theological systems into a text. The Holy Spirit was not acting in a foolish manner when He gave us historical settings that allow us to ask, “Does this illustration by God confirm the interpreter’s conclusion?”

FINALLY

This marvelous process of the one biblical hermeneutic is an affront to theological systems and constructs that make it possible for humans to press their ideas and conclusions on the text. Is it possible for anyone to ask, “What does the text say” and get the answer God put there? Yes, it is…if only we are sufficiently humble to admit we have been playing games with a holy book at the expense of truth. (To be continued)

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY Thursday, Jan 9 2014 

This country in which I live continues to plunge toward moral, economic, and spiritual disaster. In the world of the unregenerate, this would be no surprise; professing Christianity, however, is complicit to this looming tragedy, and no one wants to take responsibility. The liberal mind bent on change has no measuring device. It continues to create problems and generate difficulty for society, but is not willing to grasp or admit its error. For some strange reason, liberals seem to think that more moral degeneracy will make things better. The answers they offer are limited to the physical and the temporary, using such things as money to make things right. In the end, this human- based system refuses to take responsibility for the suffering it creates.

On the other side of the coin is professing Christianity. The problem here is that this crowd tends to be filled with unregenerate souls who have only a pretense of any true Christianity. In the end, their charade provides no room to bear responsibility for the misuse of scripture and the practice of polishing liberal ideas.

The real focus of this article, however, would be those of us who are true believers, who understand that Christianity is not a thing – it is a life. It is impossible to possess the gift of eternal life without its manifesting itself in the way we live. Our words and actions should betray the life within us. No one should have to search for evidence in our lives of the presence of the Holy Spirit; it is impossible to hide such power and reality. We are not talking about perfection – that is God’s work; rather, this is about our spiritual life, the existence of which is undeniable. The true believer must be careful. This fleshly house in which we live can fail, and that failure is what this discussion is all about.

THE ROOT OF RESPONSIBILITY

We love to shift blame. It all began in the Garden: it was her fault; no, it was the serpent’s fault. We all know better, so let’s face facts. The growing disaster in our nation lies at the feet of believers. Those of us who have tried to follow the clear teaching of scripture should have known better. It is time to stop the denial and get on with our responsibility. That means we will have to openly deal with those who claim the name of Christ, but who rewrite the Bible to cover their shame and disobedience.

The only way to begin work on this responsibility is to admit we have failed. It means that we need to go back to the Eternal Word of God and let the text speak for itself. This is something you will not get in the plethora of so-called evangelical publications now available. We talk to each other, but seldom to the flawed society. It appears that very soon speaking the truth of scripture is going to bring persecution. For the believer, it is time for the whole counsel of God to be broadcast to the whole of society. Stop hiding that truth under a bushel – take your responsibility.

SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES

In our busy world, we tend to become lazy. We let everyone else develop our doctrine and then take little time to search the scriptures to see if what they opine is actually true. Almost daily now, those who should know better quote “false teachers” without any disclaimer. The end result is that our listeners go to the writings of these same people and become buried in false teaching. This is only one reason why we are responsible for the decline of a nation that is fueled by error; you can’t share truths with a corrupt society when you don’t even know the truth yourself!

One of the major reasons we have failed to communicate truth to our culture is the compromise of evangelical leaders. We are told repeatedly that we are to stay silent in the open market. The idea is that we need to have “hands off” when it comes to political subjects. Now, that might be true if you are talking about political parties and candidates, but it is a serious error if you mean the discussing of biblical truths. For the true believer to be quiet about abortion, sodomy, and other moral issues is patent disobedience to a Holy God. God is the only one who has the answers to these questions, and we need to be willing to say what God says. People in our culture are deceived because they go about sharing their ignorance while we are told to be deaf and dumb when it comes to truth.

SO LET’S TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

We need to ignore ridicule from those whose father is the devil; we belong smack-dab at the center of any discussion on a subject to which God has spoken. Followers of Satan need to be chided for their human theories and destructive opinions, and we must ignore leaders who scold us for saying what God has said. If they choose to be cowards who are fearful of truth, we must not be caught up in their deadly silence. Even if some true believers are fearful to enter into public discussion, we need to do our best to serve the Lord with courage and wisdom.

Liberalism is smart, but it definitely is not wise. Liberals’ ability to debate is often disguised as right, when in fact it is merely foolish. Moderate evangelicals talk a good game, giving themselves to love, the gospel, and going about doing “good”. They don’t have time to stand firm or to dirty their white gloves with discussions which are included in the whole counsel of God. That arrogance doesn’t fool the wise true believer, though. Sure, those things may be good, but it amounts to disobedience if that is all one does with the great task God has given. May we repent of our responsibility in the matter of national failure and move forward with true responsibility.

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