Hermeneutics: The Big Rocks

rocksingobletJerry wrote,

I remember reading in the papers several decades ago an objection to some suggestion on hermeneutics, “But if we adopt that as our hermeneutic we will not be able to support….” and a particular doctrine prevalent in the Church of Christ was named.

Exactly. We have a long history of testing our hermeneutics by whether a given hermeneutic produces a desired result. If the hermeneutic requires a changed conclusion, it’s rejected — and that is exactly wrong. After all, we don’t really know what the Bible says unless we have a proper hermeneutic!

These leaves us with something of a riddle — how do we develop a sound hermeneutic without knowing what the Bible says until we have a proper hermeneutic? Well, because the real process is more complicated than 1, 2, 3. But it’s not that hard; it’s just very different from how we have customarily thought.

Some therefore bring to the text a hermeneutic foreign to the Scriptures. As we’ve seen recently, some even found their interpretive principles in Blackstone’s Commentaries — a textbook of law. Well, obviously, someone was assuming that the Scriptures should be interpreted just like an act of Congress. It’s a false assumption, but one that has prevailed in the Churches of Christ for a very long time.

How do we escape bringing foreign methods and assumptions to the Scriptures if we can’t interpret the Scriptures aright without a proper hermeneutic?

We proceed by what a mathematician would call “successive approximation.” That means you do a little theology, learn some hermeneutics from the theology, use those new hermeneutics to build a broader, deeper theology, and then use that better theology to build even better hermeneutics. And you keep on doing that until you die, meet Jesus, and he answers all your questions.

Good theology produces good hermeneutics. And good hermeneutics produce good theology. It’s a self-reinforcing process. And I’m 57 and still learning every day. So I figure God will keep teaching me until I have I have a resurrected body from the Spirit and can learn better and faster, without this corrupted flesh and brain getting in the way.

You first inquire of the text, not regarding what to wear to church, but what are the biggest, most important, overriding principles found there. We start big. The big rocks go in first!

Several years ago, our then minister, Buddy Jones, preached a powerful sermon. He begin with a large, clear glass. Maybe it was a brandy snifter.

He began by talking about how busy we all are. He placed some large smooth rocks in the glass, saying these represent our faith and family. And then some smaller rocks representing our jobs and such. He then added some smaller rocks that represented lesser priorities, all the while discussing how we try to squeeze so much into a little space. He then added some sand, and finally some water–up to the very brim.

We were surprised at how much he was able to fit in there. He asked the audience, so what’s the lesson?

Well, we were stunned, because preachers just don’t ask questions, you know! But a few courageous souls tried, most saying something like how hard it is to squeeze everything is.

Buddy said, no, the lesson is—THE BIG ROCKS GO IN FIRST!

The solution is to look at the size of the rocks. Make the small rocks squeeze in amongst the big rocks, not the other way around. Find the great, overriding principles of the Bible, and never, ever vary from them.

The great, overriding principles are those that the Bible shows to be the great, overriding principles — which will not necessarily be the principles that your brothers are fighting over, that the publishers are using to sell books, or that define your denomination as distinct from others.

Now, I’ll admit that this principle is subject to abuse, as you and I may well disagree over which principles are the “big rocks,” but at least our theories can be tested by scripture. Show me the verses making your rule big, and I’ll show you mine, and we can talk through our disagreements. There’s a test that can be applied and thought about.

We take the biggest principles and turn them into hermeneutics. Thus, for example, understanding the grand narrative of scripture — Creation, Fall, Covenant, Israel, Exile, Messiah, Kingdom, Eschaton — and the threads that run through the narrative — produces narrative hermeneutics.

And you don’t understand the narrative as it applies to the church unless you understand Romans 4 and Galatians 2 — salvation by faith as fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham — among many other great themes — the indwelling, the gospel, the Kingdom, the Messiah, the image of God. The reason Paul spend two entire chapters on the subject God’s covenant with Abraham, referring all the way back to Genesis, is to tie up a thread that runs throughout the Law and the Prophets — and yet rarely do we preach on these passages, and when we cover them in Sunday school, we normally miss how these chapters tie the entirety of God’s narrative together.

Notice how little of this theology is found in traditional Church of Christ teaching. We don’t preach Abraham. We don’t preach the Exodus. We don’t even preach Jesus as Messiah. We teach Jesus as Son of God — a divine being who is part of the Trinity — but not as the King of Israel, sent by God to found the Kingdom. We don’t really build our theology on the Kingdom — even though that’s what the prophets and Jesus focus on.

No, we focus on ecclesiology — the rules for how to worship and organize a church — and soteriology — the rules for how to become saved. And these aren’t trivial matters at all, but they aren’t the biggest rocks.

Does that mean we ignore the assembly or baptism? No, not at all. But baptism is only in the New Testament — and not anticipated in Abraham, Moses, or the Prophets. It’s not an over-arching theme.

There are lessons regarding worship that participate in God’s over-arching narrative, but we almost always overlook them, because we don’t look at anything but the New Testament to understand worship or the assembly — and thereby miss most of the story altogether. (See the “Real Worship” series. Just search on “real worship” and it’ll pop right up.)

After all, if we are to gather to worship God, we really need to first know what God did and does that merits worship. The narrative comes before our response to the narrative. Just so, if we want to preach baptism, well, baptism into whom? Into what? To be what? To flee what? Baptism is not the beginning of the study.

Now, just as is true of the snifter, it’s more important that the biggest rocks go in first than that we sort through which rocks go in third or fourth. The biggest mistake, the one hardest to fix, is filling the glass with sand and pebbles before we get the big rocks in there — even if they’re great sand and pebbles. Do that and the big rocks may not fit at all. In fact, you’ll probably have to start all over.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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32 Responses to Hermeneutics: The Big Rocks

  1. Alan says:

    Jay wrote:

    We have a long history of testing our hermeneutics by whether a given hermeneutic produces a desired result. If the hermeneutic requires a changed conclusion, it’s rejected — and that is exactly wrong.

    I would take it a step farther. Most of us have at least two different hermeneutics we use, and on each topic we choose the one that leads to the right conclusion on that topic. For example, weekly worship on Sunday is an example, not a command. Yet we all consider Sunday to be “the Lord’s day” (scriptures don’t actually say that…), and we expect any Christian church to have a worship service on Sunday. So for that topic, examples are binding, and most of us act as if we are fine with that. Yet, when it comes to other topics we are quite comfortable not following the example. In these cases we apply a different hermeneutic which permits examples to be considered optional. So in effect we do what we want by choosing the hermeneutic that takes us to our preferred conclusion — usually without realizing we’ve done that. And then we excoriate those who come to any different conclusion.

  2. Enterprise says:

    Big Rock number 1:
    You shall Agape the Lord with all your heart…
    Big Rock number 2:
    You shall Agape your neighbor as yourself

    As you look at the simplicity of these rocks, and as you understand Agape love, it becomes easier to discern where the other rocks should fall.

    Our relationship with God, the completion of Big Rock number 1 cannot be done with Big rock number 2. You cannot love God whom you have not seen if you do not love your brother whom you have seen. You cannot curse your brother made in God’s image and express love and devotion to the one who made him.

    You also cannot properly love your brother w/o loving yourself. “AS YOURSELF” implies a need to recognize you are. Just as we recognize God is. I exist and have thoughts, needs, and my love to another cannot and should not be unloving to myself.
    Of course, you cannot properly know how to love yourself until you see God’s love for you. So it is the desire to put God first and once having done that, we reach out to others without harming ourselfs.

    I know some will think that Christ dying was harm, or Paul’s life was harmful to him but I would suggest that in humbling themselves that way, they did was was best for others, and no real harm (hurt, yes; harm, no) came to them since Christ is exhalted and Paul has the crown of life.

    The Gospel is the message of Christ’s Death, Burial, and resurrection, it is the power of God unto salvation, those who preach it will baptize those who believe.Those who are baptized will live sanctified lives and will learn more about the one who ‘commands us to observe” what he has commanded (Mt 28:19-20) Doing it from Love will help assure us that the other rocks will get put in their proper place.

    One last thought: I am sure it could have been a typo but is it really best to say this: “After all, if we are to gather to worship God, we really need to first know what God did and does that merits worship.”

    Merits? Granted God merits worship but not because of anything He has done. He merits worship because of who He is. Even if he has not sent Christ, he would still merit worship.
    As I said, it may be that this thought just seemed odd to me and worth asking about.

  3. Adam says:

    Another big rock – care for the widow and orphan – association with the outcast.

    Also – one small objection. WE ARE NOT TO FILL THE GLASS FULL!! Once the glass is full, nothing more can be added. We have to constantly and consistently create space, protect the space, so that there is room to grow!!

  4. When we shape our hermeneutic to yield the desired conclusion, we are not putting ourselves under the Word of God. In effect, we deny His Lordship and teach as our doctrine the commandments of men.

    That renders our worship vain and empty. Why? Because, though we say “Lord, Lord” we do not do what He commanded; we do what we want to do, but do it in His name. That is a violation of the 3rd commandment.

    Incidentally, when Jesus quoted Isaiah 6 against the Pharisees in Matthew 15 & Mark 7, He was not saying that their worship was practicing the commandments of men; He said that when they set aside God’s clear teaching on honoring parents the invalidated their worship because they honored their traditions more than they honored God. He was not talking about innovations in worship; He was talking about denying what God said to establish their tradition.

    Jay, thank you for this post. Let’s start with the big themes of the Bible – and work down from there instead of starting with the minutia and not even being able to see the big themes! When we see the big things clearly we will be able to more clearly see the small things – and to be able to keep them in perspective.

    Jerry

  5. Charles McLean says:

    I agree with Jay’s general premise. However, I have a really big rock to add… or it may be the jar itself that this speaks to. That is the very nature of divine revelation itself. In interpreting the Bible, we sometimes presume the Bible to be the exclusive vessel of divine revelation. Unfortunately, this is an assumption that the scripture does not support, and a claim it does not make. If we try to understand the Bible outside the context of revelation as a whole, this seems to me to rather be like teaching sailing by studying the ship and ignoring the wind.

  6. Charles,

    In your analogy, I would presume that the wind is the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures (a gift of the Holy Spirit) would be the ship. The crew of the ship (especially the helmsman) would be the Christian teachers. In this analogy, the wind alone would be insufficient without the special revelation (the ship), but inexpert helmsmen could still drive the ship on the rocks. I suppose that would be as a result of a flawed hermeneutic – applying your analogy to the current discussion on this site.

    Actually, I like it! We do need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to drive us in our understanding of the Sword of the Spirit if we are going to use it in a way that the Spirit can do His work of convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment to come. This is in spite of the years in which we as a fellowship of believers have either denied or ignored the role of the Holy Spirit in communicating God’s Truth to us in His Word. Too many times, our hermeneutic is mere rules that we adopt and foolishly think that they are given by God.

    Jerry

  7. Charles McLean says:

    Jerry, my analogy, as all analogies, is an imperfect one. I suppose in this case, the ship would be all the revelation of God as He touches us with it. It of course includes the scripture, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance of understanding those writings, It would also include, however, other revelatory channels such as current prophecy and the creation itself. These are two forms of revelation which should not be set aside, but incorporated in our understanding. I suggest that these things do not compete with the revelation found in the scriptures, but rather complement it and actually help us in understanding scripture. But without the wind of the Spirit to reveal Jesus to us (exactly what Jesus said He would do) we are left with the best, and limited, efforts of human reason. And those, however well intentioned, have often historically left us drifting toward the human rather than being led by the divine.

    I am not sure we are qualified to be helmsmen on this particular ship. At best, I am able to climb the rigging and unfurl another sail now and again that we might catch a bit more of The Wind. Another, greater than I, must steer my course.

  8. Having more fun with the rocks, sand, and water in the glass vessel analogy —

    (1) If the sand represents the busy ,busy things in our human schedules, then the sand fills in the spaces between the larger rocks (technically, sand is a silicon rock) and there is less room for the water. The water could be the living water of the Spirit. We are to be the vessel that is “filled up to complete volume” with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). If my vessel space is filled with things of eternal insignificance, I hold less volume for the Holy Spirit to fill.

    (2) Jesus said that Peter’s name meant “pebble” but He would establish His church on the boulder. That contrast distinguishes between the “big rocks” and the “pebbles” as pertinent to the kingdom of God. The church wasn’t established on the pebbles of our hermeneutic.

    (3) God is the stone-cutter, not us. We are living stones, being shaped into a spiritual house (1 Pet 2:5). We are kidding ourselves if we think we have the authority to break up the “big rocks” of God’s plan into pebbles of interpretative doctrine. They are not chips off the old rock.

    (4) Mt 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”

    Neglected the “weightier matters.” Did the Pharisees have pebblemania? Hmmm.

  9. Ray Downen says:

    Jay writes: Does that mean we ignore the assembly or baptism? No, not at all. But baptism is only in the New Testament — and not anticipated in Abraham, Moses, or the Prophets. It’s not an over-arching theme.
    There are lessons regarding worship that participate in God’s over-arching narrative, but we almost always overlook them, because we don’t look at anything but the New Testament to understand worship or the assembly — and thereby miss most of the story altogether. (See the “Real Worship” series. Just search on “real worship” and it’ll pop right up.)
    After all, if we are to gather to worship God, we really need to first know what God did and does that merits worship. The narrative comes before our response to the narrative. Just so, if we want to preach baptism, well, baptism into whom? Into what? To be what? To flee what? Baptism is not the beginning of the study.
    Now, just as is true of the snifter, it’s more important that the biggest rocks go in first than that we sort through which rocks go in third or fourth. The biggest mistake, the one hardest to fix, is filling the glass with sand and pebbles before we get the big rocks in there — even if they’re great sand and pebbles. Do that and the big rocks may not fit at all. In fact, you’ll probably have to start all over.
    —————
    And he ignores sensible hermeneutics by ignoring the sequence of revelation of the Way of Jesus Christ. We are not saved so we will worship. We are saved so we will live for JESUS. We don’t look in the Old Testament writings for instruction in Christian living. We don’t look in the letters to Christians for information on how to become a Christian. The gospels tell us of Jesus.

    We can’t be saved without Jesus. The gospels are the most important Christian books. Next in importance is not Romans or Galatians, but the book of Acts. The history book shows how the early church, led by inspired apostles, sought to obey the “great commission.”

    It wasn’t by meeting for worship. It was by telling everywhere about a risen Lord who could save from sin. Jay suggests we have the example of the early church meeting for worship. That’s odd. Not once is it reported that the early church met for worship. And the one verse where apostolic pointers are given as to what they DID do, and should do, when assembled doesn’t say one word about worship. Read 1 Corinthians 14:26. That’s where apostolic guidance for our assemblies can be found!

    So what are the big rocks? Jesus and salvation for sinners. Everything else is secondary. Everything else points out how we Christians are to LIVE daily. That’s the Way to life eternal.

  10. abasnar says:

    Why is it, Theophilus that you omitted the last part of Mat 23:23?

    “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

    While I do agree that we should start with the biggies, I firmly insist that we must not neglect the minors either – based on the words of Christ, who also said:

    Mat 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    And here Alan made a good point: We switch hermeneutics as we please. But a consistent hermeneutics will give each scriptural topic the weight scripture gives to it, without making a distinction between more or less important – which in effect leads to “relaxing” or ommitting the lesser commands.

    But we have to start with the big things: Repentance from sin, the Love of God, love among the disciples and beyond. And is it not true that we will be never done with these? Love will always be something we owe to each other, so – watch out – we can always preach on love and it will never be wrong. But by this we neglect other things that are dear enough to our Lord that He included it in His word.

    Sometimes lesser things deserve even more attention, especially if they had been neglected or forgotten too long. Or if they run so much against our contemporary culture, that we have to overcome an awful lot of resistance in order to make it an application in our church. Each time something is being restored, doctrine gets out of balance for a while – out of necessity! But after the restoration of – let’s say – baptism, baptism must have its proper place again, which is the place it has in scripture. I do see however, that in our movement, because of a number of controversies, baptism became a mark of identity (instead of Christ)! This makes us (in effect) even more “Baptists” that those who wear this name. This leads to such quite strange statements (which we don’t find in scripture) that “baptism is the exact point in time when someone gets saved.” I even do agree with the basic idea of this sentence, but it is a polemic exaggeration that is presented as sound doctrine. Yet we know that Salvation is never a “one-time-event”, and this makes statements like these nonsensical. Do you get my point? I could take other examples (IM for instance, orthe headcovering, or footwashing … as we had during the last months and years).

    So we must understand that there is a time for controversy and restoration that requires a more pointy language. But we must be aware that after “X” had been restored to its original order and beauty, we have to return to the modest and simple language of the scriptures – without adding and without taking away from it. Each biblical topic is there for a purpose, and each one has the weight scripture gives it.

    Again: Big stones go in first, but we have to bring in the pebbles as well. As the Lord said: “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

    Alexander

  11. Ray wrote:

    The gospels are the most important Christian books. Next in importance is not Romans or Galatians, but the book of Acts. The history book shows how the early church, led by inspired apostles, sought to obey the “great commission.”

    Now, I will not dispute for a moment that the gospels are the most important Christian books. Yet, each of them has as its starting point a place far back in the history of redemption.

    Matt 1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

    Mark 1:1-3 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight….'”

    Luke 3:23, 37 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,… the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

    John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

    Who were David and Abraham? Who was Isaiah? Who were all the people in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus? What about John’s opening?

    Mark began with the prophets. Matthew began with Abraham. Luke began with Creation. John goes back behind Creation to a beginning before time itself.

    All of these put Jesus into a context of history – the history of God who sought His people. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament begins in a void, and much of it is unintelligible.

    In my readings this year, I have been making note of the quotations from and references to the Old Testament in the New. There is scarcely a page of the New Testament that does not have a reference to or a quote from the Old Testament.

    When we move to Acts, the apostolic preaching most frequently began with the Old Testament history or with Creation itself before moving to Man’s rejection of God and substitution of idols for the living God – before Jesus is introduced. Even on Pentecost, Peter anchored what he said in the Old Testament prophets (including Psalms) along with a reminder of the things his audience knew about Jesus, the testimony of the apostles to His resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which they could both see and hear.

    When we seek to understand the New Testament – and that is what we are talking about here in discussing hermeneutics – if we do not set it into the context of the story of redemption and the promises of God to send a Redeemer, we will miss the most important things.

    Ray also wrote:

    We don’t look in the Old Testament writings for instruction in Christian living.

    Really?

    Jesus did, when He gave the first and second commandments. See Matthew 22:37-40 and compare Deuteronomy 6:5 & Leviticus 19:18. Evidently the apostles thought this was important as well, as you can see from Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14; and James 2:8. Ok, James was not an apostle – but you get the idea.

    I agree that the gospels are the most important part of the Bible, because that is where we see Jesus most clearly. Yet, our view of him is clouded if we do not also see Him through the lens of the Old Testament.

    Acts is important for the reason Ray stated – but for much more than that. Acts is far more than the stories of how people became Christians. It is the story of how the early church struggled with what it meant to love a world-wide community of neighbors as they loved themselves. If you read Acts only looking for conversion stories, you will miss much of what Dr. Luke is revealing to us.

    Jay’s point stands. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper on Sunday are not the dominant themes of the Bible. Important, yes! But these are responses to the dominant themes of Covenant and Grace, of Kingdom and Redemption, of Fellowship with God and following Jesus.

    Please, let’s do more than scratch the surface of Scripture – though as Isaac Newton said of his studies of science, when we study Scripture the best of us are like children playing along the beach while the great ocean of God’s love revealed to us in nature and the Bible lies unnoticed before us.

    Jerry

  12. guestfortruth says:

    When we wish to examine passages made obscure by metaphorical expressions, the result should be something which is beyond dispute or which, if not beyond dispute, can be settled by finding and deploying corroboratory evidence from within scripture itself” (On Christian Doctrine III.86-86, p. 87).

  13. eric says:

    Jay

    I see that in your mission statement for the blog that you seek unity. In my opinion Christ saw division as one of the largest enemies of His body. I was once a part of a twenty something group that was made up of many different back grounds. This group was amazingly unified and productive. All this to say that this post on focusing on the big picture first was a major theme in this group. In fact the message was pretty clear what in your theology is worth dying for, because that’s what’s worth causing divisions over. On the rest we can agree to disagree. Being that Christ prayed for unity in the body I think this may be a good test for us to look at. The small things we disagree on can be discussed and prayed about but surely we can do this without starting a new church a block down the road.

  14. Bruce Morton says:

    Jay:
    I appreciate that you have “backed away” a good bit from William Webb’s flawed efforts to “solve” 1 Timothy 2:13. Looking at the bigger picture is indeed what the Lord desires us to do as we hear His Word.

    I also urge that you not paint with too broad of a brush:
    “Notice how little of this theology is found in traditional Church of Christ teaching. We don’t preach Abraham. We don’t preach the Exodus. We don’t even preach Jesus as Messiah.”

    I, for one, do not buy this. Any given generation faces the threat of “reactionary theology” — the emotional conclusion that WE are the ones getting at the truth. That itself can also lead to the very legalism you have wrestled with numerous times in this weblog. How? We adopt this rule: OUR perspective must be the better one because we can look back at “tradition” and learn from it!

    Not necessarily, as the Mishnah should have taught us. Why? Because one of the biggest “rocks” in Scripture gets forgotten especially in the U.S. and Europe. Our “hermeneutic” is threatened by “outside forces.” We have the powerful witness of Jesus regarding “the power of darkness” (Lk. 22:53), but we seem to consistently downplay it in any given generation.

    Our experience is a powerful aspect of our humanity. But it can also become the very means Satan uses to hinder us as we hear the Word.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  15. “Reactionary theology” describes an important reason why we go in cycles. God constructed the universe on a basis of cycles. To the extent we function by the “natural,” we subject ourselves to these created cycles. A “reactionary decision” is almost always dominated by the natural, not Spirit, and often not enough mind.

    “We are from whence we came.” Sounds obvious, but we carry a bias, positive or negative, from past experience, the most influential of which is the most recent. If the bias is something I recognize from someone else’s experience, its influence is more easily apparent than when it is my own experience. If we realize we have made an error, we often will overcompensate. People wreck their cars this way. Government laws often do this, as well. We do this theologically. You see it in history; we do it now.

    The most subtle “reactionary theology” is when we react to ourselves. I can react negatively to something that I perceive smacks of legalism. I can overreact by having my eyes on my past more than on Jesus for the future.

    We have had a “reactionary theology” on the Holy Spirit. I think we are now having a sinusoidal pattern of thinking about the role of elders in the church. And we call it “doctrine.” Thinking has passed the center balance point and is headed in a compensatory direction off field.

    Rear-view analysis is good and should be done. But, as Bruce pointed out, it can also be potentially dangerous. If that is a dominant force in our decisions, we are setting ourselves up for a cycle under the laws of thermodynamics.

    Paul said when we reach maturity we would not be “blown about by every wind of doctrine.” Don’t think that is limited to some doctrine from the “outside” that we need to “protect ourselves against.” It includes getting off balance from a reaction to ourselves. That’s usually a significant source of internal error.

    Thanks, Bruce.

  16. laymond says:

    “We don’t really build our theology on the Kingdom — even though that’s what the prophets and Jesus focus on.’

    I don’t know how we can read, and understand, the following scriptures, and say , no one will be saved by works, faith only.

    Mat 25:1 , Mat 25:14 , Mar 4:26, Luk 19:13 –27.

  17. Laymond, perhaps they also read Ephesians 2:8-9.

  18. Alabama John says:

    I’ve never understood the conflict between those that believe faith or works, one or the other.
    If we have faith it will show itself in works that we do.
    I have faith in Jesus and the gospels. That belief causes me to want to share that Good News with others in any way I can.
    That sharing is considered works even though that sharing is not considered a work by the one doing it, but a telling of the faith I have.
    One cannot exist without the other. They are the same.

  19. laymond says:

    theophilus.dr, on October 6th, 2011 at 10:14 am Said:

    Laymond, perhaps they also read Ephesians 2:8-9.

    So we are to place the teachings of Paul above that of Jesus. hummm I didn’t know that.

  20. laymond says:

    I agree with you Bama John, you have to have faith to do the works, and you have to do the works to show the faith.

  21. Doug says:

    If a person has experienced salvation and has no works as a result of his/her salvation, something is wrong. I’d guess that situation might be the result of the person still trying to develop his/her Christian life using their own spirit and not allowing the Holy Spirit to change them. Many in the CofC believe that the only “dying’ they need do is accomplished when they are baptized. But, the Word instucts us to daily pick up our cross and follow Jesus so our dying is a continual process that is Spirit led and that dying shows itself in our service… our works. We are changed into Christ’s likeness and Christ had works not for the sake of having works but because those works were God-like.

  22. Charles McLean says:

    Jay wrote: “Notice how little of this theology is found in traditional Church of Christ teaching. We don’t preach Abraham. We don’t preach the Exodus. We don’t even preach Jesus as Messiah.”

    Bruce obejcted to this generalization, but as one who has extensive experience sitting under traditional CoC teaching and also under more mainstream evangelical teaching, I think Jay makes a solid point, generally speaking. As analogy, I would suggest that it’s hard to realize how thick one’s personal accent is until he spends time in another part of the country. People here in Texas sound “normal” to me. But put me in California or the Midwest, and suddenly I sound like Jeff Foxworthy’s cousin.

    In my experience, most traditional CoC teaching occurs to the right of the gospels, preferring the apostolic references and church examples to the actual teachings of Jesus, which are quite revolutionary even today and hard for us.

    The basis for the gospel is not found in Acts, but in Genesis. I was reminded of this while squatting along a remote mountain road in Chihuahau with a Tarahumara indian. I was trying to introduce him to Jesus and had to start by picking up a rock and asking him, “Where do you think this came from?”

  23. abasnar says:

    I must agree: The OT is a weak point among many Protestant denominations and the churches of Christ who “came out from among them” 😉

    I always have to think of the Bible-Studies in Acts led by the Apostles and elders ofthe Jerusalem church. The NT was not yet written, but they opened their Bibles and taught about Jesus! A glimpse of that can be seen in the way Philipp explained Isa 53 to the Ethiopian eunoch. But in fact, all the letter are full of quotes and applications from the OT! Peter draw a parrallel from the laws of Passover, Paul also BTW. The Exodus is very important in both 1 Corinthians and Hebrews with similar applications.

    But I doubt that the way they read the OT comes close to what we think the “proper hermeneutics” should be … oh, we are sooo afraid of typology! But how else could you see the church in Eve as Paul did?

    Alexander

  24. Alexander,

    Very well said! This very point has been the focus of my personal reading in both Old and New Testaments recently – and the sheer number of quotations and direct references in the New to the Old is amazing. I always knew there were many – but I’m still being amazed.

    And, as you said, “I doubt that the way the read the OT comes close to what we think the ‘proper hermeneutics’ should be.”

    Jerry

  25. Ray Downen says:

    Surely it’s good that we realize the truth that truths stated in the Old Testament are no less true today. But it is not the Spirit who saves sinners. Nor is it Abraham or Moses. It’s the Lord JESUS. If we learn more and more about Jesus Himself, and pattern ourselves after Him, we will be growing in grace. We will be walking with Him who alone can save. It doesn’t take special acts by the Spirit to let us grow in Christ. It does take learning as much as we can about Jesus Himself and how He lived and how He taught, and what He had His apostles teach.

    Some bury themselves in Old Testament history and seek to find there instruction for Christian living. It’s not there. It’s in apostolic writings that we find guidance for living for JESUS. Yes, much of our present “worship” is patterned after Old Testament practice. Does that make it good? I have to wonder why it would.

  26. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    GFT,

    I’ve allowed this comment to get through the moderation because it’s an example of classic Church of Christ hermeneutics. The assumption is that metaphor cannot be bound unless the same teaching is found elsewhere in a not-metaphorical passage. Thus, we see a distrust of metaphor being built into our hermeneutics. And that makes sense if we’re looking for laws.

    But the impact of this “principle” is to write metaphor out of the Scripture — probably erasing 2/3 of the text from our consciousness, and it shows in our sermons. After all, if I must find my conclusions elsewhere, why read the Prophets — which are filled with metaphor? or the Revelation, which is an extended series of metaphors? And we can toss the Psalms, for sure.

    Even granting the difficulty of reading metaphor from other cultures across the centuries, we cannot begin with the presupposition that the most important passages are the more literal ones. I can’t imagine that God would agree.

    (Psa 23:1-6 ESV) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

    That’s all metaphor. I’d suggest that a better principle is to read metaphor knowng God’s story, his overarching themes, and read the poetry with the heart of a poet, not a lawmaker. Savor the words, see the images, and try to see the pictures God is painting for you. Accept that some of the most important lessons God wants for us to learn are images.

    (Joh 10:11-15 ESV) 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

    See the picture. Feel the picture. Learn about God from the picture. picture is as much the lesson as anything. Don’t miss it looking for evidence somewhere else.

    (Isa 66:12-14 ESV) 12 For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. 13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.

    “Bones shall flourish like the grass”? Not really an expression that a poet would use today, but when we picture grass growing in the Judean wilderness after a rare spring rain, then we see the picture. And the picture tells us of God’s love, his care, and his provision.

    Do I need a confirming passage? No, I need the picture. I need to see the words so I can feel God’s love.

    (I love reading Isaiah.)

    Now, of course, we don’t want to interpret the passages so creatively or so overly literally that we create error. But neither should we read poetry like law. Let the poetry be poetry.

    Do we need to struggle to find the meaning? Absolutely. Some of the parables were surely given to force us to think about their meaning, because sometimes the best teaching comes from finding the meaning for yourself. But also because the picture and the story are part of the meaning.

    But it’s not enough to read Psalm 23 and conclude that God cares for his people as confirmed elsewhere. No, you have to see that God cares for his people as a shepherd cares for his sheep. Miss the metaphor and miss the lesson.

  27. Ray Downen says:

    We should not seek to annul what Jesus said by contrasting it with what His apostles teach. We should instead seek to find why both are true and helpful. But to try to eliminate apostolic doctrine by looking elsewhere for conflicting truth is missing the mark. Ephesians does not contradict the clear teaching of Jesus and others which call for sinners to repent and be baptized in order to have sin remitted. Some pretend that it does conflict. It is not necessary to learn all Old Testament truth prior to turning to Jesus for salvation! Or in order to live for Him.

  28. Ray,

    While it is true that one need not know “all Old Testament truth prior to turning to Jesus for salvation” or to live for Him, we rob ourselves of much of what God is telling us if we effectively cut the Old Testament out of our Bibles.

    For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. – Romans 15:4

    Never forget that the entire Bible is one story – and that Jesus said the Scriptures (by which He referred to the Old Testament) “testify of me” (John 5:39).

    Sometimes, it seems that some are so interested in being “The New Testament Church” that they are willing to eliminate thousands of years of God’s dealings with man that bring us to the point where it was the right time for God to send His Son. Never forget that the Law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ – which is true, even if some who look at Law never see Jesus or learn of Him.

    Jerry

  29. Ray Downen says:

    I appreciate what Jay has written, and also what Jerry Starling has written. Good for them. But the gospel is not the story of Abraham or of Moses or of David. The gospel is the message of what JESUS said and did.

    And the basic teaching of the Way was withheld until the apostles had been baptized in God’s Spirit. Entrance to the Way was NOT revealed prior to Acts 2:38. And that verse also points to how Christians are helped to live for Jesus. We are gifted with God’s Spirit as we are raised up into new life (Romans 6, Acts 2:38). Apostolic writings help us understand how we can enjoy life in Jesus Christ.

    I have pointed to the error some make by transferring worship patterns from the Old Testament time into the present day. Christians are not once told to meet for worship. Instead we are urged to live daily for Jesus AS our worship. I wish we all understood what the apostles have written about living for Jesus.

  30. Charles McLean says:

    Ray wrote: “And the basic teaching of the Way was withheld until the apostles had been baptized in God’s Spirit. Entrance to the Way was NOT revealed prior to Acts 2:38. ?

    This is a novel view, if not perhaps a heretical one. Where do you derive it? Since Jesus said HE is the Way, it seems to me that the four gospels are his personal revelation of The Way I am not sure what the “basic teaching of the Way” is if not what The Way was teaching His diciples. The idea that The Way was hidden until Pentecost seems wrong from several directions. Could you please tell me, Ray, what led you to conclude this?

  31. abasnar says:

    Not quite wrong, Charles. Because the New Covenant did not become a reality until pentecost.

    Christ taught about it and instructed His disciples in the Kingdom, but the teaching was for the disciples mainly, while for the multitudes He offered parables of the Kingdom. The three years prior to HIs crucifixion, resurrection and ascension were preperatory in nature, but until pentecost the New covenant was a promise. This does not mean that the gospels belong to the Old Covenant either – they are New Covenant in Nature.

    Alexander

  32. Ray Downen says:

    Charles McLean wonders why it might be true that “the Way” into the Kingdom was not opened prior to Pentecost. It should be obvious to any careful reader of the gospel accounts. Jesus did not begin an organized group of disciples other than the 12 apostles. There was no church of Christ prior to Pentecost. On that day 3,000 were added to an organized grouping led by the trained and empowered apostles. That’s when the organization we identify as the church of God came into existence. The Baptist didn’t form congregations. He baptized for remission of sins, but not to create an organized band of followers. There was no “church” (called out group of disciples) prior to the Pentecost which followed the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He said, “On this rock I WILL build my church.” He did so through His apostles. He had spent three years of healing and teaching in preparation for the day when the church could begin. Or can someone point to the existence of the church prior to that date?

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