Yesterday we dealt with some of the assumptions we have to make in order to use the CENI hermeneutic for establishing(?) Bible authority. If we begin with assumptions that do not comport with God’s purpose for us, then whatever we have “proven” by whatever “method” we choose will not be God’s will for us. It will be dogma.
There are some basic questions that must be asked and answered before we ever begin to understand the things we undertake to prove as Bible authority. If we do not ask the right questions we will never come up with the right answers. The right questions, if honestly asked – asked to learn, not just to reaffirm our ignorance – should open us up to a consideration of other possible ways of looking for the appropriate answers. Admitting the possibility of other ways to learn God’s will for us will require that we evaluate those ways. When we begin with assumptions, we bind ourselves to prove the things assumed, so naturally we are going to find the precise answers we have predetermined. Given that approach, we not only will not ask the right questions, we won’t even know what questions to ask! That assures that we will never get the right answers. So what questions must we ask?
This is where the need to know God comes in. We cannot ask the right questions unless we really know of whom we are asking. It will not do at the beginning to just assume that God has authority over man. We must know what his authority looks like. First of all we need to recognize that God is the sovereign over the whole of creation by virtue of having created it. We need to know why he created us – his purpose for us and where it is leading – before we can know how we should look at his authority and how he exercises it over us.
Man is a part of God’s creation. That tells us he has the right to rule over us. He tells us why he created man and what his plan for him is in the creation. That tells us that we must know the why of our existence. We need to know where we are going – what the destination is so we can know where we are along the journey as a measure of our progress. But where do we find that information and how does it relate to our lives in the 21st century?
God alone knows how man should live and why he should live in a particular way. He knows what he is seeking to accomplish through his rule (authority) in our lives. But how does he exercise his rule in man’s life in bringing us to be what he intended us to be? The answer to that question will determine how we approach God in our response to his authority.
If we assume that the way God exercises his authority is only through divine fiat, we will then approach the Bible looking for commands and imperious decrees. But if in answering the question about how God exercises his authority we find that there are other ways he does so, then that eliminates the necessity of depending on commands altogether (if commands were the only way) as the sole means of establishing his will for our lives. This is where those who insist that God’s authority is only found in commands go astray. I believe God exercises his authority over us in other ways than by commands alone. Certainly his commands are to be obeyed. We would not respect him if we did not obey him. But I hope to show that God does use other means to accomplish his will in our lives and in the church than just by commands. But how does he do that? We will answer that when we get down to the specifics of what I see as a better way.
We need to ask the question “What is God’s purpose for my life? What is he seeking to accomplish in me and through me?” By asking the question of why God is seeking a certain outcome in our lives we will also come to have a different outlook on the question of authority. If it is just obedience, then I will simply look for and “do those things God has commanded.” Unfortunately, as the Jews demonstrated, that kind of obedience turns out to be superficial, perfunctory performance – which is far from what God was looking for from them. (They were so eager to obey commands that they made a list of 613 laws that, they believed, had to be obeyed with no possible exception). If his purpose for me is just obedience there will be little change in me from the behavior and attitudes of the world. I will only have added the burden of a compliance of an external nature. My “obedience” will be little different from the mechanical workings of a robot. On the other hand, if I realize that God has a deeper purpose for me in all he asks me to do, I will seek for that deeper meaning, that deeper life and the means by which he has designed to accomplish that. Understanding the “why” of obedience makes a great difference.
Why would this be true? It is true because we have only the stark commands to measure ourselves by if it is only commands for which we look. Because the CENI approach includes examples and necessary inferences makes no difference. Those are simply devices to obtain more law when employed in the manner in which they are used.
If I take the legalistic approach to life, then when I have “done all that the Lord has commanded” I will pat myself on the back and say “Well done, good and faithful servant …” It is really an attempt on the part of man to save himself. It does not require anything beyond the performance of the perceived command. It asks nothing of the purpose of the command as a measure of how well we are doing in our obedience to God – nothing of whether his purpose for me is being achieved in my life. The tendency of the legalistic mind is to reduce obedience down to the minimum level. It also tends to limit obedience to the easy, superficial actions of compliance with the command. This is why the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was found to be deficient by the Lord. This is why he demands of his followers a righteousness that exceeds theirs.
If I do not know God’s purpose for my life and what he is working to achieve in and through me, then when I have merely “obeyed” in a formal way, how do I know I am really pleasing God or not? There is nothing in legalism by which to measure our obedience other than the commands we seek to “obey.” That is why when we have done what the law requires – whatever law we are seeking to keep – we come away with a self satisfied attitude that we have done all that God requires of us, or we will come away with a gnawing doubt that we have not done enough.
The way his disciples are to know and achieve that greater righteousness is not by looking for more law or different law. It was through understanding the purpose of the law as it must properly be interpreted by knowing the character of God (see Matthew 5:43-48). If we know nothing of what God is seeking to achieve in our lives by asking certain responses of us (obedience to law), then we will never achieve anything more than a mechanical, rote performance.
Where do we begin? What should be our point of departure in discovering the answer to the questions raised above? I said we must know God and how he exercises his will for us in this world. That goes for discovering his will for us as individuals and for the church as well.
There is no better place – no other place than with the fundamental truth that the Bible is God’s revelation to man. But what is the nature of that revelation and of what does that revelation consist? If we are to understand the full range of the Bible’s authority and how to apply it, we must first understand the fundamental nature of that revelation. This will determine how we approach it when seeking to find what God authorizes in it, why he authorizes it and how we are to respond to that authority in all things having to do with our relationship with him. If we miss this point, then nothing we do will really be done under his authority, but will be our response to our mistaken concepts.
More tomorrow …