One of the greatest problems we have as human beings is in the area of communication. Every public speaker, preacher, writer, teacher, husband, wife – whoever it is that undertakes to communicate ideas to someone else invariably will at some time be misunderstood. Sometimes the fault of misunderstanding lies with the one who speaks or writes.Sometimes the problem is with the hearer.
Every effort at communication must be interpreted by one’s hearers. But there is no fail-safe method of ascertaining that one will always be understood or will understand what the other person is seeking to convey to us. The best we can do is keep our minds open to correction and pray that others will do so as well.
What we have been seeking to convey in these articles is a better way of understanding the Bible and how it is supposed to function as the authority of God in our lives and in the church. How do we put it in a way that is easier to understand? This is difficult for anyone who is attempting to present ideas that are unfamiliar to their hearers. It is doubly difficult when addressing matters related to the Bible. It is so very difficult because people have staked their hope of eternal salvation and based their identity, not on faith in Jesus and the grace of God as is made real to us in the finished work of the Christ. It is also difficult because every one of us brings with us the baggage of culturally conditioned/church conditioned ways of thinking that act as a barrier to clear communication.
I do not believe what I have been presenting is “the” fail-safe method where you can, like getting a soft drink where you put your $1.35 in the and the robotic arm jerkily moves at our bidding and “cha-ching” get your ice cold, refreshing CocaCola or binding law from God. I am presenting this as an alternative way to begin thinking about some of the very thorny problems that have plagued the church for a lot longer than anyone now living can remember. Use these ideas as a place to begin. Evaluate them to see if they have any merit. Show where they are wrong if you think them to be wrong. Develop them more fully if they have merit and need to be clarified. My ideas are not set in stone. I am not insisting that this is the best way or that it is the only way. All I am asking is that you think.
I hesitate to even describe what I am suggesting as a better way as a definitive method lest people should begin to look at this as a fail-proof formula. Will it produce “the” definitive answer to every question we may be confronted with the questions of every generation for the remainder of time? I don’t believe it will. We still have the human element to contend with. I do believe that as a different way to view the whole question of authority, it is a better way than what we have now. It will enable us to look at things from a different perspective without the narrow presumptions we now start with. It will allow us to frame our questions in a different way rather than tying us to an agenda of having to prove by an assumed infallible formula that we have unquestioningly reached the only possible answer.
We are going to reach some conclusion from reading and studying – always. That is inevitable. Whether that is always the right conclusion is always open to debate. What I am suggesting leaves us open to the falsification of our conclusions. It is the lack of that possibility that creates such animosity among people when their conclusions are questioned. The assumption that leads to that attitude is that we are absolutely sure we are right because we have applied the right method in obtaining our answer and therefore to question us is to question God.
In Churches of Christ there has always been the challenge to those who disagree with us that if anyone can prove we are wrong we will change. But we really do not leave open the possibility of accepting any serious, credible objection. The only answers we will accept are the ones we have already made up our minds on are the only possibly valid conclusions that can be reached. Our challenge then becomes a boast. We are right and you are wrong. You have to “prove” by the only method we recognize that we are wrong. Thus we are only willing to play with a “stacked deck.”
I do not want what I am proposing to become a stacked deck, skewed toward reaching the only conclusion we will accept based on our biased assumptions. That is neither fair nor intellectually honest. It certainly is no way to handle the word of God. I do not believe you can approach God’s word with a formula as if we were solving a mathematical problem.
We must learn to ask the right questions in order to come up with the right answers. And asking the right questions very much depends on where we start. Do we start with a narrow view of what God expects of us? If so, the conclusions will be limited by our limited perspective. Do we approach the it from a broader perspective? To approach the matter from a narrow perspective assures that we only ask the questions that fall within that view. And how do we ascertain that that narrow view is the correct view? But if we begin from a broader perspective we open up the possibility that there are more or different questions that need to be asked. If we begin from the broadest possible perspective then we open up the broadest range of questions that can be asked.
Where I began in the presentation of what I believe is a better way offers us the very broadest field of investigation. It offers, I believe, not only the possibility, but the necessity of asking the broadest range of questions possible.
I believe we must begin where the Bible begins – with God himself. With God as he presents himself to us through the Bible. God as he is known in his creation and in his works. God as he reveals his glory “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). God as he reveals his character, his mind, his heart in the life and words and works of Jesus who is the Son of God. God, “up close and personal” as the saying goes, not in the sense of a distant God ala deism. God whose rule does things to accomplish his purpose within his creation by other means than only by a code of law.
There is one law underlying all of what he does through whatever means – the law of love. His love for his creation and for each one of us. Whatever specific command he may have given is rooted in this most fundamental truth – that God is love. The response he desires of us is a response that reflects that love. For this reason, any “system” of producing “law” that does not result in a manifestation of love must be held suspect. The law that does not stem from love, or does not manifest itself in love, is not of God – it is legalism. Legalism does not and cannot result in our loving one another, and neither does “obeying” that law in a legalistic way. You simply cannot command love and it spring into being. It is a quality of character and character does not come from mere obedience. One moves toward the ideal of love by the development of our character – the progressive move toward fully expressing the new creature who was created in the image of God.
More tomorrow …