“I study the Bible each time as if it were the first time, and as if it were written for me and me alone.” This statement has been credited to Alexander Campbell. Campbell was a brilliant man and I would not dare put myself in a category with him, but I humbly beg to differ with this statement, whoever made it.
I do not believe it is possible for us to study the Bible without being influenced by prior assumptions and biases. No matter who we are, our thinking is affected by the social and cultural concepts that govern the world in which we live, our education, position in life, by our previous conclusions and in many more ways. The very best we can do is to try to mitigate the effect of these assumptions by coming to understand that there are assumptions always in our background, understanding how they got there and by constantly reevaluating and readjusting our conclusions. Or preferably learn to read the Bible in such a way as to minimize the effect of our prior assumptions.
Insofar as the fundamentals of the gospel are concerned, there can be no changing and no compromise. We can know that Jesus is the Son of God from his own testimony, that of the heavenly Father, the prophets and by his miracles. Then there is the testimony of reliable witnesses to his resurrection. They testified that he died, was buried and that he rose from the dead and now reigns in heaven. Of that truth there can be no compromise. These truths are the very foundation of our assurance and our hope. These were the very things under attack from the legalistic Judiazers and the dualistic Gnostics in New Testament times. The apostles Paul and John, especially, would give no quarter to either of these false doctrines.
The presence of assumptions and bias is particularly evident in the way people in Churches of Christ generally approach the Bible. There are any number of assumptions that enter into practically every reading, study, sermon or lesson. These assumptions trace back to the Restoration Movement and beyond. We have already seen how Alexander Campbell was affected by Enlightenment thought to the extent that he thought that the Baconian/inductive-deductive/scientific method was the only way human beings could understand the Bible. It was through this method he sought to restore the church to what he thought it originally was and by this bring believers together in the unity and oneness God desires among his people. He passed on his assumptions along with those of others being added in along the way until we have come to the place we are today – not the restored church Campbell sought, but a collection of fractured, feuding factions.
This goal of restoration and this same method is still adhered to today as if it were a divine mandate, despite there being not one word in the whole of the Bible that would indicate that that is the way the only way of understanding God’s revelation to us. The things discerned by this method as constituting the pattern of the NT church are invariably external things – the “work, worship and organization” of the church. There is no consistency from group to group in their understanding of what constitutes the pattern. Those attempting to reproduce the pattern invariably pick and choose the things they include or exclude.
Essentially the result of this “restoration” of form is a superficial, institutional concept of the church. The church becomes, not a body of “us” working together and not a family living and loving together, but an “it” in which we hold membership and which we support with our contributions so we can do our work through it and “the church” can get the glory. When we have restored(?) it, we must then keep it pure and free from all innovations that would corrupt its simplicity(?). Under this concept, worship becomes the ritualistic keeping of a specified form without spirit or richness. Life in such an institution is a dull routine of conformity to the institutional pattern, pressing individuals more and more into the cookie cutter likeness of every other inmate in the institution.
The preaching that is done is strongly accented with legalistic themes reinforced by threats to inspire fear that keeps people in subjection to the authorities. What preaching that is done on the grand theme of the grace of God is preceded by a long disclaimer as to what grace is not and what is said about about grace is so watered down and made to be so dependent on human effort as to be unrecognizable as grace.
There is a strong disavowal of the Old Testament as having anything to say to us today, but then the very ones who treat the Old Testament this way turn right around and use the Old Testament to prove their arguments and teaching on authority. Other arguments developed to prove or disprove various points of teaching either ignore certain critical facts or totally misread the passages appealed to to prove their conclusions.
Perhaps the worst assumption made is concerning the nature of Christ’s reign – his authority. It is uniformly assumed among those inclined to legalism that he exercises his authority through divine fiat. If a direct command cannot be found then it is assumed that when the early Christians are observed doing something there must have been a command requiring that particular action. On the basis of this assumption the examples of the early Christians are seen as binding. And as if that were not enough, commands are further established(?) on the basis of necessary inference.
The error of this assumption concerning Jesus’ authority is basically the same as that of Jesus’ disciples when they were arguing among themselves about who would be at his right hand and who at his left – who would be greatest among them – when he came into his kingdom (or rule). Even the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, got into the contention in Matthew 20:20-26. Jesus’ reply to them (Matthew 20:25-28) reveals not only that the kind of position they were requesting was not for them, but also shows that his kingdom (rule) operates in a totally different way.
“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The kind of power his disciples were vying for was the kind of power the rulers of the Gentiles (read: Roman Empire) exercised over the Jews. Jesus said to Pilate …
“Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36).
The usual concept of Christ as the Imperious Ruler is a total misunderstanding of the nature of his rule. On Ephesians 1:22, which is invariably appealed to to establish Jesus as authority. But consider the following comments …
“Not only is Christ at the most exalted position in the universe, He is there representing [head of, mr] believers (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:3) and governing the universe for their sake. The principles of conduct in Ephesians emphasize that authority exists for the sake of service. Jesus’ majestic use of power and authority in the interest of His people is the Christian’s model” (Ephesians 4:1, 2, 7–13; 4:32–5:2, 22–33). (Reformation Study Bible).
“It is this Jesus, in the form of a servant and in the likeness of men, that is now Head over all things, and as such given by the Father to the Church. With such a Head, what need the Church fear, and what can she want?” (Pulpit Commentary, eSword).
Jesus used another way of getting across to these contentious disciples the nature of his kingdom when, in John 13:1-17, he tied a towel around his waist, took a basin of water and washed their feet. Was he not telling them that this is what his kingdom would look like? When they did, not necessarily what, but as he had done to them (vs. 15), they would be ruling with him in his kingdom. He followed this demonstration by doing the lowliest service ever done for man. He offered himself to die on the cross to bring to lost mankind the greatest of all blessings – salvation through his name and hope of eternal life beyond this present life.
This is one of the many great paradoxes of the Bible. Jesus overcame death by dying. He overcame the grave by first being buried and then being resurrected. He overcame sin by taking the sin of mankind upon himself. He rules as Lord of all by serving all, supplying what we as his creatures need.
Paul taught that as Christians we should have the mind of Christ in lowering ourselves to serve the interests of others as he did instead of only thinking about ourselves and our wants and desires (Phil 2:1-10). Colossians 3:17 is another passage appealed to maintaining that we must be obedient to the commands of Christ in all things.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Never should it be maintained by anyone that we should be disobedient to anything our Lord commands. But in regard to this verse, we assume that it is his authority as expressed in commands, examples and inferences to which we must be obedient. However there are other ways of looking at the phrase “in the name of” than having to do with things commanded. One commentary refers this to as coming under what he calls “God’s Pattern for Worship” and refers to 1 Chronicles 16:29.
“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;” (Reformation Study Bible/Other resources/BibleGateway.com).
Other sources comments on Colossians 3:17 …
“Begin with him, and end with him; invoke his name, and pray for his direction and support, in all that ye do; and thus every work will be crowned with all requisite success. Doing every thing in the name of God, and referring every thing to his glory, is as rational as it is pious.” (Adam Clarke, eSword).
“This is a sort of Golden Rule for Christians “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (en onomati Kuriou Iēsou), in the spirit of the Lord.” (Robertson’s Word Pictures, eSword).
“The name, as in the Lord’s Prayer (“Hallowed be thy name”), is the expression of the sum total of the divine Being: not his designation as God or Lord, but the formula in which all his attributes and characteristics are summed up. It is equivalent to his person.” (Vincent’s Word Studies on “name” in Matt. 28:19; eSword).
I will leave you to judge the value of these comments. Please do not dismiss them out of hand because they don’t agree with your accepted views. Think about them. There certainly are different ways of looking at things. There just may be better ways of looking at all things pertaining to God’s revelation than through our warped, colored glasses!