When I began writing this series of articles I had no idea there would be this many. I have known for a long time that the usual way of looking at the Bible was sorely lacking. This is true of not just the people with whom I have been associated all my life, but many others have imposed the same basic limitations upon themselves by how they read the Bible. We miss so many important things when we do not have a comprehensive way of looking at the God’s message to us.
The method long employed in Churches of Christ has not produced what those who originally used it hoped. The aim of the American Restoration Movement pioneers was to go back to the Bible, discern there the essentials of faith and doctrine and call all men to take their stand on these Bible basics as the platform of unity. Their hope was that by doing this the pure church of the first century would be reproduced and denominationalism would be swept away, ushering in a golden age of peace, freedom and tranquility.
The approach used by the men of the Restoration Movement was unfortunately, a hermeneutic that was fraught with dangers of misuse and misapplication. Probably by default many utilized the then prevailing scientific method of analysis to “search the scriptures” to find the basics upon which everyone could hopefully agree. I say they employed this method by default because it was widely taught at least in the western world as the accepted way of analyzing and understanding data.
But the Bible is not a compilation of raw data waiting to be collated, interpreted and applied to some waiting problem. It is a message from God written in many different forms over a period of about 1,500 years. There is no single method that can answer the need of all situations. Types and anti-types, poetry, allegory, visions and dreams, apocalyptic prophesy, history and law all require different approaches to understand their meaning.
One doesn’t have to be a scholar to observe that what was hoped by the early restorationists has not come to fruition. The fractured fraternity of the heirs of the Restoration Movement is in large part the consequence of accepting this one method of interpretation. In spite of the claim some make of not having a historical connection to the Stone-Campbell heritage, it was through this line that the idea that in order to understand the Bible one must employ this same method came down to the present along with the heritage of division and factionalism that identifies us today, not as a pure restored church, but as a monumental failure of a good idea gone awry.
That there needs to be something done to bring us to where we can better read and understand the Bible as it reveals God and his will for man in the 21st century. The prevailing paradigm has caused us to flatten the Bible out into scattered, random fragments to be logically pieced together into a systematic list of laws and requirements. These “laws”, when “obeyed” we assume correctly reproduce the first century church and by so doing we will have done the will of the Father who is in heaven. The actual result has been far different from the claim.
We have sought to show the inadequacies of the Command, Example, Necessary Inference hermeneutic by showing its limitations to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in Bible study. It cannot possibly achieve the depth of understanding necessary for being the people of God in this or in any age by this method. What God requires is not an external form, but an internal transformation of men and women into the very image of God. That requires that we study the Bible for the purpose of knowing God. Without knowing him we cannot ever become what we were always intended to be. It requires that we spend lots of time in the Old Testament so that we can know him through the story that is told there about him, his creation of man in his image, his dealing with sinful man, his preparation for the redemption of the whole creation and finally the accomplishment of that purpose in Christ. To know him requires as well that we gain an understanding of what he always wanted of man from the time of creation down through the centuries until the time of the Messiah – even to our time. It requires also that we spend much time in reading, meditating and absorbing the story of Jesus who was “the exact imprint of his nature,” that we might know God to the full extent he reveals himself to us.
Because we have majored in the Church of Christ and not on the Christ whose body we are we have very little understanding of what he really is like or what he really wants of us as his people. What little time is spent in the gospels is in proving the “steps in the plan of salvation” or in looking for historical minutiae as determined by “fill-in-the-blanks” workbooks. Consequently very few know the heart of the one who gave himself for us to redeem us from our sins.
If we really read the story of the Bible we will find that it is about God working to restore all that was lost with the fall of man in the garden of Eden. It is the story of the original creation and what happened to it – and to man – and what God is doing to bring about a full restoration and fulfillment of the purpose of that creation. It is the story that encompasses the original creation and all that leads up to the “new creation” God promised long ago.
In between is where we live. To be precise, we live near the last portion of the story – the time when God will “make all things new.” We live in the shadow of the cross which through faith in what was done there gives purpose and direction to live out our role in the story. It is the cross and the one lifted up on it that we must model our individual and our corporate (church) lives after. We are to live out the love and grace we have received. We are, in short, called upon to be to the world what Jesus was when he walked the hills and in the villages of the world of his day. He was manifesting the glory of God – we are to do the same.
That life is not circumscribed by a long list of requirements. Our response to the world around us is to be determined by love – love for God and a desire to glorify him by being and doing what he would have us do – and love for our fellow man that will be shown in submissive service like Jesus exhibited when he walked in this world of suffering and sorrow. We know that love by experiencing it ourselves in not only forgiveness, but in his acceptance of us in spite of all our weaknesses and mistakes. It is when we experience his love and acceptance that we can love, forgive and accept others, not on the basis of their doctrinal exactitude, but on the basis of their faith and character.
The approach to the Bible I have been talking about as a better way will not give a framework of legal exactitude as the commonly used method is supposed to do. But the very fact that there is so much disagreement over the conclusions reached by that method should cause us to pause and reflect on the supposed reliability of that method. That there is an absence of such precision in that which is written should cause us to wonder why God was no more exact in expressing his will for us if it is, as is claimed for the inferred conclusions, a matter of our eternal destiny. He certainly wasn’t imprecise in stipulating what he desired under the law of Moses. Why is it different for us today?
I am presenting what I have termed “A Better Way” 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. It is no crime to question even those who purport to be “somewhat” among us. In fact, the Bereans were commended for “searching the scriptures” to see if the things taught by the apostle Paul were so.
Faith in God should not be so difficult that it requires scholars in law and logic to decipher his revelation and then teach it to those not fortunate enough to be so gifted. When it comes to the point that a few men have to interpret the Bible and impose their interpretations on others, the faith of the many really rests in the competency and faithfulness of the few interpreters and not in Christ. God did not leave us at the mercy of a few, often arrogant, men.
He does assure us of his presence and help in ascertaining his way. This prophecy from Isaiah 35:8 says as much…
“And a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.”