I Don’t Know Anything About God

And neither do you.

What we say we “know” are items accepted on faith, communicated through scripture, written by mortal men. We accept them as inspired; we accept them as factual — but we accept them on faith.

I think it’s important to recognize that. Constantly.

Because overconfidence in what we “know” leads to an overweening pride in our own ability to interpret what we have read and accepted. Leads to arrogance. Leads to sects and parties and division and downfall.

Leads to loss of faith. Loss of faith, in favor of “knowledge.”

And I have to confess that in the past few years, my faith has changed. I hope it has matured, but I know it has changed.

I believe God exists, that He loves, that He cares, that He saves.

That means that I believe God cares in a divine way that I don’t necessarily comprehend. Perhaps even cannot understand.

For instance ….

Because I have faith in God, I have faith that God will let bad things happen to good people. He is God, and He can do what He likes in His own way and wisdom and time. I don’t know why. I don’t have to know why. If I needed to know why, I have faith that He’d have told me.

I have my own ideas on the matter, but they’re mine and they could be wrong — and ultimately they’re not important.

If they were important, I’d have answers.

I hope that doesn’t sound cynical, but I’m sure it does — especially to people who are certain that they “know” a lot about God. I think it’s just a recognition of reality.

But I also believe that God came, was and is present as human — in the form of the One whom we call His Son, Jesus — and therefore cares in a human way as well as a divine way.

Yet still lets bad things happen to good people. Lets good things happen to bad people (like grace). Lets things of all kinds happen to all kinds of people. And all the praying in the world will not sway His will if we are praying for something that is — in the divine perspective — not ultimately good for us; not something that can be within His will.

This is the God who let His Son suffer and die to give us the perspective of grace, a glimpse at eternity, a taste of blood and bread and the way that His world should be.

So we pray from a human perspective and receive our answers from the divine perspective. And the divine perspective calls on us to try to see them from His point of view. Even if we can’t do it. We must try.

Because we are also called to be part of the human answer to human prayers. Forgiving. Generous. Gracious. Kind. Loving. Self-sacrificial.

Part of the effort to make good things happen to all people. I believe that creating us, giving us His Son, showing us His grace, was all the work He needed to do; that it is sufficient. I can pray all I want to. But in the final analysis, I might as well just recognize that my prayers have (and must have) the power to change me. That’s entirely up to me.

Whether they have the power to change what He has planned to do in order to bring about good is entirely up to Him.

That’s what I believe about God. Just what I believe. Not what I know.

Because I don’t know anything about God.

And neither do you.

A Jesus Hermeneutic: Looking Again

greybibleI think I first read the term (and his definition of) “a Christ-centered hermeneutic” twenty years ago in Wineskins Magazine, penned by Rubel Shelly. (Vol. 2, No. 6; Jan.-Feb. 1994 – archive not back online yet)

Oh my word.

Twenty years ago.

At any rate, I’ve had time to think about it a bit in twenty years, and I still like the idea. A way of looking at the Bible as the story of God and man, pointing to the One who was both God and man: Jesus.

It is one of the few hermeneutics you will actually find in scripture.

It’s implied, of course, but it’s found in the gospel of John 5:39-40, where Jesus upbraids the Jewish leaders persecuting Him:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Unless I miss my guess, Jesus is telling them that if they don’t study the scriptures with the understanding that they speak of Him, they miss the point. They miss life … eternal life.

So I’ve been writing posts about A Jesus Hermeneutic for several years myself, now. Because I find it helpful. And I believe it to be a scriptural way of looking at scripture.

It isn’t going to be helpful in the study of all scripture. Song of Solomon, for instance, may not turn out to be a richer reading experience when viewed through that lens. In fact, I think some folks have gone way off course trying to do that. But then again, Song of Solomon is not going to prove valuable when studied through the lens of a CENI hermeneutic, either. It’s not a bunch of commands. Imposing them on your beloved will not necessarily improve your relationship with him/her.

And I think the CENI hermeneutic is flawed in some uses because of two flawed underlying assumptions that too often accompany it: about the purpose of scripture (that it is all-law, all-the-time, for-everyone, in-all-ages), and about God Himself (He gives us nearly-impossible laws because can’t wait for us to mess up so He can smite us).

So how do I study scripture with a Jesus hermeneutic? Usually, I ask two questions:

  • What does this scripture tell me about Jesus?
  • Therefore (if He is the Son of God), what does this scripture tell me about God and our relationship with Him?

Sometimes, if I’m brave enough, I ask two more:

  • How does that affect me?
  • What am I going to do about it?

Christianity Today just last year ran an interesting series of articles on the concept. Like any hermeneutic, a Jesus hermeneutic has its strengths and weaknesses; its opportunities and pitfalls; its useful applications and its off-target applications.

As I can’t really begin to aspire to the level of scholarship of the various authors, I will just say that I found the series helpful and challenging.

I’ll close this post with the questions that eventually go through the mind of anyone who ponders hermeneutics: Why do we have to have a hermeneutic? Why do we need to read scripture through a lens of any magnification or color tint? Why can’t we just read it for what it is?

Because we all do, whether we intend to or not. We read everything with some measure of expectation, preconception, opinion, or judgment — based on whatever exposure we’ve had to any part of it, from any source. We read it through the lens of perception.

An atheist reads scripture with the determination to discredit and disprove.

A believer reads scripture with the intention of finding and building faith.

A person who has no interest in it reads disinterestedly.

So we’d do well to consider the lenses with which we read, evaluate them in advance, choose wisely among them for the one or ones that are going to be helpful, illuminating, logical, consistent, appropriate, and as objective as we can stand for them to be.

Because I have a strong feeling that if we really could read scripture without any kind of subjective lens, the sheer power of the truth would overcome us and reduce us to whimpering puddles of humility.

I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

But then again … you’d probably see and hear it for yourself, and I wouldn’t have to.

The Difference Between Truth and Fact

There is a difference, you know.

Before you argue with me, let me define my terms for the sake of the conversation.

Facts are a set that overlap the set containing truth, if you want to graph the difference. Dictionaries define “truth” as “a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like;” they define a “fact” as “a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true.”

There’s an objective value to fact. Facts are known by “actual experience or observation.” Facts can be researched, measured, quantitatively tested, verified, proven.

There’s a subjective value to truth. Truth can be a “fact, proposition, principle or the like.” Truth can be expressed, discussed, qualitatively evaluated, affirmed, accepted.

Facts populate the language of science.

Truth populates the language of faith.

Truth allows people the dignity of making an informed choice, of thinking for themselves, of meditating and considering and evaluating and coming to a point where they can say within themselves, “I believe.”

Well, this is what I believe:


The Bible is not scientific study. Scientific study is not the Bible.

The study of the origins of the universe through science is not the study of the beginning of God’s story about mankind.

One looks to answer how was the world created; the other, by Whom and why.

Let me put it this way. You can look up what grass is at Wikipedia. I already have, and here it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grass.

You can look up a poem that asks and answers “What is grass?” by Walt Whitman, and it goes like this: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-child-said-what-is-the-grass/


Now, who is right?

Wikipedia? or Whitman?

Well, they both are.

They’re both “right.”

Because Wikipedia is trying to answer the question in a scientific way — with facts.

And Whitman is trying to explore the question in a poetic way — through truth.

You don’t get faith from scientific study, although many of the answers you will find within it are formed from evidence, conjecture, experimentation, AND faith in the conclusions based on the results and the logic used to reach them.

You don’t get science from the Bible, even though many of the things you read there have a basis in communicating source and order and reason and purpose. So we meditate on it, talk about it, come to conclusions, and we believe what we choose to believe.

The purpose of science is to help us find answers.

The purpose of the Bible is to help us find faith.

What might happen to our worldview if we stopped trying to see the Bible as a book communicating dry facts and tedious law, and saw it as a volume telling us the truth, a Story leading to a proposition/principle/or-the-like to be accepted or rejected?

And that proposition would answer the most important question of all:

Is Jesus the Messiah looked forward to in prophecy from earliest times … the fulfillment in full obedience of the law of God … His very Son through whom and by whom and for whom all things were created … the last Adam undoing the fatal lock of sin upon our souls wrought by the first Adam and every Adam’s child of us since … the perfect-yet-crucified-yet-resurrected Savior and Reconciler of all creation to her Creator?

How would it affect our view of others if we saw them not as good or evil; right or wrong; lost or saved; this or that; one or the other — but as beloved of God to the point that every last Adam’s child of us since Eden was worth the price of the very life of His Son?

How could it not improve our ministry of the gospel if we focused on the gospel, the Story, the main thing and not all the seeming factual contradictions or the tantalizing mysteries or the difficulties of translation or the differences of language and meaning? If we left behind the elementary doctrines of man about salvation and sanctification and predestination and excommunication — and only, singularly, lovingly told the story of Jesus over and over and over with undiminished and increasing passion; passion that is the very witness and hallmark of His Holy Spirit within us?

What if we let the facts sort themselves out by the ones who are enamored and enraptured by facts and science and proof, and we just told the simple truth?

And gave people the gift of reaching their own conclusions?

What We Know and What We Don’t

You can get yourself into a mess of trouble when you can no longer discern what you know from what you don’t.

For example, we know from Acts 20:7 that the intention of the mission party was to break bread on the first day of the week.

What we don’t know is a lot.

  • Was the term “breaking bread” used exclusively of the Lord’s Supper? Or was it simply indicative of a common meal? Or both?
  • Was the first day of the week the only day that this was done?
  • Was it done every week? (They did stay there seven days, v. 6. Did they also do this on the day they arrived? Does that exclude every other day of the week but the first?)
  • Had the practice become less frequent since the early, daily practice of church gathering in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42ff)?
  • If this was a weekly observance, was this practice unique to Troas?
  • Did they actually break bread on the first day of the week, or was it delayed until after Paul spoke and Eutychus fell from the window (vs. 8-12)? Or was it done both before and after?
  • Was this an example that was intended to be binding as law on the gathered church everywhere forever afterward? Or just a mention of an intention?

When we start saying that this passage of scripture says more than what we know, we’ve drawn a conclusion (or two. Or more). A conclusion may be a possibility, but it is not a certainty. And it is of human origin.

When we start saying that our conclusion is doctrine, God’s doctrine, and therefore law, we’ve gone beyond what the scripture says and have made our worship vain. (Matthew 15:9 and Mark 7:7, where Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13)

That means we’ve gotten ourselves into a mess of trouble.

It really doesn’t matter how skillfully and scholarly we defend our conclusion; it remains a conclusion we’ve drawn. A theory. An idea.

No matter how conscientiously we observe our conclusion, nor how long — even to the point of it becoming a tradition — it remains a conclusion.

And if we start judging each other based on our conclusions, we’ve gotten ourselves into a bigger mess of trouble.

There are so many passages of scripture which make this principle so clear, I hardly know where to begin. Let’s settle for now with this one, from Paul who was given quite a bit more than just the ability to draw conclusions:

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? ~ 1 Corinthians 4:1-7

As conclusions (or, if you wish to call them something else: interpretations, traditions, issues, disputable matters, whatever) we are free to observe them ourselves in good conscience — to the Lord — by the advice in Romans 14. But the same chapter forbids us from judging another believer, treating him or her with contempt, and putting an obstacle before them over this conclusion we’ve drawn regarding one day being holier than another.

I really don’t think that’s a conclusion I’ve drawn.

I think that’s literally what it says.

Personally — and this IS a conclusion — I don’t believe there is such a thing as celebrating the Lord’s Supper too frequently. If that is indeed what’s described in Acts 2 and Acts 20, then in the former chapter it seems to be done daily and devotedly; in public and in private; in generosity and hospitality; in the good pleasure of both God and man.

This early gathering of saints was heady with the joy of salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the blessing of fellowship together. If our goal as believers is to be like a first-century church, why not Jerusalem at the beginning? If our goal is to be like Christ, how much more like Him could we be in this? What benefits and blessings yet unknown to us might accrue from remembering Him in this unique way at the table?

Every single day.

In The Name Of ….

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~ Colossians 3:17

I’ve read a lot of writers in the fellowship of churches of Christ who insist that this verse means that (in the words of at least one of them): “Whatever we say and do must be supported by His authority” and “The church should obey the apostles’ teaching and should not adhere to anything not authorized by Christ.”

Which all sounds very scriptural and obedient and worthy, except that not everything that a church can do (even a lot of good things) can’t be said to be specifically authorized by Christ.

And a lot of things that churches — even churches led by some of these writers — are doing all the time are not specifically authorized.

I don’t really want to get into all that; it’s an old argument.

What I want to ask is: Where does the word “authority” fit into this verse? Which words is it between, so I can find it? Does this verse really have anything to do with the authority of Christ as a prerequisite for doing anything?

These writers’ logic goes like this: because a great many Old Testament verses and a few New Testament verses use the phrase “in the name of” to connote that someone spoke or acted “by the authority of,” that’s what it means here in Colossians 3; it can have no other meaning. (They’ll cite Deuteronomy 18; 1 Samuel 17:45; 2 Kings 2:24; Esther 8:10; Isaiah 48:1; Jeremiah 11:21; Acts 4:18; 16:18; James 5:14 and perhaps some others, and I won’t quibble.)

Trouble is, in the Old Testament and New, there are plenty of instances where “in the name of” has little or none of that connotation; it can mean “in behalf of” (1 Chronicles 16:221:19Psalm 129:8; Jeremiah 26:16; Matthew 21:9; Acts 5:40; 1 Corinthians 1:10) or “in honor of” (1 Samuel 20:421 Kings 18:32; Psalm 20:5; Micah 4:5) or “trusting in / dependent upon” (Psalm 20:7; 124:8; Isaiah 50:10; Zephaniah 3:12; John 3:18; Acts 2:38; 10:48; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 John 3:23) or even “in gratitude to” (Psalm 106:47Ephesians 5:20)

The context of this verse is gratitude; giving thanks to God through Christ. Let’s just read a few verses which verse 17 culminates:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~ Colossians 3:15-17

Yes, the context is worship; specifically the sharing of gratitude to God with fellow believers in wisely teaching and edifying each other in song. It should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.

How does that mean “with the authority of the Lord Jesus”? Is His authority needed in order to say “Thank you” to God? Is it a command to close each prayer “In Jesus’ Name” or God will not hear it? Was Jesus’ name required at the end of every prayer from Adam until the resurrection, too? Did the apostles all pray and sing and close each prayer and hymn “In Jesus’ Name” lest God not listen to them? Must we?

Is this a command to sing and sing only? Is this a command that specifically forbids instruments of music by not mentioning them at all?

Is this the only way that we are authorized to teach and admonish one another by vocal music? Should we have cantors rather than preachers?

Is there anywhere in this verse something that says everything a church or believer does must be specifically authorized by the authority of Jesus Christ and/or that anything not specifically authorized is automatically forbidden and condemned and punishable if violated by eternal hellfire (as some writers would have you believe)?

Does it only apply to gathered worship or also to individual worship?

Does it apply only to worship? (It does say “all.”)

I think there’s at least one alternative and better interpretation of the phrase “in the name of.”

I think this passage is a reminder that Jesus promised and explained:

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. ~ John 14:13-14; see also 15:16; 16:23-26

It is a custom that reminds both Jew and Gentile (who have been used to another way of praying and praising their God or gods) of the One through whom they have believed in a God who has accepted His last sacrifice for sin.

Surely we are to be as grateful to the Son as to the Father God; both made that sacrifice.

And let’s just think about the concept of worship for a moment. Is worship something that God wants from us because He has commanded it and requires it and expects us to only do it in prescribed ways with no margin for creativity and so we do it out of obligation, duty, fear and selfish desire to obey in order to be saved in heaven and avoid eternal punishment? Is that the motivation from which true worship springs?

Or does worship best flow from gratitude … from the joy of receiving the promise, of being blessed, of having worth ascribed to us by God and being entrusted with the precious gospel of Jesus Christ, to faithfully and truthfully bear it to others who need it as dearly as ourselves? Not to mention the power and promise that He will give what we ask (and doesn’t that imply a responsibility to know His will and to want it to be done and to ask for it to be done through us)?

Are we not to do all that we do in gratitude for what God through Christ has done for us?

The verse says what it says. Does it mean what these writers say it means? Is that the one and only meaning it can have — that “in the name of” means “by the authority of” and no other?

And if it can have both meanings in this passage … where in the context of the verse are the words that talk about authority?

Yes, I am using a different hermeneutic from most people, a Jesus Hermeneutic, that asks “Which interpretation draws me closer to God through Christ?” and the answer that it yields has nothing to do with the law Jesus fulfilled or instructions God left out but expects us to obey anyway.

And I will keep using it, because it points to the Way, the Truth and the Life and not to the law of sin and judgment and death.

Keith Brenton: Ultra-Conservative

Methuselah MootIs that possible?

Well, probably not in terms of politics, but with regard to Christianity … yes, I think it might be.

You see — as I’ve shared before — I think there are a lot more things expressed by the Lord in imperative tones than just five or six “steps” and BING! you’re “saved.”

And I believe that everything the Lord asks of us, whether you want to call them commands or not, are necessary because He knows they are good for us, will bless us, will help us to grow spiritually and to grow closer to Him and to others.

Yet the preaching within too much of Christianity is centered — not on Christ who saves us — but on what we must and must not do (as long as it’s not more than five or six “steps”) in order to be “saved.”

And I put “steps” in quotes because you won’t find the concept of “steps to salvation” in scripture.

And I put “saved” in quotes because you won’t find many preachers willing to share with you a comprehensive definition of what it means to be “saved.”

Eternal life in heaven with God and a get-out-of-hell-free card, sure. I get that. Most people do. Is that all? Sure, it’s enough, but is it all? What does it mean to be “saved” in this life?

That, I believe, is at least as much of what Jesus’ teachings and example were concerned with as pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.

Yet when was the last time you heard or read (or perhaps gave) a sermon on the imperative expressed in Luke 12:33? Is that not a salvific concept? Is it not a salvation “issue”? Or is it just about whether your bank account will take you through eternity when you get to heaven?

When was the last time you encountered teaching on Matthew 5:16? Why does 27-32 get a lot of press but 38-48 gets virtually none?

Why do we ignore 6:16-18 entirely? Did Jesus not say those words? Are they not in imperative mood? Do they not presuppose that we will elect to fast?

Is there any one of those things that God asks of us that doesn’t testify to (and live out before others around us) His goodness, His grace, His power to save, His willingness to do so, His love for us, His very own Son’s life?

I could rattle off another dozen, and they wouldn’t add to the value of the discussion because I’m betting you could too. Let me just cut to the chase:

We don’t preach those things because they’re our shortcomings and oversights and, yes, sins of omission — and if they were preached about with the same ferocity and intensity that marriage, divorce and remarriage or salvational step-jumping is preached then someone would get fired for infringing on our consciences instead of preaching hellfire and damnation against someone else’s sins.

There. I’ve said it. And I ain’t a-takin’ ‘er back.

So you just call me liberal all you want to. You’re wrong. I’ll bet I am at least as conservative about what Jesus said needs doing and what God wants for us to do as anyone else you know. Probably more.

It’s what man says about what scripture says that I have my doubts about.

‘Cause it’s not like scripture doesn’t say enough already to convict and still save every single daggum one of us.

Sermons and Chimes: The Bible

Alfred Ellmore, my Great-Great GrandfatherI’m coming to terms with my heritage in Churches of Christ through the person of my great-great grandfather Alfred Ellmore, one of the early preachers in the Restoration Movement that yielded this fellowship. This is an installment from his 1914 book Sermons and Chimes, and my reactions to it in the form of a dialogue with him:



The Bible is a finished book; it will admit of neither addition, subtraction nor change. No other book has such resources as the Bible. Each author has had full privilege to say all he wished to say, and therefore the book is complete. On this point the following summary is submitted. God in this book is heard, and has said all he wished to say, or to have said. Christ, both before and after his death, has said all he wants to say. The Holy Spirit, through men, is fully heard, good men uninspired have been heard, wicked men have been heard, the prophets have been heard, and the Arch-Deceiver once had an encounter, face to face, with the Master. All these have had impartial hearings, and wish to say nothing more. Now, if any man wish additional revelation, who would make it and what could he say?

I think I’ve been misunderstood in my answer to this question, dear ancestor, and I have no great desire to interrupt the flow of your thought, but … The Holy Spirit might well desire to make additional revelation and what He could say to and through people would be up to Him. But it might well take the form of personal direction or information (Acts 16:7), a warning (Acts 20:23; 21:11), or to inspire a realization of the blessed Lordship of Jesus, the Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3). These are revelations that are not supplanting, but supporting; not replacing, but reinforcing; not rescinding but reminding. I would not rush to say that His work is over and done.

There is no book in the world over which there has been as much debate and contention as has been over the Bible. And there is no room for another divine law. Its divinity has been discussed, upon by both sides, by as able controvertists as the world has ever had.

But because of the great controversies many reject the Bible. But are there not as great differences between men in other callings? Take men in the medical profession, and in the law, and over capital and labor, and we find in all these callings men who differ, and they are at sword’s points, each contending fore his dogma and his party. And while right and wrong are in the world, there will be religious differences. And while all acts pertaining to men’s duty are made plain in the Bible there is in it a depth, and a height and a breadth which no human mind can grasp. If all the mysteries in the Bible could have been solved, the book would have lost its interest many centuries ago.

But that the tyro may know that the Bible is super-human, take the following:

1. The Bible knows the past, the present and the future alike, and never makes a mistake as to date. It knows our course tomorrow as well as yesterday, our line to the grave as well as to our cradle. It gives a true history of our ancestry back to Eden. But it gives a minute history of the world for 4,000 years before Christ. And in recording events in history, behold the writers were giving prophecy for the future, and if these prophecies could be properly explained, their fulfillment would be as accurate as is the needle to the pole. But please turn to the future. The Bible lightens up the grave and gives assurance of the day of judgment, and when all the evidence is brought in, each part will fit into its place as the wheel fits into a perfect machine.

Great-great Grandpa … this 4,000-year reckoning of time, of course, depends solely on the research of Bishop James Ussher, whose chronological estimations were often included in the center margins of two-column commentary King James Version Bibles in your era, weren’t they? Especially the Scofield Reference Bible?

2. It advocates every pure thought, and every pure word, and every righteous deed performed by man. On the other hand, it condemns every licentious thought, every idle word, and every wicked act of man.

3. We dare not add to this volume nor take from it. “If any man shall add unto these things God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book, and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy (Rev.) God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and from the holy city, and from the things written in this book.”

For near 2,000 years men have been legislating and forming laws and creeds for the supposed benefit of man, but no one man nor body of legislators have been found who could add even the eleventh command to the decalogue.

4. All other books, whether of history, of law, or of prophecy, when read once, or at most but a few times, lose their interest, and we keep them merely as books of reference. We have read them and exhausted their fountain. Not so with the Bible. We read it day by day, and chapter after chapter, and it is still the inexhaustible fountain to us.

5. It has been killed, and burned, and its funeral has been preached ten thousand times, but it rises up out of its ashes and haunts its assassin to the grave, and the more he opposes it the worse it troubles him. And in that sad hour which awaits all opposers of the blessed volume, the smoke of their sins will rise in awful density, until their lights will go out into eternal night, while the men of faith pass down into their graves with a halo of peace encircling them, into the palace royal of the universe

It is now about 1,900 years since the book was finished, and it has stood the storms of persecution, and it is gaining victories more wonderful than ever before.

But whether we shall ever be able to account for the book, one thing is certain, the book is here, and it is very much alive. And if we refuse to let it give its own origin, how shall we account for its advent into the world? It is not a product of nature, for nature reproduces of her kind. It is not spontaneous, it did not just happen.  Being a book of so much intelligence shows that it is the work of effort, of intelligence.

Well, did men — good men — of themselves, create the book? No, the authors who wrote claim they were moved to write by a higher power. We should not assign to men a work they claim not to be the authors of. But have bad men produced this book? Then, pray, what was their object in writing such a book, since from first to last it condemns wicked men, and seals their death warrant on almost every page? No, good men who wrote say they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and since God is its author, and the Holy Spirit is the medium, we claim that no evil design is in the book.

But one of the very greatest hindrances to the perfect understanding of the book is the lack of knowing how to classify and arrange its different parts into one perfect whole. A very common idea is, since the book is divine, that it is applicable to all people, under all circumstances, without considering as to the writer, to whom he is writing, and under which dispensation did those addressed live. They open, read and apply to themselves, when probably the language can not apply to them by hundreds of years.

Ah! Would that many of my siblings in Christ could understand this principle today: that some scripture is meant for us, some meant for all, and some was meant for others of a time long past. But the discernment of which sets of language within scripture does indeed apply to us can be difficult. What a blessing that we can ask and receive the discernment of God’s own Holy Spirit! (Luke 11:13; Ephesians 1:17; Colossians 1:9; James 1:5) Yet, dear ancestor, your era’s thrill over classification — which led to excesses like Dispensationalism — does not compare with the recognition that God through the Logos, His Christ, was consistently at work throughout the Word start to finish to reconcile mankind to Himself through His patient instruction with our best interests at heart.

It has been about 6,000 years since creation, and these years have been divided into three dispensations, the Patriarchal, the Jewish and the Christian. The Patriarchal began at creation, and ran to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. During this age there was no church of any kind in the world. The only worship the world had was family worship. The head of the family was the prophet, priest and ruler. The Jewish dispensation began with the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai, and ran to the crucifixion of Christ, and by that act it was taken away.

The Christian dispensation began fifty days after the resurrection of Christ, and will continue till the sounding of the trumpet and the end of the world. Obedience to the Patriarchal law will make neither a Jew nor a Christian. Obedience to the ten commandments, with all the carnal ordinances added, can not make a Christian. Obedience to the New Testament can make a man neither a Patriarch nor a Jew, but a Christian only. Observe these classifications and you will be aided much in coming to the perfect knowledge of the Bible.

The next grand division is to separate the two testaments. The first is the testament of Moses, the second is the testament of Christ. God has furnished the world two lawgivers, viz., Moses and Christ, and under these lawgivers we have two classes of inspired men, the prophets under Moses and the apostles under Christ. And from these divine leaders, and their bands of inspired men, we have substantially the Bible. Take Moses out of the Old Testament and we have a riddle, take Christ out of the New Testament and we have a novel. But we are not under Moses, but are under Christ. We are not the children of Abraham in the flesh, but we are children of Abraham in the spirit. We are not under the law, but we are under the gospel. We are not saved by the typical lamb, without blemish, but we are saved and sealed with the blood of Christ.

Here I must quibble over the appellation “lawgiver” applied to Jesus Christ. Though it is true He gave commandments (I can think of very few expressed as such, though: Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:34 — and the first two of this Law of Christ and the Spirit of Life were a part of the Mosaic law), I gather from John 1:17 and Galatians 3 and Romans 10:4 that He would prefer to be known as a bringer of grace and truth. We are indeed — as you say — under the gospel rather than law.

But we will hear Paul further upon this matter. Now that no man is justified by the law before it is evident. The righteous shall live by faith. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. Is then the law against the promises of God? God forbid. For if there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been by the law. But the scripture shut up all things under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterward be revealed, so that the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer [under] a schoolmaster. “For ye are the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female, for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus, And if ye are Christ’s, then ye are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:13, 29).

We are now brought to the New Testament, which when classified, the plan of salvation will become so plain that children can understand it. This book contains three laws, or rules, viz., the law of faith, the law of obedience, and the law of Christian Duty. Matthew, Mark Luke and John are establishing the divinity of Christ, and they take four different lines to prove this proposition, each one writing from his own standpoint and to his respective readers. The four historians show that Christ was the Son of Eve, the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, and that he was the Son of God. And when we have read these divine histories we have been referred to the Old Testament 193 times for prophetic proof, and behold when we follow references the statements are there, hence these two testaments are bound together by the golden threads of inspiration. And when we search his life, his miracles, his death and his resurrection, and to these proofs add the inspiration and the work of the apostles, we have a line of testimony as broad as earth, as deep as the grave, and as high as heaven. And John says, “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 20:30.)

Great-great Grandpa, the term “law of faith” is the only scriptural term among the three you outline (Romans 3:27); the others (the “law of obedience” and the “law of Christian Duty”) having failed to make an appearance in the Bible. The entirety of Romans 3 — indeed of the whole epistle — argues against the idea of the law’s sufficiency to save one. Had you clearly proposed these as principles rather than as law, I might have less to argue about — yet they still seem to be heavily works-oriented. In my era, we can look back on the damage that a works-centered doctrine has done to the faith, as opposed to the opportunities posed by a Christ-centered one.

And the four gospel authors do take pains to emphasize different aspects of Jesus’ Sonship, yet I would have to say that they all speak of His humanity as well as His divinity — especially the Synoptics, which have the emphases on “the Son of Eve, the Son of Abraham, the Son of David.” And I would not lean too heavily on the number 193 as the total number of prophecies of the Christ fulfilled in scripture. Some folks have compiled a good deal more.

Now when a man has become convinced of the divinity of Christ, and convicted of his own sins, he is ready for the question: What must I do to be saved? and for the divine answer he is brought to Acts of the Apostles. Here is the history of the work of the apostles who had been immersed in the Holy Spirit, and sent into all the world to preach the gospel, and here are reports of their work, showing how they converted men, and this is the book from which we learn how to become Christians. Our Savior, in giving to the apostles the authority to preach, says: “All authority in heaven and upon earth is given unto me: Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:16.) And the reports given in Acts inform us that as soon as the people heard and believed, they were baptized immediately, after which they rejoiced. (Acts 2:38, 8:26, 16:19, 34.)

Having been made a believer by the testimonies of the four historians, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and having become by Acts an obedient believer, having been born of water and of the Holy Spirit, baptized into Christ, he is now ready to hear the law of Christian duty. The first law informs him what to believe in order to become a Christian, the second what he must do to become a Christian, and the third law informs him how to live the Christian life and be saved in heaven. These Epistles of Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude, which, in their direct application, are not for the sinner in the world, but for the household of faith.

Having outlined the Bible and shown its proper classification, we are now ready to speak of some of its blessings and its wonderful influences upon the faithful in this life. The first will be its power.

1. It carries with it a secret power which is wholly unaccounted for, unless we admit that it is divine. And this power will be manifest upon every day life. It will accompany us not only into the sanctuary, upon the Lord’s day, but it will go with the devout man in his store, his fields and his bank. It will call him into the house of prayer and prepare him to worship.

Is this solely the power of the book authored by the Holy Spirit, dear ancestor, or the power of God working in the devout through the testimony of the book as well as the Spirit within?

2. Two young persons make contract in the marriage relation. They marry, and though the young lady has many friends of the opposite sex, she leaves them all for this young man, and though the young man has many young lady associates, he quits them all for her sake, and though they live fifty years, this Book will be the golden cord which will bind them together in the sweetest bond of earth. And what a home they will have all these years, if they will let the Bible govern their conduct.

3. When I was ten, I visited with my parents a community 140 miles distant, in which there was no church, but it had been known many years for whiskey, cards, dancing and horse racing. An uncle of mine and a few other good men had the gospel preached, a few obeyed, and from time to time good preachers visited them. When I became a preacher I began visiting them, once a year. The soil was thoroughly broken and the good seed bountifully sown, and within a few years more than 800 people were gathered in, and dancing and horse racing and card playing there were things unknown.

I am so curious about the name of this community! I wish you had shared it. Yet, as with many of the communities mentioned in scripture, there may be no surviving trace of this influence for good. Certainly there was an era in which the acts you name must have been regarded by polite society as the most dreadful of sins, but Great-great Grandpa, these seem quaint and relatively innocent to my peers. Was it because the word preached was against sin yet not for the righteousness of God imparted by Christ’s blood?

4. In a little city there are many powers brought to bear upon the wicked people — the municipal authority, the judge, the lawyers, the justices, the sheriff, the constables, with three to ten sessions of court each year — and will all these powers keep order? Thieves and gamblers and crooks of various kinds swarm into the city. But if some good preachers and just a few good men start the preaching of the gospel, the atmosphere quiets down, and, sirs, if all the people would take the New Testament and live it out perfectly, people could sleep with their doors unlocked, and without weapons under their pillows.

5. In order to [protect] safety of life and property, say nothing as to peace, our government must have a standing army, a navy, a penitentiary, and sometimes two in each state, a jail in each county seat, courts, judges, lawyers and thousands of law books, but if all men would abide just the New Testament, we might disband the army, tear down every penitentiary and jail, take the locks off our doors, and put away our weapons, and rest at night in peace! It is the power of God unto salvation, and it saves our souls!

But the Bible is a safe book. There are books the husband would not wish his wife to read, and there are many mean and immoral books the wife would not wish her husband to read. There are books you would not wish your children to read, but the Bible is not one of them. The Bible is a safe book in the hands of the President, of Congressmen, of Senators, of lawyers, of citizens, of neighbors, of parents and of children, and it is dangerous to none — no, not ONE.

I am uncertain how “safe” the Bible really is. Even in our era, only the bravest few will explore the Song of Solomon from the pulpit … or discuss the obliteration of entire peoples by God’s hand or His people’s armies … or investigate other aspects of divine sovereignty that still rock the foundations of our faith today. In our era, we have seen the Bible’s scripture used to justify all kinds of evil, especially when verses are lifted out of their context and given new, alien meanings by the interpretation of wicked people with selfish agendas. How safe is the Bible? It is only as safe as the one reading from it. Yet we are promised a Spirit to assist us with this task beyond our ken, if we would but ask.

But another objector says: “You Protestants can’t agree on what the Bible teaches.” Perhaps he has not considered the real source of division among the professed followers of Christ, or what it is they are differing over. Do not be surprised when I tell you we are almost perfectly agreed as to what the Bible contains, but the things we are quarreling about are the things not in the Bible. At first thought you may say this is a mistake, but it will be easy to convince you that it is true. Let us see: A penitent man wishes to be baptized, he and a preacher go out to where there is much water, they both go down into the water, the candidate is buried in the water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and they come up out of the water. Now who says that man has not been scripturally baptized? There is not an intelligent man in the United States who regards authority, who will say he has not been lawfully baptized. Why? Because this is in the Bible. But if the most intelligent preacher will argue that to sprinkle a few drops of water upon the person is also baptism, will he show you where such can be found in the New Testament? He will not venture to do so. Why? Because he knows there is no such scripture.

Ah! This begins, I see, a tirade which will accuse and lambaste a broad percentage of the Christian population whose interpretations differ with yours, Great-great Grandpa. (Though many who followed you would have begun it by recoiling at being called “Protestant” to begin with, as if part of a denomination.) Those who disagree either do not regard authority, are not intelligent, or are not a part of the United States (or some combination/totality thereof). Does this approach to the argument really do it justice? Does it address in a kind, teaching way the beautiful deep meaning of baptism and thereby provide an excuse to segue into the truth of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection providing for our own death to sin, immersion in water and into His life, and ultimate resurrection as first a new person and ultimately an immortal one?

But what is the name by which the followers of Christ should be called? Two names are found in the New Testament, disciples and Christians, but the name disciple does not apply as the family name. While John the Baptist, the twelve and the seventy were getting out materials for the church which Jesus built, their converts were properly called disciples — learners — but after the church was built, the followers were divinely called Christians. And now let us show that all recognize this name as divine. It is not offensive to the Presbyterian to tell him he is no Baptist. This no more offends him than to tell him he is not a blacksmith. It does not offend the Friend Quaker to tell him he is not a Methodist. They each care no more for the name by which some other sectarian body is called than to tell them they are not Modern Woodmen. And why is this? Because they all know these modern names are all human. But you tell any one of them that he is not a Christian, and see how he squirms. They know his is divine, and yet they each hold as tenaciously to their human names as if Paul were a Presbyterian or Peter were a Baptist.

Yet while Christians were first so-called at Antioch — perhaps divinely — it is equally possible that they were so-named pejoratively … and that would almost certainly hold true in the century of persecution to follow.

For the last half century there has been a terrific war over music in the divine worship. Now what caused this wrangle? Let us see. A band of worshipers meet in the sanctuary to worship, each one is furnished a song book, a hymn is announced, all sing with the spirit and with the understanding; is this divine worship? There is not a dissenting voice. Why? Because it is thus written in the Bible. But up come a few fidgety, ignorant, heady and likely impious members, and introduce the instrument, a number of the intelligent, faithful and loyal brethren object to the instrument, and we have a wrangle, a war. Now what is this fuss about and who caused it? Who are causing this musical war all over the country? Is the Bible responsible for it? Ask Mr. Garrison, of St. Louis, who are the guilty ones. We are warring over a thing unknown in the New Testament, and no people on earth know it better than our apostate brethren know it. And since the faithful have rung this in their ears a thousand times, and they refuse to hear, what kind of sentence to do they look for in the great day?

Here, Great-great Grandfather, you have offered no scriptural foundation for your position on instruments of music in worship … offering instead only insults for those who practice it with them, and judgment, and condemnation. (And compliments for those who practice worship without them.) With all due respect, my ancestor, this is beneath your dignity and the dignity of any follower of Christ. How was your position rung in the ears of those who opposed your view? Was it privately, as Aquila and Priscilla conversed with Apollos (Acts 18:26)? Did anyone go to them at all (Matthew 18:15-17) or were some steps in the process conveniently skipped so that it all went public in “brotherhood” publications first — and in tones that spoke of anything but brotherhood? I realize that the hurts of this division were fresh and real and sometimes personal in your day. Yet this approach is just meanness — and I am persuaded that the writer of Ecclesiastes would deem it “meaningless.”

But this is a comforting book, it brings a streak of sunshine into the heart of the poor man as he toils in the fields, or in the shops, for his bread. When the father returns from the funeral of his wife, and sits down with his half dozen children in mother’s room, and looks at the empty armchair, and then at the faded dresses, Oh, what is the source of consolation to him then? What is the book he would have read at the funeral, and who would he have to read it?

1. When the young man leaves home, what book will mother put in his suit case?

2. When the happy young bride and groom begin life, what book do they need first?

3. When a man fails in business, and his friends desert him, what book will give him comfort?

4. When the young man starts into business, what book does he most need?

5. When grandpa has reached his eightieth milestone, and grandma and half of his children, and nearly all his early associates, are in their graves, and he feels that he is now only in the way, what book will give him comfort then?

6. When your children get to be five, buy each of them a Bible, and see that they read a lesson from it every day.

Dear ancestor and brother, there are many worthy thoughts in this message. A lot of them survive the language and circumstances of a century ago. I understand some of the circumstances of your era, and its analytical focus on the Bible. At the same time, this message missed many opportunities to be gospel. It gives short shrift to the Savior in favor of the medium. It is not the Bible which saves souls, but the Christ. The power is not in the pages, but in the blood.

Whether classified and divided up into dispensations by man or unified by the eternal purpose of God, the Bible conveys the Story of God and us, culminating in gospel of Jesus Christ, His Son. Scripture looks forward to Him, looks directly at Him, looks back on Him, looks forward to His glorious return. It is not solely law any more than God is solely justice and righteousness. The Bible brings the message of grace and reconciliation, as surely as God is also loving and merciful — throughout all of scripture.

I am not at all certain that your era, Great-great Grandpa, was ready for — or would have accepted — a Jesus Hermeneutic. I’m not at all certain that mine is. But I am convinced that we need to adopt it, and soon, if we wish to recapture the true power of partnership with God found in scripture and delivered through the promised Holy Spirit:

  • I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. ~ Ephesians 3:7
  • For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. ~ Romans 1:16
  • I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done — by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. ~ Romans 15:18-20
  • For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 3:11

What Not to Preach, Reconsidered

A further thought on some previous posts (such as “What Is The Purpose of Preaching?”, “What Should We Preach?”, and “Preaching Jesus”) …

“Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:16

I can’t believe that in all those posts, I missed quoting this perspective from Paul. The context is his right to receive financial support from those who heard the gospel from him, and his refusal to exercise it in order to preserve his integrity as a preacher and apostle.

I find this a poignant extension of his expressed resolve:

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:2.

A good rule of thumb.

So my answer to the question “What is the purpose of preaching?” would be phrased like this, I think:

To draw people closer to God through Jesus Christ.

There might well be a dozen better ways to phrase it, but for me this is the essence. Teaching is important, but if it doesn’t lead people closer to God through Christ, it doesn’t really qualify as good news (news, maybe) or gospel (because if it doesn’t involve Christ, it isn’t gospel), or preaching (because if it doesn’t involve gospel, it isn’t preaching).

I understand that this is a tedious and one-sided definition, and we can wheedle each other about it all we want to – but when all is said and nothing’s done, it’s what I strongly and deeply believe is the commonly understood definition of “preaching” among the believing proclaimers of century one.

What they preached and proclaimed was Christ, and Him crucified and risen – plus what I tend to think of as “the ongoing Story of Christ”: the effect of His gospel on the lives of His followers. That, too, is gospel (Acts 11; 15:12; 21:10-20).

I think they would have viewed the spending of too much proclamation and preaching time on anything else was not a worthwhile use of it. Some might well have thought time spent that way would have been too close to sharing men’s teachings, philosophy, controversy, genealogies, useless talk, and what is falsely called “knowledge.”

Heretics of that time were those who taught something other than the gospel, as nearly as I can tell.

So if I’m ever asked to preach again, I believe my rule of thumb about what not to preach will be: anything that is not – in one way or any other – the gospel.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

What do you think?

Covenant-Appropriate Hermeneutic

New Wineskins - The Instrumental Music IssueI’ll say it right out: I think the CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) hermeneutic can be really useful.

It may not help your appreciation of Hebrew poetic literature or prophecy or history, true. But CENI can really help you determine what God’s law and will was in the Old Testament. And, chances are, the verses you may have heard/seen/read to support this hermeneutic (method of viewing scripture) mostly or all come from the Old Testament.

I think that’s telling. The Old Covenant was about law, the law of Moses. It would seem that the rabbinical schools of thought which emerged at the close of the era chronicled by the Old Testament used something like CENI to create interpretations and traditions.

Many of those included interpretations and traditions that Jesus never failed to surgically explore, to excise any falsehood – and, when necessary, to pronounce dead on arrival.

But a New Covenant requires a new hermeneutic – or two, or maybe even more.

You see, the New covenant is not about law, but grace.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. ~ John 1:17

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ Romans 5:19-21

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. ~ Romans 6:14

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! ~ Galatians 2:21

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. ~ Galatians 5:4

Law can’t save. Law can only condemn. (Romans 8)

I’m afraid that many people who apply an Old Covenant hermeneutic to the New Covenant – trying to establish what is both written and unwritten in it as only law that must be obeyed to the tiniest jot and tittle – many of those people eventually become very good at doing what law itself is good at doing:


It can start innocently enough with simple correction (even lovingly delivered), but it can also snowball out-of-control into accusation, insinuation, judgment, and condemnation of others.

All because the wrong hermeneutic for that covenant is in play.

I’m sure I’m not the first to propose A Jesus Hermeneutic (Luke 24:27; John 5:39-40) – one which looks at scripture and seeks to see Jesus Christ yet to come, fully present, returned to heaven and/or yet to come again. It puts all of scripture in perspective for me. It has application for my own life and choices. It implicitly asks the Charles Sheldon question, “What would Jesus do?” and all of its other forms.

But I would be the first to admit that while it can accomplish that purpose, it is not of ultimate value in helping determine the answer to procedural questions, especially with regard to church and worship. (It is still of great value there, but as an overarching rather than specific hermeneutic.)

Al Maxey has done a great service to his fellow Christians by proposing A Reflective Hermeneutic in this relatively brief New Wineskins article. That’s not enough space to fully develop the concept, of course, but the proposal alone that you’ll find there is extraordinary.

He recommends a method of discernment that goes well beyond the simplistic everything-must-be-right-or-wrong viewpoint of the CENI hermeneutic, especially when coupled with the Regulative Principle. That view served the wandering and settling tribes of Israel in a dark, violent, barbaric era. But it cannot deal with the complexity of procedural questions like those Paul dealt with in Romans 14. There are some matters about which God expresses no preference – and He expects us to respect the preferences of others in these situations, not to make law for them or judge them.

But what I want you to notice in the article is that Al doesn’t dip heavily into Old Testament scripture to form or exemplify the Reflective Hermeneutic; he quotes the New Testament to answer the questions which fall under the New Covenant.

Here are the four queries that the Reflective Hermeneutic asks us to make regarding any interpretation of scripture (and I would like to add some scriptures which I feel/agree are supportive of asking these questions):

Is it BIBLICAL? (Matthew 22:29; Acts 17:2, 11; Romans 4:3; 2 Timothy 3:16 and many, many others)
If not, is it NON-BIBLICAL? (Al cites Romans 14; I would add Mark 7:1-23; 1 Corinthians 7:10-13, 1 Corinthians 7:25)
If neither, is it ANTI-BIBLICAL? (Matthew 15:3-6; Colossians 2:8; 1 John 2:22, 4:3; 2 John 1:7)
Finally, is it BENEFICIAL? (Al cites 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 6:12; I would add Romans 6:21-22; Colossians 2:22-23; Hebrews 13:9)

Is that to say there is no law at all in the New Testament or New Covenant? No, not at all; but a Reflective Hermeneutic paired with a Jesus Hermeneutic does recognize these simple facts:

  • that not all scripture is intended to be law;
  • that while obedience testifies to our faith in God’s grace, it does not earn nor merit it;
  • that law can still only condemn and only grace can save.

What Should We Teach?

After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. ~ Matthew 11:1

I quote this simply to point out that the New Testament uses two different words, “preach” and “teach.” Since I am not a biblical languages scholar nor-do-I-play-one-on-television, I don’t know all the nuances of difference between the two Greek words didaskō (teach) and kēryssō (preach; proclaim; herald). I can’t tell you of a certainty that the same words have the same meaning or would have been used in the same situations in which we’d use them today. (See also Acts 4:2, 5:42, 15:35 and Colossians 1:28, where they are used together.)

But I am of the opinion that the Holy Spirit does not use words lightly in scripture – certain words are used for certain reasons – and that we followers of Christ may well have gotten sloppy about what we preach and what we teach, as well as how and when and where.

Jesus taught in synagogues (Matthew 13:54; Mark 1:21, 6:2; 4:15, 13:10; John 6:59), the temple courts (Matthew 21:23; Mark 12:35, 18:49; Luke 19:47, 20:1, 21:37; John 7:14, 7:28, 8:2, 8:20), by a lake (Mark 2:13, 4:1; Luke 5:3), from village to village (Mark 6:7; Luke 13:22), in a house (Luke 5:17-18), even in the streets (Luke 13:26). His disciples followed suit (Acts 5:21 – apostles in the temple courts; Acts 18 – Paul and Apollos in synagogues; Acts 28:31 – Paul at his own house, Acts 8:25-40 – John, Peter and Phillip in village after village, etc.).

Recently, I posted a blog entry (What Should We Preach?) that listed incidences of preaching. Looking at these examples in the New Testament – plus those above – I can’t help but get the impression that there was a difference both in the matter and manner between preaching and teaching, at least in the majority of situations shared there.

The gospel of Jesus Christ was preached, proclaimed, heralded – in a manner which invited no particular interaction. The truth was shared powerfully: Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God; He lived and died and was raised to nail our sins to the cross so that we might be resurrected to new life, eternal life. Simple. Truth. No controversy permitted.

Yet the situations in which other matters were taught seemed to be ones where dialogue was encouraged; people felt free to trade questions and answers. Yes, sometimes the gospel was taught, as well has having been preached or proclaimed. But look back again at what those matters were.

For the most part, what was taught was not the gospel – not the Truth itself – but the ways in which people respond to it; become part of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus taught in beatitudes and parables. He answered and asked questions. He said provocative things which begged for discussion and illumination. He taught about how the truth spreads, how to live it out in daily life, how to pray, and how therefore the kingdom propagates. He prodded about who the Messiah would be, and who people thought He was. He taught what would come, and how to prepare for it.

But what He first preached was the good news.

His followers taught all sorts of love-driven ways to imitate Jesus Christ; taught a theology of redemption, the dangers of heresies, the sufficiency of Christ’s blood and a host of other doctrines.

But what they first preached was the gospel.

I’m afraid that we Christians too often preach a lot of things we should be teaching, and give only teaching mentions and cameos to what we should primarily be preaching.

We wonder why we’re not persuading more people to follow Christ, yet we hardly ever proclaim Him.

We frequently herald a “gospel” of behavior modification but we rarely speak of the One whom we should be like.

We often preach our position on all sorts of disputable matters and neglect the weightiest matter of all.

I think there’s a reason why the gospel is of “first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

I believe there’s a reason that “preach” (Mark 16:15) and “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) are the first imperative verbs in both instances of Jesus’ commission to His followers, followed later by “teach.”

I’m also persuaded that elevating the disputable matters and the doctrines of men to the level of preaching implies incorrectly that they are somehow a part of the gospel. By all means, teach such matters and do so in an environment where all are free to ask and answer questions. Pray together for discernment and the guidance of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14, Philippians 1:9-11, Luke 11:13).

And let the gospel be preached.