The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Does the Bible really claim to be that middle part?

I believe that the Bible is sufficient to lead a person into a relationship with God through Christ that will save from sin and bring meaning and purpose to a life that will be eternally blessed. I don’t know that I can tie that down to a single scripture, or even a concatenation of unrelated scriptures. Still, I believe it. It’s a “big picture” kind of belief.

But I don’t believe that the Bible is – or claims to be – the answer to every question about living for God that can come up in your life.

Is that heresy?

Some folks will quote John 16:13 and interpret that as meaning that He has revealed all truth, and there is no more truth. Does it say that?

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

Hmm. It’s a promise from Jesus to his closest friends – on His last night with them before being betrayed, tried, tortured and murdered – that the Spirit will “guide you into all truth.” He doesn’t say “reveal all truth to you.” He doesn’t say the Holy Spirit will “tell you everything that is yet to come.” He doesn’t promise them that the Spirit will reveal all of the answers to all of their questions about godly living, or church government, or acceptable worship. I don’t see it.

Peter’s opening praise to God in his second epistle (2 Peter 1:3) is sometimes excerpted to prove that New Testament scriptures provide us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Really?

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

I don’t read anything about scripture there, nor above it, nor below it, to put the idea of “scripture” into the context of that verse. And while His divine power is revealed in scripture, it is not exclusively revealed there. It’s also made plain through His creation (I’ll proof-text right back with Romans 1:18-20). How else can you explain the exemplary behavior of so many people who have never heard of God, or who have never known enough about Him to believe? That’s Paul’s argument in his opening salvo to Rome: The proof of God’s goodness is all around us!

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Now, I understand the appeal of sola scriptura. But I think we also need to admit the evidence that scripture introduces – God’s nature as revealed through the inherent goodness of His creation. Truth can be discovered outside of scripture, from the ways in which creation might have taken place – to the encryptive process of the human genome; from the reasons I don’t want to admit to myself that I hold certain beliefs/prejudices – to the depths of desperation felt by a person who loves God and his or her church family, but is starved with homosexual cravings.

Book, chapter and verse for those, anyone?

Folks might also quote 2 Timothy 3:16 as saying that scripture is all-sufficient in all matters.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

First off, the scripture Paul is referrring to would have to be the Old Testament; Timothy wouldn’t have had the New (except, of course, the letter he was holding and maybe a couple of others), because he said Timothy had known it from his youth. So it’s a stretch to say that he’s referring to a canonized Bible. That aside, though – since when does the word “useful” or “profitable” mean “all-sufficient”?

Look, I’m not trying to be contentious here. I just don’t want to try to make scripture say more than it’s trying to say … or to make it more than it is.

It’s God’s word. He chooses what and how much He wants to say.

Once again, let’s be honest. Scripture leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Human logic can, in all good conscience, take the same passage and mean two very different things. But even human logic cannot defend the conclusion that because those things are different, one is automatically right and the other is automatically wrong.

Do we really have to dig into that thing about eating meats, especially if sacrificed to idols?

That was a question of conscience. The council at Jerusalem tried legislating it. As nearly as I can tell, legislating didn’t work. In the end, it turned out to be something you could do in good conscience (it helped if you were a Gentile), but might have real difficulty doing with a clear conscience if you were a Jew.

Was the scripture available in century one all-sufficient to answer that question?

No; the situation required some spiritual guidance and some new scripture to be written. And in the end, Christians really just had to use the guidelines provided and sort it out for themselves.

They were forced to think about it, meditate on it, study existing scripture about it, do a logic-check on it, do a heart-check on it, pray about it, discuss it with each other and decide whether their own freedom of conscience – or tenderness of conscience – was restricting someone else’s in an un-Christlike way. They were tempted to either insist on their own way as right, or they were inspired to accept others as different on the issue but still siblings in Christ.

You won’t find that part of the story spelled out in scripture, will you?

It has to be a lot closer to the whole truth. You know it is.

Because now you’re forced to think about it, meditate on it, study existing scripture about it, do a logic-check on it, do a heart-check on it, pray about it, discuss it with each other and decide.

Does the Bible claim to be all-sufficient when it comes to truth?

Is it possible that God shares His Spirit with us to guide us into all truth today because He intentionally left some blanks unfilled next to the test questions of our lives? (Just like He did for Job?) That some of those answers we need to work out together? That working them out together will bless us far more than insisting on the certainty of our positions?

I believe it’s vitally important to all of us to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

So help us, God.

Let’s Be Honest

My blogging friend Fajita, with his usual fine knack for getting to the point and nailing it with a single blow, named several reasons for people using the wrong interpretational “tool” (hermeneutic) in his comment to the previous post. The middle one was:

selfishness – using an inappropriate tool in order to arrive at a conclusion that fits a personal or organizational goal.

Guilty as charged.

I’ll bet you are, too.

We Christians have a tendency to proof-text … to lift a single passage of scripture out of its comfortable, contextual home and try to make it sit up, roll over, and speak; to make it say more – or less, or even something different – than it actually wants to say in order to prove our pet point.

Oh, we recognize that Satan can do and has done and will do the same thing. But that’s when scripture is mishandled by the hands of the enemy and twisted into a growling, snarling beast. Not when it’s in our loving hands.

So we do it under some misapprehension that when it’s done by those who love God and love scripture, it’s not wrong.

That, as a scholar like Fajita would recognize, is intellectually dishonest. It is disingenuous.

And it’s a fine line.

When someone asks a question about a matter on which scripture is abundantly clear, is it wrong to share with them that clarity without making them read an entire chapter or biblical book? I don’t think so. Jesus pulled a few words of psalm and prophecy out of the canon of that day to make His point – more than once, to be sure.

But, to say that something is mandated, permissible, or forbidden because scripture does not specifically mention it is dishonest. It’s pushing your agenda. It’s proof-texting at its worst.

Why not just be honest about it? Why not just say, scripture is silent and possibly indifferent on the subject? Why not enumerate your reasons for the way you believe on the subject and just say, “This is my preference. This is what draws me closer to God and what I do to keep my conscience clear before Him”?

To me, it’s clear that there were all kinds of questions upon which the church of century one could have easily split, and epistles were written to try to prevent it. Gentiles could eat meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience; the idols meant nothing to them now. Jews could not; those idols represented Satan and his hordes. The instruction was, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

It was not a hard-and-fast rule. Under certain circumstances, that would require being sensitive to the conscience of others. Under other circumstances, it would necessitate demonstrating your belief. In all circumstances, it would demand loving brothers and sisters in Christ and engaging in dialogue with each other in order to understand each other better and draw closer to God together.

There was never an instruction in scripture to be right about everything. Not then. Not now.

In a discourse that establishes God’s ability to judge perfectly and be right as opposed to man’s disqualification to do so, Paul writes the Romans, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” At the risk of proof-texting, I believe he encourages us to be humble with regard to our own judgment, and recognize God’s perfect judgment.

In fact, I believe that the whole of scripture has as a long-running subtext, from beginning to end, the recognition that we are not up to the task – and God alone is.

That’s why we need to back off of our microscopic inspection of other’s eyes in order to see clearly the log in our own. (Hey – there’s a blog title in that somewhere!) That’s why we need to be able to confess that we’ve been wrong and repent. That’s why we praise God for His perfect balance of righteousness and mercy expressed in His Son, Jesus.

That’s why there is no room in our methodology to retreat to separate camps of like-minded ones and loudly proclaim “Here’s what I think and I’m right about it because God says so. Look right here at this isolated verse! Look at it with my hermeneutic! See it my way, or go to hell!” Nor is there room to smugly observe the other camp, joke and judge: “They just don’t get it.”

That’s why there is all kinds of room in our methodology to say, “Here’s what I believe and why. What do you think? How does it read?”

That’s why, even though Jesus was the embodiment of God on this world who could have thundered the proclamation of His truth to all mankind simultaneously, He still left us the methodology of asking questions, telling stories, and reading scripture – together.

Call it a perfect example.

How do you read it?

The Comprehensive Hermeneutic, Part 2

What does a comprehensive hermeneutic look like? How does it work?

Why not try it out on a familiar passage:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” – John 15:9-17

What’s the command? I’d say it’s “Love each other,” repeated for emphasis. “Bear fruit.”

What’s the example? “…As I have loved you.” He showed us what that means. But first, He told us.

What’s implied? Jesus wants me to lay down my life for my friends, just as He has. That we should bear fruit that outlasts us, just as He has. That the Father wants to give us what we ask for in Jesus’ name.

What’s the narrative? The context is the last Passover. Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet. He has told them that He will soon die. He is reassuring them. He is instructing them. He gives one command. He explains what that means.

What’s the story? Jesus is promoting his followers from servants to friends, letting them in what God the Father has told Him. Is the story bigger than just what happened here? Are His words only for His followers then, but not now? When He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command” tells me that we are in mind here, too; and that may be the reason that the Holy Spirit urges John to tell this part of the story that the other gospel writers do not.

What does it tell us about God’s nature and purpose? There’s a promise attached to this reassurance: If we bear fruit, God will give us what we request in Jesus’ name. That if we obey Jesus’ command, we are His friends.

Now, this is the briefest (and possibly the shallowest!) of all possible exegeses on this verse, but doesn’t it reveal more than if only the first three or the last three questions are explored?

Do you agree that both hermeneutics have value?

In what kinds of scriptures will the old hermeneutic have greater value in revealing God’s message to us? In what kinds will the new hermeneutic have an advantage? Where will both serve us better? What scriptures may remain seen only as in a mirror dimly no matter what approach you use?

The Comprehensive Hermeneutic

It’s time for the war between the old hermeneutic and the new hermeneutic to end.

If you’re not familiar with the terms, the old hermeneutic sees everything in the Bible in the light of command, example or necessary inference. The new hermeneutic sees everything in the Bible in the light of narrative, story, God’s nature and purpose.

The plain fact is, we need both.

Don’t use the old hermeneutic to try to make the Song of Solomon into a prophetic allegory of the love of Christ for His church. It ain’t there.

Don’t use the new hermeneutic to try to explain away God’s justice as expressed in the Law as obsolete under the reign of Christ. He’s still just, and judgment will take place – no matter how much He loves us.

There are times when the old hermeneutic is still indispensible. Don’t make fun of it. Don’t abandon it.

There are times when the new hermeneutic is revealing and enlightening. Don’t trash it. Don’t exclude it.

Because those hermeneutics are the result of our individual preference for approaching not only God’s word, but every other gift of His in this world. We see things primarily rationally, or primarily emotionally. But sometimes – especially when it comes to Biblical interpretation – we go to extremes. If we exclude emotional approaches, we become heartless. If we exclude logical approaches, we become brainless.

The two hermeneutics work together, you see.

Logic alone can fail us – often because of emotional biases. The same scripture can logically lead two people to polar-opposite conclusions. That’s the time to re-examine it in light of all other scripture, with a comprehensive view of God’s loving AND just nature.

Emotions alone can fail us – often because our logic is faulty. Two people can see the same scripture as each wants to, with an unscriptural conclusion that God is only about love or only about judgment. That’s the time to re-examine that scripture illuminated by the whole of God’s word and the revelation of His kindness AND His severity.

And if, overarching both hermeneutics, there is not a recognition of God’s desire for us to be reconciled to Him, to be one in Spirit and purpose, to let Him do the legislating and judging … then we’ve just plain missed the point.

What point?

The point He gave us that Word to “get.”

The point we are to live for each day and each moment.

The point His Son lived and died and lived again in order to get across to us.


I believe it’s important to view scripture in context.

I think most honest folks do.

If I Corinthians 14 instructs Christians for all time not to forbid speaking in tongues; to allow two or three prophets to speak; that someone must interpret; that all are permitted to prophesy (in order to convict visitors of their sin); that all things must be done decently and in order; and that women should keep silent … how is it that some folks can isolate only the last two instructions to enforce at the neglect of the others?

If it’s because people today are not gifted to speak in tongues, then is that because we have forbidden them? Quenched the Spirit?

If it’s because tongues have “passed away” (13:8), have prophecy and knowledge also passed away? If that’s true, how can we hope to convict visitors of their sin? Especially if only half of the church is allowed to speak?

Do we still earnestly desire the spiritual gift of prophecy?

Has it ceased to be true that “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort”?

Is it possible that by neglecting the tradition of letting two or three speak, we are undermining the credibility of God’s holy Word in the ears and eyes and minds and hearts of those who visit our assemblies?

Do we even have or care about those who visit our assemblies anymore?

Okay, don’t worry about me; I’m not going all holy-roller on you. I just want to know some things.

So I am full of questions. Like these:

What good does it do if someone listening to the one-and-only-minister actually does have a revelation while listening there in the assembly and can’t raise his or her hand to share it with the rest? Even if the minister is obviously troubled, perplexed or even misdirected in what he says on the subject? Will it simply do to mention it to him in the lobby later so that he can say, “Well, that’s interesting; I’ll have to study and consider that”?

Do we dare send our visitors away with the impression that we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about – especially if God has chosen to reveal His truth then and there (as He certainly, undeniably, scripturally has before)?

Has He changed His mind about revealing things to women and children? And men?

Didn’t His son choose to stay some extra time in Samaria because of the testimony of the woman at the well?

Did He not reveal the fact of His resurrection first to the women who came to pay homage at His temporary tomb?

Did His Spirit not pour His prophetic gifts into the four daughters of Phillip?

Does it no longer please Him to reveal things to little children?

If we are so dedicated to restoring the New Testament church of century one in the context of century twenty-one, shouldn’t we be praying to be able to do so to the fullest … rather than just by picking the easy “rules” to “enforce”?

Or is it just possible that the entire set of instructions in I Corinthians 14 was directed toward a set of circumstances unique to the church in that time and place and context?

A church where chaos prevailed and women spoke out because what went on was unintelligible and would not submit to their husbands who shushed them because in their church, God was not perceived as a God of order and peace – as in all the other churches?

Have we applied the specific instructions of a church in trouble during century one to a church relatively untroubled by such chaos for the next twenty centuries?

Why have we not been praying earnestly, unceasingly, forcefully and together for the discernment to know what eternal principles are revealed by this and other scriptures, and what instructions were intended as remedies for specific infractions of good manners and others’ rights to hear, understand and, yes, speak the truth of His Story?

Authorized in Triplicate

It’s clear to me that Jesus did not take kindly toward people who declared that there was no scriptural authority for things that He and His followers did.

In Matthew 21:23-27 (and Mark 11:27-33 and Luke 20:1-8), He had just cleared the temple, healed the blind and the lame, refused to discipline children who shouted praise at the temple, and wilted a fig tree – and it did not go over well with the powers-that-thought-they-be. When they asked Him by what and whose authority He did these things, He struck a bargain with them: Answer my question and I’ll answer yours. Their answer was dishonest and disingenuous, and He refused to answer theirs.

He (and His disciples) did a lot of things that weren’t specifically authorized by their scripture: the Law and the Prophets.

His disciples picked and ate grain on the Sabbath. Sometimes they didn’t wash before they ate.

He miraculously transformed water into more wine than was probably necessary at a wedding feast.

He drove moneychangers and animal merchants out of the temple courts. Maybe even twice.

He healed people on the Sabbath. Again and again. And yet again.

No one quibbled that He taught on the Sabbath. Reading in advance, preparing His commentary, sharing God’s will to men – that wasn’t work. But if He healed a cripple or two, He was somehow going the extra mile beyond what was permitted on their holy day of rest. They could make an exception for circumcision on the Sabbath, but not for healing.

– Even though, in many if not most of these instances, the intent was to teach and draw people to God and the direct result was that God was praised and the teaching was confirmed as authoritative.

You’d think it would have been obvious that the freedom to transcend the restrictions of the Law had been authorized by and for the One who transcended His own laws of creation – and could authorize His followers to do so, too.

Surely, in this enlightened Christian age, Christian folks would not deride and condemn other Christian folks for being like Christ to the extent that they would do things on a holy day like Sunday that are not specifically authorized in scripture.

Assuredly, they could not maintain that – since the Law and the Prophets have been fulfilled in Christ – that we are bound by the jots and tittles of laws that must be presumed by their conspicuous absence in God’s word.

Certainly, they would not themselves engage in holy day activities taking place in facilities augmented by amplification devices and visual projectors and bound books of vocal music – none of which are authorized by scripture – and still accuse others of greater and worse offenses.

Clearly, they would never neglect the doing of good toward people and the drawing of the lost to God by concentrating massive resources to the defense of such a gospel that is no gospel at all, but rather a divisive and self-righteous conglomeration of the precepts of men.

Would they?

Is Patternism Scriptural?

There’s a school of thought which holds that the church today should conform to the pattern of the New Testament church of century one – exactly, precisely, explicitly, with no variations and no questions asked. If the church of century one did it, we must do it. If the church of century one did not do it, we must not do it.

It sounds simple. It sounds scriptural.

But is it?

I’m not a fan of nitpicking phrases or counting words, but I gotta tell you that I only count a little over a dozen times in the Bible that a word translated “pattern” is used. Most of those uses are with reference to the temple, its fixtures, or other edifices. (Exodus 25:9, 40; Numbers 8:4; Joshua 22:8; 2 Kings 16:10; 1 Chronicles 28:11-19; Ezekiel 43:10; Hebrews 8:5 and 9:24.)

The only two times it is used in reference to doctrine are 1 Timothy 1:16:

Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

and Titus 2:7-8:

In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.

The latter appears only by virtue of the King James Version, which is usually the favored version of those who hold for the patternism school of thought; other translations render the word differently (“example”). And the sense of its use in Titus is Paul encouraging the young minister to teach sound doctrine (v. 1) and be an example of it – a pattern – to others (the verses quoted).

Similarly, in 1 Timothy, Paul opens this epistle with thanksgiving that through Paul Christ has shown His patience, by sparing him and making him an example of exorbitant grace.

In neither instance is the word used to endorse churches imitating other churches of the day. In fact, a word translated “imitate” is used sparingly in scripture. In the New Testament, Paul will ask others to imitate him, but only insofar as he imitates Christ – or to be imitators of God Himself. And even though Corinth is commended for its generosity, the commendation is seen in the second letter to Corinth – not to other churches, to shame or encourage them to imitate it.

Nowhere in scripture is any church, group of churches or the universal church of Christ held up as a pattern to be imitated. Nowhere in scripture is doctrine elevated as something to be used as the goal for building churches from, as one would build a temple from the instructions God gave to Moses.

Instead, Jesus is the pattern implicit in the teachings of the writers in the New Testament. Ultimately, no one and nothing less than His perfection will do as our pattern.

Can we, as individuals, achieve perfection by our fastidious observation of doctrine?

Oh, come on. Ridiculous question on its face, isn’t it?

Then how could anyone hope to build a perfect church by the same method?

And are any of the churches in the New Testament perfect examples of what a church should and must be?

A quick perusal of the epistles to churches and regions – including the seven in the book of Revelation – would have to yield the answer, “no.”

So, if you’re instructed by someone to “Behold the Pattern!”, ask them pointedly where they get that. Ask them to point out to you where in scripture churches are instructed to use other churches as patterns. Ask them to cite book, chapter and verse for a command, an example or a necessary inference that doctrine is to be used to build and perfect churches.

Then show that person verse after verse about the commands Christ gave; the example Christ was; and the necessary inference that we are to be like Him in this world if we would be wondrously like Him in the next.

The Restoration Movement should never be focused on making the church of century one the pattern for the church of century nineteen or twenty or twenty-one. It should be focused on Christ, and restoring the relationship of souls to God through Him by letting Him perfect them – and their churches – through His blood.

That’s scriptural.

You can prove it.

The Mishnah (and Gemara) of Christ

I am truly sorry to have interrupted a decent series of posts with two others about inspiration by the Holy Spirit and a general rant about my country still being at war.

What I had really intended to write about next, after The Tanakh of Christ and its two predecessors, was The Mishnah of Christ. Now I’ve completely derailed my train of thought and can’t seem to get it back together.

I remember that I wanted to say that the Mishnah of Judaism is the point at which the religion leaves preachin’ and goes to meddlin.’ Or something like that.

Maybe more accurately (and maybe not, as I am only a surface scholar of such matters), the Mishnah begins the process – 200 years after century one A.D. – of writing down all of the oral tradition of scholarly types among the Jews plus a little bit more. At least some of that is the oral tradition of legal interpretation that Jesus shot skeet-holes through while He walked this world with mortal feet.

Not all of it. Just some.

And there’s probably nothing technically wrong with nitpicking God’s law to the finest detail and recording it in volumes and volumes of commentary, other than perhaps the time used up doing so which might have been put toward actually living it out to the greater benefit of His children.

I do it. I admit it. I blog. I blog about the details of my interpretations of the Torah of Christ which differ from other people’s views. Sometimes I wash my hands afterward, but I usually forget.

And I think I’m typical of a long, long generation of Christianity (my tribe is Restoration Movement) that has been guilty of exactly the same misdemeanor.

The problem is, a new generation is sprouting up in all kinds of Christian tribes with the recognition that it wasn’t a misdemeanor at all; it was a felony. The world was left to starve and die and rot in a cesspool of what my long generation has gotten away from calling “sin,” because we didn’t feel it was politically correct – or that it was judgmental – to point it out.

Perhaps it is. The thing about it is, we never tried. Not really. And we never really discovered that we didn’t have to. All we had to do was tell The Story – without embellishment or commentary or controversy – and Jesus’ perfect life would have illuminated sin for the heinous thing it is.

So, here I am. I’m “mishnah-ing” again. I could be blogging about Christ at the old, abandoned cooperative blog What Would Jesus Do Next?. I could be doing a thousand things for other people. I could even be kneeling in prayer for some that I know and love who are hurting. I could be trying to invent ways to make their lives more blessed. I could be attempting some of them.

But it’s cold outside, and those attempts take effort, and it’s the end of the day, and I’m tired – too tired to think of any more excuses.

Oh, sure, I think a molecule or two of good comes from my “mishnah-ing.” Occasionally. Yet far too much of all the Christian “mishnah-ing” that has been generated in the span of my tribe’s existence has left preaching and gone to meddling; to differing and accusing and debating and proving and sometimes snubbing, disfellowshipping, eternally condemning and once in a while even rudeness and insult. It has gone to the Gemara level – the commentary on the commentary. (And sometimes, way beyond.)

Yup. In Judaism, as I understand it, there are copies of the Talmud whose pages contain the Torah and Tanakh, framed by the Mishnah commentary on the Torah and Talmud, encircled by the Gemara commentary on the Mishnah commentary.

And I have to ask myself: Are the things that God wants to say to us really that complicated?

Or is all our commentary just a way to avoid living and doing it?

So that’s why I asked HTML to strike through of Christ: When the level of commentary hits a certain point, it’s no longer about Christ or of Christ or for Christ.

At least, that’s what I think I was going to say in this post. It’s really been a while since it all occurred to me; before Christmas, when my train of thought first hit a snag in the rails. It was a dark time, a time of refining and discipline, a time when I just couldn’t write … when I was beginning to realize that in my life – when all was said and done – there would probably be a lot more said than done.

And, somehow, with God’s help, that has to change.

The Tanakh of Christ

As I understand it – and I welcome correction from folks who know better – most Jews agree that the Torah (what we Christians call the first five books of the Old Testament) is The Law; it is authoritative; it is handed down from God. The remaining volumes of that covenant are known as the Tanakh, and the vast majority of Jews agree that these books, too, are authoritative.

But they do not carry the same weight, nor are they viewed with the same degree of reverence, as the Torah.

And while I’m not writing this to advocate that Christians should view the first four or five books of our New Testament as dictated by God while the remainder were simply suggested, I would like to propose these few scattered thoughts, and let you work through them just as I am doing.

First of all, you should know that I believe in the inspiration of Scripture. Yup, all of it. Every page of every volume within the Old and New Testaments. Some of us will part company there, but if I’m willing to at least hear the reasons for your beliefs, I hope you’ll do the same for me.

Secondly, it seems to me that the return of people to God and the establishment of His kingdom in this world goes pretty well in the better part of those first five books. Yes, it does seem to go badly for a while at the close of the four gospels, but there is a surprise ending that they all corroborate, wiping out any doubt about a happy ending. And the momentum continues into Luke’s sequel called Acts of the Apostles (which probably would not have been even his working title) – as long as the believers persist in telling and living out The Story.

Now you can take to extremes the verses in that book about “continuing in the apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer” – and some folks in the past have, by saying “That’s all that scripture authorizes Christians to do.” Many of those folks would be horrified to advocate doing those things in homes as well as in God’s house, and doubtless very few of us would go to the extreme of selling our possessions to share with those in need. But I digress. The fact is, as long as people did these things, “the Lord added to their number.”

Things continue to go well for another couple of chapters, even though Peter and John are imprisoned for telling and living out the Story. Their imprisonment is short-lived, and the authorities are timid about pressing their luck afterward.

Until Avarice steps in. And Envy – trying to keep up with the Josephs in your giving. And then Exaggeration. Finally, Conspiracy to Defraud, with a penalty of death for Ananias and Sapphira. Somehow – with all the miracles going on around them, both extraordinary and everyday miracles – they just didn’t “get” The Story.

Then Peter and many other apostles stick up for The Story before the authorities and will not back down. Gamaliel recommends a code of pragmatism, but the floggings begin – and will continue on and off for the next three hundred years for many Christians who do the same.

The problems begin in the next chapter because some others don’t “get” the selflessness of the story. Whether they are actually neglected or just feeling neglected, a policy is made to give special attention to some widows.

And folks, whether you agree or not, I believe that one of the first big mistakes in church leadership takes place here.

The twelve apostles gathered the disciples together and told them that it wouldn’t be right for them to neglect the ministry of the word of God and wait tables. So they delegated the job. They began creating a hierarchy of service. They, the apostles, would handle the more spiritual tasks. The selected seven would wait tables.

Which means they missed one of the major points of The Story. The one Jesus made by wrapping a towel around himself, and washing the feet of eleven of the twelve of them. The point is this: waiting tables is the ministry of the word of God.

Do you think I am a heretic for harboring this opinion?

(To me, there’s a hint that something was amiss when no mention was made of prayer or fasting before/during the decision; and yet that the decision “seemed to please everyone.”)

I’m guessing that most of you will have as much difficulty proceeding in reading further as I am having in trying to write further. But I beg you to journey with me a little more; a second mile, if you will. Read on, but not here. Read the scripture itself.

See if it isn’t true that things ultimately go well for the company of believers we call the church as long as they stick to The Story – even when their persistence leads to imprisonment, torture and death.

See if it isn’t true that things go horribly wrong when folks within that church family begin pushing their own doctrines (about whether Jesus was all-divine or all-mortal; about whether circumcision and the law must be honored to produce a “true” Christian) and leave behind the simple, haunting beauty of The Story.

See if it isn’t true that when self becomes more important that selflessness; when the details of what is preached and practiced have greater priority than the sacrifice of the Savior; when race and heritage and diversity become obstructions rather than assets to the family of faith – all hell breaks loose, just as Satan designed and intended.

See if it isn’t true in Galatia, in Corinth, in Ephesus, among the Romans, among the Hebrews, in the seven cities of the Apocalypse. See if it isn’t true in the hearts of those loved by Peter and Jude and James and John.

See if there isn’t a measure of desperation in the those epistles decrying attempts to legislate unity through uniformity, morality through just good behavior, and even faith itself by just believing in The Story rather than by living it out as a vessel of Christ’s Holy Spirit.

See if there isn’t triumph in the epistles when they call back to His teachings, His examples, His sacrifice, His promises, His resurrection.

Don’t take my word for it.

See for yourself.

See if it’s even possible in your faith to accept that there might be a New Testament Tanakh – written by good people, inspired people, people doing their best under crushing circumstances, people to whom the Spirit spoke but would not dictate because dictatorship is simply not in God’s nature. But people, nonetheless, who were growing more distant by the moment from the sharpness of their recollection of having been part of The Story first-hand.

Then, we can converse some more about that Holy Spirit, given as surely to those who believe today as to those who believed then.

And how He enables us to write our own Tanakh with our lives.

The Torah of Christ

Jesus’ commandments, as you probably know, are few and far-between. And simple, and demanding, and life-changingly self-sacrificial.

His commentary on the Torah is that it was summed up in only two commandments. Get those right, and you don’t even have to put words to the rest.

His capstoning commandment is for us to love one another as He loves us.

A great ambition. An impossible achievement.

But He teaches detail. He goes into quite a bit of it, even just in the Sermon on the Mount. However, it isn’t so much detail as example. The examples illuminate principles that could be applied by any thinking child to the circumstances of her or his own life.

And he teaches by living out His examples. He helps others. Provides wine generously at a wedding party. Heals sick, broken and dead people. Feeds the hungry en masse. Casts out demonic spirits enslaving folks. Dandles children on His knee. Teaches that God loves us deeply, and would give anything – even His only Son – to be reconciled to his prodigal children. Then He becomes the reconciling sacrifice.

That’s The Story.

You’ve heard it before. You know what it is. You can tell it in as many words, or fewer, or more, or better.

He is the two summation commands.

He loves the Lord His God with all His heart and with all His soul and with all His mind and with all His strength.

He loves His neighbor as Himself.

That is the Torah of Christ.

Does He say anything about how we must worship? Yes, “in spirit and in truth.” And He sings a hymn with most of His closest friends on their last Passover eve together. Anything else? If so, point me to it.

Does He ever forbid a man or a woman from telling others about Him? No; in fact, He stays an extra day in Samaria because a woman has told her village about Him; the first persons to whom He appears resurrected are women who run to tell the others Whom they have seen.

Does He require attendance at assemblies of God’s people? No; He just goes. He reads in synagogue. He attends feasts at the temple. And on off-days, He gathers people in small groups and mountainside-filling multitudes to teach them how to love each other and how to love God.

Does He outline a hierarchy of church government? As nearly as I can tell, He establishes his church in a whirlwind of convicting, spirit-filled faith-sharing around the core of The Story. He breaks His kingdom into a world through ambassadors and embassies; outposts of faith. God is the King. We are His subjects.

Does He demand our baptism? No; He demands repentance, and then is Himself baptized to fulfill all righteousness. Then He undergoes the very barbaric death, the very pathos-laced burial in a borrowed tomb, and the very incredible-yet-undeniable resurrection which that baptism comes to signify.

Does He require the good confession? No; He simply makes it Himself before Pilate.

Does He threaten damnation if we do not agree upon every single way of thinking about His teaching? Oh, get real. He prays for God to make us one, because no one else can. And anyone else can ruin it. So He prays it as one of the last requests to leave His lips as a human being who can suffer pain and torture and humiliation and death:

“Father, may they be one.”

Is there anything else that He asks of us to do?


He asks us to go. Everywhere. Tell The Story. Build up faith in others. Baptize them into a reconciled relationship with God.

He leaves many of the details, the applications, the interpretations, the commentaries, and the responsibility for living out our faith pretty much up to us. Yet He does not leave us to do so alone. He gives us the gift of His Spirit, to comfort and encourage and convict and inspire our telling of the Story. He gives us each other, to love and to be accountable to and to be blessed by. He gives us prayer, a conduit of communication with God the Father Himself.

He leads us captives to freedom in His train, and gives us all these gifts.

So, is there really anything else that we can teach, any doctrine we can expound upon, any commentary we can make, any interpretation we can insist upon, any theology we can legislate, any judgment we can make that can be worthy of the time we spend neglecting the simple telling of The Story of the Torah of Christ?