Article by Kevin White
I have always heard growing up that there are two things you don’t talk about, politics and religion. Obviously, the reason for this is that there are so many differing views on both politics and religion that it is sure to end up as an argument, and most people don’t want to argue especially with people they consider their friend. The idea is that it is much easier to avoid those topics and only talk about things that we agree on and thus we can maintain our “friendship”. A similar mentality can be seen in church and among Christians today. They feel it much easier to avoid certain topics to avoid the argument and maintain the friendship. While I don’t usually get into political issues, especially on the mission field, I believe that issues of doctrine are on a completely different plane. I saw this play out recently on a friend’s Facebook page. He wrote against an article that was in favor of women being preachers and needless to say there was quite a bit of debate that followed.
One of the greatest tools that Satan has used over the years is both the dividing of religion into many different groups and a natural desire of people to unite those groups.When you begin to study about religions and cults you can see such a variety, and even among groups they differ greatly in belief and practice. Everything from the different evangelical groups to the mystic religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, all the way to Humanism and Atheism it can really be overwhelming. When the average person recognizes this response is often confusion and usually they come to one of two conclusions, “I just won’t believe anything”, or “each person can be right in what they believe.” With so many people believing so many different things the question is often asked “Can I honestly say that I am the only one that is right?” People then begin to say that since we can’t say definitively that we are right, there is no right or wrong, no correct or wrong way to believe. This leads to what we call ecumenicalism which says that we can all believe differently yet get along and participate with each other. So we as leaders must ask the question, “How can we say that what we believe is right?” I want to give you a few thoughts that I had when I began this journey and as a young Christian and asked this same question.
I. The Bible is our sole Authority
One of the first things that I learned was that if there is no one authority or basis for what we believe, then we have no basis to say we are right or correct in what we believe. If we throw out the Bible then each person can have their own beliefs, ideas and still be right. I had to come to the firm conviction that the Bible is the Word of God and the basis for what I believe and do. When someone asks me how I know that what I believe is true I simply say, “because the Word of God says so. This is especially important when you go to another country or are working in a country that is not predominantly Christian. They will ask why we believe what we do and why what they believe is not right. Our only answer we can give is that we follow the Word of God as our rule for faith and practice, what we believe and do. I had a man ask me once why he couldn’t cross himself as the Catholics do and my answer was, because we don’t see it in the Bible and that it is just a tradition. We often throw the phrase around and claim that the Bible is our authority, but in these cases it is put to the test; because then when we proclaim that we believe something, they will ask, “Where is that in the Bible?”. It can be a good thing because it forces us to make sure that we base everything we believe and do only from the Word of God.
The next problem that we usually face when we claim the Word of God as our authority is that many will say that they do the same. This is when we usually hear things like, “We can all have a different interpretation”, or “we can all read the same Bible yet understand it differently”. So, is there only one specific interpretation of the Bible or are there many? If we have only one Bible, why are there so many different beliefs? This is where we see the two main principles to understand the Bible and interpret it correctly.
II. Compare Scripture with Scripture
The Bible says in 2 Peter that “no prophecy is given of private interpretation,” or in other words we never interpret a verse without taking into count the Bible as a whole. We first understand that the Old and New Testaments were written in two distinct time periods and covenants and that the New Testament was written for the church. We would not look to the Old Testament to find out what to do in the church today. This is why it is so important to compare scripture with scripture. We know that the Bible does not contradict itself and no one verse will teach something different than the rest of the Bible. In other words, if you are looking at one verse that seems to have a vague meaning you must ask the question, “what does the rest of the Bible say?”. If there are 30, 40 or more verses that tell us clearly that our salvation is permanent and secure and we find one verse that seems to say we can loose our salvation, we must rest with the majority. Therefore, when we find one of these situations we must then turn to the next principle to understand it’s true meaning.
III. Every Verse must be taken in it’s Context
Next we turn to the importance of understanding every verse within it’s context. I have heard it said that a text out of context is nothing more than a pretext. This begins with the book itself as we see when it was written, to whom it was written, and what was the major purpose of it’s writing. For example, we know that we don’t use the book of Acts to form major doctrines or practices in the church, mainly because it is a book of transition and many of the things that took place only fit in that moment. We can then look at the passage within it’s direct context, looking at the verses and chapters before and after to understand what is going on and what is the specific focus of the passage. Another good example of this would be 1 Corinthians 14 which is used by many as a basis for speaking in tongues in the church. If you look at chapters 12-14 and especially chapter 14 you can see that Paul is speaking in a negative way about what the Corinthians are doing. He is condemning them and even using sarcasm to show them that what they are doing is not correct. Due to this, we don’t want to use it to say that these things are good and should be practiced today. Then we can even go father to look at the specific words and grammar to better understand the passage. We often focus on the minor when the Bible presents the major as most important.
If we really get to the point that we accept the Bible as our sole rule for faith and practice, it can be a sobering task and huge responsibility. This means that we can no longer just say or teach things that we have no biblical basis for. This also means that we must be sure that we study and pray that we might present the Word of God in it’s true sense as it was intended. You must also realize that when you take this stance that you will still face a lot of criticism and be accused of being divisive and unloving, but in the end you can be confident that you are believing, living, and proclaiming the Word of God as He intended.