Following the directions
The bedrock issue for evangelicals usually is the Bible. If you look at our doctrinal statements, and you can see the one for my church here, it is easy to see that all our beliefs come from what we think the Bible teaches. If you go to the websites of the various evangelical churches and denominations you will always find similar statements about the Bible.
This consistency always yields 100% uniformity on all doctrinal and life issues, right? Since we all believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God and, since we say something akin to the Bible needing to “believed in all that it teaches” we can take comfort in knowing that we will never disagree, right? But reality intrudes on that happy scenario doesn’t it? What are we to make of that?
For the most part, discussions on that subject devolve into trying to decide who is right and who is wrong in their beliefs, and there are some situations where this is the correct discussion. But more and more I am convinced that the key issue is not if I will follow Scripture, or even what Scripture says, but how do I follow it in the circumstances I actually face. And sadly, particularly for those who view our current times as a struggle between Scripture and culture, culture must be considered in our applications. Here are some examples of the issues where application puzzles me.
– Romans 14 clearly teaches that we should be willing to not offend the weaker brother. In Paul’s day those encounters were always local, most often one-on-one. It is a new day. Church web sites, Facebook, Twitter, and the ability of smart phones to record anything anywhere and send it to the world have changed this dynamic. If you look at any church website for example, it is almost certain that somebody can find something that offends them. If a church is brave enough to say anything about music it is dead certain to offend someone. How do we apply Romans 14 in a global media environment?
– We are told to “go into all the world and make disciples.” Our world is industrialized. For us the term “make” conjures up an image of making cars or toasters or something. I think a lot of discipleship teaching focuses on methodology, they are “here is how you do it” studies. The implication is that the instructions they give are akin to those that come with the swing set you are assembling for your kids. You have to follow it to the letter or you are in trouble. But Jesus spoke into an agricultural world. Is it possible that for them “making” was more like “growing?” My wife takes care of a variety of houseplants. She knows that this one needs more sun, that one has to be turned regularly to grow straight, this other one is water thirsty while the one next to it you don’t want to over water. She knows that you treat them differently in different seasons and a dozen other individualized variables. Is that more like what Jesus meant when He said “make” disciples?
– Other issues get more controversial. During Bible times the average lifespan for women was somewhere between 28 and 30. Infant and child mortality was so high that, if each woman did not bear 5 children in that short time, the population would decrease. Medical conditions were so bad that you could truly call child-bearing a death-defying act. Do we apply the passages on women and childbearing exactly the same in our day?
I am not trying to create conflict or in any way cast doubts on the authority and inspiration of Scripture. What I am saying is that “following the directions” is a lot more complex that it seems. We need to show grace to others as we all interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We need a community of believers to help us choose rightly how to make those applications.
For me the doctrinal statement I reference above, and indeed the entire church website, is our way of saying that this is what we, collectively, think it means to be a Christian and this is our model for living it out. As with all church websites it is meant to inform and invite. But we know you are not a cookie cut out of a uniform mold, God has made you unique. You are welcome to join us as we try and follow the directions.