Paul's Passing Thoughts

Taking Back the Bible from Christian Academia: Confident Study of the Scriptures, Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on February 3, 2015

Originally published October 1, 2013

 

The Apostolic Church’s greatest nemesis was Gnosticism. An understanding of how Greek philosophy influenced the landscape of that day is critical to understanding what was behind many things written by the Apostles and Christ. Greek philosophy was the driving force behind Gnosticism, and it was predicated on an elitist academia who were supposedly the gatekeepers of truth and wisdom. Supposedly, these were the enlightened minority who should necessarily lead or rule over the unenlightened masses. They were, and still are responsible for repackaging the “deep” things of God so that the unenlightened masses can use it in some way to cope with life. In religious circles we call this, “orthodoxy.” In secular circles we call this, “Psychology.” Those who cope rather than overcome are always the shadows of orthodoxy.

Enlightenment was a pedigree that you were born into; predetermined by the universe, gods, or God Himself. Hence, formal schools were mostly populated by the affluent to prepare them to lead or rule over the unenlightened masses. It’s very little different today as most pastors are graduates from universities that the majority of people can’t afford. Ability to obtain a degree from a noted seminary is part and parcel with being qualified to be a pastor (even if you are a pedophile). Pastoral search committees immediately toss resumes that are anything less than a Master’s degree. Lay pastors are seen as a lower class of leaders and are paid accordingly. They are seen as necessary for churches who can’t afford the “real deal.” This whole tradition, at least in Western culture, began with Plato’s Academy. The Academy is really the foundation that all seminaries are built on. They follow the secular pattern of Western culture.

This was the elitist atmosphere in Judea when Christ showed up. God’s people were sheep without shepherds and living on a heavy/steady diet of orthodoxy. Jesus called it “the traditions of men.” Jesus came and circumvented the whole elitist construct which often invoked, “By what authority do you teach these things?” Christ never contacted or checked in with the formal academia of that time; they had to come to Him as Nicodemus did in the darkness of night. He was “the teacher of Israel” which probably means he was among the most prominent. It is also interesting to note that his name means “power over the people” which is the same idea as the Nicolaitan movement of that day which was primarily a Gnostic movement. That name means “power over the laity.”

Jesus took God’s truth directly to the people. He cut out the middleman, so to speak. This was revolutionary. This is EXACTLY what the apostle John was addressing in 1John when he wrote “you have no need for anyone to teach you.” He wasn’t excluding the need for teachers, he was excluding orthodoxy. He was excluding a dumbed-down version of “God’s truth” by the elite for the consumption of the supposedly unenlightened masses. And that is exactly what John was contending against. 1John refutes several teachings that were Gnostic ideas permeating the church in that day. Christ mentions the Nicolaitans specifically in His seven letters to the churches. Historically, they were known to be of the Gnostic school of thought.

Furthermore, the Bible always addresses God’s people as a whole and not the leadership specifically. The New Testament epistles always address the whole congregation. This is very telling. The Bereans searched the Scriptures themselves to verify the teachings of the apostle Paul and were called “honorable” for doing so. This is very telling as well.

Christ’s methods of teaching and approach had built-in opposition to the whole elitist caste system. He himself was not formally educated; the foundation of His assembly was built with men who were uneducated—they were the blue collar working class of that society. In the same way the elitists taught mysteries that the common people could not understand, He taught mysteries and parables to the common people that the elitists could not understand. More than likely the apostle Paul delighted in saying, “Behold, I show you a mystery.” That was turnabout play, mysteries were not revealed to the common people in that day.

Christian media and education is a multi-billion dollar business. History has never seen a country like America endowed with the same gargantuan Christian education system. Yet, Christians in this country are woefully dumbed-down and propagandized with European traditions and superstition. Our seminaries merely parrot European orthodoxy and their penchant for dumbed-down congregants. Yet, Europe’s history and societal woes in no way recommends itself for an example to follow. Those who know European history are dumbfounded that the Reformers and Puritans could be posed as religious heroes. American Protestantism is basically the European model that has never embraced the priesthood of believers.

This tradition translates into Christians consuming a mass of “Christian” information via published books, novels, movies, Christian radio, the internet, and TV/cable programs. Christians do not read and study the Bible for themselves. If they did, Christian media would not be a multi-billion dollar business. Instead of the Information Age and its tools being used to show ourselves approved, we use it to saturate our minds with the opinions of others. This is orthodoxy on steroids. It makes Paul’s “ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth” the understatement of the ages. This point can be solidified by the mere observation that the Information Age has not put seminaries out of business. Why? Because Christian academia is not a teacher—it’s an authority.

This is a segue for getting to my first point. The Bible must be returned to its proper place as the only authority in the church. We must obey God rather than man. The idea that making a book the authority in some way demeans God’s splendor is a metaphysical sleight of hand. To use the idea that God should not be minimized to the exegesis of a book is to praise God for being so awesome that we cannot really know anything about Him. “He’s not a precept, He’s a person,” etc., add nausea. Worship becomes a celebration of subjectivity as a way to praise God. God was way ahead of this little game:

Psalm 138:2 – I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name (KVJ).

Apparently, the concept of praising God’s glory above anything earthy like mere words written on a page annoyed Christ to some degree:

Luke 11:27 – As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

While God reminds us that indeed His thoughts are above our thoughts, He insists that we not lean on our own understanding; hence, we may assume we can understand the alternative. We are clearly responsible before God for objective truth, and no one will give an account for our own lives but us. Listen to whom you will, but you are personally responsible for what you believe. Does a book seem a little earthy and unspiritual to you? Well, they are present at the White Throne Judgment, and judgment will be rendered according to what is “written in the books.” In the book of Revelation we see that Christ instructed John to “write” what he saw. We also read Christ’s warning to not add or take away any words from the book.

That’s where confident Bible study begins. We must trust it as God’s sole authority. But why a book? The answer is so easy that we readily miss it. God created reality as we now know it, and that reality is interpreted through words. To comprehend any present reality, it must be described by words. God spoke the world into existence with words. We know light as light because He defined it by the word “light.” God instructed Adam to name the animals with words. Animals can only be defined by such names. If we see an animal that we are completely unfamiliar with, we ask, “What is it?” Words describe general reality and particular reality. One may also ask, “What kind of animal is that?” Words interpret reality. God’s Law is interpreted by words; so, it stands to reason that His enemies will want to interpret truth/reality in some other way. This is where philosophy can lead us to more understanding or death. We must remember that words mean things.

The points so far can be argued from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. The audience was the spiritual peasantry of the day. Yet, the hermeneutic for that sermon can be found in the following:

Matthew 5:1 – Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

He “taught” them. As my Grandmother might have said, They got a learnin’. That means they had everything they needed to understand what Jesus wanted them to know. The sermon is to be taken on face value. The words mean what they mean. This audience is NOT the spiritual elite of that day. Jesus ends the sermon by saying the application of those words to life will result in said life being built on a sturdy foundation. The sermon sought to change their lives. It taught them how to think, how to worship, how to pray, and how to act. At the end, they were astonished that he taught these things without the authority of men.

This is first and foremost: to know that God’s word is to us, that it is our sole authority, that we are solely responsible to know it and obey it, and next, that God has sustained its original intent and meaning.

Perhaps one reason Christians do not read their Bibles very much is because we have been taught that we can’t really understand it. Many Reformed churches teach their parishioners that Bible reading merely flavors or prepares their hearts for what they must learn from the elders:

You think, perhaps, that [you] can fill up the other half of the plate with personal study, devotions, or quiet times, or a radio program. Beloved, you cannot. Scripture is relatively quiet on such practices. But on preaching, the case is clear and strong. Neglect preaching and neglect your soul (Dr. Devon Berry: Clearcreek Chapel .org archives; How to Listen to a Sermon)….

The text here implies that there was an interactive nature between three entities: The preacher, the hearers, and the Word. Note this cycle: Paul, from the Word, delivers words. The Bereans, from Paul’s words, go to the Word. The Word cycles from God, through the preacher, to the people, back to the Word, and this, verse 12 tells us, produced belief in the God of the Word. An important thing to note is that this happened daily – suggesting a regular interaction between preaching, personal study, and the Word. The Bereans eagerly prepared by paralleling their own Bible reading and study with Paul’s preaching. So a good preparation for the public preaching of the Word is the private consumption of the Word. It will be the seasoning that brings out the flavor – salt on your French fries, if you will (Ibid.)

Such a statement is indicative of Reformed thought and should raise the ire of a child. Yet, American Christians are so dumbed-down that they listen to such without even blinking.

Therefore, few Christian fathers in America think they are qualified to teach their family the Bible. Oddly, this is not the sentiment in faiths like Islam and many cults. Is their growth, as opposed to the decline of Christianity, due to the offering of something objective? Tragically, many married couples that have been Christians for years seek counsel for what they should already know. Often, this counseling makes the situation worse because it comes from those who didn’t teach them the full counsel of God to begin with. Few parishioners are aware of their pastor’s epistemology. There is no concern for how their elders approach God’s word because the pastor himself is the authority. That’s the problem.

Moreover, we must be confident that God has sustained the Bible’s intent and meaning. Christ’s very mandate to the church was the following: go to all nations with the authority of His word and teach everyone to observe it and keep it. It may then be assumed that He has superintended the Bible and its canonicity. Yet, God involves us in the process. He has promised us that the truth will be available for those who seek it, but we must study to show ourselves approved. That study involves hard labor in all areas of epistemology. We must insist that God has made objective truth available to man for its primary purpose: “everything we need for life and godliness.” It may not tell you how to fix cars, but it will certainly teach you how to be an auto mechanic who pleases God.

This may entail a strong endeavor to gain knowledge of the skill apart from the Bible in order to fulfill the biblical mandate. I think you get the message; God gave us an extraordinary instrument known as a “brain.” We are to use it, not download the thoughts of others with a mindless flash drive. You will be held responsible for the actions that the downloaded information produces. You are responsible, not the source who fed you the information. Christians need to start reading the ingredient labels on the cans. You are to work out your OWN salvation with trembling and fear. Each person will be judged according to their OWN work. Being judged by our works is synonymous with being judged by what we choose to believe. We best not let others make that choice for us. To do so is to let others determine our eternal destiny. Perhaps there is not a greater measure of insanity; seeking for others to think for you. They will not stand in for you before God, why in the world would you let them think for you?

paul

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