Thursday, April 23, 2015

On the Proper Use of Scripture

It has come to my attention over the last several years that in many cases, I have simply taken what was told to me over the years and incorporated it into my thinking without considering the correctness behind it. This is mainly evident in the use of Scripture to defend or make certain arguments. Taking a look back, I find that the more I study and consider the contexts and points being made in Scripture, the more I see where verses and passages were used incorrectly in order to have a quick "go-to" source for an argument. I do not believe this was done maliciously or with bad intent (in fact I believe just the opposite), but that does not mean that it is OK to continue to let it slide. This post, and possibly another, will explore some of these verses and passages, to see what they mean, and also to look at a better way defend the faith we hold so dear.

This requires a different way of looking at Scripture. Now I am not calling for a totally changed hermeneutic (way that we interpret Scripture), but simply a revisiting of how we use Scripture so that we can do so in the best way possible. This is a good deal harder, and takes a bit more work, than spouting off a single verse to make a defense. In order to make arguments as I suggest, we need a worldview that is not only Biblically centered, but Biblically knowledgeable. This means work, and sometimes is means answering a question with "I don't know, let me get back to you." 

Now I realize I am only one preacher with a small, mostly unknown blog. But we have to start somewhere, so it might as well be here. I hope it is as useful to you to read this as it has been for me to write. :-)

As an example, let's look at the subject of music in worship. Now, the church of Christ arguments tend to center on Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19 and (oddly enough) Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1. Let's look at what those passages have to say.

Col. 3:16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Eph. 5:19
Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,

Lev. 10:1
Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command.

Now, as I said, these are the go-to verses for the subject of music in worship. However, there is only one problem. They don't actually speak about music in worship at all

Colossians speaks directly about putting on our new selves in Christ, resisting sin, and love. Verse 3:16 is a command on how we are to speak with one another all the time. It is a command about how we speak, how we act, and the thankfulness we should have in our hearts towards God.

Ephesians is much the same. Paul writes about walking in love, escaping sin, and making the best use of the time we have in these evil days. Verse 5:19 is about how our attitudes and interactions with each other should be filled with love, affection and holiness while being filled with the Spirit.

Leviticus then talks about Nadab and Abihu and how they did something unauthorized during the sacrifice to God. This is usually used to say "if God didn't say it, we shouldn't do it." There is just one problem with using this particular verse as the go-to argument: that's not the only thing they were guilty of. See, God had been very, very clear about exactly how the priests were to deal with the sacrifices. There are chapters...and chapters...and chapters...that govern everything from clothing to pre-service to post-service and everything in between. Nadab and Abihu did more than add something because they thought it was nice. They disobeyed clear, direct orders from God Himself doing something "contrary to His command" They had been given explicit directions, and did something else. This is generally not where instruments in worship fall today (unless they are saying "I know A, but I'd rather do B instead, so whatever".

Now, if you are a little spooked, that is OK. If you disagree with me, that is OK. But go and read the chapters (even the whole books), to see if what I say is false. Because I have a little secret.

I still see music in worship as not being what God intended.

I let go of the above verses years ago to argue my point, however, because I found a better way. It is a little more difficult, but much more satisfying, because I am no longer using verses on their own pulled out of context, but instead appealing to God's consistency and nature as I see it throughout the Bible.

You see, throughout the Old Testament, God did allow music in the assembly of worship. But it was never done how and when they wanted. God ordained specific instruments during specific times of the worship, as in 2 Chronicles 29:25-30. He was very clear about the hows and direction the music would take. Outside of the assembly worship there seemed to be less restriction, as David danced and had music played in celebratory worship while the ark was brought back to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6. So it seems we see two types of worship here: corporate/temple and non-corporate.

Now as we move into the New Testament, remember how God treated instruments in the Old. He used His prophets to say "do this and this and that." We don't see that in the New Testament. In fact, we are given precious little direction beyond coming together, sharing communion with one another and the Lord, being orderly, and putting each other before ourselves. It would seem then, that if God did desire instruments to be used in corporate worship, He would have had the writers make some mention of it somewhere. This is more than an argument from silence. This is an argument based on how God planned and prepared specific uses and purposes for them in the Old Testament. Indeed, if you look at the history of the church, you find that note was made of how instruments were not used in the early church (The Early Church and Today, vol. 1, page 280).

It is because of these things that I do not see the permission to use instruments. We just don't see it and we do see a known, acceptable way to worship the True King of All Creation. If we are chasing the very best of what God wants for us, what keeps us from doing anything else?

Realize, however, that this takes music off the salvation-issue list. We cannot see into the hearts of men. That power is reserved for God alone. People may be doing their very best, but messing up (as we all do so often). This is an issue that can be discussed and debated, but I am not able to see it as a determining factor on whether or not we can have fellowship with another (which, if it is not a salvation issue, must be the side we come down on).

Now this is not to say this is not an important subject. Any subject dealing with our worship of God and the how, why and when is important. We should be honest with ourselves about that. There is nothing more important than that which is about to God, our relationship with Him, our worship of Him and our following His Will. These are the first things in our lives, not the last things we consider.

This is what I mean though when I say we need to rethink our use of Scripture. We are People of the Book, those who chase Truth. As we come to know that Truth, we must be willing to subject ourselves to it, regardless of what that means. We are humans, and we all must grow and we will make mistakes, but let our mistakes be ones of trying our best to follow God, and not ignoring Him in favor of our own predispositions.

If you disagree with me, please let me know. If you think I have misused Scripture, please tell me. Leave a message or email me. I am more than happy to have this discussion at any time. Like I said, I am chasing the Truth, wherever that leads, and I will certainly need help along the way. I know I can't do it myself.

But let us seek Truth together, as friends. As those saved in Christ. As the brothers and sisters that we are.

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