Monday, October 31, 2011

Another plea for consistency

Eric Carpenter wrote a great post dealing with the idea of consistency in hermeneutics, A Pilgrim's Progress: Why Believer's Baptism?. Eric addresses one of my personal challenges and something I think needs far more attention in the church: consistency when interpreting and applying the Bible. As Eric points out, many of us are pretty inconsistent about how we interpret and apply what we read in the Bible.

Personlly, I hold to believer's baptism because that is what we see in scripture. I also hold to the other above things for the same reason.

What I'm begging the church for is consistency. We need to treat the biblical model fairly and consistently. Picking and choosing what makes us feel comfortable is simply not a fair way to handle the bible.
The reason I hold to believer’s baptism is the same as Eric: it is what we see demonstrated and commanded in Scripture and further it is the only position that is consistent with the change to the way God deals with His people under the New Covenant. This is the same reason my wife covers her head and that I choose to educate my children at home and that I hold to the doctrines of grace. Where I find myself struggling is when I see what Scripture teaches and yet kick against the goads because it runs contrary to my traditions. The use of the sword by Christians is a perfect example. The Bible is painfully clear on this issue. Christians are to seek to live peaceably with all people but that runs smack dab into our Western tradition of asking God to bless our troops while they are killing the enemies of the state we were placed in and the exaltation of military service by so many in the church. It has been a hard road for me and one that often is lonely but that is the price for trying to be faithful and consistent in interpreting and applying the Bible. The Bible is not a 21st century morality manual, it is a ancient document that depicts a radical change in life for those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, a radical way of life that is going to cause friction with the world.

If we say we love Jesus and want to conform ourselves to Him by studying the revealed will of God in the Bible and applying it in our lives, we must seek to do so consistently. We are so often guilty of picking and choosing, taking one portion of Scripture as a hill to die on but then taking another portion of Scripture and relegating it to the culture of the day. Sometimes we do this within the same chapter of Scripture! Baptism, infant or believer’s only. Election and predestination or “free will”. Congregational or Presbyterian or Episcopal church government. Pre, post or amillenial. On and on.

Being consistent is pretty difficult because we are often blind to those areas of Scripture where we are less than consistent. No one that I know of is proudly proclaiming how inconsistent they are in interpreting Scripture! This is why an individualistic hermeneutic is dangerous (2 Peter 1:20). Unfortunately the “solution” typically put forth in the church as a defense against heresy and error is an “expert hermeneutic” where one man, usually the pastor who has a seminary degree, is given virtually all of the interpretive authority in a local church so that each local church functions under a very narrowly focused hermeneutic lens. That is just as dangerous as an “every man for himself” hermeneutic because this is a breeding ground for inconsistency and often heresy.

This is where a community hermeneutic comes into play. When all of the brothers in a local assembly are engaged in the teaching and interpretation of Scripture rather than just one man it is far more likely that a consistent hermeneutic will appear. A Southern Baptist pastor trained in a Southern Baptist seminary and ministering to a Southern Baptists congregation (as his job no less) is likely to produce a Southern Baptist hermeneutic and no one is going to question it. If an individual does come to a different interpretation, they will more than likely just leave that church because they don’t really have a say in the interpretation of Scripture unless they are the pastor or perhaps one of the elders/deacons. I think we fear letting people say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question so we restrict the conversation.

Brothers, we must constantly strive for consistency and be willing to lay it all on the table, all of our presuppositions and traditions and pet peeves. When we hold back one area, one tradition, one favorite or culturally popular doctrine we are being unfaithful in our interpretation. The Body of Christ must not fear itself. We who are born-again believers in Christ all have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and that is the best teacher any of us can have.

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