Friday, December 10, 2010

A Few Important Conclusions

Most of my writing on this blog is based on a few important conclusions that are directly related to the bible. After reading the scriptures, I've concluded (as have many of you) that the bible is inspired by God, truthful, authoritative, and inerrant. I believe these conclusions are a gift from the Holy Spirit as opposed to any brilliance on my part.

Keeping the above in mind, I've come to a few other related conclusions:

1) The bible is sufficient.

The issue of sufficiency is one that has become a battleground over the past 15 years or so. Among those who believe the bible is true and authoritative, there remains a debate about the sufficiency of the scriptures. In a broad sense, this issue comes down to whether or not the bible gives us all we need to know. I believe it does.

This obviously does not apply to all details of life. For example, the bible does not tell us that we should root for the Georgia Bulldogs instead of the Auburn Tigers (although this would be a good idea). Instead, the bible gives us all the information we need about areas of importance.

2) The bible is sufficient for all of the Christian life.

Closely related to the first conclusion (but a little more specific) is the idea that the bible is sufficient for all aspects of the Christian life. The idea is that the scriptures provide for us all we need to know to be right with God and live lives that please Him. We don't need anything else than the scriptures to understand both salvation and sanctification.

3) The bible is sufficient for all of church life.

This conclusion is again a little more specific than the one that comes before it. When we are saved, we immediately become part of the church. For the remainder of our lives, we walk the path of sanctification as part of the church. In doing so, we grow in Christ and help others to grow in Christ.

I've come to the conclusion over the past year or so that the bible is fully sufficient for all of church life. In other words, the scriptures tell us all we need to know to function as the church in a manner that pleases God.

This particular assumption is based on a few things: God's consistency, God's clarity, and God's love. First, God told Israel in the OT exactly what He expected of them and how they were to function. He does the same with His church in the NT. Second, God is clear in His word in what He expects of us. In reading the bible, we don't get the sense that He has left out anything important. Third, God is loving. He tells His covenant people His expectations so that we can please Him and not fall under His wrath.

Since the bible is sufficient for the life of the church, this means that all we have to do is look in its pages to see how we are to function. It tells us all we need to know. This is exciting. As we read in particular through the Gospels, Acts, and the epistles we see the church in action. We see what they did correctly and what they needed to change. Acts, I Corinthians, and Ephesians are absolute goldmines of information about what the church is and what it should look like.

If we have questions about church life, we can simply look to the bible to answer them. I've been amazed to see that the scriptures tell us everything we need to know. We don't need to add to the bible or take away from it. If we find ourselves asking significant questions that the bible doesn't answer, then we should probably step back and see if we have failed to ask more fundamental questions in the first place.

If we come to the conclusion that the bible is in fact sufficient for church life, this will automatically lead to some revolutionary thoughts about Christ's church. You may see different things than I do, but one thing is for sure: what we see will all actually be contained in the bible.

If we submit to this sufficiency, it will probably cause us to ask some very hard questions about how we live our lives individually and as part of the church. It may make us ask questions as to why we do what we do. We will most likely see some practices within our local church body that are blatantly absent from the bible.

If the bible is sufficient, then we all have some decisions to make.

19 comments:

David Rogers said...

Eric,

I think we may have discussed this at another time, but since I'm still trying to work through what I think about all this, here goes again...

How do you relate the sufficiency of Scripture to the regulative principle of worship and the normative principle of worship?

To be honest, I've read over the Wikepedia articles on each, and I am having a hard time getting a grasp on what the real difference is; in general, yes, but where do you draw the line on specific issues? IOW, are the regulative principle folks truly consistent across the board?

A big issue, for instance, seems to be musical instruments as an aid for group worship. If you are consistent with the regulative principle, I think you must say, No instruments.

But, I don't see how the NT ever intended to teach us one way or the other about musical instruments. There are certain matters on which we have liberty to choose and adapt according to what best fulfills the objectives of worship, and of church life, set down in Scripture, in our particular context.

Once you make the exception for musical instruments, though, this leaves open the door for church buildings, sermons, pastoral salaries, and a number of other things.

I'm not trying to argue with you on the particulars here, just trying to get a better grasp on how all this fits together, and specifically how you see the sufficiency of Scripture applying in these matters.

Eric said...

David,

Thanks for the discussion. I'll tell you what I believe, but I have to admit that I certainly don't have this all figured out.

As for the regulative principle vs. the normative principle, I haven't given that particular issue (at least in those specific terms) a great deal of thought. Rather, I'm trying to simply look to scripture to inform each aspect of church life.

You are correct that it sometimes gets difficult when getting down to the details. My desire is to be consistent, but I'm not sure that I live up to that.

Instruments in music is an interesting issue. I have no problem with instruments because I don't think the NT informs us one way or another about them. Since the OT encourages their use (Psalms, etc.), I think they are positive. We also know that we should sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. These do not require instruments, but they seem to be aided by them.

You wrote, "Once you make the exception for musical instruments, though, this leaves open the door for church buildings, sermons, pastoral salaries." I'd have to respectfully disagree on those three specific issues because the NT example speaks against them. We see churches gather in homes. We don't see sermons ever preached to the church. We see pastors encouraged to work with their hands.

Despite what I have just said, the issue probably isn't as black-and-white as the previous paragraph makes it sound. I imagine there will always be areas of difficulty in knowing what to do in the details.

For me, the overriding principles are the truth, authority, and sufficiency on the bible. We should follow whatever we see commanded, taught, modeled, or suggested. In areas of silence, I believe we have freedom.

Where I differ from most evangelicals in this country is that I believe our freedoms are much more limited than most do. The limitations come not just from what is commanded, but also what is modeled.

Since church life is always messier in the reality than in the abstract, there will almost always be areas of disagreement about this topic. I hope to continue to learn along with everyone else.

runningwillis said...

After reading through much of your writing, I'm curious to know a few things:

Do you require the females in your family to wear head coverings?

Do you sell all your possessions so that you can give the proceeds to anyone as they have a need?

Do you hold the position that only what is repeated in the NT is valid for the church today, thus making the majority of the OT obsolete, particularly in regards to the Law (i.e. antinomianism)?

Several days ago, you commented: "I'd love to sit down with more people, especially salaried pastors, to discuss this issue. The reality is, however, that most people do not want to have this conversation. It challenges assumptions and traditions. That is uncomfortable for them." Do you really believe the majority of "salaried pastors" don't want to sit down and discuss with you because they are uncomfortable about having their positions challenged? Have you considered that, perhaps they have some other reason related more to your presentation of what you now believe and their perceived lack of fruitfulness from such a conversation?

I'm not trying to pick a fight - I'm just seriously wondering what you think about these things because I haven't seen any of it mentioned in my cursory look through your posts.

David Rogers said...

Eric,

Thanks for the response. As I have tried to communicate at various times here, I am, in general, quite sympathetic to your overall perspective on many, if not all, of these issues. I definitely think we should be more careful to be scriptural in all we do, and not just be led by tradition.

However, I think our hermeneutical approach is key on these issues, and people who equally claim to support the sufficiency of Scripture, at times, come from different hermeneutical perspectives.

Are you prepared to say that anytime in the NT we have an example of something that took place in churches, or among Christians, and it is not specifically condemned, then it is necessarily a model for us to follow? Are there not some things that happened in response to specific situations and contexts for which we must try to identify an underlying principle, and then apply them—perhaps in the same way, perhaps in a little different way—to our particular situation and context today?

Take meeting in houses, for example. Is it possible that the early believers met in homes more by default than out of deference to a particular biblical principle? There is nowhere I know of where the Bible says anything like, "Thou shalt meet as a church in homes and not in other places."

Would you, for instance, consider the meetings Paul held in the Lecture Hall of Tyrannus to be "church meetings"? Why or why not?

In general, I am very sympathetic to the house church movement, and think that, as Christians, we have much to gain from more emphasis on house meetings. But I have a hard time claiming that a proper interpretation of Scripture in any way conscripts us to only meeting in homes.

I believe we must find the underlying principles—i.e. free exercise of gifts, personal relationships, accountability, etc.—and seek the best means in our particular context to live these out. For many, and perhaps most, this will indeed be in house churches, or, at least, cell groups, or something similar. But, I am open to the possibility of exceptions to the rule.

Eric said...

runningwillis,

Thank you for commenting on my blog.

I do have to wonder if you really want my answers to your questions or if you are trying to make a point of disagreement. I'll go ahead and tell you what I think.

Regarding head coverings, I inquired about this issue with two of my seminary NT/Greek professors. They both said they think it can refer to long hair. Therefore, I simply ask my wife and daughters to have hairstyles that look feminine.

As for selling possessions to care for the church, I would be willing to do this if it comes up. We are now free to give more than ever before because we no longer support huge church building payments or pastoral salaries.

I believe the NT tells us what we need to know for church life. The OT can inform our decision making, but since we are under the new covenant, we should look at church life - which is found in the NT. An example is what to do about musical instruments. The NT doesn't mention them. However, the OT tells of their use in worship. Thus I think we should feel free to use them.

As for salaried pastors, I really do believe that most do not want to discuss these issues. They are simply too threatening to what they are doing. I am willing to discuss these things with anyone who wants to. There are many pastors in the local SBC association who know me and know that I have resigned for these reasons. Only a couple have contacted me about it. They are certainly not required to do so, but it is interesting how few have done so.

Eric said...

David,

It does get sticky at times.

There probably are times when we need to look at a principle behind a situation. It would depend on the situation. That's why it gets so difficult. My "default," however, is to go with the biblical model unless there is a very good reason not to do so.

Regarding meeting in houses, this is the model we have. Therefore, I believe we should generally copy it. More important than houses, however, is the setting. As you have said, the key is the free exercise of gifts, mutual relationship building, etc. If this can happen in a building other than a house, then it may be fine. I don't know. Scripture doesn't tell us.

A related question to ask is why anyone would want to gather in a building other than a house. I'm just wondering.

As for the Hall of Tyrannus, that does not appear to have been the normal gathering place for the church - at least not for their primary meeting of the week. However, you are right in that it wasn't a home. Therefore, it suggests some freedom in it.

In any issue, I believe we should begin with biblical commands and the biblical model. We should ask how to follow the commands and how to follow the model. Obviously, we must follow the commands. As for the model, we should try to follow it. We need to have a good reason for not doing so. In my opinion, most Christians far too easily dismiss the biblical model as being a matter of choice.

In the end, there likely is some freedom. However, I believe it is far more limited than most. I believe this is a good thing.

Thanks!

Alan Knox said...

Eric and David,

Have either of you heard of the "informed principle" instead of the normative or regulative principle? This is what the wiki article on normative principle says about it:

"A supposedly new principle has been recently introduced into this discussion that seeks to strike a balance between the regulative and normative principles. Sometimes referred to as the 'informed principle of worship', it teaches that what is commanded in Scripture regarding worship is required, what is prohibited in Scripture regarding worship is forbidden, what is not prohibited in Scripture regarding worship is permissible, but only if validly deduced from a proper application of Scripture using good and necessary consequence."

I think that is closest to my own position. Many of the traditional practices are neither commanded nor prohibited, but their practice cannot be "validly deduced" (except perhaps through anachronistic interpretation) and are harmful to the church.

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

I imagine that we are very close to agreement on this issue. What you have mentioned here makes sense. The difficulty, of course, is what this means: "validly deduced from a proper application of Scripture using good and necessary consequence."

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

You said: The difficulty, of course, is what this means: "validly deduced from a proper application of Scripture using good and necessary consequence."

Yes, that is the difficulty. I think the same difficulty exists in the "normative" and "regulative" principles, but it's not spelled out. I like the fact that it's spelled out here, so it gives us a point of discussion.

By the way, it's interesting that Christians regularly reject things that are not prohibited in Scripture because they recognize that those things cause problems with other principles, commands, and prohibitions: pornography, cigarettes, drug dependence (illegal or prescription), television, etc.

However, when it comes to the church, we don't mind setting aside certain examples, principles, and commands. Why? Because these are the things that we're familiar and comfortable with (things like senior pastors, paid staff, sermons, etc.).

-Alan

Eric said...

Alan,

I have been amazed over the last few years to watch the power that tradition holds over so many people. When I have challenged tradition with scripture, the response I get is usually a blank stare and then a response that basically says, "I'm going to do it this way regardless."

As Christians, we should be able to challenge tradition by discussing scripture according to basic principles of interpretation. My guess is that most of the time we will come to agreement.

David Rogers said...

Alan & Eric,

Of the three—regulative, normative, and informed—I think I would go along with each of you in opting for the informed principle. But, as Eric points out, the catch is just how do we interpret and apply what may be "validly deduced from a proper application of Scripture using good and necessary consequence."

I guess the main point behind what I am saying is, just because someone may come down on different sides of a particular issue than we do doesn't necessarily mean he/she is doing violence to the sufficiency of Scripture. And, everything the NT church did doesn't NECESSARILY have to be seen as a inviolable model for us. We should rather do our best to try to ascertain WHY the NT church did things the way they did them, and then seek to apply the principle behind what they did in the way that makes the best sense in our particular situation and context.

Eric said...

David,

I agree with you.

When I read a passage about church life, I try to ask what the theological significance is within the passage. This is closely related to finding the principle taught. As I do this, I usually find that there is a very good reason for doing what they did. However, in some cases it may simply have been cultural and not apply to us directly.

My guess is that if the three of us could sit down with bibles open and look through a wide range of issues, we would come to agreement on almost everything.

A key is being willing to let scripture speak and at the same time challenge any traditions we may hold dear. If we are willing to do this, I think we will find scripture to be very clear.

In the end, if we do disagree, it will probably be in an area of freedom.

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

I'd love to sit down with you and David with open Bibles (and a good cup of coffee). I can tell you from experience that you'd enjoy sitting down and talking with David. He's very encouraging to talk with!

-Alan

Mark Hollingsworth said...

Eric:

Just curious: how do you interpret "greet one another with a holy kiss," apparently commanded five separate times in the NT? Do you plan on incorporating this into your house church gatherings? Not trying to be funny, just interested in whether or not you have a consistent hermeneutic.

Blessings
Mark Hollingsworth

Eric said...

Mark,

That is a fair question. I admit that I've failed to do so.

As for my hermeneutic, I'd like to be able to say that I am always consistent. The reality is that I'm not. My desire is to follow the biblical model as closely as possible. However, there do seem to be places where the principle behind the behavior is the key. From an interpretation perspective, we must ask what the theological significance is. This, I think, is where much disagreement occurs - even among Christians who very much desire to follow scripture for all of church life.

So how should we greet one another? In whatever way expresses the same thing as a holy kiss. For me, I hug people. That may not be consistent, but I find that others like it a lot more than a holy kiss.

Scott said...

Eric,
A thought from the sidelines.

I respect you a great deal, and yet I must admit as I read through these discussions it often appears to me that your hermeneutic is biased or at least inconsistent.

You often to seek to justify (biblically or pragmatically) most anything you do not desire to have challenged. Such as head coverings, holy kisses, instruments in church meetings, ownership of property, etc. You dismiss most of these choices as Christian freedoms or having some basis in the OT.

At the same time you seem dogmatic about rejecting the freedom to exercise church meetings in buildings, paying ministers a salary, and delivering prepared speeches.

I think asking hard questions about how we "do church" are important. Challenging traditions can be also be beneficial. However, I think we need to be consistent in how we approve of or reject them.

As for traditional salaried ministers not wanting to discuss I must agree with "runningwillis". I do not mind discussing these issues, it personally does not "threaten" my comfort. As I have stated previously I could actually be more "comfortable" at least financially, by giving up salaried ministry. I think it is easy to forget that the bulk of those who serve as full time salaried ministers do so “sacrificially”, and not for financial gain.

So where I to tend to agree with "runningwillis" is that rather than feeling uncomfortable, I too assume most salaried ministers feel that these are not the most pressing or fruitful discussions to be discussing in terms of impacting God's kingdom work.

And yet I have once again entered into the discussion.

Love You Brother.

Scott ><>

Eric said...

Scott,

Hi brother. I hope you are well.

I'll admit that it can be a struggle to be completely consistent in terms of hermeneutics. It is my desire to do so, as I imagine it is with all of us.

The hermeneutic I try to use is one of asking what the biblical model is and seeking out the theological significance behind it. There are times where quite honestly this can be difficult to do.

Let me quickly address the four areas that you mentioned regarding me being inconsistent. As for head coverings, I think it refers to long hair, so I don't see inconsistency there. I'd be happy to give holy kisses, but most people don't want them. Regarding instruments, the NT is completely silent regarding their use. Therefore, I see an area for freedom. Regarding property, if someone has a need I desire to meet it. If that requires me selling possessions to do it, I will. So far, this hasn't happened. However, I now have more money than ever before to help the poor and needy because I'm not paying toward a large church building or pastoral salary.

You mentioned, "freedom to exercise church meetings in buildings, paying ministers a salary, and delivering prepared speeches." You are correct in that I don't see much freedom in these areas. The reason is that the NT speaks directly about them. I'll spare you my reasoning because I've mentioned it so many times before.

In light of the above, I believe I'm being consistent the vast majority of the time. I'm sure there are things I'm blind to, but in general I don't believe so.

I'm sure that there are many salaried pastors who could earn more money in the secular workforce than they make in their pastoral roles. Nonetheless, this isn't biblical justification for their accepting salaries. I've yet to hear a solid, biblically reasoned argument for salaried pastors.

I do think these are important discussions because they directly impact the church. Most people agree that the church in our country is struggling. However, not very many want to question some of the most basic practices that contribute to those struggles. Because I see a stagnant church with many unbiblical practices, I'm going to continue to ask these sorts of questions.

Scott, I appreciate your input because you are loving, gracious, and level-headed. These issues are simply ones on which we disagree.

rodrigo said...

When reading all these comments I think of Jesus and if he derived all of his guidance from scripture. Did he always make sure he was consistent in everyone's eyes according to scripture. Didn't Jesus know that the woman who washed his feet with her hair removed her head covering in an act of prayer to God. And I'm sure she broke some other rules too in that act. Was Jesus able to keep himself consistent in this in front of all the leaders of his day. And prove that he was right. And of course there was all the Sabath things to keep scripturally correct and consistent on. No Jesus drew his strength and guidance from his Father and therefore was able to understand scripture. And Jesus invited us into this relationship also. Let us not turn scripture into some code to be broken which will ultimately set us in truth if we get it all figured out or we will be doing to the NT what the Pharisees did to the OT.

But rather let us radically love God in abandonment as the woman who washed Jesus's feet with her hair. From my experience it takes more than a marriage book to love a woman. And it takes more than the scripture to love God.

I think the early church would find this type of discussion quite foreign. Most couldn't read and if they did read, would they have access to scripture? No I think they relied on the Holy Spirit and there inward witness of Christ dwelling in them for guidance and the consensus decision making of the church. As well as the occasional apostolic input either personal or in letters read aloud by those who could read.

Eric said...

Rodrigo,

Thanks for your comment.

Jesus always obeyed scripture perfectly (not man-made traditions, but the OT).

You seem to be pitting obedience to the word of God against following the lead of the Holy Spirit. But why would the Holy Spirit ever tell us to do anything that goes against the scriptures He inspired?

Which parts of scripture can we disobey and please God at the same time? How do you know which to follow and which to ignore?