Monday, September 26, 2016

A Bad Reason for Returning to the Institution: "Well, the New Testament is Simply Descriptive."

You may have departed from the institutional church framework because the bible shows something far different. However, would it bring doubts to your mind if another Christian said to you, "Well, the New Testament is simply descriptive."?

Again and again and again I've heard, read, and been told by believers that the New Testament narrative passages are only descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, narratives simply tell us what happened, but do not call us to behave in that same manner.

When I departed from the salaried pastorate I ran into this argument repeatedly.

But is it a valid argument?

We learn much from the entire bible. In particular, the New Testament tells us many wonderful things about who God is, about what He has done, about what He is still doing, and about what our response should be. Because it is a book, the bible is literature (true literature). It is composed of all sorts of writing, from poetry and prophecy to narrative and epistle. It is all for our instruction.

If the narrative passages are only descriptive, as the above argument goes, then we lose a great deal of important information about how we are to live. Since much of the information in scripture about church life is, in fact, in narrative form we'd have little to go on if we toss the narrative sections aside. If that was the case, then churches could basically do whatever they want when they meet (which is what is happening in most churches today).

Interestingly, I've yet to meet even one Christian who consistently treats all narrative accounts as simply descriptive. Rather, the tendency is to say that the passages they agree with are prescriptive, but those they do not really like are only descriptive. We all have a tendency to fall into this trap and ought to be wary of it.

Much of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are narrative. Do the passages that tell us about how Jesus lived not apply to us because they are narrative in form? What about the majority of the book of Acts?

I believe that one of the main reasons the church in this country is generally in disarray is that the New Testament narrative passages have been largely ignored. This has led to churches doing whatever they think is a good idea whenever they think it. This has led to abject disaster.

The entire bible is breathed out by God and useful for our instruction. Because of this, the narrative passages do in fact carry prescriptive weight. They are models that we should follow. Of course, we must let scripture interpret scripture. Also, we would never follow the narratives that show us people behaving in a sinful manner. We should, however, do all we can to learn from the narratives that show us positives.

If someone tells you that narratives are simply descriptive, ask him why he thinks that. If he actually answers you, follow up by asking how this applies to the narratives about the life of Christ. That should bring an end to his argument very quickly.


Peter Horvatin said...

It's not just about narrative, it's more like biblical Illiteracy Throughout the country and the world.

Paul G said...

Hi Eric,
Perhaps, only in a fellowship environment can all those problems be eradicated, I mean in a biblical fellowship and not in a pulpit pew teaching church.

I open my Bible, and it is like a smorgasbord, I can pick and choose whatever I like, and that which I don't like, I ignore, or if it doesn't suit me, I say that in Greek or in Hebrew it means something completely different than it does in English.

The only problem I have is when some brothers and sisters are correcting me and expose my well thought out doctrines and especially my deeds.
For that reason I would like to hide in a big institutional CHURCH, perhaps on the back-seat and hopefully no one would correct me and point out my sins.

I don't mind teaching, as long as I don't need to change my ways or repent.
Oops! repent, the word 'repent' is a dirty word and it is only for sinners, you know, the real SINNERS, the others :-)
And, by the way what does repent mean in Greek ? Surely it has to mean something different than what it means in English :-)

T Aagard said...

1. Nothing in organic church life is built on narrative or descriptive passages. It's all build on specific instructions and prescriptive text. Nothing that I can think of that is determinative in contrasting organic with institutional.
2. Descriptive does not contradict prescriptive except when descriptive tells about sin and corruption.
3. Descriptive and prescriptive are cohesive when anything is significant.
4. Core elements in institutional church life are based on neither prescriptive or descriptive. They are based on assumptive. Example "preach the word in season and out of season..." is completely assumed to be lecture the word every week of your life till you die. There is no prescription or even description of this routine.