Archive for January, 2010

Says What Now? – A New Series

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

This is probably not a new idea to you:  ”Pay attention to context.”  The easiest way to misunderstand a verse is to read it by itself, ignoring the context.  There’s a variety of pithy sayings, like “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text.”

My favorite comes from Greg Koukl:  “Never read a Bible verse.”

The point being, never read just one verse.  Always read the surrounding verses, too–to get a better idea of the topic, and to help understand what the main point is, and to help figure out ambiguous phrases.  (I wrote a post a couple years ago on this, called Understanding God’s Word.)  Sometimes it’s a jarring experience to read a familiar verse in context–because you discover that it doesn’t actually say what you always thought.  Maybe the idea is still found elsewhere in the Bible (i.e. maybe it’s just a case of “Right idea, wrong passage”)…or maybe not.  Either way, it’s a moment of dissonance.

I’m going to start a series.  Each entry will present a familiar verse from the evangelical world, describe the common interpretation, and look at the context.  Most of these will be very straightforward.

I’d like to highlight both (1) how important it is to be careful about context, and (2) how easy it is to avoid so many mistakes.  (Some things do require deeper study–but you can get a long way with simple, obvious habits. It’s not esoteric.)

Note: An internet friend of mine, Lisa Robinson, was talking on Facebook about doing some posts like this for Parchment and Pen.  So I’m sort of stealing her idea.  But my own blog has so few readers that I don’t think I’ll actually be stealing her thunder.  :)

What’s the Problem With Denominations, Anyway?

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

What’s the problem with denominations, anyway?

Well… There’s a lot wrong with the way Christians sometimes interact with each other over differences of belief & practice–at the personal level and at the denominational level, within churches and between them.  We get hung up over small details.  We get defensive and prideful.  We get “factious”, as some translations of Titus 3:9-10 put it.  Individual churches split, whether for good or bad reasons.

And in the past–mostly when the State dipped its hand into the church, or vice-versa–this has led to violence, persecution, and death.  The Spanish Inquisition, the burning of John Huss, the execution of Servetus in Geneva, the persecution of Irish Catholics, or of Anabaptists by both Catholics and Lutherans.  Issues of orthodoxy being settled by the sword.

On the other hand, differences & potential divisions have also been handled with maturity, peace, love, and reconciliation.  Maybe that’s even been the dominant tendency.  (It’s hard to say, since scandalous behavior stands out so much.)  But doing this well is a personal, individual struggle.  It’s something we all must learn, part of our growth in love & maturity.  It’s an area that needs careful attention, with a lot to figure out on resolving conflicts & differences, both the personal & organizational levels.  (It’s what motivates the ecumenical movement–which has its own merits and flaws.)

And as one small piece of the large discussion, I want to ask:  Is the existence of denominations really a scandal, itself?

Denominationalism tends to be a main target any time we critique divisiveness.  After all, could anything epitomize division & separation more than denominations?

And yet… A couple questions:

I’m part of Hope Chapel, a non-denominational church in Austin.  Just down the street, there’s First Cumberland Presbyterian Church.  Does the fact that we’re not the same local church displease God?  The fact that they have the word “Presbyterian” on their sign?  The fact that they’re affiliated with other churches in a large-scale organization–one that doesn’t include us? (Some will say “yes” to the last–it displeases God.)

Is it a scandal that we don’t do everything the same way? As a Presbyterian church, they hold certain things in common with other Presbyterians.  They practice infant baptism, believing that it inducts children into the community of the church.  (My church doesn’t, believing that baptism is something consciously chosen.)  Their church is led by elders/presbyters, both “teaching elders” and “ruling elders”.  (We also have elders, in addition to our senior pastor.)  They believe that local churches should be grouped together in synods, providing oversight & mediation of disputes–and synods grouped in the general assembly.  (My church is independent.)

They hold to these things out of biblical conviction–they think it’s how God wants church to look.  Including the part that involves large-scale organization.  So is it really a scandal for them to group together, and have a name for the group?  Is it a scandal that we’re not part of that grouping, because we don’t do things the same way–since our understanding of Scripture’s guidance is different?

In the perfect world to come, we won’t have those differences.  They’re happening because somewhere, some of us are misunderstanding & making mistakes.  And someday, we’ll be with God more directly and won’t have those problems.  (The differences of principle will disappear, if perhaps not the differences of style.)

But in the meantime, where does the scandal come in?  From the very existence of different denominations?  Or is it possible to have a God-honoring unity in spite of our denominational differences?  A unity rooted in Christ & the Gospel?  A unity reflected in the way we interact with each other, across our denominational lines?

As we seek to treat one another as brothers & sisters in Christ in this world, ridding ourselves of a divisive spirit, will that actually require dismantling denominations?

Which Bible-reading plan will *you* abandon?

Friday, January 1st, 2010

As I said on Twitter recently, now is the time of year when Christians across the nation are deciding which read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan they’re going to give up on in February.  Teehee.

To encourage Discipline and avoid Discouragement, we have:

1.) My choice:  The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan.  It’s a member of the “read from four different sections of the Bible each day” species of reading plan.  Benefits:

  • Scope. I love the read-from-different-sections plans.  Among other things, it makes it much easier to slog through the rougher patches, like Leviticus, Number, & Deuteronomy.
  • Flexibility. There are four readings for each day–but you can do just one, or two, or three.
  • The most awesomest super-cool feature: Good for slackers! It only has 25 days worth of readings for each month, giving you free days to catch up if/when you fall behind.
  • It’s also recommended by both my own pastor, and John Piper. So it’s gotta be good.

2.) Good news for those of us who look to the ESV Bible as the One True Translation™ (I kid, I kid): The ESV.org people have put together a fantastic site with 10 different reading plans.  Including a podcast feature for listening to the readings!  According to Justin Taylor, the plans can be accessed by:

  • web (a new reading each day appears online at the same link)
  • RSS (subscribe to receive by RSS)
  • podcast (subscribe to get your daily reading in audio)
  • email (subscribe to receive by email)
  • iCal (download an iCalendar file)
  • mobile (view a new reading each day on your mobile device)
  • print (download a PDF of the whole plan)

Here’s all 10 ESV Reading Plans

JT also explains how to sign up for these plans as podcasts in iTunes.  (They don’t show up in the music store, but you can still easily add them.)

3.) Finally, we  have The Bible Reading Plan for Slackers and Shirkers.  It doesn’t mark the readings by date, so you can never tell that you’ve “fallen behind” if you missed a day.  There’s no such thing as falling behind!

The advantage of this plan is that it provides guidance as we read each day but does not put us on an internal guilt trip if we miss a day – we just pick up with the next reading on the day it happens to be.  Also, this plan allows us to see the many interconnections between sections of Scripture. So, as Margie puts it, on the same day you may be reading about God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis and a few days later read Paul’s commentary on the Abrahamic covenant in Romans.

4.) A couple other suggestions from Facebook friends:  Jennifer Lawton pointed out that having other people to encourage you can help keep you going.  And LaNette Lathem said that reading from an unfamiliar translation can keep things fresh.  (If you’ve got any other suggestions for avoiding the doldrums–or if you have a favorite plan I missed–then please leave a comment!)

Good luck to you all!  Er, I mean, “Good providential outworking of God’s plan for your life!”