This series of 26 lessons was developed for classroom presentation from the book by David Miller that should be required reading for every preacher, elder, and Bible school teacher in the Lord’s church: Piloting The Strait”.  This book is available from a variety of bookstores, Sain Publications at www.sainpublicans.com as well as from David Miller at www.apologeticspress.org.

 

CHANGES IN THE CHURCH

MECHANISM FOR CHANGE - HERMENEUTICS

 

The New Hermeneutic - Aversion to Logic

 

            During the past two lessons we have discussed at length the practice and principles of correct hermeneutics; the proper interpretation and application of Biblical principle.  In this lesson we will start a short series on those hermeneutical practices and arguments that some of our denominationally minded brethren are promoting to support their efforts to change the church of Christ as we know it from the first century example.

            Those promoting change in churches of Christ are hiding their efforts under the guise of what they call “fresh, responsible exegesis” or application of Biblical teaching and principle.  They say that for all these years we have misinterpreted the Bible by using faulty hermeneutical methods and have thus arrived at doctrinal conclusions that are incorrect.

            The philosophical and theological roots of this so-called “new hermeneutic” or way of interpreting Scripture, lie deep within denominational theology, specifically the “neo-orthodox” theology of the late 1800’s.  And no wonder; because where this thing came from; is the denominational seminaries and colleges where we sent our best and brightest back in the fifties, sixties and seventies to get their advanced degrees so they could teach in “our” colleges and “our” colleges could then award their own advanced degrees.  It is rooted, if we can define it at all, in the philosophies of Fuchs, Ebeling, Gadamer, Bultmann, and other European theologians and philosophers whose theories have been popular among the so-called scholars during the past few decades.

            But while the foundation of what our apostate brethren are teaching resembles these philosophies much of the rest of what they content is pretty vague.  Its sort like when someone wants to impress you as being a real, bonafide scholar and when he runs out of the high flown words and ideas that he has memorized you start to be able to see how much of a fool he really is. When you actually try to pin down what is being taught and what is actually believed in; it becomes extremely difficult to identify what these people want to call the “new hermeneutic.”  It seems to be a kind of explain it as you go philosophy.  In fact the primary concern of those who would give us a new means of interpreting the Bible seems to be the old hermeneutic that we have used for years.  They don’t like its approach because it doesn’t give them the answers they want but at the same time they don’t have a replacement that makes sense.  This “new hermeneutic” is not the result of simple Bible study and a sincere search for the truth.  Rather it is an attempt to change our foundation beliefs. 
            The first thing our change agent brethren are saying about that “old hermeneutic” is that it is “rationalistic,” “forensic,” and too dependent upon logic, human reason and inference.  To quote one writer:  “I believe it is extremely dangerous to elevate human reasoning to the level of God’s command” and “There is no doctrine more potentially dangerous…than elevating necessary inference and approved examples to the status of God’s commands.”  Now if we want to be facetious we could argue that since this person reached his conclusion with human reasoning then his conclusion must be faulty.  But sufficient for our purpose: where is the scripture which supports his viewpoint?  Is this a necessary inference which he has drawn from his study of God’s inspired Word?  It is not, it is purely the product of human reasoning without any Biblical basis whatsoever.  They do exactly what they condemn.

            In actuality, everyone reasons from the Bible.  The solution to our need to understand God’s Word is not to condemn human reasoning but rather to promote correct human reasoning.  The Bible itself exhorts us to use sound reasoning and rational thinking in order to understand its precepts.

 

Isaiah 1:18  COME NOW, AND LET US REASON TOGETHER, SAITH THE LORD: THOUGH YOUR SINS BE AS SCARLET, THEY SHALL BE AS WHITE AS SNOW, THOUGH THEY BE RED LIKE CRIMSON, THEY SHALL BE AS WOOL.”

 

I Thessalonians 5:21  PROVE ALL THINGS, HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD.”

 

I John 4:1 “BELOVED, BELIEVE NOT EVERY SPIRIT, BUT TRY THE SPIRITS WHETHER THEY ARE OF GOD: BECAUSE MANY FALSE PROPHETS ARE GONE OUT INTO THE WORLD.”

 

Acts 17:2-3  “AND PAUL, AS HIS MANNER WAS, WENT IN UNTO THEM, AND THREE SABBATH DAYS REASONED WITH THEM OUT OF THE SCRIPTURES, OPENING AND ALLEGING, THAT CHRIST MUST NEEDS HAVE SUFFERED, AND RISEN AGAIN FROM THE DEAD; AND THAT THIS JESUS, WHOM I PREACH UNTO YOU, IS CHRIST.”

 

Acts 18:26  AND HE BEGAN TO SPEAK BOLDLY IN THE SYNAGOGUE: WHOM WHEN AQUILA AND PRISCILLA HAD HEARD, THEY TOOK HIM UNTO them, AND EXPOUNDED UNTO HIM THE WAY OF GOD MORE PERFECTLY.” (expound means to explain in detail)

 

            Jesus, Himself, expected readers to heed the implications of God’s explicit statements.  In the discussion between Jesus and the Sadducees recorded for us in Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus concludes his correction of their thinking with an application of Biblical implication:

 

Matthew 22:31-32 “BUT AS TOUCHING THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, HAVE YE NOT READ THAT WHICH WAS SPOKEN UNTO YOU BY GOD, SAYING, I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB?  GOD IS NOT THE GOD OF THE DEAD, BUT OF THE LIVING.”

 

            The religious world today is as divided enough over what the Bible says explicitly, specifically and directly without it being divided over what it says by inference or implication.  There are many other reasons for belief and practice other than hermeneutical principles and these implications can be used incorrectly as well.  Just as we can reason incorrectly; we can also apply the implications of the Scripture incorrectly.  Jesus took the Pharisees to task in Matthew 15 for their misapplication of Scripture and their using the implication of Scripture to suit their own purposes and declared that:

 

Matthew 15:cf6-9  ….THUS HAVE YE MADE THE COMMANDMENT OF GOD OF NONE EFFECT BY YOUR TRADITION.  ye HYPOCRITES, WELL DID ESAIAS PROPHESY OF YOU, SAYING, THIS PEOPLE DRAWETH NIGH UNTO ME WITH THEIR MOUTH, AND HONOURETH ME WITH their LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IF FAR FROM ME.  BUT IN VAIN THEY DO WORSHIP ME, TEACHING for DOCTRINE THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.”

 

            Some are saying that we are victims of “rationalism” and that our heavy reliance upon logic is due to our Restoration roots.  They say that the Campbell’s and others who were instrumental in the restoration of the first century church in 18th and 19th century America were overly influenced by the “common sense” realists of that day such as Locke and Bacon and other such philosophers.

            But the issue is not whether there is any link between the realists of the 19th century, Campbell or others and ourselves.  The issue is to what extent do we accurately reflect the Bible’s own requirements regarding the proper use of reason.  We are to reason correctly about the explicit statements of the Bible – not because of what Aristotle, Locke, Campbell or even Uncle Joe said – but because of what God Himself said in Scripture.  If these men stressed the need for proper reasoning and application of Scripture and in studying the Bible, then they, as we today; would be in tune with God in this matter.

            What does matter: is can human beings at any time in history go to their Bibles and, without a lot of “scholarly expertise” ascertain how God would have them conduct themselves?  Are our historical circumstances and conditioning really so strong that a simple man’s honest appraisal of Scripture will inevitably be slanted or twisted in some way?  The Bible was given by God to mankind for the very purpose of revealing to sincere, honest hearts how to be saved and stay saved.  God expects each of us to use the reasoning powers of our divinely created minds to understand the Bible.  Matthew 4:4; John 8:31-32; John 7:16-17; John 6:44-45, etc.

            What’s the problem then?  Why do our brethren who would change the church have such a fear of common logic?  This fear of logic in wayward brethren is closely associated with their desire to be relieved of the confining nature of God’s word.  Or in other words; the strait way is just too strait.  They want something that gives them more say in their religious pursuits.  They want something that is subjective and fuzzy so that they can make it say what they want it to say.  We can’t do that with God’s word if we reason logically and objectively.

            Our wayward brethren also advocate frequently the need for “freedom” and “unity.”  They speak of the need for dispensing with the old wineskins to make room for the new wine.  They speak of the need for a hermeneutic that will cause Scripture to be “more relevant,” help “in getting closer to God and each other,” be “more palatable to an age that denigrates authoritarianism,” (denies authority) and be able to “relate to people where they live” without being “insensitive and impersonal.”  (Emphasize the early lessons on culture)

They say that we need a hermeneutic that starts with God, not Scripture, that focuses on the actions of God rather than the rules of logic and results, and that seeks the “heart of God” and “God’s desires” – not just the “instructions of God.”  They say that we should focus on content, not outer forms, and emphasize meaning and motive rather that “doing acts correctly.”  They say we should approach interpretation, not as “rational animals” but as “story-telling animals.”

These contrasts are unbiblical.  They are the source of false teachings and applications of grace vs. works; Christ vs. the church, and the man vs. the plan” philosophy that we heard so much about when this apostasy started.  The Bible teaches that we get close to God with rules and through rules.  We can’t love Jesus without his law:

 

John 14:15  IF YE LOVE ME, KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS.”

 

We must give attention to content and forms, meaning/motive and actions.  We come to know God through proper logic, reasoning, and interpretation.  If our “story-telling” is not rational and reasonable then who can understand what our stories teach?

            Let’s spend a few minutes with the triad of this “old” hermeneutic that some folks have such a problem with.  What about the reliance that we have placed in years past on “command”, “example,” and “necessary inference.”  One problem does arise with these specific words and that is the fact that we have direct statements in Scripture that are not in the form of commands because in the original Greek they are not in the imperative mood.  In other words; not all direct statements can be classified as commands. 

Now I’m not going to get into a discussion of moods and tenses; I’m not a linguist.  We have sound brethren who are and others who are honest enough in the translation of Scripture that we don’t all have to be linguist’s to understand our Bibles.  We have it in language that is usable to us today.

 

What do we mean by a direct statement?

 

Matthew 28:19-20  “GO YE THEREFORE, AND TEACH ALL NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST: TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER I HAVE COMMANDED YOU: AND, LO, I AM WITH YOU ALWAY, even UNTO THE END OF THE WORLD.  AMEN.”

 

I Corinthians 11:23-26 “FOR I HAVE RECEIVED OF THE LORD THAT WHICH ALSO I DELIVERED UNTO YOU, THAT THE LORD JESUS THE same NIGHT IN WHICH HE WAS BETRAYED TOOK BREAD:  AND WHEN HE HAD GIVEN THANKS, HE BRAKE it, AND SAID, TAKE, EAT: THIS IS MY BODY, WHICH IS BROKEN FOR YOU; THIS DO IN REMEMBERANCE OF ME.  AFTER THE SAME MANNER ALSO he took THE CUP, WHEN HE HAD SUPPED, SAYING, THIS CUP IS THE NEW TESTAMENT IN MY BLOOD: THIS DO YE, AS OFT AS YE DRINK it, IN REMEMBERANCE OF ME.  FOR AS OFTEN AS YE EAT THIS BREAD, AND DRINK THIS CUP, YE DO SHOW THE LORD’S DEATH TILL HE COME.”  These two scriptures are commands.

 

Romans 6:1  WHAT SHALL WE SAY THEN? SHALL WE CONTINUE IN SIN, THAT GRACE MAY ABOUND?  This is an interrogative statement not a command; it implies that we should not sin.  Paul uses another in:

 

I Corinthians 1:13  IS CHRIST DIVIDED? WAS PAUL CRUCIFIED FOR YOU? OR WERE YE BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF PAUL?”  Here it implies that we should wear the name of Christ.

 

John 3:3-5  JESUS ANSWERED AND SAID UNTO HIM, VERILY, VERILY, I SAY UNTO THEE, EXCEPT A MAN BE BORN AGAIN, HE CANNOT SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD.  NICODEMUS SAITH UNTO HIM, HOW CAN A MAN BE BORN WHEN HE IS OLD?  CAN HE ENTER THE SECOND TIME INTO HIS MOTHER’S WOMB, AND BE BORN?  JESUS ANSWERED, VERILY, VERILY, I SAY UNTO THEE, EXCEPT A MAN BE BORN OF WATER AND of THE SPIRIT, HE CANNOT ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD.”  This is a conditional statement, not a command but it tells us we must be baptized.

 

            What is an account of action?  This simply refers to the Bible’s description of what some individual or group did or the historical account of what someone said that is an example for us to follow today.

 

Acts 20:7  “AND UPON THE FIRST day OF THE WEEK, WHEN THE DISCIPLES CAME TOGETHER TO BREAK BREAD, PAUL PREACHED UNTO THEM, READY TO DEPART ON THE MORROW, AND CONTINUED HIS SPEECH UNTIL MIDNIGHT.”  Consequently our worship is on the first day of the week, every first day of every week and includes Lord’s Supper and preaching.

 

John 13:14-15  “IF I THEN, your LORD AND MASTER, HAVE WASHED YOUR FEET, YE ALSO OUGHT TO WASH ONE ANOTHER’S FEET.  FOR I HAVE GIVEN YOU AN EXAMPLE, THAT YE SHOULD DO AS I HAVE DONE TO YOU.”  Of course, we have to be careful of how we apply the example; this is not an account of action to support the practice of foot washing today but rather an account of action that teaches humility and service to others.

            We’ve studied Jesus’ application of necessary inference or implication the past two lessons, so I’ll not expound on it further here.

            Having defined and established that the three principles of Biblical hermeneutics are valid, we are still faced with the same problems.  The same people will try to misapply and twist the Scriptures to suit their own notion about what God is teaching or telling us.  Direct statements, accounts of action and implication are not “our” hermeneutic or and “old” hermeneutic but rather God’s hermeneutic gleaned by true scholars from His word.  The solution is to persist in an honest and humble pursuit of biblical interpretation despite the abuse and misuse of these and other hermeneutical principles by some.  The fact that the lawyers, scribes and Pharisees twisted the Scripture to suit their own purposes in Jesus’ day did not justify Him abandoning a sound, sensible, reasonable approach and comprehension of God’s word and neither does it justify us to do the same today.