Hermeneutics – The Study and Interpretation of God’s Word
|Assumptions and Preliminary Issues – The Scriptures are the authoritative Word of God for Faith and Practice. The Scripture is God’s revealed Word. He reveals His will, He does not hide it from His children. Rom12:1,2; 1 Jn 5:14. However, not all subjects in scripture are of equal importance, and not all are covered with equal clarity. Clear, straight-forward passages of scripture should give light to, and be a basis for the understanding of less clear passages. Some scriptural beliefs are Doctrinal Foundations of the Faith, while others are Convictions, and still others are mere Opinions. Where God is silent or enigmatic, Christians should not be dogmatic. We are expected to obey God’s Word without argument or excuse.|
|The Hermeneutic principle of Biblical interpretation followed in this web site is the Inductive, Historical, Grammatical, Literary, Contextual Interpretation of Scripture (as opposed to “always literal” which conservatives are accused of). This interpretive principle is that scripture means just what it says unless ‘figures of speech’, symbols, or other common “Literary” devices are obvious within the text of scripture. This site is not a source of full Bible Study Methods, but these basic principles are given here to show the web site reader the author’s (and ‘orthodox’ believers) basis for understanding the doctrines presented here. Now for ‘prophecy’, all bets are off, and that complex body of scripture requires separate, special attention which I’ve only ventured into for a discussion of that relatively recent belief in “The Rapture“.|
|Belief Systems – should be based upon scriptural:|
Context Statements Commands Principles Narratives Patterns Examples
|Orthodoxy – Cardinal Doctrine & Secondary Doctrines from the Holy Scriptures, and their directly assumed application to practice, defines Orthodoxy – the Faith of our Fathers.|
“Convictions”, “Opinions”, and other ideas ‘derived’ from scripture, but not clearly and definitively taught in Scripture should not be used as a measurement of “Orthodoxy”, nor should differences separate the brethren from godly fellowship..
|Doctrine – The Certainty of ‘Cardinal Doctrines’ are important biblical teachings as demonstrated by straightforward, clear scripture. e.g. Deity of Christ. The Trinity of the Godhead, Salvation by faith. Many churches have a “Statement of Faith” that clearly expresses the ‘Cardinal Doctrines’. Sometimes churches include in their statement of faith ‘Secondary Doctrines’ which are also derived from clear scripture, are important for their impact on faith and godliness, but are not essential for salvation. Cardinal Doctrine & Secondary Doctrines, and their directly assumed application to practice, defines Orthodoxy – the Faith of our Fathers.|
Even with “doctrine” some godly Christians may differ on what should be included as ‘Cardinal’ or ‘Secondary’ doctrines. An example is “Inerrancy” as an integral part of the “Inspiration of the Scriptures” which most ‘conservatives’ include as a ‘Cardinal’ doctrine, however some consider as down on the level of a ‘Conviction’.
|Convictions – Principles, Examples, Beliefs, or Christian practices derived from a sound biblical hermeneutic, where most godly men generally agree within narrow bounds but with some variations. e.g. Qualifications of Elders, Child raising, Marriage, or even the specific practices of Holy Communion. Convictions should not be argued with the same level of ‘defense of the faith’ as “Doctrine”. Of course, many Christians do not discern the differences between ‘doctrine’ and ‘convictions’, and much un-Christian discord has arisen from differing ‘convictions’, bringing discredit upon the name of Christ and Christian unity.|
The story is told of a meeting between Martin Luther and the great Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. The two godly men had great Christian fellowship as they talked together and shared the great things that the Lord was doing in their lives. They began to list the beliefs that were important to them. They discussed Salvation by Grace, the Person of the Holy Spirit, the importance of Godly Christian living, and many other essentials of the faith. The story goes that as they got down to such things as how Communion was celebrated, and then their own approach to the scriptures and Christian practice. While Luther allowed what the Bible did not prohibit, Zwingli prohibited what the Bible did not specifically prescribe. Both separated in a huff. Such is the tragic result of not distinguishing ‘doctrine’ from ‘convictions’.
|Opinions – Subjects, practices, and interpretations, where Christians have widely diverging ideas, and the Holy Scripture is either complex, or not as definitive or clear, or where there are different scriptures that seem to support different aspects of a belief. Where God is silent or enigmatic, Christians should not be dogmatic. Prophecy is a prime example. Cultural application of the Christian life, or specifics of personal sins can be others. Generally, but not always, these areas can be narrowed by further study and application of scripture, but cannot be unequivocally defined. With Opinions, we can have mature tolerance with lively and even enjoyable discussion. The ‘strong’ don’t offend the ‘weak’ in faith. Here also, as with ‘Convictions’, many Christians have separated from each others fellowship over “doubtful disputations”, much to the hurt of the church and our impact on the world.|
|Error – These are damaging beliefs that contradict orthodoxy as defined by the clear teachings of Scripture and the power of God. Jesus stated that “ye do greatly err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.”|
|Disobedience – Practices (sin) contrary to scripture that God has clearly proscribed or prescribed. Disobedience is damaging to self, to those close to us, and to the Body of Christ. Disobedience can be either through weakness, ignorance, or presumption. Jesus offers forgiveness and strength, and says, “Go and sin no more.”|
God has always dealt with his children by grace, and …
Consistent application of ‘Grace’ cannot contradict ‘Obedience’ and ‘Holiness’ as they apply to all areas of the Christian Life. Current controversial topics addressed by scripture include:
Our Christian worthiness, walk, and witness
Our responsibility to Understand, Obey and Teach God’s Word in the Church
A Biblically-based stand on Homosexuality
A Biblically-based position on Marriage/Divorce/Remarriage
Qualifications of Elders & Deacons
“Legalism, Grace, Obedience, Pharisee-ism, Ministering, Love, Forgiveness, and Truth” must be defined by scripture and not common ‘Christian’ practice.
We are to Serve God by applying the spiritual gifts that He has given us to Minister.
Many Christians have been very specific (and uncompromising) in applying direct obedience to the scripture in our stand on homosexuality. We must be consistent with our positions on ‘controversial’ issues today. These include homosexuality, marriage & divorce, and church structure with elder/deacon qualifications.
The Christian Life and Ministry may not be simple, but obedience of clear scripture is. It’s simple, but not easy.
Just One Word
– Douglas Wilson
Christians are people of the Word, and as a result they are people of words. We love the Truth, and this is why we must necessarily love truths. The flip side of this is that when a love for the Lord Jesus declines, one of the first places it manifests itself is in an obvious contempt for words. Words become little lumps of neutral clay on which a dishonest heart can exercise its creativity. But the real source of this rebellion in the little things, and the final direction of it, is hostility to the ultimate Word.
Take the word evangelical. It comes from the Greek word for the Gospel, euangelion, and originally described individuals who held a high view of the Gospel and the Scriptures that brought us that Gospel. Whatever disagreements existed among Christians in the era after the Second World War, evangelicals at the time were clearly doctrinal vertebrates of some description. But in recent decades, we have added more than a little money to the movement, some academic respectability, and a lust for influence, and the result is the widespread existence of evangelicals who think that dialogue is a verb and a promiscuous one at that.
The unfortunate result is a fundamental dishonesty in the use and retention of certain names. Years ago, J. Gresham Machen was exasperated by those theological liberals who were not willing to admit that they actually had become adherents of another religion. He wrote his profound Christianity and Liberalism to show that the two were rival faiths and not compatible expressions of the same faith at all. But the creedal dishonesty of liberalism ran deep, and so the guardians of the substance of those words were banished. This same dishonesty is operative today throughout the evangelical world.
A corrupt hermeneutic enables the charade about one’s true convictions to continue. Those who want to twist Scripture have to fend off the possibility of any institutional discipline while they do so. This is why the right to continue to call oneself an evangelical is quietly assumed, while the heart, soul and center of evangelicalism is denied.
A sound hermeneutic of anything can never be sustained without discipline. If a man wants a garden full of weeds, be does not need to do a thing. And if a church wants its lampstand removed, in a fallen world, all that is necessary is a little more standing around. A sound hermeneutic does not and cannot protect itself. Words and names are protected by honest men or they are neglected by careless men.
Consider the advertising blurb for a recent non-Christian book, being marketed as a Christian book by what is, in my opinion, a brazen, formerly evangelical publishing house: “Many will find things to disagree with in this book, but everyone should agree that it has significantly raised the level of discussion.” The book in question promotes a new “openness of God” theology, one that maintains that God does not know the future, thus enabling Him to be more relational – more of a ’90s God.
Now why would we want to obey the exhortation implied in this blurb? Did Irenaeus want to raise the level of discussion with the Gnostics? Did Athanasius want to conduct a cooperative and helpful dialogue with the Arians? Because the possibility of any kind of creedal discipline is negligible in our day, those who have abandoned the Gospel openly seeking to make into negotiable items, and want to be held by all as being “with-in the pale.” Thus, we do not have to agree with them, but we do have to agree to disagree, and we do so as fellow … evangelicals. They do not resist disagreement; in fact, they welcome it. But the disagreement must come in the form of continuing dialogue, and not in the form of showing them the door.
Our complacency shows nothing more clearly than how cold our love has grown. If a man were to see his wife being attacked by rapist, all his professions of love and deep concern would be meaningless unless he fought for her. Under such circumstances, a refusal to fight would not stem from a love of peace, but rather from his now-revealed contempt for his wife. In the. same way, a refusal to discipline is but a manifestation of contempt for that which we refuse to protect through the needed discipline. A refusal to fight over the meaning of words betrays, ultimately, a contempt for the Savior. Of course, we need fewer church fights over the replacement of the choir director or the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall. But we need more church fights over the meaning of some precious and important words.
Until we have them, we must begin to realize that many modem evangelicals have become nothing but theological liberals in varied guise. Some of them are willing to deny the faith once delivered to the saints, and the others, more numerous, are willing to let them.
Douglas Wilson is pastor of Community Evangelical Fellowship in Moscow, Idaho.
TABLETALK -MARCH 1999 pg 61 LIGONIER MINISTRIES