Berean cogitations

Friday, June 06, 2008

Making assumptions about what the Bible teaches

I was discussing worship music with some believers one day -- always a touchy subject, of course. In the course of our conversation, I questioned the wisdom of songs that emphasize one's self, and especially those focus on what the singer feels or what he/she will do. ("I will worship... I will praise...") I innocently asked, "Is this really the most appropriate way to praise God? Instead of focusing on how God makes you feel, shouldn't we focus instead on God's characteristics and qualities?"

One fella, an experienced worship band drummer, piped up, "Of course there's nothing wrong with that. Just look at the Psalms! They talk about the writer's feelings all the time."

I wasn't sure what he meant by that, so I looked up the Psalms when I got home. I could not find a single instance wherein the psalmists focused on their feelings or even what they planned to do for God. Quite the contrary, the focus was always on God, his qualities, and what he has accomplished. There were a few incidental references to one's self, but they never dwelt on the psalmist's feelings. Moreover, such references were always secondary to lauding God for his holiness and righteousness. (In Psalm 26, for example, David talks about how he has served God. This was all just background information though, as the primary theme was David pleading with Yahweh for protection and vindication.)

I think this reflect a common problem among Christians: namely, a tendency to take something that sounds pleasing and profound, and then to assume that the Bible must surely teach it. I've fallen into that trap myself on occasion, especially in my younger days.

Here's another example. I remember attending a Bible study in which we were discussing the need for self-sacrifice and charity. One young lady said, "Just look at Jesus! He hardly ever kept anything for himself, and when he had something, he usually gave it away." Now, I know that Jesus did many great things, but I couldn't recall any such incident. So I said, "I don't remember that. Where does the Bible say that?" Slightly embarassed, she said, "Well, I don't know, but I'm sure it's there somewhere."

Then there's the Internet discussion I had on church discipline one day. I talked about a Sunday school teacher who left our church to live with her boyfriend. After a few months, she decided to return, and I casually mentioned that the church will need to watch her and see if it looks like she has truly repented. A couple of people got angry and said, "No, you don't! That's the pastor's job, not yours. And besides, the Bible says that you're supposed to mind your own business!" Now there are several problems with that retort, not the least being that the Bible teaches no such thing; quite the contrary, it speaks of church members holding each other accountable (Matthew 18). To avoid escalating any conflict though, I simply asked, "Where does the Bible say that? I'm pretty sure that it doesn't." One of the angrier respondents said, "Well, it's probably in Proverbs somewhere. I don't know. Anyway, you need to mind your own business if you're a Christian."

Speaking of Matthew 18, here's one last example. I attended a single men's Bible study one day in which we discussed repentance. The study leader meant well, but he was clearly unprepared for the task of teaching. We read Matthew 18, which speaks about the need to confront errant brothers regarding their sins. He then declared, "So when someone sins against you, you need to forgive immediately and forget all about the sin. Act as though it never happened, and never, ever bring it up again! Place it completely out of your mind. That's what the Bible teaches."

I said, "Wait a minute; that's not what I see in the Word. You certainly can't get that from the passage we just read. Quite the opposite, in fact; Matthew 18 says that when a brother refuses to acknowledge his sin, we are to eject him from the church and treat him like a heathen. That does not sound like 'forgiving and forgetting' to me!"

(As an aside, I think that most Christians have erroneous concepts of what forgiveness is and when it is merited -- but that's a topic for another day.)

Sadly, that's the state of modern Christianity. Instead of letting the Bible guide our beliefs, we tend to embrace whatever sounds good and then assume that the Bible teaches it -- or worse, pick out Scriptures and force them to match our interpretations. Ultimately, it's a sign of spiritual laziness. It's much easier to take that approach than to do the hard work of studying the Scriptures and submitting to their authority.