Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What is the Word of God?


Heb.4:12 - 12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Has God communicated to this world, and if so, how and where? That is the question for all of us. All of us know about the collection of “books” called the Bible, but if that is God’s voice, God’s Word, then just how is to be received and how is it to be understood? And now that God has delivered His Word to us, just what part does God actively play in that Word and what is our responsibility to that Word? So many people believe the Bible is God’s word in a sentimental or doctrinal way but never embrace it in such a way that it literally transforms the way they think, feel, and act.

The written Scriptures commonly called the Bible are not a collection of wise saying and guides for a successful earthly life. They are not some quaint stories which have a moral underpinning. They are not the writings of men who had a religious experience. These are the direct communication from the Creator to His creation. And when taken as a whole we can see the plan and execution of God’s redemption through Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a miraculous mystery.

But as education increased, so did arguments and discussions over doctrines and systematic theologies and words and all sorts of issues pertaining to both the essence of the Bible, the exclusivity of the Bible, the reliability of the Bible, and the meaning of the Bible. But let us be clear. Even though some things must be presented and defended concerning the Bible, and even though the Bible is the source for all spiritual truth, the Bible must be an action book or it is little more than a religious periodical.

And there is a deep and undeniable relationship between reading the Scriptures and obeying them. One without the other is helpless and projects a clandestine form of self righteousness. Reading it with an open and seeking heart infuses our beings with spiritual power and guidance beyond what our human minds can conceive. That is another great mystery and gift of grace. One can do works that resemble the works of Jesus without consuming and directly obeying the Word of God, but one cannot actually do the works of Jesus like that. The symbiotic relationship between the written Scriptures and the life we lead cannot be compromised. If we are to emulate and obey our Master we must do it because of His Word and not because we think it is the right thing to do.

With the avalanche of Bibles with all different translations and paraphrases and study notes and attractive covers there seems to have been a decrease in thirst for the truths contained in those Scriptures. Millions of professing believers now accept almost anything that flows from the lips of a famous teacher. Everyone has their favorite preacher or favorite doctrinal community and they avidly drink from that theological well. And pastors by the tens of thousands spend much time thinking about how to attract bigger crowds and create a larger membership roll as well as how to use the Bible in order to elicit greater offerings. And most of these pastors would unequivocally say the Bible is the Word of God and most would even say it is inerrant, and yet they use it to manipulate people and promote their own agendas.

The dilution of the Scriptures has taken place to such a degree and for so many decades that they are now hollow and powerless as it pertains to our lives. If you do not steal or get drunk you are a Bible believer. But when read and embraced literally and without a culturally manufactured interpretation, they cannot do anything but revolutionize our lives to the point of being fanatical, especially when juxtaposed against the culture and the average and accepted life of a church member. The western culture has so influenced the interpretation of the Scriptures that the culture is now embedded within the Word of God and our traditions, mores, politics, economics, and generally our entire way of thinking has become our word while the Scriptures themselves have been made subservient to our western culture.

Just an open reading of the Sermon on the Mount, three chapters, reveals a serious breach in interpretation and practice within the church. How can we explain the wagon train of believers whose lives have been spiritually empty during the week coming and going to church every week without any sense of repentance or at least a semblance of godly sorrow? In fact, they leave feeling blessed and a sense of affirmation and self worth. Church has become a short religious picnic. And the preacher has provided the meal which nourishes the flesh and is careful not to disturb the general feeling of gaiety. In fact, the preacher knows that if his church experiences any membership decline his job may very well be in jeopardy. To say he is double minded is to be kind. And with that kind of compromise the sheep become more and more addicted to the thoughts of men and not the Word of God. How else can you explain tens of millions of church members and huge auditoriums filled with people and a multiplicity of activities and a vast array of media outlets that reach hundreds of millions and yet with so little affect?

The problem is not the lack of communication skills, or not enough advertisement, or the lack of church goers, the problem is that the church no longer believes the Word of God. And many churches who would say the same thing are legalistic and even self righteous but their lives bear little difference than the liberal or seeker church down the street. And yet who shows any concern about the situation except a handful who are concerned with Joel Osteen and Rick Warren and Rob Bell, but not about their own condition? Who dwells upon the cross? Who is broken in times of deep and penetrating prayer? Who is so consumed with Christ and His redemptive goodness that they are moved to many tears?

Let someone sing a moving song at church and people’s eyes may get moist. But where are the soft lights that illuminate the night watches in homes, to say nothing of the church house? The Word clearly teaches that the end may be soon, but where are the shepherds who arrive at church some Sunday mornings after fasting and praying all night and they step behind the pulpit and instead of delivering a sermon they deliver the voice of God warning the hearers to flee from the wrath to come? The church service is so redundant and so contrived.

Watch as the television preacher struts across the platform and tells some story and receives thunderous applause from his listeners. Listen as the television huckster promises the listeners money and success if they plant some financial seed to him. The music programs are accomplished and moving, the buildings are great and colossal, the sermons activate the emotions, and yet when the curtain goes down all things remain the same. And tens of millions of believers go about complaining about the culture and their own circumstances. And in the midst of it all the Bible is read as a story or a doctrinal guide but not as a life command that requires sacrifice and self denial. And unlike Gideon everyone is accepted in this religious army regardless of how they drink from the brook.

Doctrinal hubris and cultural relevance have robbed God’s Word of its power in our lives. And the verses that seem way too culturally incongruent are massaged by exegetical masters in order to refine them into a more acceptable rendition and a more culturally sympathetic understanding. When it says whoever marries her that is divorced causes her to commit adultery, well that kind of rhetoric must be not just softened, but it must be completely explained away so that divorce can run rampant in the church but still be seen as the unpleasant norm. But that is just one obvious way in which the church marginalizes the Bible.

But let’s face it. If we are not willing to get off the cultural and narcissistic treadmill for a moment and take a long and deep look at the Scriptures, then the church will remain nothing more than a religious part of western life. If we cannot even see, much less admit, that something is desperately wrong and that we must be a large part of the problem, then we are doomed to continue the present, redundant religious expression. If we are not willing to completely surrender to God’s Word in a way that revolutionizes our lives, then we will remain the same, content with the powerless norm.

So what is the Word of God? If the written Scriptures are the communicative revelation that came directly from God through the use of human instruments, then what must be our response? It is so self righteous and self serving to make inspiration and inerrancy the overwhelming cornerstone of our faith but then relegate obedience to that Word as a passionless pursuit which finds most of its expression in a weekly trek to a certain building and an orthodox nod to a handful of moral issues. In fact, that kind of lifestyle belies the claim that we believe the Scriptures are God’s Word. Orthodoxy is measured by creeds and not by deeds.

We must, as believers, reduce our lives to wet clay as we approach the Word of God. We cannot rely on men and their interpretations as our standard and mold our lives according to what men say and teach. We must read and pray and read and pray and surrender our beings to what God has said and commanded. This is no easy task, and our flesh stands to combat our most sincere efforts. Our natural minds will suggest the absurdity of literally understanding the Scriptures, and the flesh will gladly provide many alternative interpretations and applications which will satisfy everyone involved. Satisfy everyone except the Lord Himself.

When we compromise the Word in order to accommodate our lusts and align ourselves with the normal church member spiritual depth we can enjoy some earthly contentment, fulfillment, and affirmation. However in so doing we will forfeit any and all divine favor and glory. There is great glory in serving Jesus with all our hearts, but that requires sacrifice and self denial. Nothing is born of God without travail. The path to a western life that is labeled as “Christian” is very smooth. The path that follows Jesus goes against everything the culture suggests and is traversed against the winds of this world. It is difficult.

But miraculously inherent within this labor of love is a sense of His presence and His glory which transcends human understanding. Suffering is endured with joy. Persecution elicits rejoicing. Mourning turns into dancing. The valley becomes an altar of praise. The temporal is vanquished in the eternal. Who can know it? This is the fruit of a life which not only believes things about the Word of God, but believes its teachings with such a surrendered heart that it submits itself fully to God’s mirror and bows to the Potter’s wheel. And when you have seen the Word in that light, and when you have been even for a moment on the Potter’s wheel, you realize that this is not the end but this is and always will be a journey. You will be defined by what you are pursuing and not where you are. Where you are will always fall short, but where you are going and Who you are following will by faith continue to openly manifest the spiritual birth still alive and growing within you.

That is the power and value of God’s Eternal Word. It must be held much higher than a printed page or a statement of faith. The only essence of inerrancy that can be claimed as legitimate can only be found in how much of our lives actually surrender to that inerrant Word. All the rest is little more than a doctrinal squabble.

1 comment:

JMD said...

Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge,...