Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Bible Sez

I started out a few weeks ago making the assertion that the Word is not flat. I have sustained that certain teachings in the Bible take priority over other teachings, they are the “more important matters” in God’s Word. From there, I’ve been trying to identify some of the ways in which Scripture emphasizes some teachings. The first clue I mentioned was to look for what the Bible says is important. Last week I mentioned a second clue, which is to look for what the Bible emphasizes through repetition.

I believe that another indication of which items are most important has to do with what the Bible says about salvation. In other words, if the Bible says “do this and you will be saved,” I need to take a long hard look at that teaching. If the Bible says, “anyone who does not do this will be lost,” I definitely need to pay attention.

Third clue to identifying important biblical teachings: The Bible directly connects some teachings with salvation.

These clues can seems so obvious that I’m almost embarrassed to mention them. Yet I think that sometimes we can complicate the study of God’s Word to a point where the most obvious things get missed.

When we start looking at “saved and lost” passages, the things that jump out tend to be “biggies”: give up your life for the gospel, believe, be baptized, repent, call on the name of the Lord, confess, love one another… these are obviously major things. [One possible exception for me is I Timothy 2:15, which talks about women being saved through childbirth; I’m definitely open to help in understanding that passage.]

Let me clarify: I don’t believe in salvation by works. We are saved by the grace of God. Yet the biblical writers never had a problem with affirming that fact while still pointing out the things that we need to do to be pleasing to God. I have witnessed long, drawn-out debates about the ins and outs of understanding that fact, and I personally believe that it somehow goes beyond our understanding. What I do know is this: if I love God and have faith in Him, I will do what pleases Him. And these passages give me an insight into what pleases Him and what displeases Him.

If the Bible says that I can be saved by obeying a certain teaching, I want to obey it. If it says that I can be lost for not obeying another teaching, I want to obey. So my third clue is: look for the things that the Bible directly connects with salvation

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Read this, read this, read this

As we look at the idea of identifying the preeminent biblical doctrines, it’s important to repeat what I said in the first post in this series: I’m not saying that some parts of the Bible are important and others are not, I’m saying that we need to recognize that the Bible talks about some teachings having more importance, of them being “weightier” than others. As Jesus said, we must practice the one without neglecting the other. But if we fail to recognize which teachings are more important, we can easily find ourselves “majoring in the minors,” elevating opinion matters to the level of salvation issues.

In the book He Loves Forever, a book that should be required reading for everyone, Dr. Tom Olbricht talks about the great themes of the Old Testament. He speaks of learning to recognize the themes that the Bible brings out time and again. By looking at the things that the prophets and others writers said time and again (the apostles, in the case of the New Testament), we can get a feel for what they stressed in their teachings. This is another of those concepts which should be obvious, yet so often gets overlooked.

Second clue to identifying important biblical teachings: The Bible often repeats teachings that are important.

Look for the things that are said more than once. When dealing with the gospels, look for the teaching that appear in more than one gospel. If something appears in all four, that something is probably of special importance. If something was taught by Jesus and repeated by Paul or one of the other epistle authors, it is probably of special importance. If something was taught at different times to different audiences, especially in different cultures, that’s probably one of the weightier matters.

These are clues, not hard and fast rules. Yet I hesitate to stress a doctrine that only appears once. And I am especially slow to teach something that is never stated at all, something that is only learned by inference. The Bible clearly teaches the things that are essential and often repeats the matters that are of highest importance.

So the second rule of thumb: look for the things that are repeated. Look for the things that are repeated. Look for the things that are repeated.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What’s Important? Sometimes It’s Obvious

My last post talked about the fact that not all of the Bible carries the same weight, that is, some parts are more important than others. Again, all of the Scripture has worth, but even Jesus himself pointed
out certain teachings to be more important than others.

So how do we go about deciding what’s most important? If you think, about it, that’s a pretty big question. And all I have are little answers. I’ll set them out one at a time, and let you guys shoot them down.

I’ll take the safe route on the first one:

First clue to identifying important biblical teachings: The Bible says they are important.

I know, I know… it sounds obvious. But how often have you set down to study to see what the Bible identifies as being important? In our ministry, we’re in the process of evaluating our Bible correspondence courses and possibly rewriting new ones. Something has struck me: our courses rarely teach the greatest commandments. Oh, they may be buried in there somewhere. But shouldn’t we stress to people the most important commandments, which are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves? Shouldn’t they learn the most important as being, well, the most important?

As we teach the Old Testament, do we follow Jesus lead and teach justice, mercy and faithfulness as being the important matters of the law? I won’t answer for you, but I’ll answer for me: I don’t typically do it.

And I could continue in that vein. That’s why restating the obvious is necessary in this case, because we often overlook this point just because it is so obvious.

So the first step in identifying the most important biblical teachings: look for direct statements of importance. If the Bible says it’s important, it’s important.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Is the Word Flat?
No that’s not a typo. This post isn’t about whether or not the earth is flat. It’s about whether or not God’s Word is flat. By that I mean, is it all of equal importance?

Please notice that the question says of equal importance. All of God’s Word is important, but it’s not all equal. Oops! I let the answer slip.

How can I say that? Because the Bible itself says it. Jesus spoke of the “more important matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23). Paul spoke of some of his teachings as being of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). And when Jesus was asked about which commandment was most important, He didn’t reply, “You silly man… they are all of equal importance.” No, Jesus said, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Some parts of the Bible are more important than others. Some teachings are more important than others. Some commandments are more important than others. In another post, I’ll talk about figuring out which are which.