Rightly Dividing

I have occasionally heard the Bible described as nothing more than some ancient scriblings by a bunch of dead guys. Well, true; it’s ancient – the book of Job probably dates back to c2500 B.C., the writer most decidedly dead. Moses compiled the first five books sometime around 1440 B.C.. John the Apostle penned the most recent book, Revelation, close to 1900 years ago. Old and dead they are, and if one sees the world from an evolutionary point of view then old and dead would mean worthless.

But what if – and little by little science is beginning to admit its Darwinian misdirection – God did create the universe? What if He did cause the writing of the Scriptures? Shouldn’t we pay attention? Wouldn’t we want to absorb as much of it as possible, and be very sure that we had understood it correctly? You’d think so, but today’s church is too often either more concerned with tradition, or more interested in how to use God to gain success and happiness (in that order) than they are in really getting to know who and what God is.

Recently on one of the forums I take part in, a participant asked, “Why bother learning theology and doctrines – how will that help us solve our day-to-day problems?” The question threw me back on my heels – was there a time in my Christian life when I saw the Word of God that shallowly? Sure. I thought of the Book as being a how-to, DIY tutorial for making my life trouble free. And, over the long haul, there’s some truth there as well -- but not the complete truth.

What the questioner didn’t know yet is that the effect of studying the Bible is much deeper, much more far reaching than just daily problem solving. An open-minded, long-term study of God’s Word scours the soul of misconceptions – many of which cause the problems we so desperately need help with. It re-aligns our thinking based on our new understandings and all things just clink into place. Even the insanity of human society becomes understandable – not pleasant, but comprehensible and bearable because we have confidence that God has it under control.

The more our thinking patterns line up with God’s thinking the easier it becomes to have faith in Him and His plan for our lives. But too many 21st century churches fail to deal with the issue of how we think. Too many churches are more concerned with how we feel and with attempts to build a shortcut to feeling good. I attended a church service a few years ago during which the pastor, evidently discerning a lethargy in his congregation’s response, stepped out from behind the pulpit and harangued them saying, “Come on now! I’m trying to get you excited. I’m trying to get you wound up! Come on! Let’s get pumped!” His frustration was evident, but, truth be told, he hadn’t really said anything that was even interesting, let alone exciting.

Today’s church is scared to death of controversy and the only way to avoid that is to avoid thinking, avoid doctrine, avoid disagreements of all kinds. I suppose some of that fear comes from an understandable, but ignoble, wish to keep everyone happy, and  willing to ante up when the collection plate goes by. It comes also from a desire to lure more people to the fold by presenting a pleasant, smooth, and cool surface to the world.

And theological arguments not only ruffle feathers, but require knowledge – knowledge of what the Bible actually has to say (taking into account both exegesis and isagogics), what other knowledgeable scholars have had to say – both right and wrong, and what other Bible passages have to say on the subject. Then one has to know enough biblical doctrine to be able to put the passages or concepts into a well-developed context. It takes scholarship.
It’s hard and takes time and effort. But Paul wrote to Timothy in his second letter, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2:15)

“Rightly dividing” sounds like it might be possible to wrongly divide it as well. And how do we know if we’re correct in our understanding? We discuss. We look to what others have thought and sometimes we discard, sometimes we embrace those writings. Then we discuss some more. We take part in controversies – not with anger, but with an honest effort to get to the truth. And controversies are interesting – are they not?

After all, what does theology mean? It comes from the Greek words for God theos and for study ology, and ology comes from the root log – word, reason, logic. The word or logic of God. The study of God. And we have two sources for that study – nature (Modern science was created by men who wanted to learn about God from what He had created.), and God’s Word.

Our own preconceptions, whether they come from our previous education, our personal experience, or traditional beliefs should not be part of it. “Your thought are not my thoughts, and your ways are not my ways, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

If we are to truly know who God is and why we’re here and what in the world is going on we have to have our theology straight. If we veer off into Calvinists’ exclusive concentration on the sovereignty of God, or the Armenian worry about losing our salvation, or the Roman Catholic reliance on works and ritual – or a hundred other positions that fall short of biblical accuracy then we rob ourselves of the fullness of Christ.

Is it easy? No. Is it likely that any one person has it all right? No. But Jesus himself gave this command, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. “ (Matt. 22:38) The more we know about the mistakes of interpretation that have been made in the past, the less likely we are to repeat those errors. Our brains need to be engaged in this process if we are to be successful Christians. Churches can’t be successful if their congregations aren’t. And, even more urgent these days, a nation can’t be successful if its churches aren’t. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) Churches don’t need guitars and youth groups and ice cream socials. They need to be helping their people “renew [their] mind[s].”

The Bible – 66 different books penned by 40 different men over a period of more than 2,000 years, translated into more other languages than any other book, owned by more people than any other book, and studied more than any other book is the foundation of any functional society. The further a nation wanders from the precepts preserved in this fount of wisdom the more dysfunctional, tyrannical, and cruel it becomes.

Why should we know all the intricacies of the Bible? Because it is the Mind of Christ who died for us. Because our churches are farces without it. Because our nation is hopeless without its people being solidly grounded and thoroughly obedient to the Word of God. Personally, I’d rather obey Him than some dictator – those are the choices – the only choices.