People of the Book or People of God

I am pleased to share this guest post from Ben

People of the Book of People of God – quite possibly the longest Ineloquent post to date…enjoy

 

I was a part of national meetings this past year for my conference and one major

discussion came about as a result of a “prophetic word” offered to the conference from

someone who had done a review of our structure. In discussion of this prophetic word,

there was one phrase that heard time and time again: “We are the people of the book.”

While I believe this message is well intentioned, I fear that in ascribing to it we may

hinder ourselves from being the “people of God.” Our God is not one that is dead or

easily contained within the paper and bindings of a book. He is alive, active, and at

work. I think this is something that we would readily affirm. Yet, when it comes time to

listen to a living prophetic word from an active God we are quick to withdraw into being

“the people of the book.” It is not written in the book, it cannot be studied critically like

a book, it is not easily contained like a book, so we – I believe – fearfully push it away.

In our rules for interpreting or accepting a prophetic word from God we force it to agree

with our interpretations of the book. We treat the written book with more reverence

than we treat potential living words from God himself. We call the book authoritative,

rather than referring to God as authority who can speak through the book. The bible has

a very important place in the life of the church and the believer, but in current theology

it is quite possible that the bible has been elevated to the place of fourth member of

the trinity. Many have adopted a faith that seemingly sets up the bible as an object of

worship, and not just something that should lead us to worshipping God.

Please consider what the book has to say about the book. Paul wrote that the bible is God

breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, and training in righteousness 2 Timothy

3:16. There is a lot that we can learn from God as he speaks to us through his word in the

bible. Nowhere does the bible claim to be the end of God’s self-revelation to us though.

This kind of view of the bible often leads it to being treated as a “holy instruction manual

for life”. This embraces the idea that every answer one needs to get through life is

written somewhere in the pages of the bible and all one need do is search through bible

thoroughly to find the answers one needs no matter what the situation. There are a lot

of important guiding principles in the bible that can help to inform people’s decisions,

but the bible was ever intended to be looked at as an all encompassing instruction book.

It is a collection of 66 books written over thousands of years by many different authors.

Much of the bible is written in narrative or story form, some is in poetry, some is

prophetic, and some – mostly new testament – is written in the form of direct instruction.

Even those passages though were written as direct instructions to particular people and

churches at the time and not just broad statements of fact for everyone. With some

studying and interpretation one can figure out how what was written can apply to modern

lives as well, but most of scripture is not propositional teaching and instructions – it is

story.

When a story is read one can learn things from it that affect life, but when a story is

simply boiled down into points of fact it loses its integrity and it loses something of its

effectiveness. People are creatures of story and not facts. That is why people often read

novels for fun and not encyclopedias. People do not naturally connect with facts – people

connect as they can place themselves in stories. When attempts are made to turn the

bible into a book of facts intended to be an instruction manual, it is robbed of its natural

beauty of story, and a lot of its effectiveness to touch us. As people find themselves and

can place themselves in God’s story of creation, fall, and redemption they find out what it

is to live a life that he created them to live.

There are a lot of situations that followers of Jesus find themselves in that the bible does

not explain how to handle. Given, there can be some principles that can help the church

make wise decisions, but it does not necessarily provide everything needed to make those

decisions.

For example, my wife Jenn and I have struggled with what to do regarding our jobs and

child care. Should Jenn go back to work and find a care giver for our boys or should

she stay home with him? The bible teaches to love your children and to raise them to

love and serve God, so maybe she should stay home. But it also teaches that working

for a living is a virtue and that it is imperative for the believer to use the gifts that God

has given them for his service, so maybe she should go back to work. Here the bible has

some helpful principles to guide us, but it certainly doesn’t tell us what we should do in

the end. We need more to make this decision than just what the bible has to offer.

One might reasonably be thinking that of course the bible would not say exactly how to

handle the situation because it is a personal and very specific situation, but what about

something as basic as how Christians worship? The bible gives us a lot of different

principles as to what worship should look like including devotion to fellowship, devotion

to studying scripture, singing, teaching, prayer, and the use of spiritual gifts but it does

not tell us exactly what it should look like. There are hundreds of denominations in

Christianity and almost all of them have a slightly different idea of how it is Christians

are supposed to worship God. One would think if the bible were intended to be a “holy

instruction manual” it would be a little more specific on its instructions.

More than the bible is needed as Christians and as the church to faithfully follow Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is essential to the Christian life. Sure He can speak through the bible,

but He can speak through more than just the bible. Jesus himself said in John 6 that the

Spirit would come to convict of all truth and righteousness. It would seem that if the

Holy Spirit is needed, the bible is not enough. I do not think the Holy Spirit would ever

contradict what God has revealed to us in the past, but I do think he has things to say to

us that aren’t necessarily in the bible.

The church in Acts was devoted to the apostles teaching, the fellowship of believers,

to prayer and the breaking of bread (Communion and meals). The church wasn’t just

devoted to the bible as its only source of information. In most cases it did not even have

any of the writing we call the New Testament to refer to. It was devoted to prayer and

the fellowship of believers. They realized that they needed each other to help understand

Scripture and to make good decisions that would help them follow God with their lives.

They realized that God sent us the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom to make decisions that

would help us follow God with our lives. The bible is not enough.

When the early church was confronted with a vision from Peter regarding the observation

of Old Testament cleanliness laws, and the obvious work of the Holy Spirit in gentile

believers, they gathered together to discern what to do with it and we see that meeting

recorded in Acts 15. How they handled it would likely be completely disregarded as

proper form in our churches today. Rather than studying the Scriptures for an answer,

they prayed, discussed, and discerned what the Holy Spirit would have them do. In the

end they decided not to follow Old Testament precedent, they did not even follow the

example of Jesus who was circumcised, and they instead decided it was best to the Holy

Spirit and to them not to require circumcision of new followers of Jesus. They were

confronted with a word of prophecy and they discerned it through the leading of the Holy

Spirit, not the bible.

When we operate on scripture alone it gives us space to elevate the bible above the Holy

Spirit himself if we say that all we need is the bible to live our lives by. When we say

sola scriptura it gives us space to deny that we need other believers, and the church as

a whole, to discern what God has to teach us about following him. The Christian faith

was never intended to be lived alone in a broom closet with a bible. The church is a

community, not just a collection of individuals. We need each other to help us live this

life and even to understand and live out scripture. We all have the Holy Spirit to help

us understand the bible, but this does not mean that we should expect to be able to do it

all on our own. So when we are confronted by life and potential words from God let us

discern together what God is saying to us and truly be the church so we can echo those

who have gone before us and say it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.

Advertisements

About this entry