A Thought for Today from Jeremiah 5

I am just going to quote a Scripture here.  This passage pretty well nails the scenario in our churches today that most all of us have experienced and which we are trying to expose.  I like the Lord’s promise of His justice upon such evil and thought these verses might be an encouragement to all of you as well:

Jeremiah 5:26-31 For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men. (27) Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich; (28) they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. (29) Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?” (30) An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: (31) the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?

Why Aren’t They Hearing the Good Shepherd?

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.  (John 4:5-6)

Many professing Christians seem to have little or no ability to discern truth from error, or as we might also phrase it, evil from good. And yet the Bible is quite plain that all real Christians are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ who is also known as the Spirit of truth. The Spirit enables the Christian to hear the Shepherd’s voice, to listen to and recognize God’s Word, and to reject all counterfeits.

When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”  (John 10:4-5)

Abusers are of the evil one. For all of their amazing deceptions and disguises, ultimately they cannot deceive Christ’s people because the Spirit in us reveals to us who they really are. And yet we are seeing many who profess to know Christ stumble at all this. Evil is exposed. False teachers who abuse others and work to bring them into bondage are rebuked. Scriptures that speak to these very things are taught and preached regularly. Yet, we see many simply fail to “get it.” Why?

Most abuse victims and survivors will tell you that it took a long, long time for the lights to come on so that they finally realized over time just what this thing was that was happening to them. They started to see the real person that their abuser was. They will tell you how the Lord opened their eyes to see it. But they saw it. Eventually, they saw it. They knew.

Why then, we ask once more, are so many people who claim to be Christians not only remaining blind to the evil of abuse right in their own pews, but actively opposing its exposure? Why are they refusing to believe victims, and why are they enabling and protecting the wicked?

Could it just perhaps be that they do not have the capacity to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice? Could it be that they are still of the world, and march to the world’s drum rather than Christ’s?

Nothing exposes the real nature of a church and its members than how they respond to the cries of the downtrodden.

The Method of Interpreting Scripture in the Conservative Evangelical Church Needs a Reboot

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Mat 23:23-24)

All the years I was in graduate school and then seminary, I was taught how to interpret the Bible. We took courses like Bible Study Methods, New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew. We had classes in preaching in which we learned methods of outlining a passage of Scripture and then turning that outline into a “homiletical” one that would be the framework of the sermon, using more contemporary and memorable outline headings. That jump from exegetical outline to homiletical outline was, as I look back on it, a pretty dangerous one that often resulted in the real meaning of a passage being framed in some catchy phrase to make it “relevant.”

I have been preaching God’s Word in Christ’s church now for over three decades, and over these years I have seen my method of sermon preparation change. I didn’t sit down and decide one day to do it. It has just happened. In earlier years “exegesis” was my main focus. A close, careful examination of the passage I would preach on including careful word studies to determine their true meanings. These were the things of lexicons, Greek grammars and syntax, BDB (the classic Hebrew lexicon), and then intricate computer programs that searched all these tools at once and made the books I carefully collected over the years obsolete. I still use these tools some, but…

Things have changed.

Why? Because in dealing with evil in the church, in seeing firsthand the grievous experiences of abuse victims at the hands of their churches, I have been forced to face the fact that somehow our method of handling God’s Word has frequently gone sadly wrong. For all of our studies and training, we have misapplied and misconstrued the, shall I say it…spirit of the Word. And I suggest that this is precisely what Jesus confronted the Pharisees with. In the gnat-straining process of our Bible study methods, we have missed the biggies: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Mat 23:1-4)

Do you see it? They apparently read the text of Scripture accurately as they read from the scrolls, but when it came to the application of the Scripture, they got it wrong. Why? Because they were arrogant, and that arrogance and their seeking of self-glory led them to entirely miss justice, mercy, and faithfulness which was to guide the interpretation and application of the Scripture, and instead applied the Scripture in a way that put a crushing weight on the poor souls of the people. By the way, and I hope that everyone catches the full import of what I am about to say: “In all my years of seminary, not one single professor, not one single class, not one single book I read EVER admonished us to be certain that our handling of Scripture affirmed God’s justice, mercy, and faithfulness. And yet these are the VERY things that Jesus identified as the BIGGIES”!! Chew on that for a bit.

Pastors, church members, elders, seminary professors, Christian authors, stop it! We have been doing the very same things ourselves. How? Well, come back to the abuse victim who comes to us for help. Tell me, are we regularly giving them the justice, mercy, and faithfulness that characterizes the very essence of the Lord Himself? I maintain that the answer is a resounding, “No!” What they are regularly receiving is heavy burdens, hard to bear, laid upon their shoulders. Burdens that the very people tying them on the poor souls would never lay upon themselves if they were in such a position of suffering.Go ahead. Study Greek. Learn Hebrew. Carefully consider sound Bible study methods. BUT after doing all that, remember. If your method and your conclusions in handling God’s own Word are not consistent with the character of God as shown to us in the Person and works of the Lord Jesus Christ, then it matters not a mite how much intricate gnat straining you did in your study. Your conclusions are wrong. If you tell an abuse victim that she is forbidden by God to divorce her abuser, if you tell her God requires her to continue in that suffering, if you forbid her from remarrying if she does divorce the wicked husband, then your handling of Scripture is crooked. You are not “cutting it straight” as Paul exhorted Timothy to do:

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2Tim 2:14-15)

I suspect there will be many, on that Day, who will have much need to be ashamed because they did not rightly handle the word of truth and those oppressed sheep who suffered as a result will be there as witnesses.