– November 2011
The Bible Says . . .
When my boys were very small I would often give them their “Saturday night bath.” This weekly ritual involved a long warm soak, a robust scrubbing and a vigorous shampoo – leaving them squeaky clean. The boys loved the playful soak, tolerated the scrubbing, but became quite agitated when I would reach for the shampoo. It may have had something to do with the fact that I used such copious amounts that rinsing it out of their hair became an experience close to drowning. One Saturday night all was going well until I reach for the bottle of shampoo. My older son, who obviously had had enough, stood up in the front of the tub pointed his finger at me and with evangelistic fervor shouted, “The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not wash a little boy’s hair with shampoo’!” My son had a remarkable grasp of the authority of scripture, yet at the tender age of three he had not yet acquired an exact understanding of how to use it – or more accurately how not to use it for his own designs and purposes.
A less—than—careful use scripture is a slippery slope for both men and movements. Most religious traditions, including our own Conservative Holiness Movement, have not escaped this pitfall. As the Aldersgate Forum’s Call to Biblical Fidelity states, “we have often focused on issues and made demands which we cannot legitimately establish from the Scriptures. As a result, trivial notions and speculations at times have marred our witness”. The CHM has, for the most part, comprised a group of people who have placed a very high value on scripture. Our willingness to live out many unpopular biblical values is a testimony to this. However, we have not always had an equally high commitment to the careful exegesis of scripture which is crucial to preserving Biblical fidelity.
Webster has defined fidelity as “the quality of being faithful; of accuracy in detail; exactness.” The dictionary adds an interesting modern analogy to explain fidelity: “the degree to which an electronic device (as a record player or radio) accurately reproduces the original sound.” With this in mind we can define Biblical fidelity.
Biblical fidelity then is to reproduce faithfully and accurately the thoughts, meaning and intent of scripture in both our preaching and practice.
Every tradition, including the CHM, works in a sub-culture of its own. These subcultures gravitate toward certain theological, cultural and religious biases that inevitably serve as lens through which scripture is viewed and applied to Christian living. For the most part this is healthy and normative. It is not, however, without problems. For all Biblical and theological biases must be held in check by an unyielding commitment to be both honest and faithful to the Biblical text. If this does not happen Biblical fidelity is compromised or even lost.
Are there any particular ways the CHM needs to be more careful? Yes. Let me offer a few that I believe are especially applicable to the CHM.
- The CHM must be careful not to practice eisegesis instead of exegesis. Eisegesis is an interpretation of scripture that expresses the interpreter’s own views rather than the text’s true meaning (exegesis). When we impose our own theological, cultural or personal views on a text, despite knowing that faithful scholarship will not support our interpretation, we compromise the truth and fail to honor God’s word. The CHM must regularly remind itself that scripture is the standard by which we test all other truth claims, not the other way around.
- The CHM must be careful not to blur the line between Biblical principle and religious tradition. Tradition is a valuable part of our Christian life. Traditions may certainly be taught in our homes and churches, but they should be taught as traditions, not as divine revelation. Traditions must never be confused with God-given commands or given the same authority and weight as scripture. When this confusion occurs the end result can be a church that has replaced the authority of God’s Word with the deadening weight of traditionalism or, worse, just trivia.
- The CHM must be careful not to misinterpret “questions” as “questioning” and inadvertently discourage honesty! It is impossible to respect the God’s Word too highly, but it is possible to respect it wrongly. We must let people know that it is not irreverent to see difficulties in the Biblical text and allow them to think hard and honestly about how these difficulties can be resolved. You have not truly studied the Bible until you have asked hard questions of it. However, in some people’s minds asking hard questions is the same as “posing problems,” and we have been discouraged all our lives from finding problems in the Bible. Let me assure you, the Bible can handle scrutiny. Honesty is a vital part of Biblical fidelity. God would rather have honest disagreement from one committed to His Word than forced affirmation of something we don’t really believe or understand.
- The CHM must be careful not to allow the externalization of Biblical standards to substitute for the internalization of Biblical character. The Bible was not written to be a curiosity shop from which we pick and choose certain things to obey in our lives like one might pick and choose an article of clothing. Rather, it was written to transform us from the inside out! One can know and honor the Bible in visible ways (especially those that make us look spiritual in our setting), yet fail to demonstrate the character it commands. One can be meticulous, even legalistic, about his tithe and yet fail ever to develop the spirit of generosity. One can dress modestly and still have a sensuous spirit. Sheer knowledge of the Bible doesn’t make one godly. The mere application of a few visible commands doesn’t mean we have cultivated holy character. One can read the Bible daily, acquire significant amounts of Biblical knowledge, adopt standards of dress and behavior– yet have no straight-line correspondence between that and real Christlikeness.
It would be helpful for all of us to remember that the “sounds” our lives make on earth reach heaven either as the scratchy, tinny, garbled clanging of carnality, or as harmonic, melodious, pleasant reproductions of Christlikeness. Our success at being like Jesus will be determined by not only knowing with a high degree of accuracy what the Bible says, but also by honestly living it out.