Being Biblical

Recently, I attended a meeting with a Christian organisation which shall remain unnamed and during the meeting, they were telling me about what they were doing, listing 'biblical references' as the basis for their approach. Most of them come from the OT. The way that they 'interpreted' the Scripture was interesting enough for me to revisit a topic which has been in my mind for a very long time.

Let's backtrack a bit first and talk about my own spiritual background. I come from a Pentecostal church (not AOG) and for most part of my Christian life, I have at least seen physical miracles and wonders performed by God through His people in the church and outside of the church. Hence, in practice, I am not an anti-Charismatic. Theologically speaking, I believe a solid theological and biblical case can be made against cessationism, so I am not against any charismatic practices.

What I am often against, is that people use Scripture out of context to justify certain charismatic practices or certain ideas which they have. One of the most classic examples for this come from 3 John 2 in the KJV translation: Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. And this verse has been abused by a lot of health and wealth preachers who argue that based on this verse alone, and they claim that they are going back to the Scripture to argue their case, that you should pray for health and wealth and by extension and the support of many other verses, argue that God will bless you if you have faith. For more details on this, I recommend Gordon Fee's book on The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels (Gordon Fee, by the way, is not a cessationist).

So I think in the world of Christianity, a dangerous practice is continually being performed - that is to quote Scripture verses out of context and most of the time, I am almost not surprised when they come from the OT, especially from the prophetic writing.

But is this really 'being biblical?' Before we continue, let's talk about what 'being biblical' means. A lot of time, most people will take 'biblical' to mean that something is mentioned in the Bible, and as long as a practice is not mentioned in the Scripture, it is unbiblical. Unbiblical, therefore, will mean that it is something that is from the Scripture. One example of unbiblical practices in our lives is having a handphone (which is not mentioned in the Scripture). Of course, nobody is going to argue against having a mobile phone on such grounds (unless you are an Amish or extreme fundamentalist). Therefore,  unbiblical can be further classified as that which is not in the Bible but does not go against any form of biblical teachings and that which is clearly inconsistent with the Bible and go against what is being explicitly taught.

In view of that, I thus argue that perhaps when charismatic preachers and teachers use verses just out of context, they are not necessarily being very 'biblical.' The rationale is clear, when you quote a Scripture verse that does not convey the same message as what you are proclaiming, then you are not really teaching the Bible but you are really teaching what you are advocating and coopting the Scripture for your own purpose, or rather reading your own meaning into the Scripture, then claiming that this is scriptural. One very good and often seen example is Jeremiah 29:11. We all like to hear that God has a plan for everyone of us, but does Jeremiah 29:11 teach that? The answer is an emphatic no, it is not what we think it is. Jeremiah 29 is addressed to the Jews in exile and it is to tell them that in their lowest moment, they need to have faith in God and trust God that the suffering they are experiencing in exile is not the end yet. Of course, there are other verses that can be used to argue the case for individual wills but Jeremiah 29:11, while being very clearly worded for such a purpose, was not written to mean such stuff.

But the more dangerous thing, in my view, is that we stray very closely to biblical violation when we teach people to interpret the Scripture out of context. This is already happening in the world of Christianity when we are seeing people quoting Scriptures for their own purpose without considering what the original author meant to say to the original audience. In such instances, James' warning to the Diaspora should be heeded - that those who teach will incur a stricter judgement. And that's the reason why I have always encouraged my folks in my lifegroup to go for bible study courses that the church offers. We simply need to learn to discern biblical truth for ourselves so that we will not be swayed by unbiblical teachings.

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