Search This Blog

Friday, August 13, 2010

Four Bases Authority


For the past several years my wife and I have lived in the New Orleans area, and besides the yearly hurricane watches, etc., I have learned something interesting about any building, house, even backyard patios constructed in the area: unless there are columns underneath, the foundation will crack or sink because the ground is unstable. This fact underscores an important fact for all of life: we must always build on secure foundations. So, before any discussion on worship and worship practices, it is imperative that we lay down some “support columns” on which we intend to build.

For the basis of this discussion, I would like to borrow from Ralph Neighbour’s Survival Kit for New Believers, [Convention Press, 1981]. I have found it to be a great resource not only for followup for new believers, but foundational for this discussion. There are four foundations from which we base our decisions: the Word of God, History and Tradition, Human Intellect, or Reason, and Personal Experience. I have found that many of the arguments and debates over the subject could have been put in perspective if only the parties involved had realized the truths found in understanding from what foundation we base our opinion.

The Word of God
Scripture, God’s love letter and guide for living is the supreme authority for the believer. All that we think, do and feel is subject to the question: “Is this consistent with the teachings of the Word of God?

It would seem on the surface that if “it's in the Book, that settles it.” However, as many have found there are those who take the Bible and say things that are almost bizarre. For this reason, as we look in God’s Word it is important that we remember some basics of interpretation. First there is the Principle of Context. We must first understand what the passage meant to the people to whom it was written, what the historical context was. A need to understand the passage in its original language as best is possible is a must. For example, there were several words that are interpreted in English as “love” in the Bible. Only by studying these can one determine which was being used. There are many helpful tools for this, so I won’t dwell here. We also need to look at the passage in light of the context of the book in which it was written as well as other related passages in Scripture. This leads us to the next principle, the Principle of Consistency. The teachings of Scripture do not contradict each other. A helpful note is to remember that just because Scripture mentions something, it does not mean that it is teaching that as a principle. For example, the Bible mentions that Judas hung himself, but that does not mean that we need to go out and do the same. We need to look at the whole of Scripture to see what is being said and see if what we are understanding is consistent with the other related passages. There are untold dangers of just looking at verses without looking at the context or consistency.

That being said, the supreme authority, or basis of belief must be God’s Word, His gift to us to teach us His ways and to lead us to an intimate relationship with Himself through His Son. In the case of a tie, with feelings or experience, our logic and reasoning or our traditions and history, Scripture is the final and ultimate authority.

History and Tradition
History and tradition are good; they can keep us from having to “re-invent the wheel” every time we do something. It has been said that those who forget their history tend to repeat it, and that can be readily proven throughout history. History is a great teacher and traditions can link us with the past and give us an appreciation for things that are much bigger than our short span of years. Recently on a Mission trip to Cuba, I was able to visit the old Morro fortress and the firing of the cannon at 9:00 pm. For over the past 400 years, every evening at 9:00 pm a cannon was fired to announce the closing of the harbor. Even though now it is a re-enactment and tourist attraction, none the less as you see the soldiers dressed in the old Spanish costumes with their muskets and hear the sound of the steps across the stone pavement, you can close your eyes and imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago. My understanding has grown as well as my identity with the past is strengthened because of my participation in it.

However, when done without proper understanding of the purpose of the activity, problems can occur. I remember the story of the newlyweds and their first week of cooking supper. The husband noticed that his new bride dutifully cut off a considerable section of a ham they had purchased and set it aside, rather than cook the entire piece. When he asked her why she did it, she only replied, “that’s the way Mama always cooked ham.” So the next time they were at the mother in law’s house the young husband asked his wife’s mother about the ham. “Why do you always cut off one section of the ham before you cook it?” “Oh, that’s simple,” she replied, “I just don’t have any pans big enough to cook it in.” If we are not careful, we can be repeating things that at one time had significance, but the reasons for doing them can be lost over time and we follow practices that may or may not have justification.

Another illustration, perhaps a little closer to the subject. During the semester I ask each new class if they know why we generally have our worship services at about 11:00 am on Sundays. Each semester there are those who had never even considered the question and knew nothing of the rural roots of faith and the fact that in the early days of our country the farmers still had to get some chores done before they left for church. So, by the time they got things together, it was close to noon. By the way, because of this they generally brought a meal and shared it together for a “dinner on the ground.” No where in Scripture is an exact hour given that we must meet for worship. The disciples met on the “first day of the week,” but no specific hour was given. Since that is so, there is nothing sacred about that specific hour and churches should have the liberty to set the hour of worship at a time when it is most convenient for that congregation. When we were serving as missionaries in Panama, I remember a specific church that had their Sunday morning worship service at 7:30 am due the fact they had a tin roof, no air conditioning or fans, and many of the members had to work on Sunday afternoon. The cooler morning hour helped with the brutal tropical heat and it set the course for the day in service to the Lord.

History and tradition can be advisors, they can provide direction when we are not sure of the way, but only when they do not take precedence over Scripture. If Scripture doesn’t prohibit, there can be flexibility.

Human Intellect
The gift of reason and the ability to draw conclusions is one of the most powerful tools given to men by God. God expects us to use wisely what He has provided for us. Great men of old developed the gift of reason given by God to help us understand the universe around us. Mathematics, physics, philosophy, science itself are means by which men and women have expressed their understanding of God’s creation and laws, even when they failed to realize it was His doing. Christians should not be ashamed, or embarrassed in studying these subjects for fear that they will discover something that will destroy their faith. New discoveries simply scratch the surface of the limitless knowledge of God and His creation. The field of Christian apologetics can greatly enhance our ability to deal with these issues.

All truth is God’s truth. We do not discover anything that He did not know beforehand, and our “discovery” is just a way of describing what we see. However, as great as reason and logic are, we must never forget that our logic does have tainted roots; we have clay feet, we all belong to Adam’s race. The story is told of the researcher who was studying fleas. He had his “control” flea and his group of “experimental” fleas. He told both groups to jump and recorded the results. Then, he took tweezers and removed two legs from one of the experimental flea and repeated the command to jump. The flea jumped as before, only not quite as far. He then repeated the experiment after taking two more legs from the flea. After the command to jump the flea obliged by the jumping, but it was even less than the previous one. After recording his findings, he removed the final two legs from the flea and instructed it to jump. The flea did not move, only laid there motionless. As the researcher was drawing his conclusions he wrote the following: “When you remove all the legs from a flea, he cannot hear one thing!” We may laugh at the twisted logic, but it does illustrate that our conclusions are not always without error. Only God can see the whole picture and how it works for His purpose, so we must depend on God’s Word as the ultimate authority and not just our own reasoning ability.

Personal Experience
God grants us life and choices from which we have a myriad of experiences. Many of these become the basis for protective action, like the young man who picked up a hot dish without a pot holder. I can guarantee that he probably didn’t do that again. Verbal instructions are one thing; burned fingers are another, and pot holders can become an instant friend. Life’s experiences aren’t always negative. My salvation experience, getting married, the birth of our children, seeing those you work with grown in the Lord and lead others to Christ are all amazing personal experiences and experiences that I cherish and refer to often.

We link our feelings to our faith through personal experiences. As a youth in Oklahoma, there was no place like Falls Creek in the summer for youth camp. The late ‘60's were filled with protests and demonstrations, but at Falls Creek thousands of students gathered week after week to study the Bible, worship together, and fellowship with one another. The first time I heard the 300 voice choir, a 50 piece band and 5000 other students singing praise to God, I was completely overwhelmed. Surely heaven was opened up and the angel’s themselves were joining the crowds. It was an experience that was life changing for me. I know I am not alone, for many sense deep emotions as we worship, whether inspired by the music, the architecture, the sermon or other things.

As worship becomes more central to our experience, a myriad of experiences in response to worship will follow. Feelings are a part of our human makeup, and God created us that way. A person should not think himself or herself more spiritual if brought to tears during worship as compared to someone else who was not, or the other way around. Comparison with others is not the basis of judgment and we are not the judges.

But we must remember that our sincerity and feelings may be wrong. We do not base our faith on feelings, but on God’s Word; it is by “grace we are saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God.”[Ephesians 2:8] Bob Kauflin tells the story of a visitor to some missionaries in Africa who were moved by the music they heard. When asked what they were singing the missionary said the words to the song are “dogs are brown.” Our emotions and feelings are a tricky slope and we must be very careful not to use them as a measure of our spiritual depth or maturity. As Scripture says, “ the heart is deceitful above all things...” [Jeremiah 17:9] Only God’s Word can link us with the true reality of God’s wisdom and truth, regardless of how we might “feel.” We must live by faith, not be feelings.

On occasions, I have heard some say that they didn’t “feel” like worshiping, or that they didn’t “feel” as though they had worshiped that day: the music was bad, the sermon boring, etc. Without getting into deep of a discussion, it is important that we first have a biblical understanding of what worship is and is not. There exists a plethora of excellent works on that subject. But, statements like “I didn’t feel...” reveal that the basis of their understanding of worship is rooted more in feeling that in obedience and God’s Word.

In worship, we must place our faith in Christ and His Word, regardless of “how we might feel.” Limiting our worship experience to our feelings, places us at the center of worship as the final judge. But worship is not “about us, but about Christ.” We surrender our will, our lives, our actions, even our feelings to Him, regardless how we feel. It is an act of will. Many times our emotions will “catch up” with our will, but it is not necessary for us to worship. We must live in obedience. Consider yourself driving down the highway, the speed limit is 70 mph. and you are traveling between 69-70 mph. You are being “obedient” whether you “feel” that way or not. I also am painfully aware of times that I was listening to some worship songs and so caught up in them that when I looked down at the speedometer, I realized that I wasn’t paying attention to my driving. Was what I doing “worshiping,” when I was really in direct disobedience to the natural laws of the road? There may be a varied set of opinions on that subject, but personally, I think not. I was definitely having an emotional response to the music, but worship cannot happen if we are not in obedience to what God demands. If this causes some doubts on your part, that is fine. Hang in there, keep reading and we’ll keep on asking the Lord for discernment to help us along.

Personal experiences can also be misused as the basis of faith. Let’s say that during a worship service one day that we jumped up came down and did the splits. Immediately afterwords we felt this tremendous “feeling” that we interpret as “worship.” The first thing we do is share that experience with the whole church and tell them, “If you want a deeper experience with God, you must jump up and do the splits! I have done it and it was so wonderful!” I have no doubt that before long there would be a host of others following that example. The only problem is Scripture does not teach us that jumping up and doing the splits is the basis for growth in Christ. If Satan cannot keep us from worshiping Christ, he will push us past the biblical norms so that our basis is not in God’s Word, but in our personal experience. I realize that the example is silly at best, but the truth there remains: Once our worship is based in personal experience rather than His Word, Satan has rendered our worship as ineffective.

So let’s review: history and tradition are wonderful parts of our lives that help us avoid remaking the same mistakes and help up identify with His works and saints of the past. God has given us logic and reason as a gift to help us draw conclusions and live with understanding of that which is around us. Personal experiences and feelings are important, they help us link our faith to our daily lives, but nothing, not history, tradition, logic, human intellect, or personal experience can supersede the ultimate authority over our lives, which is the Word of God! It is always good to go back and see what the basis of our belief or authority is as we study about worship. When a question arises, ask yourself, “On what am I basing this belief, Scripture, History and Tradition, Human Reason or logic, or personal experience?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the truth about the Word of God. My post will be on Blackboard.