Certain church groups’ historical underpinnings are blueprint-oriented: they emphasize divine “plan” and “pattern” they find in scripture. Such orientations are certainly not entirely off-base, yet they are frequently overemphasized, clouding more deeply significant realities. The hermeneutic that finds under every scriptural rock a supposed “pattern” for this or that is shallow at best, although such a bent may produce eminently sincere followers of the Lord.
Unlike some of my “progressive” siblings, I still find much validity in this hermeneutical triumvirate: “command, example, and necessary inference.” The problem comes not in the mantra, but in its working out. If we could more aptly sort out which is which as we seek to understand scripture, we’d all be better off. In other words, we get into interpretation trouble when examples and inferences are made out to be commands — for all disciples, for all time. The resultant set of “commands” becomes a blueprint or new tablet of stone — although the stone material may only be in the minds of the men who chiseled out the words.
Would that such men would understand more of the message of the letter to the Galatians — not incidentally, one of the two earliest canonical letters!
Moreover, would that such men would come to understand that when Jesus invited folks to “come to Him,” as recorded at the end of Matthew 11, the contextually clear inference is that the Pharisees’ law-loads were anything but light. He wanted them to do right, to act mericfully and charitably, to please the Father — of course! — but He also wanted them to find rest from back-breaking, legalistic yokes. Why should we in this century be any different in His eyes?
It is my understanding that the “fathers” of the American Restoration Movement desired to restore the New Testament pattern along with New Testament dynamics in the churches. They wanted restoration of the ancient order of things along with the unification of Christians. As the decades progressed, the former goal was aggrandized, while the latter became less apparent.
For the last century or so, then, the RM half-ideal has been seen more in the desire of church leaders to convince outsiders that God has a scriptural blueprint or plan for everything from church government to corporate worship to the use or non-use of tobacco. If these outsiders will but follow the plan, everything will be OK with them. This desire, while in most cases pure-hearted, only goes so far. And it seems to shove God’s grace, as shown in the incarnate Son, into a back seat, while men’s interpretation of scripture drives the car.
In the next post, I’ll share a letter I wrote nearly two decades ago, attempting to say something a bit more concise about this age-old, hermeneutical problem.
[Continued . . . ]