Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Churches Dumbing It Down: This Is Not Funny

by Todd Friel

A lady walked into her pastor’s office and announced, “I’m leaving my husband to live with my lover.”

The pastor calmly asked what led her to that decision.

The woman confidently proclaimed, “Ephesians 4:24 says we are supposed to ‘put on the new man.’”

Now, you might think that is just a joke, but it was told as a true story by the pastor. That makes this story the opposite of a joke. That makes it a tragedy.

Five centuries ago, Erasmus (who laid the egg that Luther hatched) argued with Dr. Luther about translating the Latin or Greek Bible into the vernacular of the peasantry. Erasmus warned there would be no end of misapplication of the Bible if regular folks were allowed access to the sacred text. Erasmus was right.

Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? My answer is the same as Martin Luther’s. The ability for lay people to read the Bible far outweighs their often ridiculous interpretations.

That leads us to the big question, “How do we help people understand how to read their Bibles correctly so they don’t end up ditching their spouses?”

It seems to me the answer to that question lies in another question. Are people stupid or not?

According to modern day, seeker sensitive models for church growth, the answer is a resounding, “People are morons.” Why do I believe that is their answer? Look at their programs.

Youth programs: Bye-bye catechisms…hello fun.

Adult programs: So long theology…hello self help.

Sunday sermons: Adios teaching…hello inspiring.

“Dumb it down” is the battle cry of the modern seeker sensitive movement.

Contemporary seeker sensitive leaders encourage us to entertain visitors in the hopes they will become regular attenders. The last thing they want to do is challenge people in the pews to use their noodles. Learning is not fun and visitors won’t come back. These churches are entertaining the masses so people can go to hell happy and make bad decisions along the way.

Let me argue: people are not stupid. They have diplomas, read manuals, run computers and follow instructions at work. Can we agree that they can handle being taught multi-syllabic words?

Consider the book of Romans. It is loaded with big thoughts, heavy theology and gasp, big words. Paul was writing to plain old people, not a bunch of theologians. Unless people today are dumber than the Romans, can we start respecting their intelligence?

Look out; here comes a big word right now: HERMENEUTICS.

If people can understand the rules of driving a car, can’t they learn the rules of interpreting Scripture? Here are just a few principles. As you read these, ask yourself, “Could the average church-goer grasp these?”

Understand “progressive revelation.” God’s message has been revealed in stages. Many messages were given to a certain people at a certain time for a certain reason. For instance, God told David to go slay a neighboring country. We would not take that verse and attack Canada. If doctrinal teachings are not re-iterated in the NT, be careful not to formulate theology based solely on O.T. writing.

Understand Literary Context. Don’t just read a single verse without reading at least the paragraph in front and after it.

Interpret unclear verses in light of clear verses.

We should understand the meaning of a word by the way it is used in a sentence, a sentence by the way it is used in a paragraph, a paragraph by the way it is used in a chapter, a chapter by the way it is used in a book. Hold on, there’s more. Understand a book by comparing it with other books (especially by the same author) and one Testament with the other Testament. That is how you interpret Scripture with Scripture.

What is the author’s meaning? Don’t ask, “What does this verse say to me?” Instead ask, “What does this verse say and how does it apply to me?”

Distinguish cultural customs from trans-cultural principles. Is the teaching culture bound (eating meat offered to idols) or of a permanent nature? Is there a trans-cultural principle easily observed? (greet with a kiss vs. a handshake) Is the custom reported or taught in Scripture (polygamy)?

Now how difficult was that? Let’s stop treating people as if they don’t have the ability to learn principles like these. Let’s respect them, teach them, challenge them and talk up to them. Then we won’t have women leaving their husbands to “put on the new man.”

Distributed by www.ChristianWorldviewNetwork.com

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