Sunday, June 27, 2010

Using the Old Testment to Prove New Testament Doctrine

What authority does the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible hold over Christians? That question has been asked and answered before, right. I mean Jesus dealt with that. He fulfilled the Old Law. He said so himself in Matthew 5:17. That's why we don't sacrifice animals anymore; or rely on priests to be a go-between. Jesus made serves us in both those capacities. He was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. No more sacrifices are required. And no more trips to the Temple.

There's a reason I ask and answer this question. I'm wondering if Christians should use the Old Testament to prove or to serve as evidence for doctrinal positions. I've done this many times. But I am really beginning to rethink my thinking on this one. If the Old Law is not binding any longer - then the Old Testament shouldn't be binding any longer either. But we really have a double standard on that. Well, I've had a double standard on that.

Here's an example. When it comes to worship I have traditionally been, well, traditional. I don't really like that word so I'll say that I tend to err on the side of caution. So many times when I have felt uncomfortable about an issue and wasn't really able to address it in the New Testament text, I would turn over to Leviticus 10 and throw Nadab and Abihu at it. "See, when it comes to worship we should only do exactly what God says to do." I am going to guess that I'm not the only person to do that.

So, is that right? Is that okay? Does that fall in line with the way God wants us to use the Old Testament text? Is that why God was sure to include that story? What do you think? I'll try to answer some of those questions in the next post. 

Bible Camp

It's been a while since my last post. I've been away from my computer the past week. I took my Bible, my Greek Grammar and enough clothes to get through the week and spent an absolutely wonderful five days at Bible Camp. I love going to camp! It's a great time to leave every distraction at home and just go focus on God and my relationship with Him.

I didn't watch or keep up with the Braves. I didn't watch any movies. I didn't check Fox News. I didn't blog or read any blogs. And I survived just fine. In fact, I never really missed it. It was just my Bible and my Christian family. I wonder if Bible Camp isn't close to what the first century Christians experienced. If you've been to a Bible Camp, then you know what i'm talking about. If you haven't, chances are, your congregation is connected to one. Give it a try. You'll be a blessing and will be blessed. I promise.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Who's My Brother?

Fellowship is a tough subject. The best treatment I have ever come across on the issue was F. Legard Smith's Who Is My Brother? If you have never read it, I highly recommend you pick it up.

It seems that we have come to a crossroads, or maybe a fork in the road. Many folks are widening their door of fellowship and including anyone and everyone who calls themselves a Christian - whether or not they are in fact a New Testament Christian. While others are so judgmental and condemning that they refuse to recognize their brothers and sisters in Christ simply because they disagree with them on one or two issues. Both are wrong, because neither demonstrate the LOVE or ACCOUNTABILITY that Jesus taught us.

This brings up the question, what does it mean to fellowship? Is it simply about worship? Or does it extend past worship? What would people in my community think if they saw me eating lunch with the preacher at the Baptist church that is less than a mile from our building? The fact is, we are all over the spectrum when it comes to fellowship. I'm going to spend a little time studying Jesus' attitudes and responses to this issue and I hope to share some of what I find. But in the mean time, I'll leave it with this thought.

We have to avoid the extremes. We are never going to agree with everyone on every issue of doctrine - because we don't have a perfect understanding of doctrine. But we can understand issues of salvation. And to accept another person as Christian when they are not is wrong. That puts their soul in jeopardy. And that's my responsibility to reach out to that person and teach them - not reach out to them and embrace them as a brother in Christ. Likewise, shame on the person who unscripturally withholds fellowship from another Christian. That is not a Christ-like behavior.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ are Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Jesus' blood has created a family bond that I have no right to break. Let's not forget whose we are.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When You Don't Like How Things are Going

Terry Rush posted this on his blog yesterday. I'm really appreciate his thoughts.
While all can use this article, I specifically write to the very young leaders. Many things will take place in the church that you won't like. What shall you do? Move? Fight? Quit? I think not. I don't know how I knew to do it, but I saw at an early age the need to keep my mouth shut and learn. I studied what wasn't working for I knew the day would come when things changed. I lived in pain on several occasions; even then realizing I was in an important class studying church leadership from the trenches. Anybody can work with a church when things are going great guns. What God seems to look for are men and women who will take the icon of the cross seriously...things won't go our way. Don't be discouraged when the seas are rough. Rather learn to walk on them. Choose to capitalize on their educational value. You are designed for effective leadership. Sometimes your best days will feel like your worst. Fret not. He still oversees His work.
There are times when the waves feel like they are too big to swim in. And sometimes the headaches and stress just doesn't seem worth it. When those feelings come along, the easiest thing to do is give up and quit. I have to admit, there are times when those feelings are right. But having the wisdom to recognize the right thing to do does not come from within - even if we have great experiences or a wealth of knowledge. It comes from the leading of the Holy Spirit. It comes from the source above.

One thing I often need to be reminded of is that God alone knows everything and that it's His plan and purpose that ultimately counts. God has big plans for us, for each of us. The question then is, will I have the humility and courage to submit to His will for my life and faithfully seek His purpose and His plans?

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Inspired Proof-Texter

I had intended to follow up a previous post (The Bible Is Not a Jigsaw Puzzle) with a few more thoughts on proof-texting. Here's those thoughts.

Today, people generally have three different responses to proof-texting. First, many have no idea what it is, nor do they particularly care to know. Second, others seem to think that since all of God's Word is inspired and infallible, any statement therein can be used as a statement of fact regardless of the context. The third group seems to be disagree with the practice on two principles. Well, I'll say I disagree with it for two reasons (I think some folks may agree with me). Here's the first reason, when proof-texting is done to make a point, it is usually done out of ignorance or lack of understanding of the scripture. Second, it is done for the purpose of condemning. Neither of those are good ideas to me.

That having been said, there's some biblical evidence that maybe proof-texting isn't bad or wrong. It's tough being intellectually honest with the Bible. Because sometimes, that forces you to admit that you don't have nearly the insight that you thought you may have had. This might be one of those spots. Take a break from your reading and grab your Bible and read Matthew's birth narrative (1:18-2:2).

Matthew refers to five prophecies in the text to help make his case for Jesus' divine birth. Here they are listed individually with the corresponding Old Testament scripture that Matthew is citing.

Matt 1:22-23
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel"
Isa 7:14-16
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.

Matt 2:5-6
They told him (Herod), "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.
Micah 5:1-4
Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.

Matt 2:14-15
And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son.
Hosea 11:1
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.

Matt 2:17-18
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
Jer 31:15
Thus says the LORD: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more."

Matt 2:23
And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene."
Isa 11:1
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Notice how in four out of the five citations Matthew uses the word "fulfill." Here's what's interesting about all of this - those four citations are not literally accruate. That means that Matthew took the verses out of context and used them to make his point about Jesus. Here's what I mean. Isaiah 7 is not talking about Jesus. The context is that Israel (in particular Jerusalem) is under seige by Syria and Judah. What Isaiah is prophesying is that there is a young woman who will have a child and that child will be eating curds and honey by the time he is old enough to choose between right and wrong. What does that mean? Well, since the city was under seige, there were no supplies coming in - so there was no curds and honey being brought in to be eaten. But by the time he's a few years old the seige will be over. The translation of the word "virgin" is actually not original to the Hebrew. It was added by the LXX translators. The original word literally means "young woman." So it seems that Matthew had a copy of the LXX in front of him and was cutting and pasting a verse to make his point.

With the exception of Matthew 2:5-6, the others have similar issues. They are completely taken out of context. And like I mentioned before, the four that are taken out of context are the ones that Matthew uses the word fulfilled. It seems like he may have known what he was doing so added the word fulfilled to give it more authority.

What exactly was Matthew doing here? Is this right? Did he do it on purpose? If it's okay for Matthew to do this, is it okay for me or us? These are just a few of the questions that I have. Here's my thoughts on it. I think Matthew was using typology. I don't think he was writing ignorantly or carelessly. I think he purposefully used a method of applying and interpreting the scriptures. Is it valuable for today? That is, is that method of interpreting valuable for today? Well, many of the early Church fathers were really into typology because they felt the need to have an explanation for everything in the Bible. They took 2 Timothy 3:16 way too literally and used to make interpretations that were never intended to be made.

Think about it this way: what practical significance or relevance can the Christian today gain from the old Law listed in Leviticus and Numbers? There are scriptures that tell the Israelites what to do if someone's cow comes onto your land and gets hurt. What's the application for today? Well, there's really not a specific literal application. We can derive some themes about how to live in community with one another and treat other people. But there's not much else there. But with typology we can put stuff there to make it seem more practical and relevant. That's pretty much what Matthew did.

Is it right for us? No, I don't think it is. The Bible was not written to us, it was written for us. The Bible is not an encyclopedia or dictionary meant just to be used for reference. It was never written with verses or chapters. That tells me that we were meant to read the whole thing. We should just take one verse out of hundreds from a letter that Paul wrote and use it to make our point. We have to ask the questions: is this was Paul was talking about? What issues was he addressing? Etc.

So why did Matthew do it? Well, I think it comes back to inspiration. He was being guided by the Holy Spirit to create the document in just the way that God wanted.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Having Fun in "Church"?

I came across this video on Tim Spivy's blog. I wonder if this applies to religion/church/faith, etc. I know many people would consider it heretical to purposefully include fun in religion (and by religion I mean "church"). But assuming this phenomenon presented in the picture is accurate, why would we not use it in the most important mission ever? If we're going fishing for people (Mark 1:17), wouldn't we want use the best "bait" we can find? Does God prefer what type of "bait" we use?

Is it wrong to enjoy "church," definitely not. Is it right to make entertainment the sole purpose of "church," definitely not. What does God say about including fun and entertainment in "church" to provide greater initial attraction, greater stimulation and a more impactful experience? That's something to study and think about.

Tim Spivy has some worthwhile comments. "Personally, I find the presence of laughter to be a sign of congregational health and its absence stunning and sad. While I don't think church should be a stand-up routine, I have to think that enjoying God's people and God's presence is a good thing. While they shouldn't be cornerstones of the church, laughter and fun certainly shouldn't be out of place in the church. In fact, they should be symptomatic of the joy we have living out the abundant life together."

An Recent Interview with Stephen Hawking

What a despondent commentary on the attitudes of the Created. Hawking said that he wants to know why the universe exists, why there is something instead of nothing. It's terribly disappointing that he chooses not to believe in the source that can supply the answer to his question.

By the way, Diane Sawyer is annoying at best and really needs to go away.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Let all things be done decently and in order - ahhhhh!

Recently I've been considering our worship time together. It "seems" like too many of us are just going through the motions. Well actually, that's probably painting the picture to look a little nicer than it probably is. What I should say, while most of us are going through the motions, some are not motioning at all. A couple of Sunday's ago while the congregation was standing and singing together, I noticed a man was sitting down and reading the bulletin. On a bench behind him, a parent was sitting down singing while her two teenage kids sent text-messages. When did we get to the point where we come together to worship our Creator to now where it seems like we come to the building to check off our religious requirements sheet for the week? I think a lot of this is because hearts are hard and no longer living a life of love as a follower of Jesus. Where instead, those hearts that once flamed brightly are relegated to the life of a religious drone.

All that aside, I think the Church leaders bear some responsibility for this. Take for instance our worship service. It is completely scripted, planned and even timed. We do the exact same thing every week in the exact same order. We sing the same number of songs in the same order and we take the Communion at the same point - every week, week after week. All with the effort of getting through it all so that we can get to the sermon, so the preacher can get done quicker, so we can be done right at one hour. And we do it all in the name of "letting all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). It kind of makes we want to go into a closed room and yell - "that's not what Paul was talking about!!!"

I came across this blog from Timothy Archer. Take a look at it.

"C.S. Lewis was no fan of change within worship services. He wrote, “Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like it, it ‘works’ best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it.…But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself…” He goes on to quote an unnamed source that said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” (The Joyful Christian, pp. 80-81)

Personally, though I highly esteem Lewis as a thinker and a writer, I don’t agree with his views on familiarity in worship. I find that familiarity often breeds unthinking repetition. It becomes too easy to “go through the motions,” without being aware of what we’re doing or why. We say things without even thinking what they mean. We sing without being aware of who we’re singing to (is it a song of encouragement to my brothers or a song of worship to God?). We instinctively reach for our checkbook while sipping the homogenized grape juice from the plastic cup.

I think that we need change at times if only to make us aware of what we’re doing. My high school choir director used to say, “A rut is just a grave with both ends knocked out.” We need to be conscious of the forms of what we’re doing and the meanings behind those forms. What do you find to be true? Is change a distraction or a call to awareness? Is routine an aid to worship or a hindrance to our worshiping with our minds as well as our actions?"

Kind of makes you think.

The Bible is not a Jigsaw Puzzle

This is a great read from Frank Viola. It's a little long, but well worth a few minutes of your time. You're brain will thank you for it ;-)

"Why is it that we Christians can divide up into thousands of different sects and all claim that we are following the Word of God? How is it that many of us can blithely embrace church practices and theological beliefs that are not rooted in Scriptural principle, yet read them back into the New Testament? I submit that the problem is with our approach to the New Testament. The approach most commonly used among modern Christians when studying the Bible is called "proof texting." The origin of proof texting goes back to the late 1590s. A group of men called Protestant Scholastics took the teachings of the Reformers and systematized them according to the rules of Aristotelian logic.

The Protestant Scholastics held that not only is the Scripture the Word of God, but every part of it is the Word of God in and of itself—irrespective of context. This set the stage for the idea that if we lift a verse out of the Bible, it is true in its own right and can be used to prove a doctrine or a practice. When John Nelson Darby emerged in the mid 1800s, he built a theology based on this approach. Darby raised proof texting to an art form. In fact, it was Darby who gave fundamentalist and evangelical Christians a good deal of their presently accepted teachings. All of them are built on the proof texting method. Proof texting, then, became the way that we modern Christians approach the Bible. It is taught in every Protestant Bible school and seminary on earth.

As a result, we Christians rarely, if ever, get to see the NT as a whole. Rather, we are served up a dish of fragmented thoughts that are drawn together by means of fallen human logic. The fruit of this approach is that we have strayed far afield from the practice of the NT church. Yet we still believe we are being Biblical. Allow me to illustrate the problem with a fictitious story.

Meet Marvin Snurdly
Marvin Snurdly is a world renowned marital counselor. In his 20-year career as a marriage therapist, Marvin has counseled thousands of troubled marriages. He has an Internet presence. Each day hundreds of couples write letters to Marvin about their marital sob stories. The letters come from all over the globe. And Marvin answers them all. A hundred years pass, and Marvin Snurdly is resting peacefully in his grave. He has a great, great grandson named Fielding Melish. Fielding decides to recover the lost letters of his great, great grandfather, Marvin Snurdly. But Fielding can only find 13 of Marvin’s letters. Out of the thousands of letters that Marvin wrote in his lifetime, only 13 have survived! Nine of them were written to couples in marital crisis. Four of them were written to individual spouses.

These letters were all written within a 20-year time frame: From 1980 to 2000. Fielding Melish plans to compile these letters into a volume. But there is something interesting about the way Marvin wrote his letters that makes Fielding’s task somewhat difficult. First, Marvin had an annoying habit of never dating his letters. No days, months, or years appear on any of the 13 letters. Second, the letters only portray half the conversation. The initial letters written to Marvin that provoked his responses no longer exist. Consequently, the only way to understand the backdrop of one of Marvin’s letters is by reconstructing the marital situation from Marvin’s response. Each letter was written at a different time, to people in a different culture, dealing with a different problem. For example, in 1985, Marvin wrote a letter to Paul and Sally from Virginia, USA who were experiencing sexual problems early in their marriage. In 1990, Marvin wrote a letter to Jethro and Matilda from Australia who were having problems with their children. In 1995, Marvin wrote a letter to a wife from Mexico who was experiencing a mid-life crisis.

Take note: 20 years—13 letters—all written to different people at different times in different cultures—all experiencing different problems. It is Fielding Melish’s desire to put these 13 letters in chronological order. But without the dates, he cannot do this. So Fielding puts them in the order of descending length. That is, he takes the longest letter that Marvin wrote and puts it first. He puts Marvin’s second longest letter after that. He takes the third longest and puts it third. The compilation ends with the shortest letter that Marvin penned. 13 letters are arranged, not chronologically, but by their length. The volume hits the presses and becomes an overnight best seller. People are buying it by the truck loads. 100 years pass and The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly compiled by Fielding Melish stands the test of time. The work is still very popular. Another 100 years pass, and this volume is being used copiously throughout the Western World. (Marvin has been resting in his grave for 300 years now.) The book is translated into dozens of languages. Marriage counselors are quoting it left and right. Universities are employing it in their sociology classes. It is so widely used that someone gets a bright idea on how to make the volume easier to quote and handle. What is that bright idea? It is to divide Marvin’s letters into chapters and numbered sentences (we call them verses). So chapters and verses are born in the Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly. But by adding chapter-and-verse to these once living letters, something changes that goes unnoticed. The letters lose their personal touch. Instead, they take on the texture of a manual. Different sociologists begin writing books about marriage and the family. Their main source? The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly. Pick up any book in the 24th century on the subject of marriage, and you will find the author quoting chapters and verses from Marvin’s letters.

It usually looks like this: In making a particular point, an author will quote a verse from Marvin’s letter written to Paul and Sally. The author will then lift another verse from the letter written to Jethro and Matilda. He will extract another verse from another letter. Then he will sew these three verses together upon which he will build his particular marital philosophy. Virtually every sociologist and marital therapist that authors a book on marriage does the same thing. Yet the irony is here. Each of these authors constantly contradicts the others, even though they are all using the same source!

But that is not all. Not only have Marvin’s letters been turned into cold prose when they were originally living, breathing epistles to real people in real places. But they have devolved into a weapon in the hands of agenda-driven men. Not a few authors on marriage begin employing isolated proof texts from Marvin’s work to hammer away at those who disagree with their marital philosophy. How can they do this? How is this being done? How are all of these sociologists contradicting each other when they are using the exact same source!? It is because the letters have been lifted out of their historical context. Each letter has been plucked from its chronological sequence and taken out of its real life setting. Put another way, the letters of Marvin Snurdly have been transformed into a series of isolated, disjointed, fragmented sentences—free for anyone to lift one sentence from one letter, another sentence from another letter, paste them together to create the marital philosophy of their choice.

An amazing story is it not? Well here is the punch line. Whether you realize it or not, I have just described your NT! Your NT is made up mostly of Paul's letters. Paul of Tarsus wrote two thirds of it. He penned 13 letters in a 20-year time span. Nine letters were written to churches in different cultures, at different times, experiencing different problems. Four letters were written to individual Christians. The individuals who received those letters were also dealing with different issues at different times.

Take note: 20 years—13 letters—all written to different churches at different times in different cultures—all experiencing different problems. In the early second century, someone took the letters of Paul and compiled them into a volume. The technical term for this volume is "canon." Scholars refer to this compiled volume as "the Pauline canon." It is essentially your NT with a few letters added afterwards, the four Gospels and Acts placed at the front, and Revelation tacked on the end. At the time, no one knew when Paul's letters were written. Even if they did, it would not have mattered. There was no precedent for alphabetical or chronological ordering. The first-century Greco-Roman world ordered its literature according to decreasing length.

Look at how your NT is arranged. What do you find? Paul's longest letter appears first. It is Romans. 1 Corinthians is the second longest letter, hence the reason why it follows Romans. 2 Corinthians is the third longest letter. Your NT follows this pattern until you come to that tiny little book called Philemon. Here is the present order as it appears in your NT. The books are arranged according to descending length:

1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy

What, then, is the proper chronological order of these letters? According to the best available scholarship, here is the order in which they were written:

1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy

The Addition of Chapters and Verses
In the year 1227, a professor at the University of Paris named Stephen Langton added chapters to all the books of the NT. Then in 1551, a printer named Robert Stephanus numbered the sentences in all of the books of the NT.

According to Stephanus' son, the verse divisions that his father created do not do service to the sense of the text. Stephanus did not use any consistent method. While riding on horseback from Paris to Lyons, he versified the entire NT within Langton's chapter divisions. So verses were born in the pages of holy writ in the year 1551. And since that time God's people have approached the NT with scissors and glue, cutting-and-pasting isolated, disjointed sentences from different letters, lifting them out of their real-life setting and lashing them together to build floatable doctrines. Then calling it "the Word of God."

This half-baked approach still lives in our seminaries, Bible colleges, churches, Bible studies, and (tragically) our house churches today. Most Christians are completely out of touch with the social and historical events that lay behind each of the NT letters. Instead, they have turned the NT into a manual that can be wielded to prove any point. Chopping the Bible up into fragments makes this relatively easy to pull off.

How We Approach the Bible
We Christians have been taught to approach the Bible in one of seven ways. See how many you can tick off with a pencil that apply to you:
  1. You look for verses that inspire you. Upon finding such verses, you either highlight, memorize, meditate upon, or put them on your refrigerator door. 
  2. You look for verses that tell you what God has promised so that you can confess it in faith and thereby obligate the Lord to do what you want. (If you are part of the "name-it-claim-it," "blab-it-grab-it" movement, you are masterful at doing this.)
  3. You look for verses that tell you what God commands you to do.
  4. You look for verses that you can quote to scare the devil out of his wits or resist him in the hour of temptation.
  5. You look for verses that will prove your particular doctrine so that you can slice-and-dice your theological sparring partner into Biblical ribbons. (Because of the proof-texting method, a vast wasteland of Christianity behaves as if the mere citation of some random, de-contextualized verse of Scripture ends all discussion on virtually all subjects.)
  6. You look for verses in the Bible to control and/or correct others.
  7. If you are a preacher, you look for verses that "preach" well for next Sunday morning's sermon. (This is an on-going addiction for preachers. It is so ingrained that many of them are incapable of reading their Bibles in any way other than to hunt for sermon material.) 
Now look at this list again. Did you find yourself there? Notice how each of these approaches is highly individualistic. All of them put you, the individual Christian, at the center. Each approach ignores the fact that most of the NT was written to corporate bodies of people (churches), not to individuals. But that is not all. Each of these approaches is built on isolated proof-texting. They treat the NT like a manual and blind us to its real message. It is no wonder that we can approvingly nod our heads at paid pastors, the Sunday morning order of worship, sermons, church buildings, religious costumes, choirs, worship teams, seminaries, and a passive priesthood—all without wincing.

We have been taught to approach the Bible like a jigsaw puzzle. For most of us, we have never been told the entire story that lies behind the letters that Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude wrote. We have been taught chapters and verses, not the historical context.

Needed: A New Approach to the New Testament
What is needed is a brand new approach to the New Testament. An approach not based in the New Testament letters as they are arranged in our Bible. But an approach that is based in "the story" . . . which blends together Acts and the Epistles in chronological order. If every Christian, pastors and Bible teachers included, would obtain a panoramic view of the first-century church in its chronological and socio-historical setting, it would revolutionize the Christian landscape today. The following are four specific ways in which this revolution could take place in your own life.

First, understanding the story of the NT church will give you a whole new understanding of each NT letter—an understanding that is rich, accurate, and exciting. You will be ushered into the living, breathing atmosphere of the first century. You will taste what went on in the writers’ hearts when they penned their letters. The circumstances they addressed will be made plain. The people to whom they wrote will come to life. No longer will you see the Epistles as sterile, complicated reads. Instead, they will turn into living, breathing voices that are part of a living, breathing story. The result? You will grasp the NT like never before! NT scholar F.F. Bruce once made the statement that reading the letters of Paul is like hearing one side of a telephone conversation. This book reconstructs “the other side.”

Second, understanding the story will help you see “the big picture” that undergirds the events that followed the birth of the church and its subsequent growth. This “big picture” has at its center an unbroken pattern of God’s working. And this pattern reflects God’s ultimate goal—which is to have a community on this earth that expresses His nature in a visible way. This theme of a God-ordained community constitutes a unifying thread that runs throughout the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Therefore, reading this book will not only help you to better understand your NT, it will also give you a fresh look at God’s eternal purpose…that which is closest to His heart.

Third, understanding the story of the NT church will supply you with the proper historical context which will enable you to accurately apply Scripture to your own life. Christians routinely take verses out of context and misapply them to their daily living. Seeing the Scripture in its proper historical context will safeguard you from making this all-too common mistake.

Fourth, understanding the story will forever deliver you from the “cut-and-paste” approach to Bible study that dominates evangelical thinking today. What is the “cut-and-paste” approach to Bible study? It is the common practice of coming to the NT with scissors and glue, clipping and then pasting disjointed sentences (verses) together from Books that were written decades apart.

This “cut-and-paste” approach has spawned all sorts of spiritual hazards. One of them being the popular practice of lashing verses together to build floatable doctrines. Another is that of “proof-texting” to win theological arguments. (A vast majority of Western Christianity behaves as if the mere citation of some random and de-contexualized verse ends all discussion on virtually all subjects.) The Medievals called this “cut-and-paste” method “a string-of-pearls.” You take one text, find some remote metaphorical connection with another text, and voilá, an ironclad doctrine is born! But this is a pathetic approach to understanding the Bible. While it is great for reading one’s own biases into the text, it is horrible for understanding the intent of the biblical authors. It has been rightly said that a person can prove anything by taking Bible verses out of context. Let me demonstrate how one can “biblically” prove that it is God’s will for believers to commit suicide. All you have to do is lift two verses out of their historical setting and paste them together:

“And he [Judas]…went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5). “Then said Jesus…‘Go, and do thou likewise’ ” (Luke 10:37b).

While this is an outrageous example of the “cut-and-paste” approach, it makes a profound point. Without understanding the historical context of the NT, Christians have managed to build doctrines and invent practices that have fragmented the Body of Christ into thousands of denominations. Understanding the sequence of each NT Book and the socio-historical setting that undergirds them is one remedy for this problem.

I have stated four reasons why rediscovering the NT story is a worthwhile endeavor. But there is one more reason. There is a very good chance that it will revolutionize your Christian life and your relationship with your Lord!
This article has been excerpted from Frank Viola's book Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices ( and The Untold Story of the New Testament Church (