Scripture

The Untouchables

Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

This is a very popular battle cry whenever the teachings and actions of a particularly popular Christian leader is questioned or criticized. If I am not mistaken this is what is meant when people use this statement:

  • A man of God is called by God and not by man
  • He is therefore not answerable to anyone but the one who called him
  • Since we do not know whether what he is teaching and/or doing is by divine instruction and therefore according to God’s will to question his actions or teaching can unknowingly be questioning God Himself and therefore incur the wrath the Lord.

I wonder if this view of Christian leaders as being untouchable stems from the way we as an African society view spiritual leaders. Traditionally religious leaders are untouchable. Their word is law and to speak against them or question their methods or instructions is to go against the gods. Terrible things could happen to someone who challenged their authority. I suspect an aspect of this has influenced the way our society also views Christian leaders especially the ones who display the ability to perform the miraculous.

There is need to examine the origins of the phrase Touch not the Lord’s anointed in the Bible.  Conrad Mbewe does a brilliant job of explaining the meaning of the phrase in this article http://www.conradmbewe.com/2012/12/touch-not-lords-anointed.html. The key point is that, the phrase  “…is about harm, especially physical harm, and not legitimate criticism“.  Using this as a defense against criticism just doesn’t work.  The Bible calls on us to actively check that what we hear is in accordance with the gospel. Conrad Mbewe makes this point brilliantly:

“Public teachers must be above reproach. That is one of their qualifications. If they meddle in heretical teaching or immoral living, they disqualify themselves. Thus, those of us who are aware of their devious dealings or dangerous teachings must sound the public alarm. We must warn the unwary lest they fall prey to them. Public sins must be rebuked publicly.

Paul named heretical teachers and wanted the church to keep a safe distance away from them. He wrote to Timothy saying, “But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:16-18). Was he “touching” the Lord’s anointed? No, but he was certainly publicly naming those who were teaching heresy…..

Paul rebuked Peter publicly when he acted in a disorderly manner and his behaviour was going to undermine the gospel. This was not even heresy—yet it had dangerous long-term effects….Evidently, Paul did not think that rebuking Peter publicly was touching the Lord’s anointed!”

We as Christians must really begin to know the gospel that we believe.  I suspect we are in a generation that assumes what the gospel is.  We were brought up in Christian homes and have lived with Christian jargon our entire lives.  We know how to talk the talk and walk the walk.  We can answer Sunday School questions without thought.  But do we really know the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The gospel of which Paul says:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. ” – Gal 1:6-8

Do we know the gospel enough to be able to discern when an “angel from heaven” preaches a different gospel? Here is why I think we may have difficulty to discerning between the authentic gospel and a fake gospel.

  1. A lot of us are second-hand readers of the Bible.  Our knowledge of the scriptures is sometimes based on what someone has told us.  There is no direct engagement with the scriptures.  In this case you can’t really check whether what is being said is in error because you don’t even know what the original source says.
  2. We have learnt a lot of unhelpful ways of reading the Bible.  I keep hearing the popular refrain “read your Bible…read your Bible” but I think there is an assumption that we all know how to read the Bible.  That would have been a fair assumption if not for the fact that the ways we hear the Bible being taught also teaches us how we read the Bible.  If we only see people pick one verse and come up with stunning conclusions seemingly out of the air,we will assume that is how verses should be read.  It has become incredibly normal to see Biblical verses used to justify all kinds of things and incredibly rare to see an actual exposition of a Biblical text.  The current approach to Bible reading is liking going to a marketplace.  You walk around examining the goods and picking what you like and leaving the rest.  At the end of the day the gospel becomes whatever creature you want it to be.  If we read the Bible in this way we are only reinforcing positions and ideas we already have instead of being challenged by scripture and being transformed by the word. A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text. 
  3. False teaching often tells us what we want hear to instead of instructing us in sound doctrine. In instructing a young preacher, Paul has this to say: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths 2 Tim 4:3.

When we are tempted to say Touch not the Lord’s anointed, let’s first try and out what exactly is being criticized.  Is just it just an unwarranted attack at a faithful servant of the Lord? or are legitimate questions being asked about the content of what is being preached as gospel?  Also before we launch into any “attack” on any Christian leader, are we doing so in a helpful, respectful constructive way that seeks to build up the church?

Something To Shout About

Here is an except from an article by Steven Harris (http://thefrontporch.org/2014/03/you-missed-your-place-to-shout-right-there/) which highlights one of the things I love about the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego story in Daniel.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan. 3:16-18).

A narrative analysis of this text as a whole would undoubtedly place the miraculous deliverance from the fiery furnace as the “climax” of the story – and rightfully so. However, there is something in the “rising action” that is almost a penultimate climax in and of itself. And this is found in the passage I referenced.

It is clear that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego possess something that many in our congregations do not – a right theology of Suffering. Let’s look at the following phrases: 1) “God…is able to deliver” 2) “…and he will deliver” 3) “But if not.” Contrary to the Word of Faith theologies of our day, the true depth of faith is revealed not in the first or second phrases, but in the third phrase.weak faith predicates its belief in the first phrase on the manifestation of the second. In other words, “I’ll believe He is able only if he delivers.” However, this is not the God presented in the Bible. Too often preachers speed by the third phrase, eager to get to the place where they can promise their congregants, “when you come out of your fire, you won’t even smell like smoke!” Sadly, this is not the point of the story, nor is it always true.

Now, I’m not saying that it is wrong to hope that God will deliver from earthly trials. The second phrase demonstrates that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had faith that God would do the same. But it is wrong to believe that God will always deliver from earthly suffering. They understood and believed in the sovereignty of God, and that He might just choose to demonstrate His glory in them by having them persevere in faith unto a fiery death. In doing so, He would have done them no wrong. Whether they lived or died, ultimately they were delivered – if not from this temporal fire, certainly from the eternal fire. That’s something to shout about!

Seeing the Bible as a whole

The Bible is made up of 66 books and connecting those books together and seeing how the tell one story is an extremely helpful tool when it comes to studying the Bible.   Justin Tayler provides Graeme Goldsworthy’s summaries on the main divisions in the Bible here.  

Too many times, we think of the gospel as a story that jumps from the Garden of Eden (we’ve all sinned) right to the cross (but Jesus fixes everything). On its own, that works fine in communicating the systematic points of our need for salvation and God’s provision in Christ, but from a biblical theological perspective, it doesn’t do justice to what’s actually in the text. Once a person becomes a Christian and cracks the Bible, they’re going to wonder what the big deal is about Israel and the covenant, since that storyline takes up roughly 75% of the Bible. Getting people into that story is important. As D.A. Carson says, the announcement is incoherent without it.

 

Every story has a main character. The Bible does too. It’s God. Specifically, it’s God as He reveals Himself to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Here’s what happens if we learn individual Bible stories and never connect them to the big Story. We put ourselves in the scene as if we are the main character. We take the moral examples of the Old and New Testament as if they were there to help us along in the life we’ve chosen for ourselves.

But the more we read the Bible, the more we see that God is the main character, not us. We are not the heroes learning to overcome all obstacles, persist in our faith, and call down fire from heaven. We’re the ones who need rescue, who need a Savior who will deliver us from Satan, sin, and death. It’s only in bowing before the real Hero of the story that we are in the right posture to take our place in the unfolding drama. Bearing in mind the big story of Scripture helps us keep our focus on Jesus, and off ourselves.

Quotes from http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2013/11/05/4-reasons-to-teach-the-bibles-storyline/

 

 

The need for theological preaching

I recently came across an article on http://www.thefrontporch.org  talking about “The need for theological preaching”.  Though its written from an African American context, I think the author, Tony Carter, makes some very valid points.  He writes that:

Churches do not suffer from a want of men to preach. They suffer from a want of men who preach sound, theological content. Today, preaching is still expected to be lofty and inspiring, but rarely is it filled with the weighty theology. Unfortunately, most preach with a mind toward moving people to dance, rather than moving people to think big about God, his person and purposes. Consequently, what we have in a great many churches is not preaching at all. We have an exposition of the preacher but not the Bible or the focus of the Bible, Jesus Christ.  Popular preaching today is filled with out-of-context promises but not the doctrine of the God of promises.

 

The bane of the pulpit today, and not only in African-American churches, is “a-theological” preaching. What I mean by “a-theological” preaching is this: weekly proclamation that is weakly presented because it is void of theological content. A-theological preaching tells you what God will do for you, but fails to tell you who God is. A-theological preaching tells you what God did for the preacher, but fails to clearly tell you what God has done in the finished work of Jesus Christ. A-theological preaching is driven by the emotion and personal reflections of the preacher and fueled by similar mundane sentiments from the congregation. Robert Smith, again warns us:

Pastors who are comfortable with the members of their churches checking their minds in the vestibule and entering into the sanctuary mindlessly prepare the worship atmosphere for spiritual excesses and biblically unwarranted emotional experiences. Preaching becomes incessant testimonies given from the pulpit that are totally divorced from the text and becomes promises put on their lips without a “thus sayeth the Lord” certitude. Before one can confidently say, “thus sayeth the Lord,” one has to know, “what sayeth the Lord.”

You can read the rest the article here http://thefrontporch.org/2013/10/the-need-for-theological-preaching/

 

The Bible Talks

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, 
for they received the message with great eagerness
and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” – Acts 17:11

A good thing about being a country that is predominantly christian is that everyone qoutes from the Bible.  Everyone. From the preacher to the ordinary man on the street.  From shop names like “With God all things are possible Hair Salon” to verses written on the back of taxis.  It seems everyone has at least one verse that they can add to spice up a conversation or at least make a piece of advice sound authentic.  On the surface, it gives a pretty good picture of how seriously people take the Bible and what it says until you start to pay attention to when and how the Bible is quoted.  Then the picture starts to become a little blurry.  Biblical texts are often times not only misquoted and misapplied but wielded as tool used to buttress one’s opinion.  Bible studies often become a case of different people saying different(and sometimes contradictory) meanings of a text and the one who wins is the person with the sharpest wit(or loudest voice) and largest number of quotations.  The case becomes even worse when the Bible study is around two verses with the rest of the chapter being totally ignored.  

I suspect this is partly because that is how we have seen the Bible being taught from the pulpit.  It is commonplace to see a preacher string up a bunch of verses to make up his point in a sermon.  Sometimes it is helpful and gives brilliant insights into a passage, sometimes the point being made is wise and good counsel but has nothing to do with the verses quoted except for perhaps a single word that links them, sometimes the point being made is just unhelpful and has nothing to do with the verses quoted.  Whatever the case may be, I sometimes get the feeling that sometimes the preacher decides and what to say and then goes in search of Bible verses to back up his point. I know lots of people in the congregation actually do just that. It will seem as if the meaning of a verse is dependent on the person quoting it.  When the Bible is used in this way, it becomes difficult to know whether it is the Bible that is speaking or it is the opinion of the person wielding it. 

Often when this happens, the preacher becomes the key to understanding what a passage means.  And sometimes there is such a disconnect between what the preacher says a verse means and what is actually there that it is impossible to understand a verse unless he gives his unique insight.  Again that is very good if the preacher is faithful to the passage but very harmful if the person is not.  It will be very naive to imagine that every preacher that stands on pulpit with a Bible is a faithful preacher of God’s word.  There are too many examples of people who have used the Bible for their own personal gain and we are even warned in God’s word that there will be false teachers who will twist God’s word for their own ends.  And I think this is when christians are called to be discerning about what they hear.
The Bereans in Acts are commended for not only receiving the gospel message as preached by Paul, but also examining to scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.  They checked to see if what Paul was saying was actually what the scriptures were saying.  When was the last time you examined the scriptures to check if what the preacher said was true.
Examining the scriptures means that we dig deeper into the passage and mine the riches that are to be found in God’s word.  It means we go beyond looking at verses in isolation and consider looking at the entire book to see how the verses fit together.  It means we search for the main point of a verse by searching for the main point of the chapter that contains the verse. This in turn means we search for the main point of the chapters by searching for the main point of the book that contains those chapters.  And searching for the main point of the book is searching for the author’s intent i.e. the reason why that book was written.  This is the foundation on which the chapters and the verses of the book is built on.  And that foundation is also built on Christ, the one that ALL of scripture centered on.

An important part of being faithful preacher of God’s word is proclaiming it as it was intended and not as we want it to be.  It is staying true to what scripture says and not bending it to our own interpretations.  Awhile ago during the elections in Ghana, a prominent preacher had some sermons he had done picked up by used in the political game.  He wasn’t too amused and made a statement that his words should not be taken out of context and used in a way that was never its intention.  It was quite the media hype.  My point for bringing that up is very simple. If we as human beings get offended and upset when we think people have taken what we have said out of context and are using it for their own ends, imagine what it means the take the very words of God and rip it out of context.  And I think in recent times where there are all sorts of people holding Bibles and claiming to be faithful preachers of the gospel, we as christians need to be discerning listeners of God’s word and adopt a Berean attitude when we listen to sermons.  It will benefit us a lot if we ask “Is that really what the scripture says?” instead of saying “This is what [insert name] said”.  

I will leave it hear with a very good qoute I came across… 

“When all your favorite preachers are gone, and all their books forgotten, you will have your Bible. Master it. Master it.”  — John Piper