A commenter on my previous post brought up what I think is one of the most frustrating and telling “bad fruits” of the natural tendency to “keep up appearances” when a rigid list of behaviors is imposed on groups of people based on the elements of “the flesh,” i.e., cultural and normalcy biases, human reasoning—and gender (not to mention lesser motivations…) particularly in religious systems, where grace can get lost in the mix.
One might paraphrase, “By bad fruits we shall know…too.”
This prompts me to share some thoughts on discernment based on an analogy that’s been on my mind lately.
SEEN AND UNSEEN
In addition to believing that God does not lie in His Word (yes, I’m a literalist when evaluating Scripture in context and in the original languages, and what I have learned in only my first forty years of growth and study has so far only strengthened this belief), I’m what you might call a “metaphorist,” too.
In this capacity, I’ve been lately pondering the comparison of visible light and the “spiritual light” of God’s Word.
Just as visible light has components that enable it to infuse the nooks and crannies of creation by virtue of the elements of intensity, frequency, polarization, and speed (the complete spectrum of which is not wholly visible to the human eye ) the perfect “light of God’s Word” infuses the entirety of spiritual creation, too, and an individual’s or a group’s “spiritual view” may not “see” all there is there, either.
Why not? Perhaps it’s not the “fullness of time,” for one example, for a revelation or visible manifestation of a prophecy or group of prophecies.
There are also “flesh reasons,” you might put it, for truncated or incorrect interpretation, such as “cherry-picking” Scripture to “fit” into the aforementioned “external framework” of argument, insufficient exegesis, assumption, or presumption–no matter what authorial position the interpreters or group of interpreters might represent or claim to represent.
We are all fallible.
But just what is it I am saying, here, in reference to the “male headship” teaching in the BMBW movement?
Just this: when we or someone (or “someones”) else put a cap on God’s Word from an external or mankind-centered motivation, though it might align somewhat or even entirely in some places with the full “intensity, frequency, polarization, and speed” of Scripture, THIS SHOULD BE A RED FLAG. Particularly when the “fruit” of the teaching, such as the frustration my commenter referenced, conflicts with the fruit we are to look for that stems from correct teaching and practice (see Galatians 5:22-23).
In other words, is a husband’s “Christ-type” positioning in a marriage, at least as is implied in advice to wives in the movement (see previous post), really a truth infused in all of Scripture, or has it been presumed so?
But how can we know what is the “light of God’s Word” versus mankind’s limited “light of understanding” in this, or any other teaching that emerges? This is my focus, today.
Encyclopedias of information exist on the properties of physical light. I noted only a few facts.
Likewise, spiritually speaking, as the famed Bereans illustrated (Acts 17:11), a careful study of God’s “light” might also require “discerning through” spiritual encyclopedias of information, if you will.
But, whew! How is ANYBODY, then, to “get it”! Particularly in view of the fact that we, as Paul metaphorized, “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) when it comes to our limited understanding of all things God on this side of the pearlies!
And who has time to do all that work?!
Thankfully, God also provides benchmarks, i.e., “spiritual best practices” and perspectives to help the discernment process.
Here are three key verses:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 54:1, NIV).
For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement (1 John 5:7-8).
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).
Next question: so how are we to know who is speaking in alignment and who is not? How are we to possibly be able to “prove all things” so that we can “hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)?
In addition to observing the afore-referenced “fruit of the spirit” emanating from aligned teachings and practices, here is another guideline when we don’t have the luxury of studying over time:
It’s not just about the text, it’s also about the context.
FOLLOW THE PROMPT
From my perch back in the English teacher’s classroom, this time the subject is literature, I offer this illustration.
When teaching students how to “unpack the prompt,” to discover fully the instructions for answering a test or assignment “question,” literature instructors stress the importance of proving one’s opinion with specific references—in appropriate context—to the text. This is critical for success.
In other words, a student might have a seemingly correct opinion as to some element or elements of a play, novel, essay, or poem, but without references to substantive elements in the work itself, he/she will have only accomplished half the assignment. It’s about opinion and adequate support.
How does this relate to discerning Scripture?
The answer circles back to the discipline of the Bereans: study.
But how is the average person, without a Bible degree of some sort, supposed to figure things out, then?!
Fortunately, God does not leave us without guidance here, either, particularly on occasions when we don’t have access to teachers, preachers, prophets, counselors, and so on.
Our help?: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jesus, as quoted in John 14:26).
(This teaching is not gender-specific nor gender-restricted, by the way.)
And over the years I have also employed this wise advice a pastor once gave:
If the focus is centered primarily on us and our behavior, be very careful, no matter how educated and/or well-meaning the preachers/teachers may be, or how big and/or well-financed the religious institution may be.
Conversely, if the focus is on Jesus Christ (the real Christ, not a christ proxy, a Christ type, or someone actually claiming to be Christ), this is teaching in the right direction.
And where is this verified in Scripture? “He (the Holy Spirit) will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (Jesus, as quoted in John 16:14).
But, you might now think, taking a little bit closer look, what does “glorify” mean, exactly?
And the Grand Adventure starts here, my friends: http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/doxazo.html …
But let me encourage you further.
LET HIM SHINE
As you follow Jesus’ prompts through the Holy Spirit infused in you at re-birth, sent to illuminate every “jot and tittle” of God’s Word, frustrations will ease, confusion will abate, and the joy and lightness of another kind, emanating from your relationship with the God who loves you inestimably more than even the elements of His exquisite creation, will “shine you through” to that day when every dark glass will be shattered, every false Christ vanquished, and in the company of all others who worship Him and Him alone you will bask forever in the eternal light of God’s love.
And I have faith that once “home” we will all find that it will have been well worth the study, the process—and the “unpacking.”
Photo from the public domain.
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