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Friday, April 15, 2016

Full Circle?

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther published his 95 Theses by nailing the document to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg.  He was angry.  The Pope was misrepresenting the Bible and Catholic doctrine for the purposes of financial gain so that he could finish building St. Peter’s Basilica.  At the time, the Scripture was the domain of the academics and the priests.  The common people did not have access to the Word.
Full Circle?
Nineteen years later on October 6, 1536, William Tyndale was tied to a stake in the prison yard where he has been held for the past 500 days.  Oil was poured on his hands and then scraped off, signifying his removal from the priesthood.  The executioner then strangled him.  He was then burned at the stake.  Why?  He had translated much of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English.  In so doing he has given the common folk the ability to read the Bible in their own language for the first time.  Thus they were no longer dependent on the priests for the Word of God.

I have a ThM, Master of Theology.  I earned that degree at Dallas Theological Seminary; long story.  I owe the seminary and the professors there profound gratitude for what I learned in those 4 years.  I have used some aspect of that work every day for the last 25 years.

Recently I have begun to read through Lewis Sperry Chafer’s, the founder of DTS, Systematic Theology. While I have used various parts of the work over the years I have not read the eight volumes cover to cover (technically seven volumes, volume eight is an index).  I am working through the preface at the moment, parts of which I have previously read and used.  It is challenging and beneficial and I am looking forward to finishing the project.

I have been concerned for some time with what I have observed in the Church.  There is an emphasis on preaching and an elevation of the role of the preacher that seems to be, at some level, at odds with how I currently understand the text of the Bible.  I have heard prominent ministers declare that the role of men in their families is to come to the church and listen to the preacher and take that message back to their families and teach it to them.  I did not believe what I heard so I bought the book and the same message was found in its pages.

Chafer’s preface references Ephesians 4:11 – 12 as the role of the pastor – I do not understand why he stopped at 12.  The thought is not complete until verse 16, but I cannot ask him.  He rightfully suggests that the role of the pastor is to equip the saints for the work of service, but there seems to be elements of that same notion of the preacher being the one who dispenses the truth.  The study of the Scripture seems to be, in his mind, the primary domain of the pastor and seminary professors.  At some level this is true, or at least is should be.  Pastors and professors should dedicate themselves to accurate exegetical study of the Word of God.

However, if I am reading Matthew 28:18 – 20 correctly, the Lord’s expectation is that we are to teach disciples ALL that He taught (emphasis added).  That would seem to include equipping in studying the Bible well and deeply.  Not to do so seems to put us back into a situation similar to what Luther and Tyndale faced.  The difference being that we have multiple translations of the Scripture – the challenge being that we are not doing a very good job of equipping the saints to study on their own.

I work with a pastor in a country that is hostile to Christianity.  Members of some of his underground churches have been arrested and imprisoned for their faith.  One of my trips to visit him was to equip the people in the several underground churches he serves to study the Bible on their own.  By the way there are no seminaries in that country, no professors, no theological libraries.  The purpose of the trip was to equip those in his churches to be able to stand on their own in their study of the Scripture, when he is arrested.

We live in an environment that is relatively unique in the world.  There are many seminaries.  Many professors, many pastors who study.  That is not the case in much of the world.  It will more than likely not be the case here interminably.

When the seminaries are shut down, the pastors jailed or executed, the Christian bookstores destroyed and the books burned, when people have to huddle together secretly in order to worship Christ, when all they have is their Bible, or a portion thereof, if they do not know how to study on their own, how then will the Church grow.

PS. This is the longest break in this blog.  The reason, my daughter had her third child Monday, and my wife and I have been helping.  I should be back to daily now.

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