Biblical Interpretation

One of the consequences of the Reformation is that everybody has becomes their own interpreter for the Bible. This has led to numerous cults and sects within the general umbrella of those claiming to be Christian. Effectively this has subverted the truth claims of the Church since we do not proclaim the truth with one voice. Division is the enemy of truth.

Since different doctrines lead to division, should we not jettison doctrine? No, this is not the solution, since without doctrine we would definitely enter the wild wild west of personal theology. Doctrine is obviously key to the understanding of God, without it we would be left to our own imagination. The key is to determine which doctrine is critical and which doctrine is inconsequential. As Christians we should not be divided over every difference between us.

Some might argue that every point of doctrine is critical and to not uphold even one them would be heresy. Although I would never argue that we should just ignore a certain point of doctrine, there are clearly things that  are more important to God. In Micah 6:6-8 it says, "Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams... He has told you, O man, what is good... To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Part of the doctrine of the Israelites was to offer sacrifices to God, but this was not the most important thing to God, He would rather them act properly. This same principal is also found in the New Testament where Jesus says:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matt. 23:23-24)"
Not all doctrine is as important as others, but if we neglect a more important doctrine for a lesser one than we are hypocrites. Unity between Christians is one of the most important doctrines but we often ignore it for petty little differences. Unless we want to be guilty of teaching as doctrines the commandments of men, we should be very careful in our interpretation.

Paul sets out in his letter to the Corinthians that we should not be following doctrines taught by men.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you... What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? (1 Cor. 1:10 - 13)
He even states that we should not be claiming to follow Jesus Christ and using that as a reason to divide. Unfortunately there are times when we must divide, and that is when the person and work of Jesus Christ is attacked: The person of Jesus Christ is attacked when people deny essential characteristics, such as, He is both God and man. The work of Jesus Christ is attacked when people deny the sufficiency of it, such as, you must also work to gain your salvation. Most divisions, however, occur because of interpretive differences in "grey" areas.

Every teacher must admit that they are teaching their interpretation of the Bible. If they claim their interpretation (or someone else's) is 100% correct we know that they do not have the humility necessary  to know God. To say your interpretation is perfect is to say that you have a perfect understanding of God. None of us can say this except Jesus Christ. The Bible contains mysteries that are not understandable, but not irrational, to remind us that we are not God (1 Cor 1:26-31).

Teachers must also abide by the admonition of Paul to "not go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6-7)." There are some doctrines that are not explicit in Scripture, but seem to be the best interpretation of the evidence. However likely the interpretation may be, it is important to remember that we cannot be 100% certain of it, nor should we divide because of it.

Finally, if our interpretations are incorrect we will suffer loss, but if our interpretations destroy the church will be destroyed.
If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:17).


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