Here’s the three methods of interpretation that I’ve mentioned. Again, there are others. These just happen to be the three that I am most familiar with. The first is the traditional Church of Christ method – Command, Example and Necessary Inference. The second is developed and published by F. Legard Smith in his book The Cultural Church – Purpose, Principle and Precedent. The third was offered by Al Maxey in his article “Regulative or Reflective,” published in the New Wineskins magazine. (Though doesn’t say where it originated he denies ownership of the idea). It’s interesting to note that on the Conservative-Liberal continuum, each of the three methods represent a broad spectrum of views. The more conservative of course is C.E.N.I. Somewhere in the middle (meaning it aggravates “conservatives”, but doesn’t fully reach “liberals”) is Smith’s model. Then finally is the model presented by Maxey. Bear in mind that I haven’t done any formal research, but it does seem like these three models cover the thoughts and impression of those affiliated with the Churches of Christ.
That having been said, here’s a question I have. Why was I only taught one of these models growing up? Now that I’m older this bothers me. I say that, not because I missed out on something, but because it’s reflective of the mainline traditional thought. Here’s what it seems to reflect: a sectarian nature that says that this is the only way to interpret the Bible and we dare not challenge or offer to change our methods.
To me this seems to demonstrate two unfortunate realities. First, we have maintained and promoted ignorance. Since when is it good to not challenge our thoughts – if only to be sure that our thoughts are honoring God? Second, we did in fact at some point in our past, become a denomination. Here’s what I mean: if, as a group, we say that our way is the way to do something and in order to be part of our group you must do it this way – how is that not denominationalism? We have done informally what the Catholic Church does through the Vatican and the Southern Baptist denomination does through their Southern Baptist Convention. The only difference is that where the Vatican uses fear-based authority to motivate obedience and the SBC uses the more American form of democracy during their meeting, we use our bully pulpits – also known as The Firm Foundation, The Gospel Advocate, Spiritual Sword and our college lectureships. It’s at these points of dissemination that we declare our denominational values and admonish those who refuse get on board.
Getting back on track: what has caused this? Specifically, back to the original point, what has created the environment where we ignore or refuse to consider other methods of interpretation? Well, there’s more than one factor. And the many factors that created this attitude and culture came together long before our parents and grandparents were even alive. But here what I think are the two over-riding principles that allow it to continue today. First, we have developed in our minds how things ought to be; and accepting or even considering another model for interpretation the Bible threatens to uproot and destroy what we have come to rely on and base our religious existence upon. See, in this way, we have reverted back to the Israelites of the NT who based their identity upon tangible things like the Temple, their History and Customs, their Land, etc. We have come to base our faith on doing religion correctly rather than loving God with all our Heart, Soul and Strength (Matthew 22:36-40).
Secondly (and the lesser of the two), we’re scared. We are scared of what people might think, say and do. We simply are more worried about people’s reaction and rocking the boat than we are of God’s reaction. We don’t want to be exiled from our friends and family. If were in the public spotlight as a Preacher, we don’t want to be mentioned in the monthly area Preachers’ Meetings or worse, lumped in with names like Shelly, Lucado and Atchely who are routinely used as punching bags when someone wants to write about the downfall of the Church in the Gospel Advocate or other magazine.
This all having been said, in the next post we will take our methods on a test run with one of our sacred cows – musical instruments. Whatever the results come out to be doesn’t mean we have to accept them, it will just show to serve how things can change depending on the glasses that we choose to wear as we read the Bible.