Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reading the 'non-existent' into the text

It happens a lot! Christians reading things into the text of Scripture that clearly are not there!

I am on the executive of a Christian political party here in South Africa, and the other day in an opening address the speaker said that he is so involved in the
party that wherever he reads in the Bible he sees the party. He said that he can see the Bible saying things about the party everywhere in the Bible!

I sat there co
mpletely shocked while, it seems, everybody shouted "Amen!" I must admit, I am still to meet a non-charismatic in the party. I suppose that says it all! The viewpoint that this speaker expressed so clouds his mind, that I find it difficult to believe that he can read a Biblical theology from the pages of Scripture!

The problem is that this happens all the time in the church. Not just in the charismatic church, but among evangelicals of all stripes! So often, preachers (and those who call themselves teachers) come with a great sermon that is not in the text at all! The fact is, they would read the text to the whole church, and then continue to set their preconceived overlay over the text, thus nullifying the very text they preach from! Instead of preaching from the text, they simply use it as a pretext in order to proclaim their own ideas that are not found in the text. At least they could claim to have read from the Bible. Actually, they do not preach the unadulterated Word of God, but rather the overlay that they brought to the text!

These preachers simply do not take God or His Word seriously! When our sermons cannot be substantiated by the text, we are, in effect, putting words in God's mouth, and as a result make Him a liar! When we do not take the time to study the Word of God and to use proper standards of Biblical interpretation when we prepare our sermons, what does that say about our respect for God? It is exactly because preachers do not respect God's Word that they would preach from a passage, a message that does not originate from that passage.

Mark Dever preached an excellent sermon on Expositional Preaching at the Grace Minister's Conference, 2007, in South Africa. In it he
shows how today's churches try to attract people through all kinds of schemes and programs. Here is a short audio clip from that sermon. This is the type of hype that many preachers get into in order to get people to stay at their churches. I surmise that preaching that is not based on the actual text falls in the same category. Download the clip or listen to it online:

This happened at church this last weekend when the pastor preached on John 10:27, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." I am sure you can already see where this is going! If you can't, then you have never sat through a sermon in a charismatic church!

This verse was used as a proof text that God still speaks today. This is how the sermon starts:

"Nature is wonderful! Even more wonderful is our Creator God who made it all! Many animals such as whales and a number of bird species have inbuilt guidance systems which humans have still not figured out. This enables them to find their way to breeding and feeding grounds over thousands of kilometers with pinpoint accuracy. Some inner voice or instinct guides them with great precision. Would we think it strange that God also provides and plans for His children to be guided on the path of life? I think not. We would expect nothing less. And indeed He guides and leads us by His voice and His word!"

When we look at the passage at hand, we realize that Jesus said these words in the midst of two metaphors, The Good Shepherd and The Door, which clearly should give guidance when this passage is interpreted.

After Jesus gave them the first parable, talking about the gate keeper, and the fact that the shepherd of the sheep comes through the door, it seemed that the people di
d not understand His figure of speech.

In order to make it easier for them to understand, Jesus gave them two more parables.

The first parable is that of The Door:

(7) So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. (8) All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. (9) I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (10) The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
(Jn 10:7-10)

point that Jesus made here is that salvation comes only by entering through the correct door. There is only one door and that door is Christ Himself. All others claiming to give entrance to salvation are thieves and robbers. Entrance into salvation is through Christ alone.

The second is the parable of The Good Shepherd:

(11) I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (12) He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. (13) He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (14) I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (15) just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (16) And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (17) For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. (18) No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
(Jn 10:11-18)

s continued with His theme of salvation. It is the Good Shepherd that lay his life down for the sheep. It is in this context that Jesus started using the idea of His sheep listening to His voice. Jesus bound the fact that the Father knows Him and He knows the Father to the fact that He lay down His life for the sheep. Based on the fact that He lay down His life for the sheep, He pointed out that there were sheep not of this (Jewish) fold. These sheep had to be brought into the fold (salvation) too, but there was no problem, since they would listen to His voice. When that call for salvation came to them, they would hear and come!

This is where the crunch comes! When Jesus said in verse 27 that His sheep hear His voice and they know Him and follow Him, did He mean what charismatics mean by these words, that Jesus speaks to us daily and we must just listen for His voice in order to do His will daily? No! That is a gross misrepresentation of this passage and puts words in God's mouth which He did not say in this passage!

From the context thus far, we have learnt that Jesus was speaking about salvation, and His call to salvation upon the hearts of His own sheep!

So, just to reiterate the point, when the Jews asked Jesus whether He was the Christ or not, He replied to them:
"[25] I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, [26] but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." (Jn 10:25-28)
Jesus simply told them that the reason why they did not believe was that they weren't part of His flock. Jesus is very particular in what He told them. Note that He did NOT say that they were not part of His flock because they did not believe! The reason they did not believe was that they were not part of His flock.

It is in this context of salvation that Jesus made it clear, that at the call of salvation, His sheep will hear His voice and follow Him. Only His sheep, whom He knows, will hear His voice, and He will give them eternal life!

Based on the charismatic understanding of this passage, all kinds of statements are made. One of them is that we "must be tuned in to the Holy Spirit like a radio is tuned in to the correct frequency." I am just wondering, if God is so powerful, how is it that He cannot speak to us unless we are on the right frequency? I did not know that there was a frequency that God was on! Does it work like the red presidential phone, that we can only reach Him on that line? All I know is that the God I serve will be heard when He speaks, no matter what frequency we are on! If He could step into the lives of men ever since the beginning of mankind, while making Himself heard, how is it that He has lost that ability?

Another statement that is related to the first, is that "God is speaking all the time. We must just take the time to sit down and listen to Him!" I find this to be utter nonsense! If the God who created language, is incapable to speak to me, why must I even serve Him? It is a total misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God that leads to such nonsensical statements. When God spoke to Abraham in Gen 12, we do not find any clue that he was tuned into the correct frequency, or that he had the right attitude in order to hear God! Yet, when God spoke Abraham heard. There are ample examples throughout the Bible which will make it clear that God is heard when He speaks without some spiritual preparation before the event. If God wants to be heard, does it not make sense that He will also ensure that He is heard?

So, to conclude, we find that this passage that is so widely used by charismatics, especially to teach that God still speaks to us today, actually does not convey that meaning at all. It simply speaks of Jesus calling His sheep towards salvation, whom, by the way, will hear His voice and will follow Him.

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