Saturday, February 24, 2007

Why do we need anyone else to instruct us?

A blogger-buddy of mine recently cautioned about using commentaries because of their biases, and asked why one would even need them if one had the Spirit within them. While I can appreciate what he’s saying, comments like this make me extremely nervous.


Because “why do I need a commentary” is far too close to “why do I need anyone to instruct me in the Word of God.”

But if we have the Holy Spirit - who is the author of all things within us, then where’s the danger? Why do we need anyone else to instruct us?

This question - “Why do we need anyone else to instruct us?” is what I’m going to address in this blog entry.

To start, if one doesn’t use any resources other than their own discernment because of concerns about the author of the resources, one also needs to look in the mirror and ask - “What biases do I have? Where do I walk astray?” One cannot assert that the counsel of others suffer from biases and yet maintain that their own personal, occasional studies of Scripture are without bias and error of their own.

And, as it turns out, there’s another danger we need to guard from.

Scripture repeatedly tells us that the things of God cannot be understood apart from the Spirit of God. So, it’s natural to assume that if we have the Spirit within us, then right understanding should follow.

However, the Spirit of God manifests Himself to different people differently with different measures. Part of that is due to the Spirit’s choice, but it’s also due to the “old Adam” each and every believer has within them on this side of eternity.

What is this “Old Adam”? None other than the sinful nature within each and every one of us. It manifests itself as a remarkable ability for even the greatest of believers to mess up, get things wrong, and fall prey to sin. As Paul writes about his own struggles:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Romans 7:14-19

As Paul writes about the Israelites:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:1-4

This is similar to the concern recorded in Hebrews about fellow believers:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:12

Why did the Israelites get it wrong? Because of unbelief.

Why will someone who walks their own path and relies on their private relationship with the Spirit get things wrong? Because of unbelief.

This old-Adam blindness of unbelief in non-believers shows itself in believers as a lack of faith - a condition Christ upbraided His disciples for time and time again, a problem that has plagued all believers over all time, and results in all manner of heresy and false doctrine that leads people away from Christ, not to Him. If the disciples of Christ could fall prey to unbelief, there’s no way anyone else can think they’re immune from unbelief either.

Now Christ, being part of the Godhead, and so being all-knowing, knew this would happen, and made provision to take care of this problem even before He took on human form. What was that provision? None other than for the Father to send another member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, otherwise known as the Comforter, to look out for and care for the flock Christ had laid His life down for.

These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-25

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” John 15:26

Now how the Holy Spirit does His work differs from the nature and manner of how Christ worked. The Spirit hasn’t come in bodily form, but lives in each believer, and works through different believers in different ways in a manner and nature of His choosing. Most importantly, though, is the fact that the Spirit does not bestow the gifts He has to give equally to all people.

For instance, just as the Old Testament Levitical tribe was established to care for Israel’s religious needs, the Holy Spirit has established a distinct calling for people who He works through for the care-taking of the people of God. These people went by a number of different titles in New Testament times - among which were overseers, apostles and elders.

Today we generally call them “pastors.”

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Acts 20:28

Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ [...] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Eph 4:8,11-16

(As a brief aside, this illustrates the timeless nature of God - because Ephesians 4:8 is actually a quotation of Psalm 68:18 - which was written generations before during the time of David.)

From this passage we can see that not only are Pastors a visible manifestation of the Spirit working among the people of God, but also that faithful pastors are to be considered gifts from God. Not only that, but if one considers Paul to be a prototype of what a pastor’s supposed to be, then they are Christ’s ambassadors to His people, through whom He makes His appeal (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Therefore, if pastors are one of God’s chosen means of caring for His flock in this world, we as believers walk a dangerous path if we choose to ignore them and presume to interpret the things of God for ourselves in isolation from how the Spirit provides for and protects us during our walk on this earth.

So in summary -

First, if one doesn’t use any resources because of the potential biases of their author(s), one needs to look in the mirror and make sure there’s no error in the person looking back at you.

Second, the Holy Spirit has provided for pastors to look out for and care for the members of His flock, and keep them walking in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, and provide discernment for the members of his flock. These pastors are a means the Spirit has provided for believers to consult about matters of faith, and can be relied on to tell you what are good resources to read and what should be avoided.

Finally, a good commentary - or any other resource - written by a faithful servant of God in accordance with the leading of the Spirit, can be extremely useful for instruction and further understanding God’s Word. Bad commentaries, like any other resource that points other than to Christ, are to be avoided.


Kelly Klages said...

Good post. Particularly notable is how the "reading the Bible just between me and the Holy Spirit" mentality can lead to the strange conclusion that we shouldn't have to listen to others who also have the "Spirit of discernment"! Now, believers with this worldview certainly do listen to other believers on a variety of matters because they desire encouragement and to be built up in the Holy Spirit. So why would they make this exception when it comes to discerning the truth of God's Word?

I've come into contact with a variety of Bible interpretation programs and books that claim to teach you to read the Bible "for yourself" so you don't have to rely on "biased" commentaries. They acknowledge that just because a believer has the Holy Spirit, this doesn't mean they'll automatically be right in all their interpretations-- the very existence of thousands of denominations proves that-- so they would say that such people with shoddy interpretations just need a little help in learning a few basic hermeneutical principles, and then they can safely be left on their own. Of course, this doesn't solve the problem of correct interpretation. Plenty of people who follow these "basic" principles are still in huge disagreement with each other.

I guess it all comes down to making faith individualistic. People are simply scared at the prospect of being told what's true, and need to assert the "must learn for myself on my own" principle. But there's really no such thing. They *say* that they don't want biased interpretation, but then they go to a Bible study that, although it may claim not to have a specific doctrinal affiliation, still has clear doctrinal presuppositions. No Bible study can really avoid that, no matter how objective it claims to be. And any such leaders are being deceitful if they think or teach that they have no biases and are "just going by what the Bible says."

Tim Kuehn said...

Hi Kelly - and thanks for the comment.

If everyone interpreted Scripture for themselves, imagine the chaos of different interpretations there would be.

Oh wait - that's why we have so many denominations.

Never mind. :)