Aristotle on Bible Study and Systematic Theology

“It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision for which the nature of the subject admits, rather than to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible.”

Aristotle 384-322 BC

Aristotle wasn’t a follower of Jesus.  He lived 300+ years before Jesus was born.  But he was a pretty smart guy.  Since the above quote is a mouthful and wasn’t written with Bible Study in mind, I would like to rephrase it and make a point that will help us in our daily Bible study.

How about:

“Speak where the Bible Speaks and Be Silent where the Bible is Silent.”

Or, “Don’t make the Bible say what it doesn’t say!”

Many of the teachings that have divided God’s church originate from someone’s interpretation or opinion of a Bible doctrine that they forced on others.  God has revealed a lot but only a certain amount.  When we go past that revelation and then tell others they are going to Hell for not arriving at our same conclusions, we are in trouble.

For the sake of having a consistent systematic theology, or sometimes to win arguments and debates, we arrive at dubious conclusions.  We often make the Bible be specific about something for our sake, when God has left it vague.

Whether it’s human nature or our western Greek heritage, we like everything neatly organized in lists, charts, and categories.  But sadly, we crave that so much, that we often abuse the Word of God to make things fit.

I am not totally against a systematic view of Scripture.  There is a great benefit in that.  But too often, it comes down to spending a lot of time and focusing on things that God either didn’t say explicity or didn’t say at all.

We need, like Aristotle, to be satisfied with the “degree of precision” of God’s revelation on any given subject, and not try to force some precision for precision’s sake.

I am not saying we should give up short of an exhaustive and comprehensive study to make sure we know what God has revealed, but I suggest caution in our conclusions.

Beloved Followers, Stop Worshipping Me

Dear ones,

It has come to my attention that some of you like to worship me as it relates to the fact of my incarnation during the month of December.  Please stop. I never told you it was okay.

Feel free to focus on that important point in our story of redemption other times of the year, just not around the end of the year.

Even though it was an amazing,  miraculous act of love.  Even though it represents what I gave up for you.  Even though it is so wonderfully complex and important.  Don’t worship me pertaining to that for a few weeks in December, okay?

When others are talking about it, emphasizing it, and getting excited about Me, please restrain yourself.  Practice some self-control and wait until spring.

Even if joy, wonder, and amazement well up inside of you, don’t give in.  Just continue on like normal, as if nothing happened.

This might require turning off the radio at certain times and avoiding certan hymns in your books and certain people who won’t obey this command.  Whatever happens, resist the temptation.

I hope you understand,

your Lord and Savior

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I was wondering if that argument made anymore sense if put explicitly in Jesus’ words.

Nope, it doesn’t.

I am Thankful…

…that I don’t have swine flu.

…watching my kids play with people who played with me when I was their age.

…my blogging friends.

…that the security/TSA officer used the back of his hands when frisking my “sensitive areas” at the Newark Airport.

…seeing church family who knew my parents.

…going to my Uncle Tom’s cabin in Bowling Green to see half my family for Thanksgiving day.

…getting to visit with high school friends and see their new baby.

…a Sunday when I can be fed instead of feeding.  Plus sit with my wife and family the entire time.

…my church home in New Jersey.

…to worship with the congregation that supported me while in Italy and at Harding.

…celebrating 9 years of marriage with my great wife yesterday.

…that I will be able to be at Tulsa this spring, thanks to my church.

…in-laws who used their skymiles to gift us plane tickets to see my family.

…good food.

…my sister and her family.

…Father, Son, and Spirit.

…the Cross.

Christians Against Christmas-GA, November 2009

I feel a little more emotional about this one because it involves people forbidding worship.  I can understand concerns about how to worship but can’t relate to issues of when.

I do understand that there are degrees, while some are against singing “Happy Birthday, Jesus” with a full-scale pageant, others would be okay with simply preaching on the incarnation in December.

Barry Baggott, in his article, “‘Tis the Season” gives these reasons not to celebrate Christmas:

We are not told to do so

Do we need to be told to worship Jesus?  I understand he is dealing with specifics.  We were not told to emphasize the birth/incarnation on December 25th or on any particular day.  But why does that exclude doing what we are expected/commanded to do whenever we do it.  Just because some are doing it annually, why must we refrain at that particular moment?

Couldn’t the “expediency” argument enter in here?

We have no Apostolic Example

(see above)  We have examples for worshipping Jesus.  Where does the Bible teach that it is right sometimes and wrong sometimes?

This section which includes the Reformation leaders reaction to Catholicism many holy days.

We are following human tradition

The root of this concept bothers me:  “We shouldn’t do something because the denominations do it.”  We talk big about having the Bible as our only guide, yet so much of our teaching/practice seems to be based on not being like the denominations, or reactionary as some of you commenters have pointed out.  Baggott refers to “the world” but means denominations, I assume.

Here is a general truism that we have to learn:

Something is not wrong just because the Baptists do it.

I have a hard time understanding and accepting this reasoning, can some one help me out?

“Another argument one hears is simply: ‘the birth of Christ is in the Bible, so that means celebrating Christmas is biblical.’  That same line of reasoning would allow one to say that “the Bible tells about the virgin Mary, so that means it is biblical to pray to her.’

There is no example of praying to Mary.  There are numerous examples of worshipping Baby Jesus.

So, I am among those who feel that Matthew 2:10-11 and Luke 2 are example enough to make a big deal about the incarnation, whether that is in December or any other time of the year.  I don’t understand why it is wrong on any given day. It’s the refraining that I can’t comprehend.

Then, Brother Baggott deals with Romans chapter 14.

His first point suggests that while the context talks about Jewish holy days (agreed) there can be no application to future Christian holy days (why not?).  off topic–More irony here is that wine comes up again as a matter of opinion in chapter 14.

His second point is that Romans 14 deals with personal/private matters and not assemblies/congregational matters.    He concedes that an individual Christian can observe such a holiday as Christmas and Easter but it becomes wrong when a church does it because it will be forced on others.

Okay, but….what about congregational autonomy?  There are some congregations in which no one has a problem with it.

We have an area-wide singing each December that is not intended to be a Holiday/Christmas program, but a time for fellowship and worship.  We do usually sing a few nativity hymns, as well as hymns dealing with every part of Jesus’ life.  Some don’t come.  Some accuse us or assume it is a “traditional” Christmas program.   They miss out.  That’s okay.  No one is forced to come.

We received a phone call the first December we lived here from a small, conservative group of brethren who are near us.  I had unknowingly sent them a flier/invite to our singing fellowship.  Unfortunately, my wife picked up the phone that day and received a tirade about our “Christmas program.”

I will never understand Christians being mad about other Christians worshipping Jesus at the “wrong time”.

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Questions I would like answered:

When–what months–is it okay to “celebrate” the birth of Jesus?

By celebrate, I simply mean sing the hymns, study the texts, meditate on implications, be in awe at what God and Jesus have done.

Would it be okay to focus on the birth every July?

Is it okay to do it regularly, just not on the same day or month every year so that people won’t think we have made it a holiday?

If you are against focusing on the birth of Jesus the same time of each year, do you participate in Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Thanksgiving themed services annually?

I intend no sarcasm or mean-spiritedness in these questions.  I realize the questions and my blogging habits might confuse, but I sincerely would like to hear more than a couple of passages such as Galatians 4:10-11 to condemn this practice.

Religious Authority: Does Your Standard Measure Up? GA-NOV

Why is the Bible our Authority? by Dan Owen, p. 12

This is a really good article about the authority of the Apostles (not just because Dan Owen is from Paducah).  He doesn’t refer to the mentality, but some seem to think that what Jesus said in red has more authority than what the Apostles wrote.  But Owen does a good job showing how the NT writers were speaking for Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

The Berean Yardstick by David Gibson, p. 14

This article is not much different from the first except for an amazing bit of irony.  He makes a great point about the standard that exists.  He also brings up Acts 17:11-12, the Berean example of studying to make sure the things Paul had taught were true.  In my opinion, and from the perspective of many others, that is exactly what many Church of Christ members have done with traditions and teachings which have existed among us for a long time.  It is the same attitude of the Bereans and the Campbells to re-evaluate our understandings based solely on the Word of God and then make changes.

Many whom the GA would consider liberal/progressive/emergent are actually following this example.  They have not rejected the standard of Scripture as THE Authority.  They have studied the Scripture to make sure the teachings of previous generations are true, and found them lacking or outright wrong.

The All-Sufficiency of Scripture by Sellers Crain, Jr., p. 16

In another interesting piece of quoting, Craddock said, “Never in the history of the church have so many periods slumped into commas, and so many triumphant exclamation points curled into question marks.”  Yes, but Craddock would be surprised at some of Crain’s periods and exclamation points.

There are two parts to this article.  One dealing with hermeneutic (FINALLY!) and the second half dealing with views of inspiration.  Interpretation truly is the issue.  Many have rejected conclusions of CENI (command, example, necessary inference, or in Italian, second person singular of cenare, “to dine”) and others have rejected parts of it or all of it.

A hermeneutic is like a language.  The miscommunication that arises when discussing instrumental music or the 5 Acts of Worship comes when one person is speaking French and the other is speaking Chinese.

Until/unless our basic, foundational presuppositions are resolved, the gulf will grow greater.  The dialogue is minimal.  Texts are fired at each other from a distance with disdain.  Each side grows weary of rehashing the same arguments and misunderstanding, and sadly, we tire of each other.

The Question of Authority by Alvin Jennings, p. 19

He gives a list of the usual suspects (Lord’s Supper, worship assembly, etc.) which are all important, but simply writes our unwritten creed on these topics. This is after a fantastic quote: “Perhaps of greater importance for those of us who worship in the body of Christ are some basic principles of discernment or interpretation of biblical authority.”  Yes!… but then we get Gopher Wood.

A good example  (which I am stealing from someone I can’t remember) to show the inconsistency of CENI is what the Bible teaches about sickness.  James 5:14 says to call the elders to pray over the sick person and anoint him with oil.  Paul tells Timothy to use wine for his stomache issue.  Anointing with oil and drinking wine are two things that will get you in trouble with many churches of Christ.  Yet we rationalize that it is okay to call 911, visit a doctor, and take anti-biotics.

We don’t invoke the prohibition of silence.  We rationalize what seems right, and would look at someone cross-eyed if they thought it was wrong to see a doctor or take medicine on religious grounds.

The is my concern with “necessary inference.”  Too much subjective reasoning enters in.  What appears necessary to me, doesn’t to you, and vice-versa.

Generic and Specific authority.  Gopher wood.  Nadab and Abihu.  Expediency.  Sigh.

Not helping the issue.  Just ways we defend our traditions and opinions and attempt to enforce them on others.

Authority in Christianity by Phil Sanders, p. 22

Brother Sanders makes good points about the necessity for standard and the rebellious spirit that exists in all humans.  Submission to God’s Word is key.

The problem as usual, is assuming that people who disagree with me are in rebellion to Scripture.  He says, “Amazingly, some people read God’s will in the Bible and still do and believe what they want.”  Well, yes, this is true of most of us at some point.  He lists views of denominations, modes of baptism, and instrumental music as examples.  Without commenting on those specific issues, we have to realize that we all struggle with that.  Men who are just as sincere, honest, and godly as Sanders believe differently.  We have to recognize that.

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Epilogue:

I believe in the authority of Scripture.

I also believe in the Fallenness of mankind because of Adam’s sin.  I believe that our minds are just as messed up as our bodies because of the Fall.

I don’t believe a perfect understanding of the Bible is necessary for salvation.  Neither do I believe that a perfect agreement with ME is necessary for either fellowship or salvation.

I believe we have been inconsistent with our hermeneutics, which has opened enough doubt to cause us to re-evaluate, be Bereans, seek even older paths concerning Church of Christ doctrine and tradition.

I know that some in churches of Christ have developed a Catholic concept of having to have the imprimatur of some preacher, periodical or college for books or ideas in order to even read or consider them.  What I mean is, some understand faithfulness as not reading or considering anything different from what has been taught or believe in my circles for the last few generations.

Others will consider, but only to debate and defeat.  And some sincerely and honestly will disagree because of the language difference. I am not referring to one side or another, just all of us in general.

I think that interpretation is not” perhaps”, but indeed the second most important thing.

The first, IMHO, is LOVE!

Love is patient and kind.  Love wants to understand.  As Phil Sanders states, concerning God, “Love always listens.”