Rediscovering Jesus – Rediscovering the Bible (Part 2)

Fresh out of homeschooled high school, and because our cultic group rejected traditional higher education, I was pursuing some online college-like classes through Bill Gothard’s Institute. The stress of assignments, deadlines, and a demanding English teacher was hard enough. But, the impossible task ahead of me put me over the edge.

books-2546038_1920Two of my classes asked me to go point by point through the Basic and Advanced Seminars and use the Bible to prove them true. At first, I genuinely tried to complete the assignments, but I struggled to find verses that actually matched the things Gothard claimed. Eventually, as deadlines loomed and tasks piled up, I grabbed our trusty Strong’s Concordance. Every godly family had one of these enormous, ten-pound books. I started looking up specific key words, searching for a verse that I could tweak or write out just enough to make it sound right and use it.

Surprisingly, my online teacher never corrected me.

As I continued to use this method to “prove” the Seminars’ points, I started to get suspicious. I wasn’t finding anything genuine to back up this supposed truth. What if this was the way everything had been proven originally? Ironically, the very education that was supposed to protect me from backsliding in a secular college environment planted the seeds of doubts that eventually freed me from my cult.

Unfortunately, it’s not just Christian cults that use the Bible out of context. It happens all the time within the normal church.

Have you ever heard someone quote the verse, “By his stripes we are healed” when they are praying for physical healing for someone? It’s a pretty popular one. However, if you look up the actual passage in Isaiah 53, you will find that the whole chapter is a prophecy of the coming Savior. It clearly shows that he is going to suffer and die so that our sins can be forgiven. In its entirety verse 5 reads like this: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

We cannot grab those six words out of the rest of the verse and claim that God has promised to heal our physical ailments. He has done one better. He has forever healed our sins and removed our separation from God. God has brought us back into a relationship with Him, if we will chose to believe in the name of His Son!

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I wish this context problem was an exception, but it’s not. I hear verses taken out of context all the time. Just recently I was doing a popular women’s Bible study with a group of friends. After we read a chunk of Scripture the author was using to make a point, we stopped and looked again. When we backed up and read the previous verses, it was obvious that the author hadn’t considered context. Not that her point was necessarily wrong…it just couldn’t be backed up with this particular Scripture passage.

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Just because someone uses a Bible verse to prove a point doesn’t make them right. If we are going to find the truth, it’s absolutely vital that we understand what the Bible is and why it was written. We must consider the original audience, each author’s intent, and the surrounding verses and chapters. If we want to avoid lies and abuse, we must know the Bible for ourselves.

I realize that I am kind of hardcore on this topic of context, and sometimes I can overreact. But if you’d been lied to for over a decade by someone who claimed to be getting truths from God’s Word, you might be a little sensitive too. 😉

If you are curious, I wrote more about the topic of context in my post “But God is Not a Vending Machine…

Part three coming tomorrow!

But God is Not a Vending Machine…

Reblogged with a few tweeks from last year because I needed to hear this again!

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It’s easy to say that we believe God is all-powerful and that He has the ability to intervene on our behalf. But what about when He doesn’t?

When a young couple, serving on the mission field, looses their healthy, newborn son to unforeseen complications, after two previous miscarriages… When a wonderful, loving pastor’s wife suddenly dies… When a family battling cancer with their teenage son finds out their second son also has cancer…

Really, God? If you are really in control and absolutely powerful, why would these things happen?

If we are honest, we will admit that we have all been there. Something falls apart, or a prayer doesn’t get answered, or a tragedy happens, and we start wondering: Is God really real? Is He really in control? Is He really good? Am I believing a lie?

vendingmachine_lead1 There are plenty of examples of miracles in the Bible, and we hear modern-day stories. There is a “good” outcome we want, and we know that God could do it. Our desires are possible too. But, how do we get God to agree? Will He cooperate? How do we “twist His arm”? Which combination of buttons do we push on His heavenly vending machine?

You don’t talk like that? Me either, at least not out loud, but that’s how we act!

We don’t understand God, we can’t! He is way too big. So, we tend to create a version of God that we can understand, a god made in our own image. We can manipulate people, why not God? How do Christians do this?

We Create Formulas

I was raised under the shadow of the king of formulas. If you can get your hands on any of Bill Gothard’s materials, you will see 3 steps to this and 5 steps to that, always promising blessing and success. A perfect example is the book Gothard wrote called “The Power of Crying Out”. He basically shows verses (mostly out of context of course) where people “called out” or “cried out”. Then he turns around and promises that if we pray loudly God hears us and will respond better than if we pray quietly. What?

It’s not just my old cult leader who does this! I’ve read formulaic thinking on blogs, and in books, and heard it from the mouths of Christians across the range of Evangelicalism.

I have seen people take Bible stories and turn them into formulas. So-and-so did x, y, and got z, therefore, if we also do x, and y, we will get our z. Sorry, it would be nice, but I don’t think it works this way! God is not a vending machine! We cannot enter A5 and B10 and get a Snickers bar and bag of Doritos every time.

We Claim “Promises”

Ever heard this verse used as a promise for physical healing? It’s pretty popular. “By His stripes we are healed.” It amazes me how many people quote this verse and are clueless about the context. First of all, it’s not even a whole verse; it’s a phrase at the end of one. Read the whole thing and see if you can figure out the context.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that this verse is a prophecy about the coming Savior and how we would be rescued by his death. Jesus’ wounds healed us, but it wasn’t a physical healing, it was a supernatural, spiritual one!

How about this? “We walk by faith and not by sight.” People use this verse to claim all kinds of things. But don’t forget context! We cannot rip verses out of the Bible and make them mean whatever we want. This phrase comes from 2 Corinthians 5, ironically a chapter about heaven and one day being with Christ. It is not talking about getting physically healed. Here is verse 7, sandwiched between verses 6 and 8 for context sake.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NIV)

Claiming “promises” like these (even if they WERE in context) is still at their root a formulaic approach. We are still trying to find a way to guarantee a specific outcome, to push the right buttons on God’s vending machine.

We Take the Blame (or put it on others)

“I guess I didn’t have enough faith.”

“We didn’t have enough faith.”

“Their faith was lacking.”

These are all real responses that I have heard from people when their prayers weren’t answered the way they hoped. Right. Because there is a specific amount of faith that will twist God’s arm and make Him give us what we want. I don’t think so. It’s formulaic thinking again!

Where do we get this idea that our lack of faith is to blame? From the Bible. There are tons of verses talking about having faith, and asking for things in faith. Here are just two of them.

“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” James 1:6-7

If these were the only verses I read, then I could easily believe that I am at fault because of my lack of faith. However, when I take a closer look, I realize that James is talking about asking God for wisdom (James 1:5). The specific promise is that if we ask for wisdom, God will give it to us.

Unfortunately, there are no verses (used in context) that guarantee any and every outcome based on our faith. While it is important to have faith as we pray, we need to ask ourselves this question: what is the object of our faith? Is our faith in our ability to move a mulberry tree (or a mountain), or in the God who made them?

So, in this broken world full of hurt and disappointment, what does God actually promise us? 

Check back Monday for part 2.