This piece was originally posted back on August 26, 2008. As I’ve been reading over some of my past blog posts, I came across this post and thought it was worthy of a “repost” because it is still a problem that dogs so much of Christianity. I have made a few changes to the format but not to the content. I must also point out that even though this post deals with the way this issue from the stand-point of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, the problem at hand is in no way isolated to restoration churches.
I have been reading Christianity’s Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath. As Lutheran’s and Calvinist’s began to distinguish (divide?) themselves from each other, McGrath makes this interesting observation:
“Perhaps more importantly, given the central role of the Bible for Protestantism, this new trend meant that the Bible tended to be read through the prism of ‘confessions’ – statements of faith that frequently influenced, and sometimes determined, how certain passages of the Bible were to be interpreted. This shift was a contributing factor to the rise of ‘proof-texting’: citing isolated, decontextualized verses of the Bible in support of often controversial confessional positions. Paradoxically, this development actually lessened the influence of the Bible within Prostestantism, in that biblical statements were accommodated to existing doctrinal frameworks rather than being allowed to determine them, and even to challenge them” (p. 103).
Does that not sound so familiar? What McGrath calls ‘doctrinal frameworks’ I have called doctrinal constructs in my preaching/teaching before. The Restoration Movement (RM), a movement that began as a noble cause too, has followed this same historical path as well. While the RM never developed an official “written” confession or creed, an unwritten creed certainly became solidified over time as the measuring stick for soundness of faith. This unwritten creed was our framework or construct through which the Bible was read and in many circles still continues to be read.
It is not surprising to discover that proof-texting was the common means of defending this doctrinal construct from anyone who dared to question whether the construct was consistent with scripture itself. Nor is it surprising to find the same division that came about among the Reformation Movement also became a part of the RM movement.
Perhaps Christians cannot live without such constructs but I do not buy that. A doctrinal construct is not scripture itself nor is it Jesus Christ. A doctrinal construct is a third-party participant that stands between scripture and the Christian or Jesus Christ and the Christian. As McGrath points out, such a construct forces us to read/interpret scripture and follow Jesus as the construct demands rather than reading/interpreting scripture and following Jesus as scripture and Jesus demand. While we all have lenses through which we read scripture, we ought to strive to identify and demolish such lenses (as well as these 3rd party constructs).
If you are interested, my friend and former Professor, John Mark Hicks, has posted an entire hermeneutical series on his blog that attempts to help us in this endeavor. I believe he has done an incredible job and rendered a valuable surface for those of us who are on the journey with God. Just click on his name and the link will take you to his blog and the hermeneutical series he did.