Monday, October 10, 2011

Convictions on Interpreting Scripture - Zac Poonen

The following thoughts are Zac Poonen's comments before launching into an exposition of 1 Corinthians 11 and teaching on head coverings. His article is surely controversial and opens an issue that I do not have strong enough convictions on to teach either way. My desire is not to draw attention to the controversy. I read Brother Poonen's article in part because I recently received one of Gordon Fee's commentaries and Fee stands clearly on the other side of the issue (for a good article that features Fee's approach see this post from The Prodigal Thought). I thought reading both sides of the issue would be beneficial. The principles laid out by Poonen are an honest approach that flows out of belief in the inerrancy of scripture.

Hopefully we can hold these principles up to our convictions and find ourselves fully obedient to the Lord and to sound exposition.

We begin this study with the conviction that the entire message of the Bible is the Word of God without any error.
There are two fundamental truths that we must bear in mind as we seek to understand God's Word for us today.
On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), God abolished the old covenant and began to deal with man thereafter under the terms of the new covenant (Heb.8).
There are historical and teaching sections in the New Testament. We must find the basis for new covenant doctrines only in the teaching sections. The historical sections merely tell us what the apostles and early Christians did. Many false teachings have developed from doctrines based only on the Acts of the Apostles - two examples being: (i) all believers must speak in tongues (based on Acts 2:4); and (ii) all believers must share a common purse (based on Acts 2:44).
Jesus told His disciples just before He went to the cross, "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear (understand) them now. But when the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (Jn.16:12,13). Jesus wanted to teach His disciples many more truths than He did while He was on earth. But they would not have been able to understand them until the Holy Spirit came to dwell within them and renewed their minds and gave them revelation. Some of these truths are what we find written in the New Testament epistles. So the epistles also contain commands from the Lord Jesus - but given through His apostles.
If we reject any command in any of the New Testament epistles, saying it was only for the time and place when it was written and not for us today, then in order to be consistent, we must give equal freedom to other people to reject other commands in the epistles and in the teachings of Jesus as also being only for that time and not for us today. For example, we must, in that case, give freedom to people to teach that forbidding homosexual behavior and same-sex marriages and divorces and premarital sexual intercourse, etc., were only for the first century and not for us today. Otherwise we will be inconsistent.
[. . . .]
(Note: We must distinguish between commands given by God and mere greetings given by the apostles. For example, the apostles give greetings and good wishes such as these in their letters: "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Rom16:16) and "I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 2). These were obviously mere greetings and good wishes - and not commands or promises given by God - for there is no Divine principle taught in those verses, as is the case with head-covering, water-baptism and breaking of bread(Rom.6; 1Cor.11)).
 Poonen summarizes with some thoughts on obedience:

Finally, we must bear in mind that:
- If we ignore any command of God in Scripture (however small) we will suffer some eternal loss (Rev.22:19).
- Those who cancel (or teach against) the smallest command of Scripture will be called "the least in the kingdom of heaven" (as Jesus said in Matt.5:19).
- The truths of Scripture are hidden from the clever and the intelligent and revealed only to the humble ("babes" - Matt.11:25 with Matt.18:4). The teaching of 1 Cor.11:1-16 will be simple and clear to the humble, childlike person. But one who depends on his human cleverness and intelligence will argue against the plain meaning of these verses.
- God tests our honesty in the way in which we deal with such verses of Scripture. He does not see whether we understand everything in His Word, but He does see if we are honest in dealing with His Word. The Lord says, "To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isa.66:2).

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