Typically in America, as you drive down the street what do you see? Baptist church buildings, Methodist church buildings, Pentecostal church buildings, and potentially multiple church of Christ buildings even in small towns. Is that God’s plan for us? Is it really true that, “We are all going to the same place, just taking different roads to get there”? How many roads to Heaven are there, and how can we know if we are on the right one?
This is where we need to look at passages like Ephesians 4:4-7 which reads, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. This Scripture plainly teaches that there is only ONE faith. That means that out of all the “religions” in this world, there is only one that is truly right. There is only one that will lead to Heaven.
2 Timothy 2:15 tells us, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” From this passage we see that there is a right way and a wrong way to handle the Word of God, and we are each personally responsible to the Father for the way we handle His Holy Scriptures.
Over the last several weeks we have been looking at the truths of these passages. Is there more than one doctrine? If there is only one approved interpretation of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20) then how do we know that what we believe and practice is what God intended for us? That is where we meet Mr. Hermen E. Utics. Hermeneutics is simply a fancy way of saying the way we interpret the Bible. We have seen that there are basically three different ways that God has expressed His will to us in Scripture. These are: command, example, and necessary inference.
Command is certainly the most straightforward way, and there is no arguing with it at all. Just as we as parents tell our children to, “Go to your room!”, there are times that God plainly tells us what He wants us to do. Such as in Acts 2:38 where He says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There is no mistaking what God expects of us here, if we wish to have the forgiveness of sins, we MUST repent and be baptized.
Next, we looked at what Scripture authorizes through necessary inference, which is basically a fancy way of saying through common sense. Just as we expect our children to use common sense (using soap instead of just water when we tell them to wash their hands), God expects us to use the common sense He gave us when we are studying our Bibles. Passages like Acts 8:39 demand the use of common sense. When it says, “And when they came up out of the water…” What does that imply? That they had gone down into the water! Did God have to specifically say, “Since they had gone down into the water, when they came up out of the water…” No! He expects us to use our common sense! The inference from this passage automatically does away with the teachings of sprinkling and pouring in place of baptism (immersion).
Another way that Scripture authorizes is through approved example. “Approved” here is key. There are obviously many examples that people have given us in Scripture that God did not approve of. He did not approve of the mother of James and John demanding that they sit at His right and left. He did not approve of Simon the Sorcerer trying to buy the miraculous gifts. He did not approve of Ananias and Saphira lying. He did not even approve of Uzzah doing a GOOD thing, when it directly violated His commands. But when we have an example that God DID approve of, and that was not cultural (meaning obviously limited to a specific time and place), God expects us to follow those examples. In Acts 17:11, Luke specifically gives the example of the Bereans, and says that by their actions they were more noble than the Jews in Thessalonica. It is clear in this passage that Luke wanted Theophilus—and therefore us—to learn from the example of the Bereans.
A final aspect of interpreting Scripture that we looked at in our study is the area of the silence of the Scriptures. When the Bible is silent in an area, is that silence restrictive or permissive? Well, both! It absolutely depends on the context. Sometimes silence is restrictive. Suppose you go to Lowes and order a new refrigerator to be delivered to your house the next day, and when the delivery man arrives he unloads not only a refrigerator, but a new dishwasher and washer and dryer as well, all charged to your account. How would you react? You would be furious! Because you said you didn’t want a dishwasher and a washer and dryer? No. Because when you specified that you wanted a refrigerator, it excluded all else.
God’s Word works the same way. For instance, in Ephesians 5:19 when God specified for us to sing, and make melody in our hearts, it automatically excludes anything in addition to singing. This would mean using instruments, clapping, humming, etc. God could have chosen to say, “singing, clapping, humming, and playing the harp, making melody in your heart to the Lord.” But He didn’t, because He wants us to sing.
Silence can, however, be permissive as well, depending on the context. In Matthew 28:19-20 we find what we refer to as The Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” At the time that this passage was written, “going” would have meant taking a boat, riding a chariot, walking, or sending a letter. Does that mean that these are the only options available to us today? No! We can certainly do any of those things, but we can also use the internet, phone, take a plane or a car, mail out pamphlets, anything possible to spread the Gospel. From this passage the only restriction is what is taught, not how it is taught.
We have seen that God’s Word both authorizes and restricts in many different ways. He refers to Himself as our Father, and as such he communicates with us in the same ways that we communicate with our own children. It is our job to listen to what He is saying, and not just what we want to hear. The way we study God’s Word is a very serious topic. Matthew 7:13 says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” People are sadly mistaken when they say that we are all simply taking our own roads to get to Heaven. May you have an open heart and an open mind every time you approach God’s Word, and may we all strive daily to be on His road.