Wineskins Archive

January 21, 2014

AfterGlow: Positions, Proof-texts and Preaching (Jan – Feb 1994)

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by Phillip Morrison
January – February, 1994

The first book I remember reading all by myself was a volume of Bible stories for children. The heroes of those stories were as real as a young mind could make them. I was an open container into which God’s message was poured. Though Mrs. Latimer would guide me through several years of reading almost every book in our small community library, none of them had the excitement or the authority of the Bible.

But something happened along the way. As an aspiring young preacher, I began reading the Bible a different way. Rather than letting the Bible guide me, I began guiding my “study” to conform to a position.

I memorized the verses that proved instrumental music wrong, the heresy of faith only, and the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins. No longer did I read for the sheer joy of letting Jesus come into my heart. Now I was reading with an interpretation—a hermeneutic—already in mind. Others may have read and reached certain conclusions, but I accepted their conclusions and searched for Scriptures to support them.

The proof texts could be instantly recalled to explain why the example of observing the Lord’s Supper every Sunday was binding while the example of meeting in an upper room was not. I knew the sinfulness of “one-cuppers” though it took the church 19 centuries to discover individual cups. I could prove it was right to use an instrument to produce a single musical note to pitch a song and wrong to produce multiple notes while the song continued.

While insisting that everything be authorized by command, example, or necessary inference, I learned that there was an unspoken test of allowable expedients. What we did was allowed, what others did was not. Thus we produced an era when churches could have heated buildings but not air-conditioned ones, water coolers but not refrigerators, outside picnic tables but no kitchens in the building. And we had to claim Scriptural authority, otherwise our childish squabbles would have been exposed for the foolishness they were—and are.

How God must weep when he sees how we treat his story. He never intended for his revelation to be dissected and rearranged to man’s liking.

My earliest preaching was done in churches where people judged me by how many Scriptures I used, whether I could preach without notes, and how well I affirmed conclusions already held. Even while capitulating to the system, I could never silence that inner voice which kept telling me I was perverting the whole process.

Now, at long last, I am free again. As free as a small boy discovering the wonder of God’s Word…free to let God lead me by his indwelling Spirit…never free from God’s boundaries, but forever free from Satan’s bondage.

God doesn’t expect me to know all the answers—or even all the questions. He does expect me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8), to love God supremely and to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 19:37-39). Any interpretation of Scripture that does not help me live up to these expectations is inadequate and wrong.Wineskins Magazine

Phillip Morrison

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