By Bruce James
The thought of unity is to me a very thought-provoking and emotional subject because it is that which most religious people wish for many times. As I ask myself, can unity be obtained today, the thought also enters my mind in the form of another question: what is the cause(s) of division in the church and in the denominational world today? And really, when you stop and think about it, unless we answer the latter question it would be useless to try and answer the former question.
You and I know that there are a lot of reasons that can be given as to why divisions have come about in the past (personal matters, selfish ambition, rule of opinion, unscriptural policy, inactivity, etc.). But after all is said and done, I believe the real reason is that of misunderstanding and misinterpreting God’s word, the Bible. Biblical interpretation has long been neglected by the average man of this day. God has revealed His will in the Bible, but since man has been endowed with the power of choice, having been created a free moral agent, God does not seek to force His will upon him. It is for this very reason that man must make an effort to learn what God has said if he really wishes, to know His will regarding him. (2 Tim. 2:15).
Contrary to the belief that the Bible is so plain that ii. needs no interpretation, I believe God expects us to use His book in becoming acquainted with His character and in gaining a knowledge of His will. Nothing has ever been written that all people at first understood alike. Age, change in customs, religious attitudes and sentiments, and change in the meaning of words make Biblical interpretation necessary. But we must understand that God does not inspire the interpretation. This is an individual duty and responsibility (John 7:17; Matthew 13:12).
I do not believe that it can be emphasized too much that there never has been, and there never will be a greater book than the Bible; but with all of this greatness, its message will never be understood by those who read it without the proper kind of study. Paul said, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15-emphasis mine, BJ). This passage clearly indicates that there are both right and wrong methods of Bible study. If we can know the things that will hinder as well as the things that will help us to understand the word of God, then a major battle will have been won. So, for right now, we shall look at six outstanding hindrances.
1. A desire to please the world. I am not saying that all desire to please the world is wrong (Romans 15:2), but what I am talking about is that desire to please the world, regardless of what the Lord has said. This is what causes the trouble. Paul said, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? . . . if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). There are men who will preach popular, though erroneous, doctrines because they desire to please those who sincerely, though incorrectly, hold them to be true. There are also those who will refuse to preach the whole truth in order to remain in the good graces of those who are not willing to consider all that God has said in His word to man (see 2 Tim. 4:5).
2. Another hindrance is to regard the Bible as a property of a favored few. The creeds which govern most Protestant and Catholic bodies are based upon the interpretations of their leading men, and they are the standards of faith and conduct, rather than the Bible itself. This attitude is also true of those who claim to be “Christians” only, to an alarming degree. There has descended to us a kind of reverence for authority found in great names that is very hurtful. In this way, errors are handed down from generation to generation without being suspected of being untrue. When men and women allow others to do their studying and thinking for them, they are breaking a direct command of God (2 Tim. 2:15) and will ultimately be led to eternal destruction (Matthew 15:14).
3. Using the Bible to prove doctrines is another hindrance.
We should always remember that the Bible is not a book with which to prove doctrines; it is the doctrine itself (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Scriptures are used wrongly, so that instead of searching for what they may contain, the doctrines are first assumed and then the Bible is forced into some sort of recognition of them. The context should always be considered, and conclusions should not be drawn from less than all the truth upon a given subject. You and I cannot “prove just anything by the Bible.”
4. Another Hindrance: Reading the Bible without expecting to understand it. This may be done by reading from a sense of duty, or simply to have it said that the Bible has been read through. We must strive to know its thought and purpose. It is done by reading irregularly and without any system. The “random method” is useless (a psalm one day, a chapter from the gospels, and then one from the prophets). What would be the result if chemistry, medicine, law or history should be studied in this way? One is hindered by reading only favorite passages. I even know of one woman who cut the passages out of her Bible because she did not like what they said. How sad! How sad!
5. Interpreting the Scriptures from sinister motives. This is done quite frequently to save property or in justification of some questionable business interest, to satisfy a desire to do as we please; to continue our customs or begin new ones, and in justification of sectarianism.
6. A last hindrance is a desire to be known as persons of leading thought. This is done when men want to exalt themselves rather than the God of heaven. “Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
But let us not forget to look on the positive side as to what we can do to help make Bible study profitable. I list them for your consideration:
1. We must have a desire to know and do the truth.
2. We must remove all religious prejudice.
3. We must exercise common sense.
4. We must have faith in the inspiration of the Scriptures.
5. We must get the setting of the passage under consideration.
6. We must be willing to investigate or employ mental industry as did the Bereans in Acts 17:11-12.
Yes, unity can be had if correct interpretation is practiced by all of the modern religious world and if selfish ambition and carnality are removed. God expects us to use His book in becoming acquainted with His character and in gaining a knowledge of His will. A correct interpretation is indispensable in our efforts to reach heaven.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:30, p. 8-9
May 30, 1974