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Four Foolish Filter Fails in Bible Study

I was having coffee with a friend the other day. He’s one of my favorite people in the universe and I love his take on the Bible and church. Our church models are very different. Still, we marveled that even though our churches are about as different as Switchfoot and Lecrae, we’ve both experienced the same awkward moment when our fellow leaders and group members take the Bible completely out of context. Context is key if we want to disciple and lead believers into an authentic faith. All this started me thinking about all the cringe-moments I’ve experienced through the years. I’d categorize these as “filter fails.” They are fails because the Bible requires at least a moderate amount of contextualization. (I’ll call them filters, because contextualization reminds me of my AP English class my parent made me take in the 9th grade. The scars are there, trust me.) At best, a lack of appropriate filters has twisted a minor phrase into a cross-stitch verse that was never intended to be hung above a fireplace or sewed on a doily. At worst, they have lead cults, crusades and Bentley owning, name-it-claim-it, TV preachers.

So let’s take a look at 5 of the most frequent filter fails on teaching the Bible.

1.Failing to understand what’s really going on the story.

I have a confession to make. I am guilty of this. I use Bible Gateway™ key word search to look for that perfect verse to summarize a Biblical truth. One verse that I absolutely loved was Habakkuk.

The Lord replied,

“Look around at the nations;

   look and be amazed!

For I am doing something in your own day,

   something you wouldn’t believe

   even if someone told you about it.

 

Now if that’s not a verse destined for the wall art section of a LifeWay Store, I don’t know what is. Right?

 

Well… Let’s look at the context. It’s not hard. Just read a couple of verses after that, where we learn about God’s ultimate threat of destruction of the people with whom this promise is speaking. God is sending the dreaded Chaldeans to wreak havoc on the people of God. So although Habakkuk 1:5 sounds like a great life-verse, certainly in its context, it’s not exactly the kind of amazement you’d ever really want.

 

2. Ignoring the Voice

If you’re knee-deep into church culture you have heard it in songs, cheers, sermons and in pregame interviews of famous Christian athletes.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:19

It’s often referred to in contemporary circles like this: I can solve this promise, score this touchdown, win that award, and (I’m sorry but it’s true…) marry that girl. But often, the person referring to the verse forgets the voice of the writer.

Paul was in prison. In earthly terms, like girls, football, acclaim, financial success, Paul would seem like a loser. Paul is writing a letter from prison about being able to endure not achieve. He’s enduring a loss of freedom, loneliness, uncertainty and pain. Speaking in modern terms, this is not a Joel Osteen kind of verse. It’s a Martin Luther King Jr. kind of verse.

Now, you don’t have to agree with me 100%, but I want to submit that Paul’s voice, his circumstance, and the entirety of the book of Philippians is not well served by a trite, fist-bumping take on it. Watch your toes. I’m dropping the mic.

 

3. Evangelical Cherry-Picking to Drive a Point Home.

This is the main reason expository Bible study is so effective. In expository Bible study you aren’t simply going on a fishing expedition to string together related verses on a subject. You are going through the narrative to understand what God is up to in the passage, while also realizing that you have to understand and ask some really important questions:

  • What is the culture?
  • When was it written?
  • What’s going on around the writer?
  • What has God revealed so far to the people in the book?

 

Expository Bible study is much like practicing legitimate journalism. – Who, What, When, Why Where and How. This is elemental to understanding and teaching scripture with integrity. History is important. What was going on the culture when the passage was written? Progressive revelation is important. It goes without saying that Peter, even though he was a knucklehead every now and then, had more revelation than amazing Isaiah. He got to see more revelation by the simple fact that he was born later and happened to be a disciple of the Son of God Himself! Therefore, we can’t look at the annihilation of the enemies of Israel in the Old Testament as a proof text to carpet bomb towns. Otherwise you’re going to have to throw out a lot of Jesus teachings.

4. Jumping the Gun

I saved the worst for last: You head off alone. Bible study and Bible teaching will be cold, ineffective, and futile if you don’t have Someone working with you. (You see what I did there with the capitalization, don’t you?) The Holy Spirit must guide you as you study scripture or prepare to teach. Scripture comes alive when we have a dialogue with the Source of all knowledge. This is what makes reading the Bible so incredibly transforming. There’s something going on between the reader and the text. So prayer is a vital link to understanding the text. Prayer makes the Bible a dialogue.

There are other fails out there, but these are four that you surely want to avoid.

10 New Names and 1 Idea!

In the eighties, church job titles were pretty simple. We even had decision cards that you could fill out if you felt “called” to “special service.”

You might feel called to be a

_____ Pastor
_____ Music Minister
_____ Youth Minister
_____ Minister of Education
_____ Foreign Missionary

(Check one.)

That’s it. Check the nature of your particular call to ministry and we’ll tell you about the closest Christian College where you can go to get a testimony.

But sometime around ’89 a trusted denominational leader went to a business conference and the wave of new ministry vocations began to trickle down to your typical Baptist Church. These names, I suppose, were to clarify the positions and to give people a better understanding of what they actually do.

1. Pastor of Spiritual Formation

Pastor of Spiritual Formation which is … well.. they kind of form… no… they shape the uh… spirituality of the deacon and leaders? I give up. I imagine he’s like the Minister of Assimilation – whatever that is.

2. Magnification Pastor

Then there is the Magnification Pastor. (This is a real position in several churches. Several big, successful churches, so I can’t be critical. It’s working.) Logic would tell me that the Magnification Pastor would be the Senior Adult minister. He’d do his weekly column in extra-large print. This title of Magnification Pastor is not for every minister. If the Pastor was a grumpy, stick-in-the-mud, youth-minister-firing, church-split-waiting-to- happen guy, would you really want to magnify him. In truth the magnification pastor is someone who preaches or leads worship on Sunday.

Some Sundays.

When he’s not at Catalyst.

3. Executive Pastor

Executive Pastor is the Minister of Education. We call him Executive Pastor to get rid of the stigma that the Ministers of Education have carried for years- that he’s the guy who gives the announcements and knows where the overhead projectors are stored.

4. Children’s Pastor

The Children’s Pastor is simple enough. It means that they minister to the needs of children and their parents. The Children’s Director is even more specific. The Children’s Director does everything the Children’s Pastor would do but this person is a woman.

5. Administrative Assistant

The Administrative Assistant to the Pastor of course is the same as the old Pastor’s Secretary but the Administrative Assistant actually controls the Pastor, knows CPR and how to use anti-virus software.

6. The Minister of Technology

This is the guy (or gal) who knows how to use the anti-virus software but also adds presentation software, feedback, mic chords and automated thermostats to his sphere of responsibility (or blame).

7. Minister of Ecclesia

Talk about seeker sensitive! You say Minister of Eccelsia and the average Joe knows exactly how you spend your time.

8. The Minister of Connections

I visited a church in Maryland where every staff member’s name and email address was listed with one exception. The pastor’s email address was intentionally omitted. Under his name was his administrative assistant and her email address. But she was called the Director of Connections. So one would assume, if you want to contact the pastor, you’ve gotta have connections.

9. Creative Pastor

Here’s another: The Creative Pastor. I can’t help but wonder how makes the other pastors feel? And should we actually use adjectives in a job title. “If the Creative Pastor doesn’t know, go ask the Intellegent Pastor or the Attractive Director. If all else fails you might just have to ask the Monotonous Pastor. He’ll know. He always knows.”

10. Executive Pastor of Operations

I visited a church website recently that had an Executive Pastor of Operations. I had to call about this title. It kept me up at night. What is a Pastor of Operations? Is this legal? Does he do hernias? I learned that the Pastor of Operations is what we used to call the Facilities Manager. This man supervises the janitorial staff as well as the mantanence and repair of the church. That’s his vocation and ministry. My first thought was, “Wow! They must have an incredible middle school program!”

11 ????

Personally I think I’d be a great Minister of Apology. Every day I could get a list from all the other staff members in my mega-church. You know, the Minister of Technology, the Student Pastor, the Director of Childhood Ministries, the Pastor of Operations, and the Magnification Pastor. They could give me this list of people that I should, on behalf of the church, extend a deep and meaningful apology. But the Minister of Apology just doesn’t sound as hip and postmodern as the other members of the staff. Perhaps they could call me the Minister of Apologetics. But then again Apologetics means never having to say you’re wrong.

On top of that, if I became the Minister of Apology I would be doing the work of the most powerful person of the staff: The Receptionist.