Among those who will acknowledge that the Bible is the word of God and is true there are two basic approaches in trying to understand it.
Among those who do not acknowledge that the Bible is true, atheists and agnostics for example, there is a third approach, and that is, they approach the Bible as if it is nothing more than a collection of human devised fables. I am not talking about that approach.
There are two basic approaches to trying to understand the Bible as the word of God and as truth.
These two approaches lead to different results.
One approach is most often used among members of traditional, mainstream churches. Either of these two approaches may be used by individuals in the Church of God.
One approach, used by many or most members of traditional, mainstream churches and by some members of the Church of God, is to trust and believe what they think is the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in their minds, but without objectively proving by the Bible if this "inspiration" or "guidance" is really correct and from the Holy Spirit. They never consider the possibility that the thoughts that come into their minds on spiritual or doctrinal subjects are thoughts of their own carnal imagination or even inspired by Satan and his demons.
They assume that God's Holy Spirit is leading their "understanding", and they think they are exercising faith in God by believing their own thoughts. They have "faith" that the Holy Spirit is leading them.
Do they study the Bible? Yes. Do they think they understand and believe the Bible? Yes, they think they do. But they interpret what they read in the Bible according to what they want to believe.
They will often ask in prayer that God will guide their understanding of the Bible. Then when they read a scripture, whatever "understanding" or interpretation of that scripture that pops into their heads they think is an answer to their prayer. And their interpretation, which varies from person to person, is often shaped by both their human opinions and desires and by the traditions they have been taught.
So for example, a member of a traditional Sunday keeping church might read the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath. Then the thought comes into his mind, well, this established the principle of resting one day in seven, then Christ through the New Testament church changed the day of rest to Sunday, but the principle is the same. Then that person thanks God for answering his prayer to guide his understanding. He thinks he is exercising faith in the Holy Spirit by believing the thought in his mind that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday. After all, didn't he pray that God would help him understand the Bible? To doubt the interpretation in his mind would seem to be doubting the Holy Spirit.
But he never checks other scriptures to find out if his interpretation is wrong.
The same thing can happen in the Church of God. A member or minister may read the scriptures that say that the Church should preach the gospel and warn the people. Then he reads the scripture that says we should get the beam out of our own eye before correcting others. He prays for understanding, and the thought comes into his mind, the Church of God should focus on feeding the flock, reconciling ourselves to God and each other, and getting the beam out of our own eye before we try to preach the gospel to the world or warn the world. Immediately, that member or minister assumes, without real biblical proof, that his idea is an answer to prayer, that he is being led by the Holy Spirit to think that he and the Church of God should not preach the gospel to the world and warn Israel at this time.
But he doesn't prove his idea in the Bible before he believes it. He believes his idea first, and interprets everything else in the Bible according to this belief. But he never searched out, found, and believed the scriptures that show that the "beam in the eye" passage was never intended to mean postponing obedience to God's command to preach the gospel (see my post entitled " 'Beam in the Eye', and Preaching the Gospel to the World", dated January 14, 2014, link:
I will call this approach, "trusting one's own thoughts", because that is what it is. It is NOT really trusting God's Holy Spirit, not without really proving the truth from the Bible.
What are the fruits of this approach?
Just about every possible kind of heresy you can imagine.
Traditional, mainstream religious doctrines such as Sunday keeping, the trinity, pagan holidays, going to heaven at death, and immortal souls being tortured forever in hell fire are the results of this thinking. Catholics and Protestants alike think God has led them and their church to believe these doctrines through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They have "faith" in that, and you can't shake their "faith" by showing them the scriptures that prove them wrong.
This approach also creates chaos in the Church of God. It is partly responsible for the division in the Church and the scattered condition that exists. As I pointed out in my last post, it is our collective Laodiceanism and Christ's response to our Laodiceanism (Revelation 3:16) that is probably the greatest root cause of our scattered condition, and because the majority of us are lukewarm Christ allows us to have doctrinal differences that tend to scatter us. But this approach too many in the Church of God follow, of trusting in our own thoughts apart from proving what we believe in the Bible, is one mechanism that promotes division and magnifies the divisive influence of differences of opinion in matters of doctrine. This approach was also responsible for the apostasy among thousands of Worldwide Church of God ministers and members after the death of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. God allowed the Church to become divided and scattered to test and chastise us, but it is this process of not putting the Bible first that was the mechanism by which the heresies and the divisions in doctrine came about.
I have spoken of this approach from the point of view of one who reads the Bible and forms beliefs, but there is another aspect of this issue, that is, the approach of those who lead and teach in how they teach.
Some leaders of churches and groups and their ministers teach their members to believe that God's Holy Spirit leads the ministry to interpret the Bible, even apart from what members can prove for themselves in the Bible, and they teach their members to believe the ministers' interpretation of the Bible, as a matter of faith! How do they do this?
They teach that Christ is the head of the Church (Ephesians 1:20-23, 4:15-16, 5:23, Colossians 1:13-18, 2:18-19). That is true. They teach that Christ through the Holy Spirit guides the leadership of the Church and the ministry into truth. This also is true. Then they "connect the dots" to say, in effect, "Since Christ leads us to teach you the truth, even to interpret what particular Bible passages mean, you should believe us, the leadership and the ministry, in order to trust and have faith in Christ's leadership of the Church. Because if you doubt what we teach you, you are doubting Christ and you are doubting the Bible which says that Christ is the head of the Church." But that conclusion is wrong.
They are not correctly connecting the dots when they say this. They are skipping something important.
Christ perfectly leads the Church, the ministry, and the members of His body. But the Church of God and its ministry do not follow Christ perfectly. That is why you cannot assume that everything the leadership and ministry say and do is from Christ and approved by Christ and you cannot look to the actions and teachings of the ministry to "see what Christ is doing". Much of it may be Christ's doing and have Christ's approval, but not necessarily everything. That is the missing factor some ministers do not mention and leave out of their reasoning when they try to connect the dots to say that if you doubt the ministry you are doubting Christ.
You are not trusting and exercising faith in Christ by believing the ministry to interpret the Bible for you more than you see for yourself in the Bible. They can help you prove for yourself what the Bible says. They can help you find the scriptures you need. But you must believe what you can see for yourself in the word of God even more than you believe your ministers.
Who practices this approach of teaching the members to believe their ministers' interpretation of the Bible? The Catholic Church, to name the biggest group. Catholics believe that Christ guides the pope to correctly interpret the Bible. It is a matter of faith for Catholics to believe their church in matters of doctrine.
And this approach is also taught by some ministers and leaders in the Church of God.
But there is a different approach practiced by many in the Church of God and among those God is calling out of this world and into the Church.
That second approach is to seek and rely on God's help to understand the Bible, but to let the Bible interpret the Bible, seeking all the scriptures on any important question and letting clear scriptures interpret difficult or unclear scriptures.
It is the approach of proving doctrine and beliefs in the Bible before accepting them. It is the approach of then believing what is proved in the Bible more than church tradition, more than the teachings of ministers and men in authority, and more than one's own personal opinions and preferences.
And in the matter of ministers and Church leaders teaching others, it is the way of proving doctrines by the Bible and teaching others, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible".
This is the approach Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong practiced.
I call this approach, "putting the Bible first".
What are the fruits of these two opposite approaches to trying to understand the Bible?
The fruit of putting the Bible first is the body of true doctrine God has given the Church of God in this end time. God restored much truth to the Church of God through Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, but it was because Mr. Armstrong put the Bible first and PROVED doctrine by the Bible that he was able to understand what God was revealing to him through the Bible.
The truth we have today is the direct result of putting the Bible first.
But the fruits of trusting one's own thoughts, even if one thinks those thoughts are inspired by the Holy Spirit, has been heresy and warfare in the history of the traditional churches of this world and painful division, scattering, and weakening in the Church of God today.
What result do you want in the Church of God? What result or fruit do you want in your own life?
Choose the way of trusting your own thoughts or the way of putting the Bible first, and you will reap the fruits, good or bad, of the way you choose.
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
CHAPTER 6 - OBTAINING GOD'S HELP -- PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH