Friday, November 5, 2010

The Responsible Use of New Knowledge

Many pastors and ministers are familiar with the problem of members who believe they have discovered new truth in the Bible, knowledge that the Church does not have, knowledge that contradicts what the ministry is teaching, and who then try to promote their new ideas among the membership, contradicting the ministry and the teaching of the Church. Some Church of God leaders react against that by going to an opposite extreme, teaching that God never reveals new knowledge through the Bible to lay members, but only through the top leaders of the Church.

God can indeed sometimes help a member or minister understand Bible truth on a subject better than the top leaders in a Church of God organization or fellowship. God can reveal new knowledge to a lay member by opening that member's mind to understand the Bible teaching on that subject. The proof of this is that God did exactly that with Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong when he was a newly baptized lay member attending with the Church of God (Seventh Day). God helped Mr. Armstrong learn the identity of the lost tribes of Israel, and God helped Mr. Armstrong understand the Bible teaching about the Church's obligation to observe God's annual feasts and holy days. This happened before Mr. Armstrong was ordained, shortly after he was baptized, and he submitted these suggestions to Church of God (Seventh Day) leadership, but the leadership rejected that new knowledge without refuting it from the Bible.

But if God reveals new knowledge to a member, that member has a responsibility to handle that knowledge in a godly way.

There is a right way and a wrong way to handle new doctrinal knowledge.

God is testing us. This physical life is the opportunity for God to teach us lessons we will use for all eternity, and it is our opportunity to learn those lessons. God is also testing us to see if we will live the way He wants us to live in His kingdom, or not.

Sometimes God tests us by giving us a gift or an opportunity or a blessing and then watching to see how we handle it. We tend to focus on trials as tests of our faithfulness to God and His way of life. But blessings can be a test too.

A principle of understanding the Bible that I often emphasize is having a willingness to believe and obey what God says. God may open our minds to understand a point of Bible truth. If we believe God, God will help us to understand more. But if we disbelieve God, God might no longer help us to understand. This process often is what separates those who are called from those who are not called, and also those who respond to God's call and those who reject it. The world cannot understand the Bible because they do not believe what God says. And if we in the Church cease to believe what God says, God can take away the knowledge He has given us.

There is another principle of how to understand the Bible. When God gives us understanding of something that others do not have, we have a responsibility to use that knowledge lawfully.

Suppose you have a young son, and he asks for a bicycle. You carefully explain to him his responsibility to use the bicycle properly, to take care of it, to follow your rules about where he can go with it and when. He agrees. Then you give him the bicycle. Now if he breaks your rules, rides the bike to places you don't want him to go, doesn't properly take care of the bike, he is not showing that he is using the gift responsibly. Then when he is older and asks for a car, are you more or less likely to trust him with a car when you remember how he acted irresponsibly with the bike? But if he obeyed you with the bike, he will probably obey your rules with the car (Luke 16:10).

Likewise if you give your child a hamster and he or she abuses it and doesn't take care of it, would you then want to give your child a dog?

Likewise, if God should bless a member with new knowledge from the Bible, God wants to see if that member handles it lawfully, responsibly.

One point I stress in my book, and that is that because God has given the Church knowledge of the tribulation to come, we have an obligation to share that knowledge with the world by giving a warning, just as we would want to be warned. That is one way to use knowledge responsibly.

But there are other points.

In the Church we are not to cause division. We are to all speak the same thing as much as possible (1 Corinthians 1:10). We are to respect the ministry and understand that God has given them the job of teaching the membership (Hebrews 13:17, Hebrews 13:7, 1 Corinthians 12:28). This means that if God helps me understand a point of doctrine that the Church does not have, I should not go around promoting it and discussing it with other members. I can take it to the ministry or the leadership for evaluation, and if I am right, they can publish it for the whole Church, but if I am wrong they can show me my error. And if after discussing it, we still do not agree, I can put it on the shelf and wait for Christ to show who is right, and in the meantime not try to usurp the authority of the ministry by teaching it to brethren contrary to the official teachings of the Church.

Also, when God helps us understand something, we should resist the temptation to be puffed up in our minds with vanity or pride about it (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). It is a gift, perhaps to encourage us in time of trial, perhaps to test us. It does not mean we are righteous. But if God gives us that gift, we better handle it responsibly. If it is a test, and we fail the test, is it likely God will help us understand more?

If God helps me understand a point of truth from the Bible, if I use that understanding to create division, will God be pleased with that? If I use it unlawfully, am I passing the test? If I let myself become vain and proud because I learned something new, is God likely to reveal more new knowledge to me, more truth, or is He likely to reveal less? If I think I am more righteous than others because I have understanding, I think that pride and vanity could harm my character so that in the long run I might lose the knowledge I previously had.

The history of the Church of God is full of examples of people who took themselves out of the Church and God's truth because they did not handle knowledge responsibly.

So a key to understanding the Bible is, use what we learn lawfully and responsibly. Then God can give us more.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1

How to Understand the Bible, Chapter 1

Changing Doctrine, Chapter 6

The Inconsistencies of Saying We Can't Change Herbert W. Armstrong's Doctrine, Chapter 6

Were Mr. Armstrong's Teachings Infallibly Correct at his Death?, Chapter 6

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