Tuesday, September 27, 2005

From the Cliff-edge of Mt. Nebo

From where Moses stood:
On the edge of the promised land, Moses saw far more than physical geography. He saw a political map of the twelve tribes and a redemptive history stretching away to the coming of the Messiah.

Against the Primacy of Private Bible Study

Coming, as I do, from a tradition where private Bible study is considered so important that it excludes the appointment of full-time paid ministers and the recognition of subordinate standards in the church and sometimes virtually excludes deliberate sermon preparation and family worship in the home, I’m not surprised to note that we seem to have an inordinately large number of Christian believers here in North Finchley who stay at home and study the Bible for themselves rather than assembling with a church. If such stay-at-homes are really staying in to read their Bibles then they have taken a step too far, right over the cliff-edge. (Stay at home Bible students are the equivalents in many ways of those who declare that they can more readily worship God on the golf course on Sunday mornings than they can in church. Don Rose has something to say about that sort of thing http://pastorrose.blogspot.com/2005/06/across-pastors-desk-june17-2005.html)

Overstressing the primacy of personal Bible Study did produce a greater than average ability to discuss our private findings conversationaly although our parody of the hymn 'Jesus loves me' ( http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/j/l/jlovesem.htm ) fitted all too often and all too well:

'Wonderful things in the Bible I see,
Some put there by you and the others
by me.'

We can help by painting a great big white line on the edge of the cliff
at this point. The white line is this, that we have no legal obligation to do
personal Bible study. Personal bible study is not the 11th commandment and a
quiet time is not a 3rd ordinance. (Oligopistos seems to agree http://oligopistos.blogspot.com/2005_09_01_oligopistos_archive.html#112779480903118713)
This is neither a counter-reformationary cry to not read your Bible nor an antinomian argument that in order to be truly free to do something you need to be free not to do it. It stems from the fact that personal Bible study cannot be a legal requirement because not every believer has, has had or is able to read, the Bible. If we have a high view of personal Bible study we might have to learn a painful lesson. Geoffrey T. Bull, a Christian missionary in Tibet when the Chinese invaded and imprisoned him was beginning to think that he would become something of a Bible scholar when they took his Bible away. (Geoffrey T. Bull: When Iron Gates Yield or read the paragraph about it in http://www.ccel.us/Hunter.chap2.html) Since no one can take away access to God in prayer Geoffrey Bull was also able to meditate and 'practice the presence of Christ ( http://www.ahumbleheart.org/weblog/archives/2005/04/simply_quotable.html )

Painting a visible line at the edge of the cliff as a warning to the unwary not to step over is all very well but we should look to see what the from the mountain view presents to us. The absolutely classic case of not having Scriptures is the church for the generation after the death of Jesus. What is to be learned from their case? There is no doubting for believers that the Holy Spirit, who after all made gathering the church possible, preaching to it available and additions to it daily, could have inspired the apostles to write the entire New Testament within days of Pentecost. He could have but he didn't and there should be lessons for us to learn from it taking a generation until all the books were added that were going to be added. This generational work of producing the New Testament Scriptures deprived the public meetings of the church of Scripture as well as preventing the private Bible study of books that were as yet unwritten or undistributed. But there is a difference in this that there was New Testament public proclamation before the New Testament itself was completed.

This New Testament public proclamation was, as it is today, in the hands of the officers of the church but the characteristic 'officers' of that period, the apostles and the prophets, operated in a quintessentially public way. Take the prophets, who were to operate within the church; [1Co 14:29] 'Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.' It is a singular fact that Luke in Acts goes out of his way to demonstrate that the prophets did not speak prophetically unless another prophet was there. (!) Consider the seemingly gratuitous mention of Philip's four daughters which makes no sense if not to 'legitimize' Agabus's prophecy about Paul's visit to Jerusalem.

A strong case could be made for arguing that the unfolding of the written revelation of the NT over a generation prevented the forsaking of gathering in order to do private study as if designedly so.

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