Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Should we use only the Bible in our preaching?

14 Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the LORD: “ Waheb in Suphah, the brooks of the Arnon, 15 And the slope of the brooks that reaches to the dwelling of Ar, and lies on the border of Moab.” (Numbers 21:14-15)

The Scriptures mention non-canonical books that have a use, but which do not form a part of the Scriptures, apart from that portion which has been quoted. Paul mentions writings of the poets, and uses quotes from them to illustrate a point that he is making: "... as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’" (Acts 17:28)

This does not make other writings equal to Scripture, but it does correct those who hold the extreme view that we should read Scripture alone, and not be informed by the writings of others. I have been told by an old man that he threw out all his other books when he became a Christian, and he only reads, the Bible. I say, the poor old man has made himself irrelevant, and unable to address the bigger issues of his age.

Rev Prof Dr Francis Nigel Lee, in his book, 'The Central Significance of Culture' has brilliantly highlighted the fact that culture-making is a central aspect of our humanity. God has made men to be culture-makers, and it is a reflection of God's image in us. Very often it is the non-Christian who pushes the boundaries of technology and cultural potential, and this is the outworking of common grace, and the residual image of God in the general population. However, original sin in all mankind will always distort the works of men, and so, God has commissioned His people to be salt and light in the midst of Culture-making. God's people are to make a continual commentary on the development of Culture, pulling it back within the moral boundaries of God's Holy Law.

As Christians, we will be primarily engaged with the Bible, having our minds shaped by God's thoughts, but as Biblical Christians we will be engaged with the culture, critiquing its direction and putting a break on its tendencies to overstep the boundaries of sanctification. Most definitely we are not to be Luddites ( opposing technological advances because they are different to what has been before ( On the other hand, we are not to be liberals, who embrace everything new, uncritically.

Paul looked for aspects of the cultures that he went to, which could be used as stepping stones from the cultural expression of that people to the culture of the Kingdom of God. Nowhere in the Scriptures does God call us to repent of culture, but everywhere He commands us to repent of sin. The most important example of this is that which is found in Acts 17:

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: ..." (Acts 17: 22-23)

When I used this principle amongst the Warlpiri, there was a very strong response by Warlpiri people to the Gospel. Well-meaning, but destructive Pentecostal Christians had gone to Lajamanu and told them that to be a Christian the Warlpiri had to repent of all of their culture. This alienated the old people from the Christians, confused many of the young people who left the Baptist Church in large numbers, and weakened the Christian witness in Lajamanu to very low levels.

On the other hand, when I began to discover stories and ceremonies, in the Warlpiri culture, that reflected Biblical stories and values, and when I pointed out that God has made us to be culture-makers, and that this was primarily the province of men, we had 39 baptisms over two weeks, and the level of faith in the community rose to such a point, that there were repeated miracles amongst the Warlpiri people of Lajamanu. Sadly, a lot of the good work was undone by the Pentecostal presence in the community, who immediately set about speaking down the cultural dimension of the Gospel. They started trying to scare people with talks of the mark of the Beast, and the any-minute rapture of the church, and once again, some of the converts fell away from their baptismal commitment because of the work of the Pentecostals in the community.

Still, even today, there is a core of Lajamanu Warlpiri who have gone from strength to strength, celebrating Christ in the midst of their culture. This rediscovery of their cultural heritage has drawn them back to the Warlpiri Scriptures, which are read weekly in the Baptist Church, and the preaching is now richly illustrated with references to Warlpiri Law, ceremony and jukurrpa stories.

Our last report from Lajamanu was that there are white teachers and nurses who regularly attend the service at the Lajamanu Baptist Church. At least one white person has committed their life to Jesus Christ, and been baptised, as a result of the preaching of the Warlpiri, in their own language, using the Warlpiri Scriptures, illustrated by elements of their traditional culture; the Church building is full most Sundays, and there is a large number of young men who regularly attend the service. Praise God!

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