Bible Study · Church News - General

How do we read the Bible?

On the 18th of June, the Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia will convene. This synod will have to deal with the report of the deputies for relations with our Dutch sister churches. This report has received quite some attention in our churches. Of course, this also leads to the inevitable situation in which many members want to have their say in what went wrong in the Dutch churches. And, depending on where someone stands on issues within our own churches, the example of the Dutch churches is being used as a warning for us, that we should not do this, or that, or something else. I’ve heard these warnings in many different forms, but usually not very helpful.

It is important for us that in all humility, we first analyse very carefully and without being judgemental, what exactly did go wrong. Having grown up in the Netherlands, moved to Canada at the age of 35 and then after 14 years moved to Australia, I’ve had the opportunity to compare situations in three church federations. As a member of the Canadian Reformed committee for relations with churches abroad, I’ve had the privilege to visit several other church federations. Having seen how things are going in all those churches, and looking back on my own experiences in the Dutch churches, I believe it is very hard to come up with one specific cause where things went off track in the Netherlands. I have my own thoughts and after much consideration I believe that these thoughts have some value. But my thoughts are only those of one of the many members of our churches and only one of the eighteen delegates at the Synod. What I want to say is: they are not very important. We should start with being very humble and do a lot of listening. And asking questions. Let our Dutch brothers (and sisters) speak and let us listen to them, so that we can understand where they are coming from. And then we can analyse if and where they go wrong. Let’s not go by hearsay or by what others believe they have said or done. Let us honour and obey the ninth commandment and do due diligence before we come to a judgement.

That was also the purpose of a conference, organised by the Theological Seminary in Hamilton, some years ago. I attended this conference and heard first hand from professors from three different seminaries, one of those being the Theological University of our Dutch sister churches. I believe that at that conference it became quite clear what one of the major issues is: How do we read the Bible.

Rev. C. Bouwman wrote a good article about this conference in Reformed Perspective, and gave a solid analysis of the discussion at this conference. I heartily recommend this article to all the members of our Free Reformed Churches who want to form an opinion on this matter. I will just give a few quotes from this article, and I hope this will whet your appetite to read the entire article.

Rev. Bouwman first explained what the way of thinking was of the Dutch brothers about how to read Genesis 1, about the creation in six days, and also 1 Timothy 2, about women being allowed (or not) in the offices. The Dutch brothers come to totally different conclusions than the usual reader of the Bible would come. We need to combine what the Bible says, with what our culture says. And if our culture is different from that in the time that the Bible was written, then that means that we may come to a totally different answer. The brothers from Kampen promoted a different way of reading the Bible.  I quote from Rev. Bouwman’s article:

This third way would have us be familiar with the Scriptures, but instead of transferring a command of long ago straight into today’s context, we need to meditate on old time revelation and trust that as we do so the Lord will make clear what His answers are for today’s questions. If the cultural circumstances surrounding a command given long ago turns out to be very similar to cultural circumstances of today, we may parachute the command directly into today and insist it be obeyed.

But if the circumstances differ, we may not simply impose God’s dated commands on obedience or on theft or on homosexuality into today. Instead, with an attitude of humility and courage we need to listen to what God is today saying – and then listen not just to the Bible but also to culture, research, science, etc. After prayerfully meditating on the Scripture-in-light-of-lessons-from-culture-and-research, we may well end up concluding that we need to accept that two men love both each other and Jesus Christ. That conclusion may differ from what we’ve traditionally thought the Lord wanted of us, but a right attitude before the Lord will let us be okay with conclusions we’ve not seen in Scripture before.

Then Rev. Bouwman responds to this new way of reading the Bible, showing that in this way our own human preferences are going to play an important role in interpreting the Bible. Human preferences which come from a human will which is still, even though it is renewed and guided by the Holy Spirit, inclined to evil. Our will must be guided by the Bible and the Holy Spirit, and not the interpretation of the Bible by our will. Rev. Bouwman then mentions that the prophets and the apostles and our Lord Jesus Christ often said things that went against culture, which were a “stumbling block to Jews and folly to gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

I wholeheartedly agree with what Rev. Bouwman writes at the end of his article:

I was very grateful to note that the professors from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (and MARS too, for that matter) all spoke uniformly in their rejection of Kampen’s way of reading the Bible. They insisted unequivocally that

the whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (Westminster Confession, I.6).

Postmodernism does not pass us by. May the Lord give us grace to keep believing that His Word is authoritative, clear and true.