God’s Word and its practical implications

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The aim of this blog is not to simply present theoretical information, but rather to help us think through the practical implications of what we believe.  Having set out the Christian doctrine of Revelation, we are now in a position to think through its practical implications for individual and church life.  In this section, we will begin to set out some practical applications.  Of course, each application is worthy of more detailed attention and, in some cases, we will come back to look at the issues raised in more detail in later posts. 

We are to be a people gathered around God’s Word

There is a strong theme running through Scripture that God shapes his people by his Word.  Creation is formed by God speaking as he calls light and separates it from darkness, speaks into being the oceans and land, the stars and planets, the sun and the moon.  He creates the first people and instructs them to fill the earth: he blesses them.  He tells Adam and Eve how to live in the Garden of Eden.  He speaks judgement against sin and calls Noah to build an ark so that his family will be saved.  He blesses Abraham and promises him many descendants.  He calls him to leave his home and promises him a new land.  He calls Moses to lead the people of Israel from slavery to freedom.  At Sinai (Horeb), God gives the people laws to live by when they are in the land which he has promised them.

In Deuteronomy 4:10, Moses reminds the people about how those events at Sinai had come to pass:

Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”

The Old Testament describes the people of Israel as an assembly; when this word was translated into Greek, the same word was used as is used in the New Testament describes the Church.  It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that commentators from an earlier age such as Calvin were in the habit of describing God’s people in the Old Testament as the Church.  The point of this assembly or gathering was so that God’s Word could be proclaimed to them so that they would hear and obey.

This gives us a strong sense of what our priorities should be when we assemble as churches.  There are plenty of good things that can and should happen: there will be praise and singing, prayer, etc. Of course, we cannot escape the practicalities of announcements and it’s great to spend time catching up with one another.  However, central to our gathering should be the hearing of God’s Word.

I think that if we are to take this seriously then this will mean more than simply having one or two Bible readings during the meeting.  Gatherings should be shaped by and saturated in Scripture.  We will want to give space for Scripture to be read aloud but we can also use liturgy and songs that are rich in Biblical quotations and allusions as well. [1] 

Because of my belief in Scripture’s role as the means by which God speaks authoritatively, it affects my approach to how we structure our Bible teaching in church life.  I am firmly committed to an approach where we systematically work through a book of the Bible, taking a section each week and digging into it to find out what it has to say.  This approach is known as expository preaching and differs from topical preaching where the preacher selects a subject and then identifies the relevant Bible texts which relate to the topic.  Whilst the latter does at least rely on Biblical content (in some churches you will sadly not even get that but will be treated to the preacher’s own reflections and opinions on a range of issues) it does run the risk that the preacher tries to shape Scripture around his priorities.

By working systematically through books of the Bible, you ensure that you cover all of Scripture including the bits that we find difficult to accept not just our favourite passages.  It guards a congregation against a preacher’s hobby horses or from him selecting a topic to preach at specific people or problems (sometimes the two may seem to be the same).  In my experience, God’s providence means that we are often surprised at how timely and relevant a particular Bible passage and sermon is to a situation without the preacher needing to manipulate or control the agenda[2]

We should take time to get to know Scripture for ourselves

Psalm 1 describes the “Blessed Man.”  I think we can move towards a gender inclusive paraphrase of this though it’s right to start with the “man” because first of all it reminds us that David would have seen the Psalm as an instruction for godly kings who followed his example and secondly it points us towards Jesus, the truly blessed and righteous man. 

“Blessed” at its simplest is to do with happiness.  It’s the happiness that comes when we have God’s approval over our lives.  We are happy when we do not associate with wickedness or listen to corrupt advice.  Instead, the happy person’s “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he mediates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2).  Law here refers immediately to the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).  Actually, Torah is not just a law code as we would understand it but includes the retelling of redemptive history, poetry and song that celebrates God’s goodness and predictions, warnings and promises for the future.  We can widen out the application to the whole of Scripture.

Christians, both when they are assembled as church and individually, should take time to get to know God’s Word.  Older translations talk about “meditating” on God’s Word.  The idea is that we should take time to read it, slowing down to reflect on what it has to say, studying it closely to grasp its meaning, considering how we can respond obediently to what it says.

I do think it is right to encourage Christians to read their Bibles for themselves daily and for families regularly to study God’s Word together.  Remember though that this does not mean that we become individualistic in our approach to Scripture.  There’s no room for personalised applications that are not tried and tested within the context of the local church.

As we have seen earlier, this soaking in God’s Word is not meant to be seen as a safe, cosy, fluffy exercise.  Rather, God’s Word is given as teaching, correction and rebuke in the context of the trials and tests that come with opposition.  This leads us to another application.

Scripture provides protection against abuse and false teaching

It’s worth noting how False Teaching works.  In 2 Timothy 3:13, Paul talks about imposters who “go on” both “deceiving and being deceived.”  The subtlety of deception is that we can even convince ourselves of the stories we tell.  The level of sincerity with which a deception is held to provides no excuse or justification.  Romans 16:17-18 again highlights the subtle craft of the false teaching describing how “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive” (v18) with the intention of causing divisions (v17).

False teachers will use flattery and deception to try and isolate their target from the body of God’s people.  That is what division is all about.  A sheep that has been separated from the flock is vulnerable to attack.  So the message you are meant to hear is “no-one else really understands you: only I care.” Then the false teacher seeks to silence God’s voice.  They will undermine their target’s confidence in God’s Word.  There are various ways that they can do this.  For example, in our day and age, the simplest way is to discredit the reliability of the Bible and question inerrancy so that the truth of Scripture is replaced with the false teacher’s own ideas and opinions.  However, a false teacher can claim to be committed to Scripture whilst deliberately misinterpreting it, ripping it out of context and wrongly applying it.  They may well insist that you should only read Scripture through the lens of their own personal interpretation (e.g. through a prescribed study book or magazine).  The target is weaned away from dependence on God to dependence on the false teacher.  The aim of the false teacher is to gain and control a following for their own benefit (popularity, material wealth etc).

That’s why consistent reading and exposition of Scripture in church life and personal meditation and study are vital.  Those who have heard the true shepherd’s voice will know to distinguish it from a false shepherd.  Those who through consistently solid Bible teaching have developed confidence in God’s Word will know not to be distracted and misled by alternatives which promise much but in reality offer little.

We need to make sure that we read Scripture correctly

Mishearing what someone says can be potentially embarrassing, costly and dangerous.  If we believe that we know God as he speaks to us through Scripture, then we will want to make sure that we read it correctly.  After all, as we have seen above, false teachers are capable of twisting Scripture to fit their own aims.  We too can misread Scripture.

This is why the discipline of Hermeneutics is an important one for believers to master.  Hermeneutics simply means the way in which we read or interpret something.  It has sometimes been referred to as the lens through which we read a book, piece of art, play, film, object, scene, factual description etc. 

How do we know how to read Scripture correctly?  How do we know that the interpretation we have made is the correct one, especially when so many people have different interpretations?   These questions are worthy of further detailed study and discussion, but I would like to make a couple of observations here.

First of all, the best way to read something is in the way that it asks us too.  We respect an individual by accepting their account of who they are, their personality, their likes and dislikes, their history at face value unless we are given good reason to suspect what they disclose.  It’s the same with a book and especially with the Bible as God’s self-disclosure.  The Bible invites us to read it as God’s inspired word, not as human speculation.  It promises us truth that will be useful and sufficient for all of life.  That’s our starting point.  It also gives us clues about how to read the different parts of it so we distinguish between poetry, wisdom literature, history and story-telling.  As we read and re-read the text in the light of its own self-disclosure, our understanding becomes sharper, just like when the optician adjusts the lens.  This circling in to a more and more accurate reading has sometimes been referred to as the hermeneutic spiral.

Secondly, I encourage people to read Scripture together.  There is a corporate dimension to this.  We don’t sit down in isolation and come up with our own speculative interpretations.  We challenge each other, we check things out and we listen to wise teaching.  That’s why gathering as a church and in small groups is so important. There is a right sense of “tradition.” This is not about the church handing down oral traditions as well as Scripture and it is certainly not about church leaders being able to develop their own new ideas.  Rather, there is the sense that the church has held onto a right understanding of Scripture through the tests of time and we want to be careful of novel interpretations. 

Thirdly, once again I’m indebted to Mike Ovey who used to remind his students that in a real conversation (as opposed to an imagined one) the other party may well disagree with you.  We respect the other speaker when we permit them to disagree with us.  If we find that Scripture never challenges us, never disagrees with us, always leaves us feeling reinforced and comfortable in our own ideas, then it might be time to stop and have a look at how we are approaching it.  If God is genuinely speaking, then he must be allowed to disagree with us.  If it is God who is speaking, then when we disagree, my only right response is to accept and obey what he says.  In effect, I repent; I change my mind so that it is conformed to God’s Word rather than my preferences.

Revelation provides the only solid foundation for Christian Apologetics

Our understanding of revelation and Scripture will have an impact on our approach to apologetics.  Apologetics is all to do with the ability to give reasons and defence for our faith.  This is a whole subject in itself worthy of a lot more attention (perhaps it will get it in later posts!) However, briefly, we can say the following.

Apologetics is often presented as an exercise where one finds neutral ground to share with your interlocutor.  On the basis of reason and empirical observation, a case is set out for the existence of some form of deity and from there, gradually, the enquirer is invited to consider the possibility that this deity is personal and is the God of the Bible.  This is the classic approach to apologetics and is exemplified in the classic work “Natural Theology” by William Palely.[3]  One problem with this approach is that it does not necessarily bring you into land at the right spot.  For example, through such means, the eminent Atheist Anthony Flew changed his mind and accepted that there was a God.  However, as far as we can tell, he failed to make the move from a general belief in deity to specific knowledge of and faith in the one true God revealed in Jesus. [4]

So my preference is for an approach called Presuppositional Apologetics.  The basis of this approach is that first of all there is no neutral ground to meet on.  Instead, we must do two things.  First of all, we must step into the other person’s world and understand them.  Secondly, we do not leave our own world and foundations behind; rather, we speak on the basis of God’s revelation.  Thirdly, the nature of presuppositional apologetics is that it uses the truth of revelation to show the failings and inconsistencies in their world view because it is based on false foundations (presuppositions).  Fourthly, it shows that to make sense of life, the world, everything, we need to build our worldview on the solid foundation (presuppositions) of God’s revelation in Scripture.

This raises again the question asked in an earlier post.  If God’s revelation is clear and sufficient, then why do so many people not accept it?  We can identify three main categories here.

  1. Why do some people choose not to believe in God (atheism) or at least to reserve judgement (agnosticism)?
  2. Why do some people come to a different conclusion about what God is like, worshipping other gods or other versions of God?
  3. Why do some professing Christians seem to go so badly wrong in their understanding of God’s Word leading to error and false teaching including liberalism? (It is worth referring back to the section on the clarity of Scripture here).

This is something we will need to keep coming back to and will specifically return to when we have had chance to look in more detail at what we believe about Creation and Humanity.  At this stage we can say the following.

First, this is one of those points where we may struggle with Scripture and want to disagree with it.  However, our required response is to believe what it says in Romans 1 about God’s clear revelation.  This may mean that we haven’t fully understood what Paul says and why he says it, but belief is the starting point.

Secondly, a key point that Paul is making in Romans 1 is that ignorance is not to be confused with innocence and is not a merely passive state.  We are ignorant of truth because we choose to supress it. [5] There is also a sense in which people choose the authorities which they go to because they prefer the answers they will give.  I know that there are people who will gravitate to me for advice rather than another church leader because they think my advice will be more to their liking and of course vice-versa (that’s why plural church leadership is so important as church leaders work together to ensure that they are not played off against each other).  That some, indeed many, prefer to listen to Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens does not mean that a discerning mind will not see through the logical inconsistencies in their argument over time. 

Thirdly, our ignorance includes an element of judgement. Remember that Paul refers to us as being handed over. Fourthly, ignorance of the truth and acceptance of error tends to be a progressive thing.  As people exchange truth for lies and the revelation of God for idolatry, then there is an increased darkening of their minds.

Fifthly, remember the image of the beach ball being submerged under water only to bounce back again. [6] Truth will out.  There will be those nagging thoughts caused by inconsistencies in our world view: “This cannot be right….” “There must be more than this….” “Why are they different…?”

Later, when we look at what we believe about humanity, we will consider in more detail the way in which sin has an impact on our understanding.  We will also consider to what extent Paul’s comments refer to us individually and to what extent they refer to us corporately as the whole human race.

Revelation is the only basis for genuinely helpful, loving and life changing pastoral counselling

Our approach to counselling is also rooted in our understanding of revelation.  This has some important implications.

First of all, it means that we as Christians are responsible for counselling.  The Bible talks about bearing one another’s burdens and encouraging and correcting one another.   Pastors and elders have a particular responsibility for this.  So there is a danger in simply passing on cases such as marital problems or addictive behaviour because we see these issues as not our responsibility, too difficult or too time consuming.  The first danger is that the people we hand our brothers and sister over to may have qualifications and accreditations, but they are not actually competent to counsel because they don’t understand the spiritual dimension. Heath Lambert comments that:

Secular psychotherapists ….are very well intentioned but ultimately seek to help people solve their problems while ignoring Christ and his Word.  They have rejected the Godward dimension of counselling, moving in the opposite direction to claim that God and his people should have little or no role to play in the counselling task.  Their diagnosing of and their attempts at ‘curing’ people and their problems are man-centred and so will always fall short of offering people true and lasting change to their deepest problems.”[7]

Jay Adams, the founder of the Biblical Counselling movement, was highly sceptical of secular psychotherapy.  He argued that:

Biblically, there is no warrant for acknowledging the existence of a separate and distinct discipline called psychiatry.  There are in the Scriptures, only three specified sources of personal problems in living, demonic activity (principally possession), personal sin and organic illness.  These three are interrelated.  All options are covered under these heads, leaving no room for a fourth: non organic mental illness.  There is, therefore, no place in a biblical scheme for the psychiatrist as a seperate practitioner.[8]

The point is that if we are not dealing with a bona-fide medical issue, then the secular counsellor cannot offer hope.  They miss the point that the solution to the person’s problem is a right relationship with the God who made them.  They look instead for alternative explanations and solutions.[9]

The second issue is that we are abdicating our own God given responsibility for our brothers and sisters.  Christians are called to bear one another’s burdens and to encourage and challenge one another.  Pastors and elders have a particular responsibility for seeking to proactively care for the spiritual wellbeing of those in their churches.  So after noting the misunderstanding caused by secular psychology, Lambert goes on to rebuke church leaders

A second group misunderstanding the issue –is ironically- conservative Bible believing, Christ exalting ministers of the Gospel.  These conservative ministers fail to grasp that counselling is an essential part of ministry and so disconnect theology from counselling.  They demonstrate the misunderstanding every time they say things like, “Oh I don’t counsel people; I’m a preacher.” Or “Counselling takes too much time away from other ministries,” or “I don’t think the Bible has anything to say about this problem; you need to see a professional.”[10]

Now none of this is to say that we take a narrow, simplistic view of things or we assume arrogantly that we can deal with things on our own.  It is helpful at this point to remember two things.  First of all, remember the diagram we started with from the CBT manual.  We remember when we deal with others that we are dealing with the whole person.  So first of all, there is the medical dimension.  Indeed, as we saw earlier, Adams draws the same links, noting that medical, spiritual and behavioural issues are “interrelated” [11]   Often, one of the first things we do when counselling people is to talk through the medical situation.  It is reasonable to insist that before we begin counselling that the person is following medical advice and taking appropriate medication. 

Secondly, we have seen that there is both Special and General Revelation and the competent counsellor will not ignore general revelation.  Rather, they will see General Revelation as useful in its place, under the authority of Special Revelation and interpreted through the lens of Scripture.  We will want to pay attention to wise, practical advice even if it comes from secular sources.  We will not wish to ignore the learning of others.  In our church, we have a number of medical practioners including those with expertise in neurology and mental health care.  We also have members who work in secular fields such as educational psychology.  One member is currently pursuing a PhD in this field and investigating the relationships between a child’s health and wellbeing and the medical history of the family.  This means that they have access to a wealth of learning about medical science, the human body and brain and also about human behaviour (socially and individually). We would be foolish not to listen to their experience and insights, especially as because they are believers, they submit their learning to the authority of Scripture.  Adams puts it this way:

I do not wish to disregard science, but rather I welcome it as a useful adjunct for the purposes of illustrating, filling in the generalisations with specifics and challenging wrong human interpretations of Scripture, thereby forcing the student to restudy the Scriptures.  However, in the area of psychiatry, science largely has given way to humanistic philosophy and gross speculation.[12]

So, in summary, Christian counselling is Biblical counselling.  In fact, one thing I have learnt is that no matter how harsh and difficult to bear we may perceive the words of Scripture to be, God’s law will always be more loving and gracious than human attempts at mercy.  The purpose of Christian counselling is not to soothe the counselee and help them feel better with warm words of comfort and it is certainly not the place where we merely offer the benefits of our own insights and experience (though good counselling will of course carry the impact of the counsellor’s experience).  Rather, our aim is to help the person see what God’s word has to say about their situation and how they are called to respond in obedience, even when that response may mean further suffering.  The end result will of course be the blessing or happiness that comes to those who delight in God’s Word.

Conclusion

We have seen that the Christian view of revelation, knowing that God has spoken clearly, authoritatively and finally gives us great confidence as we seek to know and worship God and to live godly lives for him. Shortly, we will move on to find out what God has revealed about himself in more detail.  As we go along, the aim is to keep thinking about what we see and learn impacts practically on our lives both as individuals and families and corporately as the Church.


[1] To avoid lengthy footnoting here it’s worth mentioning that I really owe the insights here to Chris Green , The Message of the Church: Assemble My People (Nottingham. IVP, 2013).

[2] On this see Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2004), 35-55.

[3] William Paley, Natural Theology,

[4] I say “as far as we can tell…” based on the writings we have from him.  It is of course unwise to attempt definitive statements when only God knows what exactly went on in his final days and hours.

[5] Strange, “Perilous Exchange,” 113.

[6] Strange, “Perilous Exchange,” 113.

[7] Heath Lambert, The Biblical Counselling Movement After Adams (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2012, 21-22.

[8] Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan, 1973), 9-10.  Cited in Lambert, The Biblical Counselling Movement, 37.

[9] For a classic example of an attempt to construct an alternative to the Gospel see Carl Gustav Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, (First Published 1933, London, Routledge Classics, 2001).

[10] Lambet, The Biblical Counselling Movement, 22.

[11] Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan, 1973), 9-10.  Cited in Lambert, The Biblical Counselling Movement, 37.

[12] Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel, xxi.  Cited in Lambert, The Biblical Counselling Movement, 39.

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