Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Interpreting the Text

We were having a serious discussion about the book of Revelation. My friend takes a church historical approach and divides history into numerous time periods that result in the evening light, when the church reappears out of the darkness under the beast of Roman Papacy.

I read Revelation through the historical lenses of Church History. This strengthens, rather than lessening, the uniqueness of the Reformation of the Church of God (as we know it). It links us directly to the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus.

I suggest it more correctly reveals the orthodoxy of our lineage. It finds us as bible-believing Christians from the first centuries, wending it way through an endless list of reformers that introduce Martin Luther. It postdates Luther, and finds its way through those Radical Anabaptists, and others the ilk of Wesley, Winebrenner and Warner.

I saw my friend’s problem in his opening paragraph: “You recognize the reticence of scholars to accept the numbers and name the Papacy as the beast prophesied.” I suggested that he failed to grasp the foundational statement of biblical interpretation, which I quote from George Kufeldt, a scholar on the prophets and the prophetic (Callen/ Listening To The Word of God/AU-Warner Press/1990):

The construction of such a system of eschatology
through proof-texting: the biblical text must be,
interpreted in the light of its context.

Biblical interpretation must be viewed first through the author’s lens, and the context of his times. With both Revelation and Daniel, my friend, with his Church Historical view, was looking through a lense later than the writer’s and more in keeping with his own contextual times.

If we read Revelation through John’s contextual lens, it predates the 1260 years of the Papacy and applies to the 1st and 2nd century World Powers (including the Roman Empire, of which Caesar worship was a part). Same for Daniel.

That is not to say the Papacy does not apply; it does, but it was not the primary prophecy. There is a direct correlation between the adoration given the Pope and that first given Caesar. It serves as a secondary--contemporary--application, rather than a prophetic word.

My friend was looking through his own lens to read-into history the 1260 years. He was stacking one period of history onto another and making a projected timeline, the same one by which the first Millerites and later Adventists established Christ‘s second Advent.

An exaggerated illustration of this might be made by looking at the four gospels. Ordinarily, we view them as four views of the same event--like any good accident report, but only one life and ministry of Jesus (definitely not four lifetimes of Jesus).

A more accurate reading of the text reads times, time, and half-time as repeated references (just different terms) to the same message, rather than each referring to a different time and then stacking time on time into 1260 years, with an eventual timeline for D. S. Warner coming on the scene in 1880.

With a little tweaking of that methodology, we could also be among the 7th Day Adventists. Warner got that idea from reading Uriah Smith of the Battle Creek Adventist College.

Regarding the unsoundness of the Year-Day theory; Kenneth Jones wrote: “This method of calculation is usually supported by reference to Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:4-4, and Daniel 9:25. However, none of these presents a general rule, and all of them together are negated by other passages in which a day is not a year, and a year is not a day (italics mine). Cf further ref: Isa 7:8; 16:14; 23:15; Jere 29:10; Daniel 8:2; and Mt 20:19).

Jones comments further: “this method has repeatedly led to predictions of the end that have been proven wrong by failure.”

Just in my lifetime, I have heard these constantly readjusted and compounded. Theories abounded with WWII and continue to change with the evolving of history. By using this contemporary lens, Hal Lindsey excited multitudes about the reestablishment of Israel in 1948. He wrote reams about it, only to be proven wrong and finding it necessary to tweak his own teaching).

When you begin with the wrong road, you seldom get to the right destination. Thus, I suggested to my friend that what was wrong with his interpretive journey was that he could not come out at the right place when he began with a misinterpretation. It skewed his whole journey!

The message of God’s grace, mercy, and sufficiency is abundantly clear in the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation). However, I found my friend’s stream of interpretation polluted at its source.

Some have looked at this problem and declared if the Church of God Reformation Movement was not prophesied in Scripture, we have no biblical distinctiveness as a Reformation Movement. Perhaps so, but I contend that it does not diminish our distinctiveness at all.

By rooting ourselves in Church History--from the first century til now--we simply connect (reconnect) to the lifeline of Biblical Orthodoxy. John 15 describes life in the vine and we are only showing our living link to the True Vine--where the real life exists in the historic community of generic (if you will) Christianity.

The remnant of faithful, bible-believing, holiness witnesses thread their way from the earliest centuries, through the dark ages (Pre-Reformation), the Lutheran Reformation, Radical Reformers, and the holiness umbrella of Wesleyan reform).

As a Movement we are not static; the renewing winds of God’s spirit blow through the tree tops. I stood at historic Warner Camp recently and watched majestic tall trees sway gently in winds I could not see. Again, I prayed for a sense of God’s renewing Spirit in our midst. I may not see it when it happens, but I can go to waters nearby and adjust the sails on my little craft, and that gentle breeze will take me where I need to go.

Let us go forward with the Mission Statement God wrote when Jesus journeyed between Bethlehem and Calvary. We celebrate Christmas and Easter as we do because it was there that God modeled true love and meaningful gifting.

Let us renew our embrace of generic Christianity. Let us share God’s supreme gift of love. Let us passionately unite in the quest for holiness and unity--rather than compete for exclusive rights to it. Let us become a truly united church for a divided and segregated world. Let the Lord Jesus Himself be the doorkeeper of our fellowship.

Creeds affirm theological beliefs, but they are inadequate as tests of fellowship. Membership documents are helpful, and every believer needs to be part of a close-knit fellowship. But only Christ Himself can be the glue that binds us together. Only His Love expressed in our lives will adequately translate His Word for a hurting world in need of healing.

1 comment:

Pastor Eric said...

hey Wayne,

have you read WORTHY IS THE LAMB, by R. Summers? Best work on the revelation... my humble opinion. Think you'll like it. You can get it at: http://www.amazon.com/Worthy-Lamb-R-Summers/dp/0805420746/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217999505&sr=1-1