Tuesday, May 13, 2014

An Open Letter to All Pastors

Today’s believers are in a unique position compared to believers of the past. We have access to a wealth of knowledge, once only available to the literate and wealthy. Much of this knowledge is available at our fingertips and free at best, or at least affordable in most situations. Anyone with access to a computer can now “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” as instructed in 2 Timothy 2:15. This begs the question, what is the “word of truth”?

We consider the Word of Truth to encompass the whole Bible, in its entirety. That means that we believe in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Second Timothy 3:16 explains it best. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” This also means that we look to the Scriptures for examples on how we should, and in some cases, should not, live our lives. We strive to follow the example of the Bereans as written about in Acts 17:11, which reads, “These were nobler than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” We do not mean to imply that we are nobler than anyone. However, it does mean that we receive the preached word, whether preached with pen and paper, or keyboard and monitor, or vocally from the pulpit, with all readiness of mind.

It also means that we search the Scriptures to determine whether or not the preached word is true, accurately represented, in proper context with the passage(s) referenced, and taught with clarity and consistency. We were not always this thorough and, like many of our fellow congregants, simply accepted that what was preached to us was the “truth” of the Scriptures. Our gullibility was such that if it was preached from the pulpit, then the message was believed to be true. Sometimes this meant ignoring the questions in our spirit. At other times, we rationalized or explained away the discrepancies. Eventually, this approach of avoidance and denial stopped working. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” We were hungry; but we did not feel as though we were getting filled at church. Instead, we felt as though we were starving.

Hebrews 4:12 teaches us, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” We believe that many of the pastors that preached to us were sincere; but time has also shown us that just as many of them were sincerely wrong. God’s Word has truly been a two-edged sword, dividing asunder the very foundation of all our beliefs until we stood with a pile of rubble at our feet. And, so, picking up our Bibles, we began to really search out the Scriptures and began the process of rebuilding our foundation - not on what men, even men of God, have preached, but on the literal Words of God.

So what does this mean to those of you that are still a pastor to a flock today? Well, we hope that by sharing how we research your writing and preaching you will become more aware of the knowledge available to every member of your congregation. A degree in theology or divinity is no longer necessary to have access to a plethora of religious writings. And there are many alleged “lost sheep” like us that are not really lost, but are rather, very carefully studying you pastors, as exhorted in Matthew 5:6, to “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

When we choose to attend a service, whether online or in person; or read something you have written; you can be confident that we are going to thoroughly review it. We will take extensive notes, keeping record of every Scripture verse you reference and the context in which it was used. For the more complex subjects preached, we may even go so far as to transcribe the entire message, word-for-word, just so that we can review it. If you should happen to preach a sermon and only reference one or two Scripture verses, you can be assured that we will not waste our time with reviewing the sermon, paying attention during the service, or attempting to apply your lessons in our life. Preach in this manner often enough and we will simply eliminate you as a viable resource. And of course, we will share our opinions with others; especially if someone actually recommended you to us.

We will look up every single Scripture verse that you mention - in multiple versions. While we prefer the King James Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, and the English Standard Version, we have access to more than 25 translations of the Bible. We will also compare any definitions or explanations you preached against our collection of dictionaries and commentaries. We will use our concordances to see if the words used in the passages you discussed have alternative meanings: especially if the words are ones that we have historically discovered can be misinterpreted or translated with a bias. Is the verse mentioned taken out of the context of the passage as a whole? What are some of the cross references linked to the preached verses and passages? Is there some historical context that might help us to understand the message better?

We are very familiar with the faults and biases of the translations that we use, and so, we have also been known to look at the original Hebrew and Greek. We do not consider ourselves to be experts, except maybe in researching the Word of God; and so we also like to review what others have written about a specific passage. We do not look at just those that are in agreement with you or with what we believe; we look at the counter arguments too. The easiest way for us to do this is to perform a general search for a debate on the main topic. This has helped us develop a secondary set of reference materials to review, as applicable.

Depending on the main theme or topic of the original sermon, we may even go so far as to write our own personal white paper, clearly defining what we believe, based on our review of the topic as a whole. If we’ve written a white paper in the past and you provided us with some new information, we may update, revise, or even change our position and beliefs. Every white paper we produce is shared, with the general public through a variety of social media outlets. We publish our beliefs in accordance with Mark 13:10, which states, “And the gospel must first be published among all nations.”

We recognize that we are all human; however, Deuteronomy 11:16 exhorts us to “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them;” Church doctrines, man-made traditions, and pagan practices have infiltrated the church at every level. We all make mistakes, from time-to-time. We do not expect you to be perfect; however, we do pray that you will “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avail much.” as commanded in James 5:16. We also recognize that we can have a difference of opinion. We may disagree with you; obviously, you may disagree with us.

We also recognize that some pastors are empowered by either a denomination or by personal beliefs to exhort their congregation to follow a certain set of doctrines, guidelines, standards, and rules of behavior that go above and beyond what has been written in the Scriptures. Any time this type of information is communicated, it must be clearly stated that these extraneous items are your personal viewpoints and not clearly delineated in the Scriptures. We strongly disagree with this practice as we feel it is misleading and oftentimes leads to division within the church. If it is not in God’s Word, then do not expect us to follow it, regardless of your interpretation. And definitely do not try to manipulate the Scriptures to present your personal point of view. It causes more harm than good. Churches would truly see more revival if God’s Word was preached as “it is written.”

Finally, don’t make the assumption that we do not know what we are talking about; that we are just “babes” in the faith; backslidden, lost sheep; or deceived. We are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that we have removed as much of the doctrinal and denominational biases that we have grown up with. We try to have an open mind, an open heart, and a teachable spirit; and of course, an open Bible on our laps. We have been fed the “milk” of the Word for more than 20 years; we are now hungry for the “meat” and believe that we can bear it.

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