How do you read Scripture? And what understanding of Scripture do you expect from the pastors and preachers who are teaching you? Many of us don’t recognize that pastors/preachers/teachers sometimes have very different views of how to read and interpret Scripture. Most reformed pastors hold to a Christ-centered, gospel-focused hermeneutic — that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection enable us to interpret all the other stories of Scripture. Our hermeneutic then plays into how we respond to Scripture. And it particularly plays into how we interact with Scripture’s stories and instructions. I noted this in The Gospel-Centered Woman. It’s really important to understand Scripture’s own instructions for interpreting itself when it comes to reading Old Testament stories on women in particular. The overarching story of Scripture is God’s pursuit of His Children and the work He did to bring Jesus forward as the rightful King in the line of David. God wrote for us a long, winding story, with commentary in the forms of instruction to us. Each informs the other – the story opens our eyes to His sovereign plan before time began to redeem us. The instruction and words of wisdom are lights to our paths to keep us from missteps along the treacherous walk until we see Him face to face.
When a pastor decides on his hermeneutic, a question that separates many of them is where they see themselves in this story. Where you locate yourself in that story is an indicator of whether you see yourself constrained by the written canon of Scripture or over the canon of Scripture. This question relates directly to the discussion we had on the blog last week on Sarcastic Pastors, a post which definitely struck a nerve. While most commenters strongly agreed with the original post, a few pushed back using the idea that since the Bible uses sarcasm, even sarcasm at the expense of specific groups of people, we can not say that modern day pastors are in sin if they use it similarly at the expense of specific groups of people. As a side note, I want to specify again that my main concern is not all uses of sarcasm at all times but what the Bible says about sarcasm used at the expense of someone or some group of people in particular. I have an issue with sarcasm that cuts down another image bearer of God. But can I go as far to say such sarcasm at the expense of another is actually sin?
I fully concede that Scripture does at times employ sarcasm at the expense of some in the audience. It is valuable to make a distinction between sarcasm and satire. The Bible uses a lot of satire. It uses less sarcasm. Satire mocks ideas while sarcasm mocks people, with some overlap. Nevertheless, Scripture does give examples of biting sarcasm. God used it in Jeremiah 46. Elijah used it in I Kings. Paul used it in Galatians 5.
But here is where our method of reading and interpreting Scripture matters. Though the Bible employs biting sarcasm, Paul in Ephesians 4 specifically warns against using language that cuts down another person. So the Apostle Paul writing the Word of God under the inspiration of the Spirit uses a manner of speaking that he also tells us not to use. How do we reconcile that?
The temptation I see among those who defend the use of biting, cutting sarcasm is to dismiss clear instruction in Scripture to not use cutting language because the authors of Scripture sometimes used cutting language. But that seems to me the use of a bad hermeneutic to justify disobeying Scripture’s commands. Think of the problems if we apply such reasoning more broadly. God cursed Satan at the fall, yet Paul instructs us in Romans not to curse our persecutors. Jesus calls the Pharisees fools and then proceeds to tell His disciples not to call anyone a fool. But biggest of all, God struck Uzzah dead for touching the Arc of the Covenant, yet He clearly instructs us not to kill!
This is not rocket science. The fact that GOD, or His prophets/apostles moved by the Spirit of God to write HIS WORD, used biting sarcasm is completely irrelevant to whether pastors today (or you and I) should use it at the expense of another, especially since Scripture specifically says, “Don’t do that.” They, under the inspiration of the Spirit, spoke for God! They spoke words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that have been recorded for eternity in God’s Written Word. Yet those eternally recorded words include the command to you and I to temper our language out of love that ministers grace to the hearers. God used it as He told His story, but clearly instructs us not to do it on our own. He is God, so the wisdom in that discrepancy truly makes complete sense to me.
To be fair to some of the pastors/preachers best known for biting sarcasm, they often truly believe they are God’s modern prophet/apostle. They think this office is still open—that God speaks to them today the way He spoke to Paul or Elijah before the canon of Scripture was finished. The extension is that they don’t have to submit to the canon of Scripture when it contradicts what they believe is the biting, cutting Word from God He’s commanding them to speak at the expense of other image bearers of God. The problem with this is obvious. If your flesh wants to flay open your opponent and you believe you are a prophetic apostle, you can say whatever you want to say. You are God’s anointed, and you get to sin against whomever you think the Holy Spirit is telling you to. Deep down, I think such pastors know it is the flesh, not the Spirit, prompting them to speak such ways. Or else they are grossly self-deceived.
This is not my personal rant for cessationism, by the way. That’s a slightly different issue. I believe gifts are still given today but not in a way that supersedes the canon of Scripture. When non-cessationist pastors believe that their words supersede The Word, I’ll die on that sword. Cessationist or not, our words do not trump The Word. Ever. And when cessationists act this way, I just wonder, what exactly is your hermeneutic? What line of reasoning are you employing for placing yourself above specific commands and instructions in Scripture on obedient speech?
Anyone who wants to justify why they don’t need to obey what Scripture clearly INSTRUCTS and/or COMMANDS by way of examples of things prophets or apostles did should examine, first, how they navigate through the Bible’s stories verses the Bible’s instructions. Secondly, they should examine their heart. What is going on in your heart that causes you to believe that words that are stumblingblocks that suck grace out of the room are your right to say or that in any way actually support God’s kingdom agenda? I feel strongly that it is the flesh, not the Spirit, that would move any of us in modern times to disobey the very Word that the Holy Spirit moved the men of old to write. And I’m reminded by the previous discussion how very important it is to understand the core beliefs/assumptions of those preaching the Word before I trust them to minister it to me.
Our hermeneutic matters.