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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Text; context; pretext!

It's a well-known maxim among those who are involved in the fields of theology (study of God), homiletics (the art of preaching), and hermeneutics (the skill of Biblical interpretation), that "A text, out of context, is a pretext"!  Sadly, there are some texts of Scripture that are regularly taken out of context and, thus, totally mis-applied - even by some who are Bible believing, Gospel preaching, disciples of Jesus.

One such is Rev.3:20.  This reads "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me." (RSV).  How often has that text, together with Holman Hunt's famous painting, been used in evangelistic services as an invitation to the unconverted to open the doors of their hearts, and allow the Saviour to enter? 

However, if we take the trouble to look at the surrounding verses (the context) we discover that those words were spoken, not to unbelievers, but to the church (i.e. the people who made up the church - there was no 'church building' at that time) in Laodicea.  The invitation is to 'church members'!

At Wishaw Baptist Church, this morning, we were reminded that there are, in the church - and you may read that as any individual fellowship, or as the church world-wide - both false professors and faith professors.  In other words, there are those who, while happy to sit in a church building, have never entered into a living relationship with the Lord Jesus!   As has been written: "The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christian, but who aren't actually interested in following Christ.  They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them." (Kyle Idleman).

Another well-known, and oft-quoted text in this category is the one that was used in my hearing today, and led to this post being published.  It reads: "... if My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (RSV).  What a wonderful promise!  And the state of the British nation - and most of the so-called 'western world' - would certainly lead many to claim that promise for their own land.

But wait a minute!  Those words are found in II Chron.7:14.  That is in the Old Testament.  They are a direct response, by YHWH (the Covenant Name of Almighty God), to king Solomon, after his prayer at the dedication of the first Temple,and its consecration by YHWH Himself.  They are words that apply directly to the Jewish people, written in one of the historical books, and without any warrant to transpose them to any other contemporary situation!   If they are to be used in such a way, I would contend that they would require the same national repentance, and crying out to God, that was required of the Children of Israel.  They failed to do so - and the result may be seen, as prophesied by YHWH, and recorded in vs.19-22.

We live in difficult times.  The Christian faith, and the disciples of Jesus, are being increasingly mocked, macerated, and marginalised.  But perhaps, instead of trying to claim the promise of II Chron.7:14, the church should be heeding the warning, implicit in Rev.3:20!

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