THE SPIRITS SWORD
Mt. Baker church of Christ
1860 Mt. Baker Hwy· Bellingham, WA 98226
Volume IV, Number 30· October 1, 2000
Editor..................Joe R. Price
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In this issue:
Thanks for writing with your questions and concerns about Genesis 1. It is obvious that you have read a good deal of material on the subject.
I will offer some point by point analysis of the things you raise in your post, all within the context of addressing your basic concern over the matter of fellowship and the seriousness of this topic among Christians. This letter is very long, but please bear with me in it. I appreciate your patient consideration of what I have to say.
But before I do that, let me recommend that to compliment your study of this subject you give careful attention to the work by brother Dan King, Sr. in the April, 1999 issue of Watchman Magazine: http://www.watchmanmag.com/0204indx.htm.
Brother King is a true scholar of the Hebrew language and OT studies, and his discussion of this matter is invaluable. In fact, the entire April, 1999 issue of WM is an incredible resource on understanding this subject. I urge you to read it carefully.
First, you suggest that Genesis 1 does not deal with issues involving sin, salvation and the church, and therefore those with opposing interpretations of it do not deserve the treatment they have received in the Open Letter. I beg to differ with you.
We should remember that every sin that is committed is against the God of Genesis 1. We should remember that our only means of salvation from the death caused by our sin is through the grace of the God of Genesis 1. And, we should remember that the church and its place in God's plan and purpose to redeem man from his sin was already in the mind of God before the events of Genesis 1 ever occurred (Eph. 3:10-11).
Indeed, the existence of sin, the need for salvation and the purpose of the church are all predicated upon (among other things) the creation of the world, the account of which is recorded in Genesis 1! If the events of Genesis 1 did not occur as the Bible says, then how can we be sure there is such a thing as sin, that we need something called "salvation," or that God saves a body of people called "the church"? So, we can indeed say that Genesis 1 bears upon all three of these topics - and more.
The issues raised by the Open Letter go far beyond an intellectual exercise of defining "yom" and "evening and morning." Simply put, the issue is this: Can we understand and trust the Biblical record of creation as it is written in Genesis 1-2, or is more than one interpretation allowable?
The way in which we interpret the Scriptures will indeed bear upon our salvation. Please take a close look at 2 Tim. 3:14-17:
14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,
15 And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The "Holy Scriptures" of which Paul speaks is the Old Testament. The OT scriptures (as well as the NT) are inspired by God -- He is their source, not man. Inspired writing benefits us ("is profitable") in the area of doctrine, reproof, correction and teaching in righteous living. Clearly then, OT scriptures play a part in our learning and spiritual training (Rom. 15:4). As a child Timothy had been taught and assured of the accuracy and credibility of the OT scriptures - truth which was able make him "wise for (unto) salvation through faith" in Christ.
Genesis 1-2 is the basis of our faith in the Creator, His divine power and purposes, and our responsibility to and reliance upon Him. Genesis 1 is truth from God which establishes our faith that we have not evolved from lower life forms over billions of years. This does indeed bear upon man's view of himself and God -- something which surely will affect man's salvation (cf. Acts 17:22-31, where man's understanding of the true God forms the basis of his seeking after God and being saved by Him). So, I would ask you to reconsider your conclusion that how we view Genesis 1 has no bearing upon sin and our salvation from it. In fact, it forms the very foundation of how we view God, ourselves and our responsibility to Him (Eccl. 12:1, 13-14; Psa. 19:1-11; 8:1-8; Rom. 1:18-23).
To interpret Genesis 1 in an allegorical, symbolic or otherwise non-literal way drives at the very heart of how one will view and use the Bible. (I am not suggesting that the Bible nowhere uses poetic technique or symbolism. But, one must be careful to apply proper hermeneutics as he studies the word of God. I recommend brother Elmer Moore's article from the April '99 Watchman Magazine for a brief discussion of this point - http://www.watchmanmag.com/0204/020414.htm).
To attempt to fit billions of years into Genesis 1 is to deny the Biblical record. A clear choice exists: Will we believe the Bible as it is written, or will we believe man's revision of it? How we choose to view and respond to the word of God, including Genesis 1, will affect our salvation (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10).
_______, do not be deceived into thinking that the words of Genesis 1 do not really mean what they say. If "day" does not mean day," then "morning" does not mean "morning," "evening" does not mean "evening,", etc. How then, in Genesis 1, can you be sure that "earth" is really the earth, that "light" is really "light" and "darkness" is really "darkness?" How can you trust any of God's word (the Bible), if fundamentally words do not carry their common meaning and usage? What prevents us (or others) from constructing fanciful allegories and interpretations of Genesis 1 (and beyond) if the words do not mean what they say? [How can we have a secure faith (which comes from hearing the word of God, Rom. 10:17) if we cannot be sure of the credibility and accuracy of those words?!]
And, this is exactly what is happening. We are being told that "day" does not mean an "evening and a morning," and that "six days" really means "six ages," not six "days." However, there is absolutely nothing in Genesis 1 which forces us to conclude that these words mean anything other than what they commonly mean. There is no hint of symbolism in Genesis 1. There is no interpretive tool contained in Genesis 1 which unlocks its "real" meaning for us. We should be very concerned when we are told that the words of Genesis 1 do not mean what they say. Remember, whose words are they, God's or men's? Christians believe they are God's words, and they mean what they say. No reason exists in either the immediate or the extended context which warrants a symbolic understanding of Genesis 1.
Brethren who are redefining "day" to be "age" have an agenda to keep. They must fit their scientific model of the age of the earth into Genesis 1, instead of letting Genesis 1 be the basis upon which we explore our world scientifically. It ultimately boils down to rejecting the word of God for the wisdom of man. And, we are warned against that: "Beware, lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." (Col. 2:8)
So, we have seen that how we view and interpret the Bible most definitely affects our salvation (see 2 Tim. 3:14-17, also 2 Tim. 2:3-4). If the Bible does not mean what it says and says what it means, then everyone can interpret the Bible according to his own biases - and be accepted by God while doing so! What you end up with is purely subjective interpretation of an objective document, the word of God. Now, what Bible passage authorizes that approach to understanding and following the word of God? (Jno. 8:31-32; Eph. 5:17)
Does this mean we can never disagree on anything when it comes to the Bible? No. Romans 14 teaches us the legitimate area of disagreement which may exist between brethren: the area of personal liberties toward things which are permitted but not required by God (such as eating meat or not, etc.). We cannot put issues into Romans 14 which, in doing so, changes the force and effect of God's truth. So, we cannot appeal to Romans 14 to justify unity in diversity on doctrinal matters - matters where God has revealed one right way -- such as how to worship God (instruments or not), the plan of salvation (baptism essential or not), or whether the world (and those in it) was created by the divine fiat in six days (Psa. 33:6-9; Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26), or by natural forces over billions of years (creation or evolution). Where God has revealed His will through His inspired word, we must be silent before Him and accept His truth as final. We must not "refuse Him who speaks" truth to us (Heb. 12:25).
And so, this is why the Open Letter was written. The letter and the events discussed in it did not happen overnight. I urge you to read it again. This letter is but one item in a series of attempts (which have been ongoing for well over a year - more like 2 or 3) to get brethren to openly discuss these differences. The Open Letter is not an effort to "disfellowship" but to unite upon the basis of truth (Eph. 4:3; Jno. 17:17, 20-21). Please consider the following excerpt from the Open Letter which speak to this point:
"Our hope and prayer is that brethren with opposing views will open the Scriptures with one another and come to unity on the basis of truth. These issues are serious and involve foundational principles regarding our faith. We do not consider them to be mere "matters of opinion." We do not hold that they involve issues beyond the average Christian to assess. We deny the allegation that men simply must learn to disagree about such matters. If we cannot agree on the first chapter of the Bible, how can we expect to find agreement on anything else in the Old Book? Surely no one wishes our differences to widen and produce the fruits of estrangement. Unity will not result from the ridicule of those who differ with us nor from a failure to face up to the true nature of the issues involved. May God help us all to open our hearts to one another as we together open our Bibles to resolve any and all of our differences by humble submission to God and his truth."
So _______, please be assured that this is not a preacher fight or an unimportant, inconsequential matter. I signed my name to the Open Letter because I see a real danger to the faith of brethren in the doctrine being taught, as well as by the compromising approach which is allowing it to continue unchecked.
No, the Open Letter is not condemning the heart of Hill Roberts or anybody else. That is not the issue. The issue is that he and others are appealing to the wrong ground upon which to establish true faith concerning the creation of the world (Rom. 10:17) - and teaching others to do the same thing! The Bible says "by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible" (Heb. 11:3). Roberts and others tell us that by the scientific interpretation of the natural world we understand that the inorganic world ("things which are seen") was made of things which are visible, and that it occurred over the period of 15-20 billion years!
Those who believe this must change the meaning and the force of the words used in Genesis 1. They have to find billions of years there in order to fit their interpretation of the earth's age. So, "day" cannot be allowed to mean what it commonly means (the context notwithstanding)! Some brethren do say that yes, there were 24 hour periods (days) in which God spoke, each one being followed by a vast amount of time to allow natural processes to occur. Then, another "day" of speaking, followed by eons of time, etc. (Hill Roberts so interprets "day" in Genesis 1). Such an explanation reads into the silence of God's word. Where are the billions of years in Genesis 1? They simply are not there. And no amount of verbal acrobatics will put them there!
(continued next week)
The Spirit's Sword is a weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA
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