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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Evaluating Traditions By Scripture

Thirty five years after graduating from a 3 year program at Moody Bible Institute, there is only one academic assignment from those years which I still vividly remember! The reason it stands out in my mind?… was the one assignment that began shaking my understanding of the church! Previous to this assignment, I had simply assumed that the way we had “done church” in the congregation where I was raised was the way it was to be done! I’m sure that almost everyone, regardless of religious or denominational background, believes the same about their own religious heritage…. until our traditions are challenged by ideas “outside the box” of our traditional mindset!

Stanley Gundry, the professor who taught our class on “The Pastoral Epistles” (I and II Timothy and Titus) posed a question which was entirely “outside the box” of my previous church traditions!

He divided the class into a number of study groups and assigned each group a question to research and then to present their findings to the class. My group was assigned the following question: “Are the qualifications for overseers/elders in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-11 a standard which must be met or do they describe an ideal to which elders should aspire?”

In my humble estimation, Professor Gundry was the best teacher under which I studied at Moody. Rather than telling us what to believe, he asked us questions for which we had to find answers in the Word of God! Traditions or opinions are not sufficient to guide the people of God and for the first time in my life, I began to compare church practices, traditions and doctrines with what scripture actually said!!

As our group of 4 or 5 students met together to consider our question, it didn’t take us long to notice the word “must” (an absolute requirement) found 4 times in I Tim.3:2 and 7 and Titus 1:7 and 11. But even more importantly, we noticed that the necessary qualifications for such men had nothing to do with education, administrative abilities, oratorical skills, charisma, talent or pulpit manners!! They all had to do with character (what kind of man is he?), control (does this man know how to control himself and train his own children?) and commendation (does this man have a good reputation among unbelievers in his own community where people know him best?) The only ability that is scripturally required of such men is the ability to teach the word of God so as to be able to refute false teachers!

Such observations shook me to the core as I realized that, while churches with which I was familiar claimed that the Bible was our “only and final authority”, we did not heed these scriptures at all when it came to appointing elders! Back home, when our congregation had searched for a new pastor, we were not informed that scripture set out the qualifications for which we should be looking. Rather we were asked to evaluate men who were total strangers to us on the basis of their education, credentials, and primarily on their preaching skills which we observed in one or two sermons!!!

I am so grateful for the pattern that Professor Gundry established in my own mind and heart which has continued and has guided me many times since. The practice of seeking to give the scriptures absolute primacy over traditions, practices or doctrinal statements of men has been of invaluable worth to me. It has also gotten me into plenty of “hot water” on more than one occasion !! But such accounts will have wait for another day!

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