500 years ago the Church underwent a revolution called the reformation. The Church had drifted further and further from the lifestyle of Jesus and had settled for a system of paying money to secure your place in Heaven. Fear gripped the people and they would pay to try and save their dead relatives from a long purgatory. But God raised up a band of reformers who read the Bible and reinterpreted it for the people. They spoke about faith, the priesthood of all believers and a number of doctrines that we just take for granted today. Their influence changed the world for the better and we get to live in the benefits of their boldness.
This story is a reminder that whenever we read Scripture we look at it through a number of lens. These lenses make it very difficult to understand what the authors were trying to communicate. When we hear one thing, we immediately imply or own logic and reason based on our experiences and preferences without even realising it. The Church has had a lens that has been developing for 500 years out of the reformation. Some of these views and opinions are helpful, however, many are quite harmful if not developed further and if we do not allow the Scriptures to further reveal the heart of God.
Firstly, we have our family lens. When we look at God the Father we see Him through the lens of our earthly father. This happens subconsciously but is nonetheless very real. For example, if we have had a bad experience of a Father we will often imply those characteristics to God the Father. If your father was strict, the chances are your image of God is that He is strict.
Our national culture also gives us a lens. We cannot help but be influenced by our education, media, government and society that we live in. The way a believer interprets Scripture will change dramatically from a materially rich nation to a developing world nation. A nation in war reads the Scripture different to those in peace.
Our denominational loyalties also lay a lens over the way we view Scripture. Often we believe certain beliefs or behaviors are the “Biblical Standard” without realising that there are millions of other believers that have a different view. One example from my own life that I have been looking at recently has been how the Apostle Paul speaks about the consequences of sin. When I read Paul I have always interpreted “death” to mean hell. It has only been recently that I have noticed that Paul never even uses the word hell. (I’m not making comment on the validity of that doctrine here, just showing how our denominational loyalty affects how we view Scripture.)
So how should we approach Scripture with all these lens? How do we work out what the Scripture is actually saying? How do we reconcile the “hard” passages in the Old Testament that are full of violence and resemble nothing of the loving Jesus we read about in the New Testament? I don’t claim to have a full answer, but this is what I have been doing and I invite you on the journey. I am basing my reasoning upon a concept found throughout the Gospel of John, Colossians, Philippians and especially Hebrews 1.
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV)
Jesus is the lens we should look at Scripture through. In the past the author writes, God spoke through prophets and other means. But now He is speaking through Jesus. Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Jesus said this in John, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” As much as we agree that the Bible is the word of God, we cannot forget that Jesus is the Word of God. Therefore, everything we read in Scripture must be interpreted by Jesus. If it doesn’t fit into Jesus then we need to seriously consider whether our lens have shaped our current view and determine what that passage is really saying.
The New Testament refers back to the law and prophets and calls them shadows, veiled, and partial. Jesus would often say, “You have heard it said… But I say to you…” Jesus had to come to reveal the Father because the world (including the Jews) had a distorted view of Him.
We don’t need to look fat to find examples that demonstrate the need to view Scripture through the lens of Jesus. The Old Testament tells stories of when “god” in the Old Testament condoned cannibalism, rape, and slavery. When we come across such passages we need to evaluate that next to Jesus and what He revealed about The Father. If Jesus is the exact representation of the Father we cannot defend pictures of God in the Old and New Testaments, or in modern thought that do not align with the person of Jesus.
The Church has hand picked aspects of Jesus that we like and ignored bits that don’t fit into our cultural framework. As a result we have churches that miss out on huge chunks of who God is. They have shaped God into their own world-view. They may have a social-justice focus but ignore faith. They may have obedience to the Father but miss experiencing the Fathers Love. They may have faith for the supernatural but disagree with non-violence, and I could go on and on.
500 years ago some men decided to delve into the Scripture and take it seriously. They answered a whole heap of questions and ended up reforming Christianity. I believe that the world is ready for a new reformation. The world is asking serious questions. If we want to answer them well, and from a Biblical perspective, then we must do our best to remove our family, cultural, and denominational lens, and instead use Jesus as our lens for interpreting and understanding Scripture and who God is.
I believe we are on the brink of a New Reformation. There is a discontent for the way things are. People, both inside and outside the Church are becoming increasingly unsatisfied with shallow moralising and are looking for authentic abundant life. I believe that as we increasingly understand the heart of God as demonstrated by Jesus, the Church will be transformed and we will finally be known for our love! So let us be bold and daring. Let’s continue to build upon what the reformers started, but not be limited by their thoughts. Do not throw out the Scripture, rather view it through the lens of Jesus. Look at the beauty of Christ! Stare into His eyes and allow His love to consume you. Allow Jesus to change your mind. Read and reread the Scripture. What is He saying? What is the Word saying to you?
One thing is for certain,
It is time for a New Reformation.
If you want to continue this conversation feel free to post a comment below or email me. If you want a good book to help you begin thinking through some of these implications I highly recommend a great book by Brad Jersak entitled, “A More Christlike God.”