Is your pulpit a
By J.R. Ensey
Not so long ago, during a political campaign, a new term was coined to express the way certain events or statements could be viewed either in a negative or positive light. It was called “spin.” Perhaps the designation was drawn from the spider’s work of spinning an innocent looking web to trap the unwary insect—a web of deceit. It is the use of words to make something appear to be what it is not. The practice has always been with us; we just didn’t call it that.
Today we are quite familiar with glib pundits who make their living providing spin for politicians. News anchors, traditionally trusted by many to report the facts without distortion or evidence of personal bias, have come under fire for spinning certain news stories to favor or discredit a candidate or pubic figure. We have all inwardly cringed when we read the tall tales woven to cover for the crooked accountants of some of our most prosperous corporations. CPAs seem to instinctively know how to spin the numbers to deceive the stockholders, the public, and the government—turning red figures into black, or at least into a dirty shade of gray.
Americans are becoming weary of spin. Thinking people do not see it as the clever rejoinder it once was, or the cutesy way of excusing questionable behavior. We yearn to feel that there is someone, somewhere who can be trusted to tell us the truth, lest we become a generation of cynics. We desire and deserve to know the full truth from an objective source. This may account for the exponential rise in popularity of one news network (which I receive on my radio) that advertises itself as “fair and balanced.” The primary news anchor posits his time slot as “the no spin zone.” He does hard-hitting interviews and cuts his guests off when they start glossing their story.
Let’s be candid: Christianity is not devoid of its own spin. Some denominational pulpits have become cannons of the religious left aimed at the bulwarks of biblical orthodoxy, even stating that homosexuality is not a problem in God’s eyes—just our own. That is the height of spin; however, homosexuals living in open relationships are being ordained and elected as pastors and bishops, which is sending signals to our current generation that anything goes, that nothing is absolute and all things are relative. That is the logical end of embracing the current cultural and theological spin.
My point: Let’s declare the Pentecostal pulpit a “no spin zone”! Of all places, that sacred desk should resound with absolutes, with unabashed straightforwardness, with truth on which our hearers can stake their souls. Let there be…
Rather than exegeting out what is in a text, some of us are too free in our reading into the text what is not really there. Our own biases and presuppositions often bleed through in our sermons. Sometimes I wonder if there is a little fear nagging in the back our mind that if we let the Word speak to us exactly like it is stated in the Scriptures that some idea we espouse might be undercut. Above all, we must let the Word speak for itself. It can be trusted: “The word of the Lord is right: and all his works are done in truth” (Psalm 33:4). It means what it says.
Respect for the Context
Those who are not mindful of the context can easily be influenced by false doctrines and off-the-wall theories. A wise man once said, “A text without a context is a pretext.” Portions of Proverbs 8, read alone, can be made to sound as if the Bible is speaking of another divine entity alongside of God Himself. In context it is clear that the subject is merely divine wisdom. In order to know what Jesus meant when He spoke of building on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27), we should acquaint ourselves with the context. He that “heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them” are the solid rock builders. “These sayings” are what he has been teaching in the previous two chapters. Missionaries like to quote Psalm 2:8 as a promise of fruit for their labors, but the context reveals that the promise is to Messiah. The term “last days” has to be read in context or we find ourselves applying any and every use of the term to the same time period. Taking II Corinthians 13:1 out of context has been employed to suggest that if a doctrine or command is mentioned only one time in the Bible it is not binding. That assumption is shot down by the clear statement of Paul to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).
No Spin on Bible Stories and Parables
We have all heard Bible stories and names typed into theories and ideas that border on the absurd. The parables of Jesus have also been used to teach virtually any theological viewpoint. Most Bible stories and illustrations have a single thrust, but it is not practical to type every action, every word, and every point to force it to contribute to our own belief system. Care has to be taken lest we attempt to pull more out of a string of words than was originally intended. We can easily find ourselves being far too subjective in our analysis and determinations. Bible stories have been used to support necromancy, black magic, white lies, and doctrines that accommodate the carnal biases of the reader.
We all know that Hebrew names usually had meaning, and that some certainly were significant as indicated in the scriptural text. A few names seemed to represent the character of the person, while others expressed the trauma of birth itself. But we can go to seed on name meanings and find ourselves giving a spin to the biography that really had no role in the narrative. Private interpretation has its limits. Perhaps all of us have been guilty of exceeding those limits.
No Wresting of the Words of Scripture
I actually heard one of our ministers use Job 13:10 (“He will surely reprove you if ye do secretly accept persons”) in an effort to denounce the trinity doctrine. As much as we would like to multiply the passages that support the Oneness of God, there is never a justification for “handling the word of God deceitfully” (II Corinthians 4:2). A minister friend told me of hearing a man preach the need for more “controvency.” “Without it,” he cried, “we can’t even understand the Godhead, for Paul said, ‘without controvency (sic) great is the mystery of godliness!’” He never had a clue what he was saying. Others have preached from Isaiah 43:13 encouraging people to “let God work.” They have assumed that “let” still means what it did in 1611. It does not, as this passage illustrates. Here the question is being asked, speaking of the work of God, “Who will [hinder] it?” To suggest that Deuteronomy 22:5 does not speak of gender-specific clothing, but merely God wanting us to know that somehow we should keep the sexes distinct, is pure spin—a wresting of the passage. (Clothing is one of the ways God wanted the sexes to express their distinction…duh!)
While those may seem like extreme examples, we sometimes do violence to the Scriptures in the attempt to make them say what we want them to say (II Peter 3:16). For instance, a number of Charismatic faith teachers twist Hebrews 11:3 to make it suggest that God is a God of faith…that He created the worlds by faith. Therefore, we should also speak things into existence “by faith.” That is putting a spin on the passage that is totally unjustifiable.
A Biblical Hermeneutic Based on Honest Exegesis
Whole denominations have been founded on certain ideas that have subsequently been discredited by hermeneutical honesty. All Christian faiths appeal to the Bible for their basis of belief but certainly not all of them are biblically and theologically sound. For example—and without casting an undue reflection on the good people who attend the local assembly known by name as the Church of Christ—to say that all churches, in order to be a legitimate New Testament church, has to be specifically called the Church of Christ, is rather ludicrous. That term is not even in the New Testament. So they appeal to Romans 16:16: “The churches of Christ salute you.” They purport that the plural used here suggests that the individual churches were called by that name. Should we base our salvation and whole religiosity on whether the name over the door of our local assembly fits with an assumed terminology lifted from an English version of a Greek New Testament? Now the name “church of God” is in the Bible. If the nomenclature of our meetinghouse is that important, and we must only speak where the Bible speaks, then it would appear that the local Church of God would have an inside track on legitimacy. However, a biblically sound hermeneutic would steer us away from such a conclusion. And wise we would be to be steered away since there are an increasing number of spiritual “bloggers” on our pews today. As one observant individual has said, “Be right…or be left.”
The wages of spin are disillusionment, confusion and unbelief. The price is too high. Regardless of what others do, let’s purpose to make our Pentecostal pulpits a “no spin zone.”