Context Please

It has been said many times, that “text without context is pretext”. At the expense of sounding dismissive and/or patronising, I believe recent prolific references (by individuals in my church) to verses in the bible belong in this category.

One has a thought and looks for verses or even passages to give meaning to that thought. Often this sequence of seeking the Lord ends up in a confusing message, especially if the person concerned has the view that somehow he (or she) is a “spiritual person” so the thoughts he (or she) has had and the bible verses he (or she) has managed to find must be given the fullest attention by those around him.

Often this person cannot articulate what the meaning and application of those thoughts are and will be at pains to draw out the relevance of the bible passages quoted. When asked about the contexts of those passages, they revert to the dogmatic position that those thoughts are “from the Holy Spirit” and must therefore (by implication of course – this is never said outright) be given the fullest attention. The clear disconnect with the bible verses or passages are then left aside.[1]

With respect, this is inching closer to cult practices, where a cult leader would insist what he heard is from God and no one is to question that “voice” no matter how remote or irrelevant it is to the situation at hand.

I do not ordinarily dismiss such tendencies. If one thinks he has heard from God so be it. That however is a personal experience and should be kept within the bounds of a personal journey that person has with God. If the personal experience is to be imposed on the congregation it becomes another matter.

Such imposition must only take place if the church has clearly strayed away from clear biblical truths or teachings. In this regard, if the bible is silent on a given decision, then it is a decision the persons entrusted with the responsibility of leading may make by taking into account all relevant circumstances. Individuals’ personal bends aren’t the determinant of these decision especially if the thoughts or preferences arising from these tendencies are remote and do not bear on the decision to be made and run counter to what the rest of the congregation thinks best.

1. It is like those verses or passages have a character of “funtus officio” and no longer need be considered. It is then conveniently forgotten that those verses did not actually support the thoughts (because they are wrongly used) so those thoughts remain the private thoughts of that person.