Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Context And Application

Sometimes, in our zeal to apply Scripture to our lives, we miss the obvious. We'll zero in on a passage, look for ways to implement its principles, and begin putting it into practice. We know many people and churches--often people and churches whom we highly respect--who understand a passage the way we do, and their encouragement bolsters our resolve to proceed in our application. But on some occasions, despite our honest desire to please the Lord with our obedience, we unintentionally isolate a passage from its context, misunderstanding and consequently misapplying it.

As I've considered how evangelicals use Ephesians 4:11-16 to support ecumenical unity, I've begun thinking about Paul's main theme in the epistle as a whole. He puts forth that theme most directly a chapter earlier:
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. ~~Ephesians 3:1-6 (ESV)
Paul proclaimed the message that Jesus had extended salvation to Gentiles, uniting us with the Jews who had received the Gospel. The doctrine of the Gospel brought about a unity built, not around a tolerance for differing interpretations of the apostles' teaching. That teaching established a unified faith, but not a nebulous faith that allowed for a deliberate avoidance of doctrine.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ~~Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV)
Time and space will not allow me to show you all the Scriptures that caution Christians against factions in this small blog post, but I would suggest that none of them supports the sort of unity that minimizes doctrine. While some minor points certainly may be left to individual conscience (I'll address those matters another time), we err greatly if we regard doctrine itself as a divisive entity that we should avoid. 

Instead of forcing an ecumenical agenda on Ephesians 4:11-16, let's remember that Paul intended the entire epistle to address the racial division between Jewish and Gentile believers. In the 21st Century, then, we must apply this passage to racial and social status. As we all gather around God's Word, letting the Spirit use His doctrine to unite us with Christ, worldly differences will recede so that we can focus entirely on Him.

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