Friday, January 30, 2015

You Can't Get There From Here

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." - Inigo Montoya (the Princess Bride)

Putting words into their proper context -- or conversely, taking statements out of context -- has been a Really Big Deal (RBD) in all walks of life, for a long, long time.

Proper context can make all the difference in communication for marriages, friendships, politics, businesses, and yes, theology.

(Lack of attention to context, much like failing to read primary sources, can lead to regrettable theological face-palm moments of biblical proportions.) recently posted an article about the use of smartphones by parishioners to check on the legitimacy of what their pastors are preaching, in real time. If this article is legit, it makes me want to stand on a chair and applaud (I promise not to do this during a church service).
People taking responsibility to double-check how others are using/misusing Scripture? Bring it on! Go Bereans! (Acts 17:11)
Recently, I've been working my way through the Old Testament, revisiting the history of the Israelites, and then reading the various OT prophets lining up with the history part. (Hardly a new approach, I know, but it's been fascinating nonetheless.)

Currently, I'm in Isaiah, and as a worship leader, I was fascinated by the context of a brief passage found in chapter 30:
"Every stroke the Lord lays on them with his punishing club will be to the music of timbrels and harps, as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm." (Isaiah 30:32 NIV)
The reason this verse caught my attention was that I've heard it used to explain that worship is a form of spiritual warfare, and when we use percussion instruments in our worship, we are pounding on the devil's head. And that stringed instruments defeat demons simply by being played. Furthermore, this is why every church that is truly serious about worship and warfare must have a tambourine (timbrel) team.

You don't need to know ancient Hebrew here; all you need to do is read the larger context. God is promising the oppressed Israelites that He will rescue them from captivity, and will punish their captors.

The music comes from the people, as they rejoice over God delivering them from their enemies.
The music is not the weapon of warfare; it is the Isrealites' joyful response to God for fighting on their behalf.
Isaiah's prophetic words are that the Israelites will be filled with joy when God delivers them, and they will celebrate musically when they see it happen. Arbitrarily assigning so-called "prophetic significance" to the role of tambourines or stringed instruments misses the whole point of the passage (and gives the illusion of legitimacy to decidedly non-biblical teachings and practices).
(Do I believe that worship can be a part of spiritual warfare? That's a topic for another time, but the short answer is "yes".)
Paying attention to context is a great safeguard against all kinds of loopy ideas and erroneous uses of Scripture. And, if you or I are the preacher in question, we can avoid looking like idiots when alert Bereans pull out their smartphones.

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