Adhering to the Bible, but in the right way

Sermons, pastoral care, leadership functions—all of these follow the standard of the Bible. But its precepts are not always clear. What Scripture says and what it does not say: a guide intended not just for ministers…

“Following the precepts of Scripture” is the title of the latest doctrinal letter by Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider, which is currently being published in the community magazine and the German periodical Unsere Familie. The article itself was originally published in Special Edition 3/2017 of the minister circular Divine Service Guide, and dates back to the spiritual portion of a meeting of the District Apostles in October 2016.

Applying Scripture to the here and now

“The preaching of the Apostles and all other ministers must always be consistent with the Bible!” the Chief Apostle clearly states. This is a matter of applying the biblical text to the present and making it accessible for the present. This strengthens the faith of the members, reinforces their trust in God, and deepens their knowledge.

The article outlines some rules for interpretation:

  • it is the New Testament that stands in the foreground. The content of the Old Testament writings is only relevant insofar as it conforms to the gospel.
  • every biblical text must be understood in its proper context.
  • miracles and parables must not be interpreted beyond their original significance. For example, the parable of the talents does not mean that the nature of divine redemption is dependent on the measure of our work.
  • a sound interpretation of a biblical passage requires a look at the original text. This is because all translations of the Bible are themselves interpretations of the respective translators and editors.
  • different parts of the New Testament came into being at different times, and the letters of the Apostles were written to different congregations. This means that they all reflect very different situations.

Orientation, not oracle

The Chief Apostle also calls for careful use of the Bible in pastoral care: in many places it is customary for the minister to open the Bible at random and read a passage from it. “This tradition is certainly admirable, but it is not without its risks,” he writes, because it has also happened that members come to regard such passages as a kind of prophecy or divine promise.

The task of the minister is not to reveal the future to the members in their care, but rather to strengthen them in their faith and trust in God. “I feel it would be better for the minister to prepare his visit by asking God to inspire him with a biblical text that could provide orientation in pastoral care.”

Working together in the mind and spirit of Christ

In addition to doctrinal statements concerning salvation in Christ, the New Testament also contains guidelines for the leadership of the congregations. Yet these are not necessarily part of the actual doctrine, emphasises the Chief Apostle: such Bible passages “result directly from the living conditions of the time and are only valid in that context”. As a concrete example of this, he expressly makes reference to the role of women in the church.

And leadership functions have nothing to do with the exercise of ministerial authority either! “It is obvious that the Chief Apostle and the District Apostles do not act in the name of Jesus Christ and with the authority of Jesus Christ when they make organisational or financial decisions.” However, “every leader, on all levels of the Church, must decide and act in the mind and spirit of Christ”.

Chief Apostle Schneider is also convinced that “God endows the Church with all the gifts required”. Some of these develop in individual persons, and others only unfold when several people work together. “In today’s world, the challenges are so numerous and so complex that no leader of the Church can afford to rule as absolute monarch!”

Photo: schulzfoto - Fotolia

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Andreas Rother
Doctrinal instruction