Lately there are lots of reports of increasing crimes in the nation while at the same time we were told by some government authorities that the crime rate in the country has dipped greatly. What was said and what is actually on the ground are two entirely different impressions. Both Jesus and the Pharisees of his time read the same Bible but both had different actions and reactions. How is this possible? Is it the problem of interpretations? Is it the problem of the readers? Is it only a mistaken interpretation of the outward expressions which in fact are similar inwardly? The existence of so many churches and sects and religious groups seem to auger many differences – are they really different? Everyone claims that he is having the right interpretation so who is actually correct and true?
When I was in the primary school days, I was taught the basics mathematics such as ‘one plus one is two’ and ‘one times one is one’. We all took it by faith without query or argument. When I entered university, I was taught that what we learnt from primary school days such as ‘no numeral can be divided by zero’ is not true anymore. In university, we learnt that it is now possible to divide anything by zero. Just when we were young, we are taught that we can and should eat all the meat of the fish which is edible and to leave behind the bones which cannot be eaten. After the invention of pressure cookers, now even the bones of any fish can also be eaten and somewhat crispy too.
In order for any ministry to be sustainable, proper, correct and relevant procedures and tools must be utilized and employed. For example, it is not suitable to use new wine for old wine-skin. It will be the same for the Ministry of the Word of God. The Word of God did not change but the methodology employed may be questionable. I will try to relate three essential manners where the sustainability of the Ministry of the Word can be and must be maintained, namely the person using it, the methodology in use, and the environment where it was used.
A big emphasis is on the user – the person using the Word and his lifestyle – where his credibility and character is heavily scrutinized these days. It is almost (though there may be a few exceptions of repented ones) like asking a thief to teach others how to keep money safe – how prudence it is? In today’s situation, it is not the fault of church members or members of the society to distrust and develop a bias attitude towards someone whose background and character is seriously in question. Taking after the Penang Government slogan – Competency, Accountability and Transparency (C.A.T.) – I believe it does spell out a lot of what everyone is looking for in the person of the User of the Word of God. It is not only C.A.T. for others to see rather for oneself to emulate and acquire. We need to be competent in the study of the Word of God and the operation of it. Paul told Timothy to be competent in 2 Timothy 2:15 – “correctly handles the Word of Truth”; and in Colossians 3:23 Paul stressed on accountability – “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men”; and in 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul urged all to be transparent by imitating him as he imitates Christ.
Another essential emphasis is on the methodology employed. In any game, players without question normally adhere to the guidelines and policy of the game. The integrity of the game can be preserved when every player submits and abides by the rules and policy. Havoc and chaos will arise when one party or anyone of the player breaks the rule and runs foul of the policy. Similarly, for the sustainability of the Ministry of the Word, everyone must adhere and subscribe to the right rule of the game of interpretation and exegetical procedures. How can we accept a portion of the Bible as true and another portion as false? One either accepts it in total or not at all. I have received comments from people who only believe the Gospels are true but not the other epistles. On the contrary, I have also received comments from people who only accept the teachings of Paul and rather like to leave out the Gospels. Greater respect is for the person who either accepts the Bible as the true Word of God or as a religious story book or any ordinary book. It is just against the rule of the game of believing the Bible is partly true and partly false. For example, you cannot call a strange creature human when 80% of it is human (with human body, legs and hands) and 20% of it is of an eagle (its head is of an eagle). Proper exegesis and exposition is required for a good and proper interpretation of the Word of God relevant for today.
The emphasis on the environment where the Word is being used is equally important and crucial. The environment setting is where the action takes place – the rubber hits the road. This is usually associated with cultures and traditions. What is done in one place does not necessarily need to be repeated exactly in another situation. For example, we today do not need to insist in burying our dead in caves as in the days of Jesus; or riding on donkeys as the mode of transport for today. The Word of God must transcend culture, tradition, environment and situation while at the same time can still be relevant and impactful to the people both in the past and the present. Its principle must be adopted and taken out into a ‘timeless zone’ and re-adopt itself in modern and today’s clothing and practices. For example, the scribes of the olden days copied the scripture by hand and with ink, and today we can copy it with photocopier or download with cut & paste features through computers. It will be ineffective if we still insist on writing and copying by hand.
There is no easy pathway to the sustainability of the Ministry of the Word. This tedious journey is necessary through proper channel of training, adopting right methodology of interpretation and translating appropriately to the situation of the time and place.
Calling all to read the whole Bible at least once from cover to cover, if not, many times over.
Calling all to learn inductive Bible study method, so that, each person can feed himself with the Word of God.
Calling all to learn theology systematically in order to interpret and translate it contextually and indigenously.
Any short-cut will inevitably lead to some sort of dysfunctional behavior or lack of authenticity and power. Let’s look at Jesus and the Pharisees and we can surely detect the great different between their behaviour and actions.
Bishop Moon Hing