Is The Local Association Finished?

A lot of people are asking if there is still a place for the local association in SBC life, and my answer is a firm YES. I am not going to deny the reality that many local associations are virtually lifeless, but I am also not ready to write them all off as obsolete organizations of antiquity. Churches could be greatly benefitted by having a healthy association in their corner.

I pastored a small church in small-town Oklahoma that, when I arrived, was having some very difficult conversations. The goal was to just keep the doors open one week at a time, but when I left, the church was in an entirely different situation. There were several factors that fueled that turnaround, and one of the largest was our local association and director of missions. He believed in me and in our little church. When everyone else thought we were done, he was ready to invest more. He gave us his time and attention. For example, on more than one occasion the association chose to serve our church for their summer mission trip. One summer, groups from the churches came to our facilities and helped us demolish an old parsonage that was becoming a hazard to the community. This was a project that would have cost our church thousands of dollars that we did not have, but the whole thing was done free of charge. Nothing gets a church excited like having heavy machinery on the property. In fact, the local newspaper came out and took pictures of the project and published a story in the paper informing the community about the progress of our church. The community knew that our church was not out for the count, because of the work of the local association.

We need to revive local associations all over the country, because there is no other organization out there that is on the ground serving our churches on such a personal level. Sure there is work to be done, and the system is not perfect, but it will definitely be worth the investment. My story is not unique, and I know there are churches out there who are crying out for help and a dedicated local association might just be the answer they have been looking for. Over the next few weeks I am going to be addressing some issues concerning local associations and my vision for their future. I also want to dedicate these blogs to DuWayne Colvin the director of mission for the North Canadian Baptist Association in Oklahoma.

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Hermeneutics?

One the biggest issues I have faced in my short life as a pastor is the widespread practice of bad biblical interpretation. The hermeneutic of even the most conservative churches is lacking to say the least. We say we believe that the Bible is totally inerrant and infallible, yet our practices communicate something far different. I am not innocent when it comes to this issue, and I have made my fair share of borderline heretical interpretations. However, there are simple principles that can and should be taught in local churches to promote a healthy hermeneutic.

  1. Authorial Intent

There has been no other principle that has helped my hermeneutic more than the principle of “authorial intent.” This is the principle that seeks out the intention of the original author before making personal application. Most errant interpretations can be avoided by applying this practice. Here is a simple phrase that helps when looking for the author’s intent, “The author cannot mean what he did not mean to mean.” In other words, the Bible reader does not ask the question, “What does this mean to me?” until he first asks, “What did it mean to the author and his audience?” Applications may change, but the author’s intent remains the same, and as long as application is closely tied to and informed by the authorial intent you can guarantee an accurate interpretation and application.

2. Chronological Bible Storying

Most people are quite familiar with the stories of the Bible. They know about Noah’s ark, Abraham’s obedience, David’s kingdom, the Christmas narrative, Jesus walking on the water, and the resurrection, but do our people know the Story of the Bible? The stories in the Bible and the Story of the Bible are two different animals. There should be knowledge among our churches about God’s story as a whole. There is no reason why they should not all know the events within the story and how they fit together chronologically and theologically to form the greatest narrative in history. Interpretation is greatly aided by understanding where the events in the text fall chronologically within the overarching story. This principle provides clarity to texts Jeremiah 29:11 or Acts chapter 2. Simply recognizing where you are in the Story puts up some safe guards to promote proper interpretation.

3. Literary Background

Literature is a subject that gets people super excited, but when we are talking about the Word of God we are talking about written words collected in a book. Therefore, we must use some literary principles in hermeneutics. One such principle is genre. There are different styles of literature in the Bible, there is poetry, prophecy, and letters to name a few. Understanding genre is greatly beneficial because it can add clarity to some difficult passages. For example you cannot read a letter the same way you read a poem. Letters are situational and they are part of correspondence, and poetry is artistic and expressive. Both communicate truth and both are inspired by God, but they are not one in the same. Interpret the text with knowledge of the genre.

Another literary principle is called immediate context. A proper interpretation can only by found in reference to the surrounding text and the book as a whole. No one reads a book this way, but we do it all the time with the Bible. A verse means what it means because it is part of a larger paragraph, a book as a whole, and the entire story of the Bible. The best corrector to this issue is expository preaching!

4. Historical Background

Knowing the historical background is not as easy to find as the other principles, but it is equally as important. New Testament letters are the easiest example to prove the necessity of historical background. As stated above, a letter must be read like a letter, therefore there is an author and a recipient. The best interpretation of a letter can be found when the reader gains as much information about the historical situation of both the author and his audience. For example, the term “antichrists” in 1 John 2 is far less threatening when you understand the situation the audience finds themselves in. The best part about this example is that the historical information can be found within the text itself. There are those in this particular church that are leaving the fellowship and not only that, but they are promoting a false doctrine trying to take others with them. This knowledge makes it quite clear that they are the antichrists that John is talking about, not some eschatological figure. Historical background information should be gathered to the fullest extent possible, avoiding speculation and not banking on extra-biblical sources, but nonetheless taught in our churches to help promote good hermeneutics.

5.  Context!

Context is king in biblical hermeneutics. All of the other principles flow out of this one. Isolated biblical proof texting has done great harm to the church, because it does not teach people how to read scripture. It promotes selfish hermeneutics wherein, if the reader cannot see what a verse means to him or her, he or she simply skips over it to find another one. Therefore the book of Leviticus becomes completely obsolete in every regard. However, understanding context by finding the authorial intent, recognizing where you are in the story, and researching the literary and historical background can give insight into the interpretation and promote the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

In conclusion, the church may struggle with biblical interpretation, but it is a fixable problem. We MUST teach our people hermeneutics because of what we believe about the Bible. I believe in the 100% inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, I believe that it is the literal Word of God, therefore I commit to practicing and teaching good hermeneutics.

 

 

 

 

4 Necessary Factors of Church Music

After discussing some general thoughts and observations about church music I am now going to provide some practical application.

  1. Our Music Must Be Singable

If the purpose of our music is for congregational singing, than practically speaking the congregation must be able to sing the music. I have noticed a few trends in worship services that actually discourage congregational singing. The first is what is often called the wall of sound. It isn’t necessarily about the volume, although that is a factor, but it is about the amount of energy and sound coming from the front of the room. The guitar riffs are cool and I’m glad we have them in our services, and the drums keep the music from being just unbearable boring, but sometimes the worship band produces so much sound that you can’t hear anything around you. While in some pews that may be a blessing, it defeats the purpose of the music in the first place. The goal is to sing as a congregation and to do so we must be able to hear each other. The wall of sound should be coming from the pew to the front not from the front to the pew.

Another factor that is discouraging congregational singing is the register in which the songs are played. I have been in services that have just completely worn my voice out because the songs are so high, and I am a natural tenor. The people on the stage are up there for a reason, they are highly talented, but not all of us bear those same gifts. I believe congregational singing would greatly increase by just lowering the keys of some of our songs.

The third factor that is discouraging congregational singing is the room itself. We turn off all the house lights, paint the ceilings and walls dark colors, and then put blindingly bright lights pointed toward the stage. We are designing and setting up our worship centers in ways that communicate something entirely different than our message. We are telling everyone to focus on the front of the room rather than congregational singing.

I am not just going to be negative about the singability factor, because I have also seen some great things happening in worship services. I am thrilled to see the return of hymns, not because I’m stuck in the mud and think we need to return to the good ole hymnals, but because hymns are meant to be sung. The hymn does nothing but promote congregational singing. The new hymns being written are going to one day find themselves among the great classics we all know so well.

2. Our Music Must Be Sustainable

As I said previously I am optimistic about the trend toward singable songs, and I love to listen to new ones as they come out, but there is something trulls special about singing a song that was sung by the great-grandparents of my grandparents. If our music truly does provide a common heritage as I wrote in a previous post, than the music we sing in church must have some element of sustainability. The song “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” has been song for going on 500 years, yet the song “Into Marvelous Light I’m Running” has disappeared into an oblivion never to be sung again. This factor must be considered when selecting songs for congregational singing. Just because a song is new and popular doesn’t mean you should sing it in your church, we must sing sustainable music, and lots of na na’s and la la’s just aren’t going to cut it.

3. Our Music Must Have Sound Theology

No one can deny the fact that music is memorable and music is a great teacher, that has already been covered. The practical outworking of this is that our music must have sound theology. I think this is one of the factors that not only makes a song sustainable, but even singable. The people can hold on to the words because they are so dear and true. For example, I cannot sing the words, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be. Let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, Lord take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above,” without being overcome with reverence and worship for my God. Likewise, the newer song Hallelujah! What a Savior stir me in the same way. Here is a sample from one of the verses,  “O Guilty, vile, and helpless me; Spotless Lamb of God was He; Full atonement! can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior! Lifted up was He to die; ‘It is finished!’ was His cry; Now in Heaven exalted high Hallelujah! What a Savior!” Our songs MUST have good theology, there is no exception to this rule. Artistry is necessary, but not in place of sound theology. Nothing will improve the congregational singing more than the people singing good theology!

4. Our Music Must Be Excellent

Lastly, and most practically, our music must be done with excellence. We cannot sacrifice quality for style or trends. It would be better to do old music well than new music poorly. There is no point in doing bad music. I’m not saying every church needs to higher professional musicians, but I am saying that if worship is as important as we say it is, than our musicians shouldn’t be out of practice or ill-equipped. A little practice goes a long way, and choosing music that fits your group’s abilities can make it sound so much better.

By the way, the excellent factor has nothing to do with church size. I have seen some bad music in large churches and I have seen some trulls great music in the smallest of churches. The point is not to become more performance based, but to honor the Lord with the best of our abilities. Our congregations will be the better for it. What ever it is that your church does musically, do it well!

 

-Brayden L. Buss