After my graduation from Bible School, I continued my Bible and Theological studies. I was blessed with time to really delve deep into some issues. The catalyst for that study was a massive argument I saw between two congregations within my religious heritage.
As I studied the Bible contextually, one of the things that became clear is that taking a verse from one book and connecting it to a verse in another book was indeed a misuse of the Biblical text. The Chapter Verse structure of almost every published Bible since the late 1500s and the Strong’s Concordance are great tools, but those devices have created Bible-based sermons, presentations and theology that the Bible never really intended. Yet the stringing together of verses continues, because the concept of “the Bible is its own best commentary” seems to fuel that style of Bible study and presentation.
After learning to study contextually, I determinedly discontinued the preaching style of Bible study and presentation based on verse-stringing and began vehemently defending contextual Bible Study. In that new vein of Bible study, I rejected the conclusions of many doctrines I had heard all my life. After continual contextual study, some things still didn’t make sense, leaving me with questions about God and the Bible.
I visited a guest preacher and was stimulated by the content of his presentation. Afterwards, I met him, and he graciously gave me a copy of his material. I took that material home. Devoured it. Criticized it. Investigated it.
I found some of the material wanting. Found other parts tremendously insightful. Throughout all of it, in some extensive detail, he discussed the concepts of God and covenant. As I took the concept of Covenant to the Scriptures, the covenants became apparent. The covenants were, are right there, directly on the page, in plain sight.
Learning to study contextually, learning to see things in covenant relationships with God, led me to begin seeing contents in the New Testament that are directly inherited from God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai. It was these contextual and covenantal concepts that I was sharing in the pulpit and in my classes. Somewhere during the last half of 2009, the congregation demanded that I take time and confirm or deny that which I was presenting, that being aspects of the “Old Testament” are incorporated and discussed in the New.
I adjusted my class and pulpit lessons to accommodate their request, and at their behest went on an intense daily study, which lasted several months, regarding the New Testament and its inclusions and references to the Old. They demanded I stop and verify. I did as they requested. Giving myself over to their request simply helped confirm what I was already seeing. It’s real, the New utilizes and references the Old.
What I was learning directly challenged most doctrines that I had been taught. Yet what I was learning was and is true, and influenced the manner in which I presented and still present the Bible and answered and still answer Bible queries. Those early studies led me to see a different application of the Lord’s Supper, and in 2010 my family and I attended our first Seder.
But there is more.
During that same time of my pulpit ministry, my wife was experiencing spiritual changes of her own. Mary’s most dramatic change occurred while we were in our last ministry work. I’m not sure when it occurred, but I think it was influenced through discussions amongst individuals of our own religious heritage, along with discussions with home schooling peers.
Additionally, she had the distinct advantage of being capable of freely associating with Christians from other denominations and non-denominations. An advantage not afforded to me during my pulpit ministry. What these fellow believers brought were engagements to her faith, things as simple yet as controversial as head coverings to the complex discussion of the working and leading of the Holy Spirit.
For me, the timing of Mary’s experiences could not have been worse. The spiritual challenges of ministry were more than enough, but now there were spiritual challenges at home. If there is one thing I have learned, when ministers are faced with a two-front challenge and one of them is the family, family takes priority. In part, that is why I didn’t mind stepping out of the pulpit.
For several consecutive months, but not Sundays or Wednesdays, when she could, Mary would gather with other believers. Listening to the lessons, bringing home some thoughts, we’d discuss the concepts. Candidly, I fought against most of them, just as she had originally fought against my presentation of how contextual Bible studies challenge church doctrine.
For months and months Mary would speak to me about what she was learning. Candidly, I had a difficult time providing any sound counter-argument to some of her thoughts. The one thing she really focused on was the Holy Spirit. Try as I might, I could not Biblically disprove her, the things she said correlated better with Scripture than what I had been taught. But that didn’t stop me from arguing and arguing intensely.
Somewhere during late 2008 or early 2009, Mary received, the best I can describe it, a spiritual awakening after continually praying about Luke 11.13. From there, for her, things changed. Dreams. Insights. Things that, at first, I said were coincidences.
Even though I strongly disagreed, I used Scripture to attempt to dissuade her and prove my points correct. But the coincidences kept occurring and I was faced with something that I had never experienced in our marriage. For example, Mary knew about someone’s pregnancy before they were pregnant, and then telling me that she believed we needed to visit an apostle.
If this happened to a non-minister family, it would have been challenging enough. Between my Bible studies and my experiences with Mary, the time came to face the unceremonious end of my pulpit ministry. Yet, I will never regret pulpit ministry, because there was much good that was done.
Neither do I regret working outside the role of pulpit minister. In many ways, working outside official pulpit ministry has its own rewards. But what I have mentioned only begins to reflect that time period. In 2010, there were some significant personal events that occurred, these I will discuss in the next installment.
Blessings and Shalom