Wednesday, September 19, 2012


It was stated in an article I read a few years ago that the greatest "heresy' in the American brand of Christianity may well be the "heresy of application." The author suggested that this can be seen with the many doctrines or truths that we teach when we begin to say how those truths can be applied to our lives in a practical way. We point out "ways of doing it" and then, unfortunately, make those ways as sacred as what is "to be done." So we wind up, for example, arguing over the Lord's supper, not as to what it represents, but what elements should be used and who should serve it.

Another rather simple, even shallow, illustration of this is the truth about prayer. Prayer, by scriptural definition, is to commune in your spirit with God who is Spirit. Paul says, for example, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." [Ephesians 6:18, NIV] There is no doubting there are differing types of prayers that can be offered, but the scriptural emphasis is on the nature of prayer rather than how to do it. This is the only way the command to "pray without ceasing" make any sense at all and I'm aware that the word 'ceasing' means intermittently like a hacking cough.

So I teach that prayer is the spirit of a relationship or being in communion with Him. I point out that sin can hinder our prayer life. The Psalmist says in Ps 66:18 that "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" That doesn't mean He doesn't "hear" since God is omniscient, as much as....we'll save this for another post.

Even a marriage can be a problem to walking in communion with God if we're not careful. It says in 1 Peter 3:7.." Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." What that means is...well...another time another post.

You get the point. I teach on prayer and how it means we are to walk in communion with Him enjoying our relationship. So far so good as to what prayer is all about biblically.

But the next person teaching on prayer suggests, by way of personal application, that to bow one's head and shut one's eyes will help you to pray [be in communion with Him] because doing this enables you to shut out distractions.

Good idea! I think I'll try that! Sounds like a great thing to apply to the truth of prayer to my life and make it more effective. It actually CAN help.

 Except [now the problem] the next teacher says that prayer IS bowing your head and closing your eyes in order to commune with God who is Spirit. Thus, the method my wife and I often enjoy using when in a restaurant where we raise our glasses of water/tea and thank the lord for our meal as we toast Him, is wrong. Why?  Because some bible teacher says it couldn't be real prayer since both of us were thanking Him with eyes wide open and heads unbowed.

That is NOT real prayer__so says the teacher__except__ by scriptural definitions,__it is! That's why it's important to remember that Application [how you do it] is NOT sacred and binding. You see the problem.

Another illustration, perhaps just as trivial, is the use of the Bible. God speaks through His Word. That's the function of scripture. When we read the text, He speaks to us. Someone teaches this as..."God speaks through His Word [Truth] so when you meet Him early in the morning you are putting your focus on Him first." Nice! In fact, that's a correct statement...after a fashion! 

But the next person teaches that since God speaks through His Word and since it's wise to focus on Him first, you are really being spiritual when you meet Him early in the morning before doing anything else.

NB..NB becomes their teaching. "No Bible, no breakfast," is what they teach and if you want to really be spiritual in your walk, you'll do it that way. So if I read my newspaper first or get ready, go to work, and have a time in the Word at lunch, by their definition, I'm not spiritual. When you read your bible and how often you read your bible measures your spirituality.

Of course, were this really "the truth" then no one could have really been spiritual until the inventing of the printing press and the mass distribution of the Bible. The "truth" is God does speak through the text of the scripture and ANYTIME you choose to read He will speak, and you ARE spiritual by the Grace of God, not because of how you perform ANYTHING.  

Different personalities will choose different times to read the bible. Prior to his home-going I heard Ron Dunn say many times that, with his personality, it was NEVER early in the morning for him. [Of course, he would then add that he was doing it other times than early morning so he would not be prideful about his bible reading or quiet time with the Lord, since no one ever brags about a quiet time unless it's early. :) ] 

Thus, the title of this post, "The heresy of application." The "how you do it" becomes as sacred as the "truth taught." It must not be lost on us that much, if not most, of our debating and disagreements are about the "applications" we make of the truths of scripture. We wind up fighting over the things the bible leaves to our own choices.

I guess I'm calling on all of us to be honest about our application and call it that. Our application. It is not "the truth for anyone else." I may be stating what I think is a logical conclusion for me to another person, but it is only my conclusion about me, not a sacred responsibility for the one with whom I'm talking. When this simple distinction is made one will not state as facts anything about the behavior or actions of another that cannot be documented from the scripture. And you won't find much there because the scripture speaks about "being" not "doing." The clear thing said scripturally about our DOING  is..."Whatever you do.. do it all for God's glory."

I can live with that.

Paul B.


Angela George said...

Paul, thank you for so eloquently explaining something I have always felt in my spirit! I have always walked to the beat of my own drum, and that has caused me problems at times in traditional churches, when not being a morning person would tend to make me look "backslidden". I have always had a healthy rebellion against those who would imply that there is only one way to do anything! If that were true, so many bible heroes wouldn't have made it! David comes to mind! I am so thankful that God gave us all different personalities and talents, and that he did give us the freedom to use those to his glory in all kinds of ways! Thanks for sharing this!

Aussie John said...


So many ill taught brethren are caused to struggle and bear enormous burdens by this "heresy".

It's extremely serious issue, but it reminds me of an instance many years ago when I was taking a young man with me to share our faith with another person.

I was driving and suggested we spend the short time we would be travelling in prayer.

I had prayed and noticed the young fellow was strangely quiet. Looking at him I said, "Stewart. Are you okay?

His wide eyed reply was a question, "You prayed with your eyes open?

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for the comment. Do it often as all of us are edified by what you have to say.

Your personal experience shows quite well that the emphasis on pressing the behavior of christians to a lock-step position on minor issues often robs the local fellowship of a wealth of gifted and talented people.

Paul the Apostle would commend you're unwillingness to be robbed of the grace of God in which you stand. So do I.

Aussie J,

THAT is hilarious. I can see that young man's face quite vividly in my mind. Great illustration of the point of the post.

Steve Miller said...

Great post Paul. In my time with the Lord this morning, after I was awake, I was reminded of the Basic Bible Doctrines series you taught in 1980. I have shared it all over the world literally. What is exciting is that the Truth has not changed one bit but to see the Spirit move in application to those hearing and me sharing in diverse ways underscores your point. It drives me to say, " I can't wait to see Lord what you are going to do next.". Thanks brother

Steve Miller

Paul Burleson said...


This is one of those "made my day" comments.


Victorious said...

This post reminded me of an experiment I read about years ago. Stanford University enlisted a dozen or so volunteers to live for several days in a confined area without clocks or watches. This was long before cell phones, iPads, etc. so they had no way to know when to eat lunch, go to bed, etc. The only light in the area was artificial so the participants had to live without normal time constraints and/or activities determined by the clock. The results were fascinating; i.e. they ate far less, slept far more, and generally felt disoriented and confused.

I doubt God is impressed with our "holy" times on the clock, but rather pleased that we spend time with Him period.

Great post, Paul! Thank you!

P.S. Aussie John, thanks for the laugh! Sometimes humor helps us see some of the silliness real clearly!