Sunday, February 11, 2007


It was stated in an article I read a few years ago that the greatest "heresy' in the American form of Christianity may well be the "heresy of application." By this the author was conveying the idea that, for many, the "form" [application] became as sacred as the"function" [interpretation] of the text. The author suggested that this may be the case with many "Truths/Doctrines and their application to life. We begin to hold a "way of doing it" to be as sacred as what is "to be done." So we wind up, for example, arguing over the elements of the Lord's supper and who serves it.

Another rather simple, even shallow illustration of this is the function of prayer. To pray, by scriptural definition, is to commune with God who is Spirit with your spirit. [This is the only way to pray without ceasing makes any sense. I'm aware that the word 'ceasing' means intermittently like a hacking cough.]

But the next person teaching on prayer suggests that to bow one's head and shut one's eyes will help because you shut out distractions. Good idea. Except the next teacher says that prayer IS bowing your head and closing your eyes in order to commune with God who is Spirit with your spirit. Thus, the form my wife and I enjoy of raising our glasses of water/tea and toasting the lord while both of us are thanking him for the meal and each other with eyes on each other, is NOT real prayer. But by scriptural definitions it is. Application [form] is NOT sacred and binding. You see the problem.

Another illustration, perhaps just as shallow 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 [function] so when you meet Him early in the morning you are putting your focus on Him first." Nice, even a correct statement. 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 spiritual when you meet Him early. NB..NB becomes their teaching. "No Bible, no breakfast" if you want to really be spiritual in your walk is their teaching. 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.

Of course, were this really "Truth"then no one could have been really spiritual until the invention 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. 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. [Of course, he would then add that he was doing it another time to not be prideful since no one brags about a quiet time unless it's early. :)] Thus, the "heresy of application." The "form" [how you do it] becomes as sacred as the "function". [What the scripture says .] It must not be lost on us that much, if not most, of our debating is about the "applications" we make of the truths of scripture.

All of this to say, this very well may play out in other areas. It was stated on a blog I read recently that one who called someone an "idiot" should not have. I would agree. That is attacking a person's character if not their intellegence. But a commentor said "to call one a 'spooky fundamentalist' is no different and you did that." The response from the blogger who said the person should not have used "idiot" was..."No, the post said 'spooky fundamentalism' and was refering to a philosophy or theology that is to be avoided, not to a person or individual." I checked. He was correct. This is my point. The commentor made an application in his mind [which I've done many times] that the phrase MUST be refering to______. [You add a name of one you admire.] The commentor THEN states as truth that the admired person has been called a "spooky fundamentalist." But were I to do this, and I have, the truth is not my "application" of what/whom I thought was being referenced, but what was, in fact, said.

I guess I'm calling for all of us to be honest about our application and call it that. Our application. It is not "the truth." I may be stating what I think is a logical conclusion, but it is only my conclusion, not the statement of 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 a person that cannot be factually documented and such documents would have to be in one's possession. Even then it would be a speaking of behavior, not people and their character. Maybe I'm naive, but it would seem to me that this is the decent thing to do even if a person is not a christian. But for "believers" it seems a "must" to me. But I'm just me.

Paul Burleson


J. Guy Muse said...

So true, so true. This is something we all must constantly be aware of in our own lives of not elevating the "how" something is done to the same level as what is instructed in Scripture. The forms tend to take on a life of their own and become today's evangelical version of all the rules that the Pharisees added to the Law of Moses.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Paul: I am so very glad that you addressed this. You even gave me some things to think about as far as application. Amen.

Paul Burleson said...


Several years ago when i came to a place of deciding I would preach, while in the pulpit, ONLY those things stated as truth in the text and NOT my application of that truth, or at least be very sure I made the distinction, a ton of my sermons went out the window. I haven't found them yet. :)


Talk about making someone think...your posts and comments are a master at that for me. Thanks.

Bob Cleveland said...


Nailed it, again. For some time I've been troubled that, as I saw it, folks tended to make the concepts of man into the doctrines of God. Like the "morning quiet time" thing, and even you have to kneel at the altar to pray. Or that your spirituality is reflected in how many chapters you read a day, despite the fact that I read more about meditating on God's word than I do about reading it.

Thanks for organizing my thoughts for me. Are you for hire?

Paul Burleson said...


You sure know how to say the right thing especially when I wasn't sure it all made much sense to anyone else. We may think a lot spooky is that. :)

Bob Cleveland said...


Spooky is apparently ok as long as we're not also fundamentalists.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brother Paul,

You nailed it once again. It seems to me that God's Word (His truth) is the track of which our application flows on. We have to focus on the track, which is true and eternal, as primary and the application is its uniqueness to us individually and daily. Never is the application to be the central focus but rather a benefit of focusing on that which is central in truth. I hope I'm not confusing but I sure appreciate your posting and your patience.

Steve in San Antonio

Anonymous said...

It is hard for some people to accept the differences and diversity in others. For some reason, that threatens their own security, so they turn the things that work for them into hard and fast rules by which they judge others.

When I went to a Southern Baptist college, the big deal was praying before your meal in the cafeteria. Most of the time, just the appearance of the food was enough to prompt prayer, but I had no idea so many people were watching to see if you bowed your head and closed your eyes before you ate. Being the rebel that I am, my roomate and I decided that we were not going to pray before we ate all through our junior year, just to see how long it took someone to notice. One day. That was it. The first day we dove into our food without the obligatory nod of the head, someone looked up and said, "Aren't you going to pray before you eat?" Originally my response was to have him point out where that was a scriptural requirement, and later on, I would say, "How do you know that I didn't?"