Concentrate on the Important
by Paul Hazelden


Standard evangelical theology seems to emphasise some things which appear very marginal in the Bible, and to ignore some things which seem to be spelled out very clearly. One key principle I seek to follow is:

God wants us to concentrate on the most important things.

This is a simple re-statement of a standard hermeneutic principle, that we should interpret the unclear passages in the light of the straightforward ones. You will find this in all the standard textbooks.

The point is, God is quite capable of communicating with us - and He not only tells us facts, but He also tells us about their relative importance. Sometimes we are taught this explicitly (as when Jesus describes the Scribes as 'straining at gnats'), but sometimes it is made clear in other ways.

If something is taught clearly and repeatedly in the Bible, it is probably important; if something is unclear and only found in a few places, it is probably much less important. He wants us to concentrate on the important truths.

Let us look briefly at two examples of this principle being worked out.

Organising Ourselves

- Church Government

I am not too worried about arguments between supporters of different forms of church government: most positions have some degree of scriptural support, so the case for any of them is not clear cut. If God chose not to make it clear that one form of church government is the right one, then it is probably a practical question (what can be implemented? what is effective and acceptable to the people involved?) rather than a question of faith and doctrine.

- The Nature of Ministry

But however we organise ourselves, it is very clear that ministry in the New Testament church was based on gift and calling, and not on hierarchy or appointment. In order to function, we need to appoint people to positions within an organisational structure - whether this appointment is made by a bishop or through democratic elections - but people (should!) hold positions and exercise ministry because of the gifts God has given them and His call on their life, not the other way round.

What Happens After Death?

- The State of the Soul

Similarly, it is not clear to me what happens to people after death. Believers who have died are described as 'sleeping' but Paul wants to be 'with Jesus'. I am not interested in arguing for one theory about how to hold these passages together, against any other theory.

- Degrees of Glory

On the other hand, in thinking about what happens after death, the doctrine of 'degrees of glory' is taught in many places, both explicitly and implicitly. It is used as the basis for instructions on how to live. So I have to conclude that this one is important. Whether I like it or not, I need to allow this truth to affect the way I live.

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Copyright © 1999 Paul Hazelden was last updated 5 October 2007
Page content last modified: 14 October 1999
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