Thursday, February 19, 2009

This week's lesson: the prophet's authority

Let's say you have a question -- a question about a controversial issue (such as the whether or not it's okay to eat ice cream while riding a bicycle on the Sabbath if you're wearing a wedding ring).

And let's say you have a prophet -- someone who speaks with God's authority on that very issue.

This would answer your question -- right?

It depends.

Written context.
For one thing, it depends on what else that prophet might have written about this topic.
  • Writing to one family, for instance, Ellen White said flat-out that "eggs should not be placed upon your table" (2T 400).
  • Yet 30-years later, she would write that "we should not consider it a violation of principle to use eggs from hens that are well cared for and suitably fed" (9T 162).
  • And no, she doesn't contradict herself -- not when we remember her statement that "foods [which] are palatable and wholesome to one person may be distasteful, and even harmful, to another" (MH 320).
In short, we don't really know what a prophet said until we know everything that prophet said.

Historical context.
Then too, it helps to know why the prophet said what they did -- and this requires some knowledge of when it was said and to whom.
In short, we really don't know what a prophet said until we know who was listening.

God's context
Finally, it never hurts to compare that prophet's statement with all the other ways that God has led His church. And no, I'm not arguing for the church's "magisterium" or "teaching authority." But we need a balanced approach -- one that recognizes God's promise to lead all of His people by His Spirit (John 16:13).

Back in 1858, for instance, a church member wrote Ellen White with the news that Adventists should not eat pork. Notice the principle behind her reply -- the principle that God leads through all His people, and not just one or two:
If God requires His people to abstain from swine's flesh, he will convict them on the matter. He is just as willing to show His honest children their duty, as to show their duty to individuals upon whom He has not laid the burden of His work. If it is the duty of the church to abstain from swine's flesh, God will discover it to more than two or three. He will teach His church their duty (1T 207, emphasis in the original).
In short, we really don't know what a prophet said until we know what God has said through others.

So . . . let's say you have a prophet -- someone who speaks to the issues that concern you most.

And yes, that prophet may speak with authority.

But that doesn't give you the authority to take that prophet's words out of context.

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