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Principle vs. Custom

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 12, 2021 12:01 am

Principle vs. Custom

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 12, 2021 12:01 am

How can we know whether specific instructions in the Bible were meant only for an ancient culture or if we should still observe those commands today? Today, R.C. Sproul contrasts between temporary customs and universal principles in Scripture.

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Today I'm Renewing Your Mind. Learning to interpret the Bible properly. You don't know whether a particular passage is custom or principal if you treat a passage that God intended to be binding on you forever as a mere local custom and dismissed. You are guilty of disobeying God and doing violence to his holy law.

We certainly don't want to do that. So today's message from Dr. Hersey's role is vital head coverings, clothing styles, different ways of observing the sacraments. How are we to know what things of the Bible are cultural tradition for principles that are binding today. Glad you joined us today as we continue, doctors, groceries, knowing Scripture this week he's given us the basic guidelines for how to read the Bible properly and apply it. Today's message will teach us how to discern principal versus custom in this our last session together in this course on interpreting the Bible were going to finish by offering some concrete suggestions on how to handle this difficult problem of knowing what from the New Testament.

The Old Testament applies to our lives today and what would be simply a matter of custom in our last lesson we look at the distinction between principle and custom and I promise that this time we would try to find a way to discern the difference. Last Sunday I was in church as I was sitting in the congregation. I looked around and I noticed that there were two women sitting next to each other.

They were sisters. I believe they were both in their 80s and there was something very conspicuous about these two particular women. These two women and these two women alone in the entire congregation were wearing hats. They had their heads covered in the midst of corporate wash and it looks strange that looked a little bit out of place because women just simply don't wear hats the church anymore as I thought about it. I remember when I was in high school was unthinkable that any girl or any woman would come to church with her head uncovered. I can remember my mother being very fussy about my sister, my girlfriend if they got to a church service so I don't have that they would scramble for a handkerchief or something to cover their heads and they came to the church at that time we were involved in a very large Presbyterian Church mainline church, not a small denomination that still retained ancient customs district was a liberal church mainline church, and so on. Still, it was expected that every one of the women wore hats to church awards that come from words that practice, most of us are aware that we have that strange teaching in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians in the 11th chapter were Paul goes through an elaborate exposition. There were he commands that women cover their heads. The assumption is that in my the translation of the blips. The RSP instructs the women that they ought to have their heads covered when their praying when they're in church and that they ought to cover their heads with a veil and that particular apostolic injunction was the practice of the church for nearly 2000 years before it was set aside.

Now the question is what is Prince appeal in that passage and what is customary now in order for us to learn the difference between principle and custom what I want to do is have a little exercise among ourselves today to practice the application of the principles and to see that we can really feel how the problems are. Once you open your Bibles to first Corinthians 11. I look at this whole passage because there are several sections to it, in which the apostle enjoins the woman to have her head covered and he explains that the reason is that the covering of the head is a sign or a symbol of the woman subordinating herself to the man which was the Jewish custom, which some believe. Of course, to be outmoded today, so there's lots more involved in this text than simply the question of whether or not women ought to cover their heads with the there are several parts to and as we look at that passage and ask ourselves how are we to regarded there are basically four different ways we can interpret and apply the principles of this text to first Corinthians 11. The first way is to say the whole thing is a matter of custom from beginning to end its pure custom that has no relevance whatsoever to the life of the church today that is that these elements would all be regarded as customary that the covering of the head with a veil is a matter of custom doesn't matter whether you cover your head with a veil over the hat or the babushka over the handkerchief, the veil is customary, not only is the veil customer but the whole act of covering the head, simply as a first century means or method of displaying or symbolizing a woman's subordination to her husband in church now that subordination could be shown a multitude of ways.

It could be shown to all kinds of different rituals.

It doesn't have to be shown by covering the head so the very act of covering the head is merely customary and then it takes it a step further and say you have the veil to cover the head.

You cover the head to symbolize the subordination of the wife to the husband.

But even that subordination of the wife to the husband is a matter of local custom and that is not to be carried across into the 20th century life of the church. So the whole thing veil had covering principal subordination of the ideas subordination. All of those are custom and none of it has any bearing upon us so that we conclude that since we live in a different culture from which first Corinthians 11 was written. It is no longer necessary for a woman to cover her head with a bail that is no longer necessary for a woman to cover her head with anything, and it is no longer necessary for a woman to be subordinate to a man that is what we would call you number one that's one possibility of applying ourselves to the church. The second option is that we regard the whole thing as Principe that everything about this text is of transcultural significance and that all Christian women everywhere at all times and all places ought always to practice the subordination of themselves to their husbands and that all women everywhere in every local situation are required to symbolize their subordination to men by the covering of their head and that the covering of the head that God prescribed this to be applied at all times, in every culture is a veil, so if a woman covers her head with the babushka or with a hat she is in violation of the principle of this past that's option number two.

So we see the first two options that we, the first one is that none of its Prince appeal. It's all custom. So we don't have the potential dynamic. The second is that it's all principal no limits custom and we have to implement every single detail of the passage. Those that took string now in between those two extremes. There are two other possible approaches, we can say that it's partly principal which I'll call option a and partly principal option, be safely divided into its parts. We can divided more than one way. In the first option we could say that part of the passage is Prince appeal and applies and is binding on all generations and that part is the principal of female subordination to the so someone can come to this text and say all right.

I believe that Paul setting forth the principle here that women ought always to be willing to be subjected to their husbands and be in submission in the church and that's the principle how that principle is manifested can vary from culture to culture. It can be done through some other liturgical device other than the covering of the head so that the only principle that we want to carry across is the principal of female subordination, but we are complete latitude as to how we show the second option is that we say the two parts of this are Prince appeal and one part is custom. The two parts that are Prince appeal would be this that it is always binding on women to be submissive to their husbands and to be subordinate in the church and it is always binding in every culture to illustrate and symbolize that willingness to submit by covering the head, so that then we have two principles, subordination and covering of the head, but what you used to cover the head is optional.

It can be a veil. It can be a handkerchief to be babushka can be a hat and be whatever you want to debate the only two things that are important are subordination and covering the head, Holly has covered is immaterial to actually we have four different ways to approach that tax how do we know what is the correct one.

Well it's not easy.

As I mentioned at the end of our last lecture. It seems to be pretty simple when Jesus sends out the seven things that don't take any bag with you that that's obviously not to be carried over the 20th century and forbids ministers the evangelist from taking suitcases on the trip.

There was a specific reason why Jesus required that sense of urgency. This was a very quick blitz of the surrounding areas. In the midst of an urgent moment in redemptive history that is not part of the mandate of the church in all ages, foot washing, as we mentioned was not quite so clear.

There are still many churches the practice foot washing is the sacrament, and even the Roman Catholic Church is not discontinued the practice altogether every year once a year the Pope himself go so foot washing ceremony of people in Rome and in the church so foot washing has been retained to lesser and greater degree in the life of the church, but now I want to do is set them for basic guidelines for determining the difference between principal and cost. The first guideline is this that we ought to examine the Bible itself and the scene with in the Scripture if there are certain particular areas that apparently are open to the application of custom because we recognize that the Bible itself was not just written in the first century, but the whole process of writing the Bible stretch from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament as it has from the end of the New Testament to our present day. Remember that the Bible itself was written over hundreds and hundreds of years by people in different cultures and at different times and in different places so even with in Scripture we have the problem of culture role transposition out what kinds of things that we see in the Bible that are open to being treated as custom first thing we see is language.

That's a very important thing we might take it for granted today because it's a custom commonplace thing for us to see translations of the Bible in English and in every other language of the world. As I mentioned earlier in this class that was not always the case and from very early in church history. The restriction of translation was to Latin to the Latin Vulgate and it was centuries before the church made it possible to translate the Bible into the vernacular into the local languages of the peak because there was that fear that something would be lost by translation, but we notice that in the Bible itself part of the Bible is written in Hebrew, and another part of the Bible is written in Greek and so even the Bible sees the possibility of translating because the New Testament quotes Old Testament laws. For example, and it quotes those laws that were written in Hebrew and it quotes them now in Greek, so it obviously is not offensive to the Holy Spirit to have the ability of transposing and translating the word of God by way of language can be spoken in Hebrew can be spoken in Greek. It can be spoken in English. The second example that is styles of dress, we see that in the Old Testament people dressed according to certain styles in the days of the patriarch Abraham one certain style of dress was invoked by the time of the Roman occupation of Palestine in the first century when the New Testament church was emerging.

There was another style of dress, there were still patterns the similarities. Is there still are today with the ancient near East. But there also were changes in closing, and it was perfectly appropriate for New Testament Christians to dress in a different manner from Old Testament patriarchs godly dress habits is the principle of modesty, but I've been at the say this that modesty changes from culture to culture. We have to understand that because close symbolize attitudes. They symbolize values and all the rest.

It is not provocative for a native in the interior of Africa, a native woman to run around without a halter, or for man to run around in a loincloth. It would be utterly scandalous for a businessman to walk into his office on Wall Street on Monday morning wearing only a loincloth.

He could be arrested for indecent exposure, because in our cultural situation that would be highly provocative, highly erotic, highly immodest and some dress codes change from culture to culture with the principal is modesty and we have to examine what is being communicated by particular mode of dress. God does not set forth in the opening chapter of Genesis at the beginning of the Old Testament, a prescribed uniform that every believer since able is required to wear. He does establish the principle of modesty. Another thing that we see the changes from culture to culture monetary systems. The Bible talks about paying ties about bringing your struggles or your dumb area into the storehouse, and all it does not mean that a Christian in 20th-century America must pay the church in the area rather than dollars.

Of course not, because monetary units are easily translated and transposed across cultural, so I'm saying the basic first guideline is look to the Bible itself and seeing the kinds of things that the Bible recognizes as being customary so that you are aware, when those questions come up in our culture today.

The second guideline is to allow for Christian distinctions in the first century what we mean by that. It's perfectly appropriate it's sounds scholarship to search out the literary and historical backgrounds of any document were researching and it is helpful for us to know what the local customs were, but we must never work on the assumption that everything that the Bible says merely reflects the cultural situation of the day studying cultural backgrounds can help us understand difficult passages. For example, when Jesus is debating with the Pharisees about divorce legislation. It helps us to understand what he's saying if we can go back into the first century and understand that there was a fierce debate going on between two schools of thought and theology in the first century Jewish community.

Those who followed the liberal school of Halal and the rabbinic interpretations there and those who followed the conservative school of semiotic and those who were the advocates of that schools a fierce battle between the Hillel lights in the Simeonites over divorce legislation liberal versus conservative and they brought their dispute that Jesus and Jesus gives his verdict.

It helps us to understand Jesus words, if we go back and examine what the controversy was that was being brought to him. But if we just look at the Bible is expressing nothing more, nothing less, than the attitudes that were prevailing in the day, and there's no reason why we should study the Christian faith at all except for historical reasons whole point is is that the message of Jesus and the message of Paul was radical.

It was innovative and if we just restricted to reflecting and echoing and mirroring where they also he believed in the culture. We will miss that innovative radical new gospel that is being preach so we must allow for Christian distinctives to be in the text. The third principle or guideline is be aware of creation principles. As I said, if anything crosses the line from community to community is those rules that are set down in creation, because those are given to man, not as first century Christian or as fifth century BC Jew or a 17th-century Dutchman or 20th-century America. But those principles are set down and given to man asked me, there we have principles that go all the way back to the beginning so that when the Bible appeals to the beginning of time. We ought to have our antennae stick up and take notice and be careful. This is a warning that we ought not to be treating this loosely is a mere historical custom but that it has historical roots that reach all the way back to creation another final principle is in my opinion the most important principle of all what if, after studying the Bible diligently and arduously trying to see what kinds of things are possibly customary and what are and after examining the historical background and after looking the creation principles is still can't be sure whether it's principal or custom you say I just don't know whether this applies to the day or not you're left with that quandary. Is there anyway you can cut the Gordian knot is really where you can simplify. Yes, there is because the Bible itself gives us a principal to how to handle Bible tells us that whatever is not of faith is sin. The principle here is sort of a benefit of the doubt type principal, you're left with the choice you don't know whether a particular rule particular passage is custom or principal think about if you treat a passage that God intended to be binding on you forever and treated as a mere local custom and dismissed.

As I said earlier, you were guilty of disobeying God and doing violence to his holy law because you have reduced principal to a mere custom that violates God or suppose it was accustomed and wasn't intended for the day, but you personally take it as a principal that you want to obey and so you obey it, even though you really don't have to because it's merely a matter of cost know what you're guilty of at best is being over scrupulous thing to obedient. Now I ask you manifestly. Which is worse when he wanted to do one of run the risk of being disobedient to God flipping over obedient to God. It is far better to be over obedient to God than to be under obedient to God. God is not going to punish you for being super scrupulous.

He may punish you for being super loose with the principles that he has set forth before you. I call this the principal of humility summarized in this way, when in doubt.humility requires that we bow before God and what we are saying is that if it's still in question was principal or custom burden of proof must always be on those who argue that it's a mere cost unless there is good and sound reason for treating a biblical mandate as cost, then we ought always to treated and client is principal that had it, God will on me just finish by saying I'm glad to spend this time with you. We've only touched the surface of biblical interpretation principles of it, I beseech you to continue to study more deeply on principles of interpretation so that you can grow and mature and become more and more responsible, more more confident in your handling of the book of Scriptures which I believe is the word of God written from the perspective of transcendent wisdom for your edification that you may be equipped and furnished for every good work, which is pleasing to your God. Now it is the responsibility of every believer.

Indeed, it's our great privilege to learn how to study Scripture. Thanks for listening and Renewing Your Mind as we wrap up highlights from Dr. RC Sproul series knowing Scripture so much confusion can be avoided when we learn the basic guidelines for interpreting the Bible correctly and Dr. scroll helps us put those guidelines into practice in the series in 12 messages.

He covers the basic principles of hermeneutics. The art and science of interpretation to request the four DVD set when you contact us today with a donation of any amount to leader ministries. There are couple of ways you can reach us. One is by phone at 800-435-4343 but you can also give your gift online at Renewing Your equipping believers to understand God's truth is one of our purposes here, leader ministries this teaching series couldn't be more central to that purpose.

Knowing how to interpret and understand Scripture is a foundational principle for our growth as Christians. So with your donation of any amount today. I do hope you'll call us at 800-435-4343 will be glad to send you this series the entire series is called knowing Scripture on four DVDs. As I mentioned, you can also make a request online at Renewing Your

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When you search for will get here next week we will hear several messages from our regular teaching Fellows Sinclair Ferguson Stephen Nichols Derek Thomas and others will point us to the wisdom and encouragement we find in God's word so I hope you'll join us.

Beginning Monday here on Renewing Your Mind

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