Monday, March 16, 2009

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

Over the years, I've received email forwards quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14 so many times I've lost count. What I've noticed is they generally come from conservative Republican Christians during Democratic administrations. I got a lot of them when Clinton was in office. I'm starting to get them again (three so far) now that Obama is running the show. They generally include some admonition that Christians should pray for repentance so that our country will turn from our wicked ways so God can heal our land.

I think praying for repentance is wonderful. And we should pray for our leaders no matter their political party. However, as a truth seeker, I want to rightly divide the Word of Truth. So, can American Christians today claim 2 Chronicles 7:14 and hope for God to "heal our land" if we repent from our "wicked ways"?

About twelve years ago a friend of mine named Ken Klein was teaching a group of us at a seminar here in Dallas. Ken was teaching on prophecy and suggesting hard times might be in front of us as our country moves further away from God's commands. During the Q&A session, someone in the audience stood up and quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14. Ken gently instructed him that this verse does not apply and gave him an in depth lesson on the context of this particular passage. That teaching has stuck with me over the years. I believe Ken was right, and I even found an almost identical statement of what Ken was teaching:
Today we live in "the dispensation of the grace of God for us Gentiles." God's program with Israel is temporarily set aside during this present dispensation. The "new creation," the church the body of Christ, is what God is forming now, and it is NOT a nation with a land on this earth. Instead, the body of Christ has a citizenship in heaven and is awaiting the Lord's return to gather us together unto Himself and to take us into the heavenly places. Neither are we today, in this dispensation of grace, being treated by God like He treated Israel. He has not put us under the law today, but we are under grace. -- THE MISUSE OF II CHRONICLES 7:14 (Note: This page no longer exists at this link.)
If you've forwarded those email messages quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14, I'd encourage you to think about it deeper before blindly passing them along.  I don't get overly exercised when believers take this verse out of context or spiritualize it in an effort to call people to repentance and prayer, but I do make of point of questioning the sender to get him or her to think deeper about rightly dividing the Word as Paul commended Timothy to do. I believe Christians need to place our hope in things of eternal value rather than getting distracted by our present circumstances.

In conclusion, James 3:1 holds those who teach to a higher level of accountability, and I take that warning seriously. I believe people in places of authority in the church or with responsibilities for teaching the Bible (myself included) should be very careful to rightly divide the Word. Forwarding an email message is a tacit endorsement of its content including whatever theological perspective it contains. I want to be known as someone who rightly divides the Word. Don't you?

3 comments:

  1. If one were to read this passage in the context of the whole of chapter seven, he might come to understand that it has everything to do with the consecration of the temple. It states that even if the Lord were to send drought, locusts and pestilence to the land (implicitly, as a result of the people's sins), the humble prayers of the people in this place of sacrifice (in particular) would be heard and answered. The temple was a “sacred space”, as Mircea Eliade would phrase it, connecting God (the Sacred) with man (the profane). This temple is akin to the church building of today, in which the faithful meet to share in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Prayers.

    And, while prayer for the country’s leadership is undoubtedly important, even vital to the prosperity of the nation, the extension of this passage as you have described is a bit of a stretch in my opinion.

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  2. Brandon, I'm explicitly arguing *against* the extension of 2Chron 7:14 as applying to the nation of the United States. This verse is specific to national Israel, not the church or church building. The whole nation of Israel was called by God's name, but not the whole nation of the USA, so it does not apply. Read this for more details:

    http://www.worldwithoutend.info/bbc/books/NC/abrahams_seed/toc.htm

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  3. I think there is little reason to doubt the shift of emphasis from the physical (Old Testament) to the spiritual (New Testament). See the table in the middle of chapter eleven (following the link you posted) for evidence of that. But the concepts of sacred space and time still apply. In Matthew (Mt 18), as Jesus is instructing the disciples in forgiveness, he states that whatsoever two of them agree upon as worthy of prayer the Father will grant, and that wherever two or more of them are gathered in his name, there he will be also. Again, we see an example of prayer in a physical context, though no particular structure is mentioned. The temple and the church are manifestations of the same archetype.

    As for what applies to Gentiles and what applies to Abraham and his kin, perhaps the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians holds some answer. Read especially chapters two and three.

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