An observation I made about my initial years of living in Body life has to do with understanding the New Testament. Before I left the traditional church, I was fairly adept at “proof-texting.” That is, taking isolated verses from various books of the New Testament and pasting them together to understand God’s thought on a particular subject. (This is by far and away the most popular form of Bible study in Christianity today.)
Living in Body life, however, gave me an entirely new context by which to interpret the New Testament. Perhaps an analogy will help. The late Gregory Bateson used the following story to illustrate what goes on in the mind of a schizophrenic.
A schizophrenic walks up and down the hall of a psychiatric facility. A doctor’s office is positioned down the hall. The door to the office is closed and a sign appears on the door which says, “Please knock.”
The schizophrenic reads the sign, knocks on the door, then walks off down the hall. He then comes back to the door, knocks on it, then walks off again. He does this repeatedly.
Finally, the doctor opens the door and says, “What do you want?” The schizophrenic replies, “Nothing, the sign told me to knock.”
What happened? According to Bateson, the schizophrenic has lost the context that gives language meaning. A person who doesn’t suffer from schizophrenia understands the implicit context to correctly interpret the sign on the door. The sign simply means that if one wishes to enter into the office, they should first knock and wait for a response. The schizophrenic, however, has lost this context. So he misinterprets the sign.
Point: The meaning of any statement depends on the context in which that statement operates.
That illustration translates smoothly to interpreting the New Testament. Simply put, the great majority of the New Testament was written to organic churches who were experiencing Body life. That was the context in which the vast bulk of New Testament statements were made. The vast majority of the New Testament was not written to individuals. En. Of Paul’s letters, only four were written to individuals. Three were written to fellow itinerant Christian workers (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). Only one was written to a local brother (Philemon).
Consequently, the many verses that we Christians like to quote don’t belong to us as individuals. They were addressed to churches. They have very little individual application to you or me. They instead find application in Christian community.
Therefore, when one lives in that same context (organic Body life), many of the statements in the New Testament take on new meaning. The New Testament becomes a brand new book, and most all of what it says applies like never before. The reason: The context is now understood in a fresh way.
Let’s now move on to what I believe to be the most important issue in the journey to find the church after God’s own heart.