Brother Augustine Jebakumar answers questions of interpretation, revelation, etc of the Bible. Interviewed for the Scripture Special issue of The CALL.
Q1: Why and how does the Bible get meddled?
As Peter says in 2 Peter 3, the meddling is done by un- learned and an unsteady people. They take one truth and try fitting in another to suit their own position. They neither see the whole picture nor do they take the trouble to know. It’s akin to four blind people touching an elephant and trying to explain it. With a motive for personal gain they focus on some convenient truths that satisfy the itchy ears of people - Give them what they want rather than what they really need! As a result they end up bending and twisting every other truth to somehow fit into their pet doctrines never considering the damage they do to people.
No one person is given the totality of Biblical revelation. When we fail to have the concept of seeing the totality of truth in all the angles through mutual dependence we become unlearned. Many a times we are only infants in knowing the truth which is another reason for being unsteady. Such people are taken by the winds of popularity. They look for what is popular in spiritual circles and adopt those things to gain popularity. The desire for popularity makes them deviate from the scripture. As the wind blows they too are carried away.
Daily walk of crucifixion is alien to such people. The first thing one must know when one accepts Christ is the conviction that one is crucified with Christ. This fundamental truth is not preached as part of the full gospel by many preachers. When I accept His redemption and His works, the starting point for me is that I have been crucified with Christ. When I am crucified with Him, my desires and my dreams are also crucified. That means taking the cross daily – a life of perpetual crucifixion. Alternative to this daily walk of cross is an odyssey in a dream land. When desires and dreams are not crucified, the lure for popularity makes people look for scriptures to suite their own taste.
I personally doubt the genuinely of their conversion to the Lord and I believe that is the reason why they preach convincing truth rather than convicting truth. Only a handful can boldly say that “I am convicted of this truth and that’s why I am preaching it”. The popular trend is to tailor the message that is convenient to them and to those who hear and preach accordingly. Such are half-baked believers. Anybody can preach the Gospel, but to preach with a conviction is great deal different from preaching what is heard from others.
Q2. What portions of the Scriptures do you think are popularly misinterpreted?
Most of the popular messages have half-truths or half verses. Take for example, ‘lo I am with you always’. But they ignore that it is applicable when you ‘Go’. No doubt, God is with us always, but the fact that He works in us when we ‘Go’ is not emphasized. Likewise, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ is commonly emphasized, but the previous verse ‘Don’t be lovers of money’ is ignored. The message, ‘don’t run after the money and God will take care of you’ is diluted or deleted for the sake of popularity. The trend among popularity and prosperity preachers is to dilute, alter or delete.
Prosperity preachers use Abraham as an example that he believed in God and prospered. But they fail to inform that Abraham was living like a stranger and pilgrim in this world. He lived in a tent and was entertaining strangers. The tent reflected his heavenward vision. No prosperity preacher will speak about it because of his earthward vision. That is the peril of not having the totality of Scriptural revelation.
Q3: Don’t such promises lead to false hope?
There is no harm in using a verse and give it as a promise when inspired by God. The Bible is both a historic and a prophetic book. Numerous verses are recorded in the Bible for exhorting, edifying and comforting. Using these verses as warnings or promises to a person in need is a right thing to do. You may use an entire verse or a part but it must be inspired by the Holy Spirit. That promise can encourage the person in need at that instance. But if you preach about any promise verse in general you are in danger.
It is even possible to preach a promise verse to an entire congregation under the unction of the Holy Spirit. A while ago I was preaching in a church in Hanover, Germany with no inclination of the issue the church was grappling with. The church was functioning from a rented premise, next to a coffee shop, in the center of the town with focus on ministering to the prostitutes and drug addicts. Suddenly the owner of the property decided to sell it and the church was thrown into the dilemma whether to buy it or not. They had no finances to buy, but at the time letting go of the place meant forgoing the ministry.
When the congregation was seized of this matter, there I was preaching from Joshua 3 declaring that the entire congregation must step out on the water in faith and see the river Jordan part! That was a prophetic utterance from God for that congregation. They received it as such and claimed the promise and eventually purchased the property. I narrate this to make a point that there are promises that are specific to individuals or congregations for specific situations. But when we take a promise in a generic way and make the people believe that it is specific to them, we are deceiving the people and diluting the Bible and in the process damage the congregation.
Look at another example. The scripture, ‘I have caused my son to come out of Egypt’ is a promise given to Jesus Christ to make known that He has to be taken to Egypt. But when you look at this verse in context God is reminding the people of their past life. Only a part of this scripture is taken and given as a promise to Jesus Christ but the context of whole verse is for Israel.
A while ago I was with a brother named John from Hyderabad. They were in a dilemma on how to respond to an interview call from Ethiopia. After they shared this during a night’s stay with them, during my prayer next morning, I received this promise from God for them; ‘He will gain control over gold, silver, and treasures of Egypt and the Libyans and Ethiopians will be his servants’. On receiving this word they proceeded to Ethiopia. When in Hyderabad, John was unemployed but his wife had a job. In Ethiopia John got a job but his wife didn’t. Nevertheless things were fine for a while before John started facing problems at his work place and eventually had to leave the company when a job offer came from an Egyptian company. Though this company had plans to establish in Ethiopia they wanted John to move to head office in Egypt for two years. At the same time John got another offer with the position of country manager bringing another dilemma. When they shared this with me I reminded them about the promise of Egypt too. By looking back at the promise made things clear to him.
When you look at the scripture promise I gave them in context, we see that it was given to a certain group of people. But part of it came as a promise to an individual. Any scripture can become a specific promise to an individual or a congregation when inspired by God.
Unfortunately there is this tendency to look only for promise verses stripping them of any conditions. This happens especially during New Year where pastors look for promises to give to the people. Look at the New Year promise of most churches. There will be no corrective instruction but only positive promises.
Once we printed the promise verse for the church, ‘If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land’. I got a letter of appreciation from a believer that I was the only one to give a promise verse covering both the condition and the blessing. Because people usually look for some positive or encouraging sign the entire doctrine of God’s blessing is rarely preached.
Q4: Does it mean all promises are conditional?
Most of the promises are conditional. There certainly are exceptions though. Almost all of the promises have conditions attached such as, if you obey, if you heed, if you listen etc. But there are certain promises with no conditions. For instance God gives a promise like “I will increase you” to a person who does not know Christ. This is to encourage him or her to become a believer. At times promise are given to direct an unbeliever. When God directs his life and when he sees something good happening, it leads him to belief in Christ. So there is a huge difference between promise given to an unbeliever to lead him to Christ and to those who already know Christ.
Again when a promise is given suddenly, it may not have a condition. Gideon received a promise saying, ‘God is with you O mighty man of valour’. This word was given to him by God though he was not a mighty man. But this promise drove him to the Lord and it became a turning point in his life.
Q5: Can we personalize Messianic promises?
Because, ‘it is no longer I but Christ who lives in me’, we cannot ignore the fact that Christ’s promise are for us too. Many are convinced that the promise in Isaiah 61, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’ is also applicable for believers as they too receive the anointing of the Lord. But it should not stop there. The anointing upon Jesus was to break the yoke and deliver people. So if you apply the promise to you, you must also consider the responsibility that comes with the anointing. It should be purpose driven and not self-driven. The anointing on you should bring deliverance. There are no preconditions to this promise but there are post conditions – what the anointing is for! Be it post or pre conditions it is driven by purpose.
Q6: Can you highlight some dangers of prosperity doctrine?
Concerning prosperity doctrine, I believe, three essentialities of the gospel are taken out of the message.
- The very purpose of God for a person
The central purpose of salvation is transformation into Christ likeness - to be a partaker of His holiness. Where is the scope for chastisement if you follow prosperity doctrine? Prosperity doctrine talks about freedom from sickness, pain, debts, etc. Does not God allow pain to test us and to prepare us? Or am I following Christ only for the earthly blessings and not heavenly?
Prosperity doctrine takes out the eternal perspective. People no longer live with eschatological mind-set but only on the immediate earthly gratification. Granted earthly blessings are needed. But to what end? Is it not to fulfill eternal purposes? When Purpose is taken out, eternity is also taken out. Woe unto all who seek God only for worldly blessings.
- Relationship and Responsibility
The driving force behind prosperity gospel is self-centeredness, whereas the Christian call is for a self-crucified life. All prayers and devotions become self-centered. Man’s nature is always self-centered and the prosperity doctrine promotes the old nature of man. A self-centered man does not walk in the newness of life but is focused on his own blessing and does not work for the society. They claim to encourage people but it is a false encouragement that makes people stumble and not grow. It robs people of reality. Aren’t people who are not followers Christ prosperous, healthy and joyful? But that joy is different from real joy of Christ.
How do we measure prosperity? What is the yardstick? When a person earning Rs. 40 gets Rs. 400 is that prosperity or should he get Rs. 4 lakhs to be termed prosperous? If we term this as prosperity then we are using the wrong measurement. Prosperity robs people of eternity view point and gives only the illusion of earthly view – it becomes a mirage.
The prosperity preachers don’t talk about eternity, holiness, and judgment. If they talk about judgment, then it’s a responsibility. We should be judged for our commission and omissions. Some preachers, though they preach judgment, they, as such, don’t mean it. For example a teaching on second coming shouldn’t drive people with the spirit of condemnation but create an expectation!
Q7: What is the false doctrine of hyper grace?
In the doctrine of hyper grace sins are forgiven no matter what, based on belief alone, because God is love. The message of repentance is taken away. When there is no repentance, there is no thought of judgment either. Hyper grace preaches that no matter what your sin, grace is sufficient for you!
But the Scripture makes it clear the need for continuous repentance. It is not a onetime affair. In the messages given to seven churches, in the book of Revelation, Christ calls five churches to repent - A call to repent from where it has fallen - to a church which was already active and operational.
When the term ‘repentance’ is removed, the truth is totally compromised. Christian life starts with repentance. They say that Satan was judged because he did not believe. But to me belief goes with obedience. Faith and obedience are ingredients of salvation. Obedience comes only when we repent.
There are three stages in salvation: Past – Jesus has paid the penalty of our sins. Present – I overcome the flesh by the strength of the Spirit – I work out my salvation. Future – I will be saved from the presence of sin. Until Jesus returns we live a continuous life of repentance. We need grace until then. When I fall, when I go through struggles, His grace upholds and sustains me. But the very need for grace comes when I repent. Repentance comes only when we realize our unworthiness. Grace loses its value when the element of repentance and unworthiness is removed.
Q8: “Once saved – forever saved” - is this preaching wrong?
Absolutely! Salvation is for spirit, soul and body. When you come to the Lord, you are born again in the spirit - you are delivered, your spirit is resurrected. But that is only the beginning. But total salvation is needed for the soul and not the spirit. The spirit will return to God who gave the spirit. The soul (the real me) has to be saved. Since spirit is resurrected, it can now help the soul to overcome the fleshly influence. So salvation is a lifelong process and that is achieved by continual renewal of mind. Mind is the seat of the soul.
That is why, even though I am forgiven and saved, I still struggle. You become a seeker – then a believer – then a disciple. Even in a disciple there are three things that dominate: rebellious nature, covetousness, and selfishness. Only when you become free from all these do you become spiritual. What is to be spiritual? That is to be as God sees, as God thinks, and as God feels. Only after this spiritual stage do you get into perfection. For this process to happen grace works in me.
Q9. The scripture is the complete Word of God. Many people claim to get direct revelation from God. What is your take on that?
Revelation could be accepted within a limited framework of revealed word of God. Even a dream can be considered as a revelation. But the “revealed Word of God” is perfect and is all sufficient to mankind. We can out rightly reject anything that doesn’t fall within the revealed Word of God. The Bible is all sufficient for my salvation and for reaching the whole world. Any other revelation should be checked with reference to the revealed Word of God. Bible is the perfect and proven book.
Q10: Is reading only the Bible enough? Should we supplement with other books by Bible Scholars?
BIBLE IS THE BASIS – it is the basic book. In a platter, rice is the main food and all other dishes are supplements-we call them side dishes. Side dishes should never take the place of the main meal. Side dish should help you relish and increase the intake of rice. Similarly, books by other scholars should increase your appetite (study) of the Scripture. If that does not happen, it is a mistake.
People who read only the Bible may limit the scope of their ministry. Smith Wigglesworth never read any book other than the Bible. His ministry therefore remained only evangelistic and he could not be a teacher – Because he did not have idea of other views. If you want the benefits of the 5 fold ministry, you have to supplement your Scripture study with other books.
Bible is the foundation – the main course. To enjoy it more, I try to taste various sources to give it a complete platter effect. According to my need I taste the different side dishes (other books) to enrich my experience of the scripture. Contentment with reading only the Bible may lead a person to limit his role. But this should not be in reverse- Bible should always be the main source.
The total revelation of God will never be given to one man. God has given revelation of Himself as well as His purposes through various sources. Only when you arrange this puzzle together, you get the whole picture. You may have large number of pieces of the puzzle; say 10 out of the 20, you still need the 2 pieces from one, 3 from another and 5 from yet another to complete the puzzle. Naturally you need other people’s thoughts.
Q11: How should a preacher read or interpret the Word?
God made man in His image, for His glory, and for His purpose. Any preaching that does not reflect these three elements is deviant. If you talk about just one thing, say we are created for His glory we forget the purpose for the creation. If we talk only creation in His image we end up with perfection theory alone. The combination - the image, the glory and the purpose –makes a complete preaching. The proportion of these elements may vary but the three components are mandatory for right doctrine. Neglecting any one of them will lead to wrong understanding.
Now with regard to reading, again you need three components; what is God talking about me in this portion, how can I glorify God today, and is there any purpose that I can fulfill today? So when you read the Word based on these three components, you see an altogether different picture. Every preaching will be clear, be it a new preacher or experienced, and it will help them to grow. Speaking of Christian life Paul says, whatever you do, do it for the glory of God, and don’t be a stumbling block to anyone, but seek the good of all (1 Cor. 10: 31-33). He is talking about these three elements but put in a different way. A preacher who follows these two triune processes will never make a mistake. That will keep us from becoming one point agenda preaching’s that happen these days such as focusing on healing alone etc.
Q12: Some insist that theology is must for preaching, whereas others claim that whatever they read & meditate they preach. What is your view?
A teacher should be clear enough to answer the doubts of any student. Instructing and sharing your experience are two different things. The Samaritan woman was not a theologian yet she went and shared with the people her experience of Jesus and she brought many to Jesus. She showed them that He is the Messiah. Everyone can go to that extent - you can bring people to the Lord. That doesn’t mean you can become a teacher to them. That is why the Bible says that the people were convinced not only with the Samaritan woman’s testimony but with the Words of Jesus Christ Himself that He is the Messiah!
You need not be a theologian to preach but you should have a strong conviction. The testimony of the blind man in John 9 is ‘I once was blind but now I see’. In his knowledge he didn’t expect God to give ear to a sinner and since God did hear Jesus he concluded that Jesus Christ was from God Himself. He only shared his experience but didn’t preach. Experience must lead to reasoning, reasoning to conviction and then one becomes a disciple.
Q13. How much of theology did the Disciples understand?
In his first sermon, on the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel and the Psalms. Though an illiterate, his listening at the synagogue aided him. That didn’t mean he was a complete theologian. At the same time it shows that we shouldn’t underestimate anyone with strong convictions and therefore they can preach. When it comes to personal testimony, it can be done by anybody. But when it is to do with preaching and teaching there should both be clarity and conviction.
Q14: Theologians tend to say that Paul’s letters are more popular because of his theological knowledge compared with that of Peter. What is your view?
Both Paul and Peter are equally used by God in different contexts. Where Paul had sound theological knowledge and God used him to develop church doctrines, Peter’s revelatory messages were equally relevant. Peter’s revelatory talk was not ignored by people. On the day of Pentecost it was Peter’s revelatory exposition on Joel and Psalms is what convicted people. It was needed then to have revelatory knowledge as the New Testament was yet to be written. Today we have the complete Bible revealed and unless revelation is within the framework of Bible it is to be ignored.
Q15: How did you develop your knowledge in the Scriptures?
It begins with my strong conviction of eternity. When the foundation of eternity is laid, I realize that I am destined for eternity and not this world. I see all scripture in light of this conviction. When I experienced salvation, I questioned Him on my role in eternity. With this question I read the scriptures and everything fell in line.
I see the Old Testimony as a typology- a shadow. If this is a shadow, how will the reality be? With this kind of comparison I study the Word of God. I refer other books too to ensure that I am not deviating from the truth. The reference books by Biblical scholars act as check points in preventing me from making mistakes. That is how I have developed as a teacher and a preacher.
Billy Graham believed that ‘‘Bible is cover to cover the revealed word of God” and he believed in eternity. He says that these two convictions made him a strong evangelist.
In the light of eternity, everything changes. For example let us look at this question of why is the world so corrupt? Since God is a perfect God, He wouldn’t have created a corrupt world. If the creation was perfect then something must have happened between v1 and v2 of Genesis. That led me to a search of Scripture for solutions from Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc. to understand what must have happened. If ‘eternity’ means “no beginning and no end”, between these what happened? The Bible has been given to me to gain an understanding of this. So when my focus was this, automatically it was easy for me to build my scriptural study on this.
Q16: Some people do in-depth study with the signs and symbols in the Scripture. What is your take?
The theory of interpreting a symbol, a parable, or an incident should be done within certain limits. When you exceed this limit, you can end up with serious errors. Let us look at the story of Abraham taking Isaac to offer as a sacrifice. As per typology Isaac is a picture of Jesus and Abraham, God the Father. Further the wood carried by Isaac is symbolic of the cross and Abraham having the knife and fire is symbolic of God’s judgment. It is safe interpretation so far. If you go further and look for altar replacement you enter into Islam.
Jonah was in the belly of a fish for 3 days and 3 nights, a shadow of Jesus going to the tomb for the same period. Only this should be compared and not the reason for Jonah being in the belly of the fish in the first place. It was because of his disobedience, whereas Jesus went through death in obedience.
The parable of 10 virgins is a call for vigilance and not for discriminating between the Pentecostals and others. You should take only the relevant. Otherwise you are in danger of spiritualizing the irrelevant things. We ought to be careful in fitting the things with the basic theology; doing this vice versa will result in mistake.
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