Principlizing

Uzzah 1

Q. 2 Sam 6:6-7 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. Our pastor explained that even though Uzzah’s motivation may be just to steady the ark, it was irreverent because Uzzah had ignored God’s specific instructions as to how the ark was to be transported. His application was that we may want to serve the Lord, but our actions may actually displease God because we approach it the wrong way. We understand this principle, but how do we apply it? How do we know when our good intentions may arouse God’s anger? For example, our church wanted to host a drama night to reach out to non-believers. One actor is well-known and will attract many viewers, but is not a Christian. Should the church use him? Would the church arouse God’s displeasure?

A. This is a broad subject in hermeneutics, the science of biblical interpretation. More specifically, on “principlizing“. Let me quote from Walter Kaiser Jr., to “principlize” is to [re]state the author’s propositions, arguments, narrations, and illustrations in timeless abiding truths with special focus on the application of those truths to the current needs of the Church. While this is not the only approach to move from the Bible to theology, it is the generally accepted method taught in seminaries. Since whole books have been written on the subject, it is beyond the scope of this brief post to cover all the ground rules. I will therefore restrict myself to only one key concept, namely, whether the action under consideration was forbidden in Scripture by way of command, or simply expressed as God’s wish, with allowance for individual choice.

In Uzzah’s case, the prohibition was clear. Num 4:15 states, “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, only then are the Kohathites to come and do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the tent of meeting.” Only the Kohathites clan of Levites were to carry the ark, using poles through rings on the sides of the ark, on their shoulders, not using an ox cart. Furthermore, there were precedents of God striking down people for irreverently looking into the ark (1 Sam 6:19). God meant what He said and Uzzah should have known better.

But how does that apply to whether the church should use unbelievers to serve? We all know that God’s work needs to be done God’s way to please God, but what exactly is God’s way if there are no specific instructions as in the case of how to carry the ark? Are there similar, close examples to follow? As far as I know, there are no biblical examples of actors in a play or drama. The closest I can think of are singers or musicians in a choir. Are there clues there? The word choir does not occur in the KJV. It appears in the NIV 5 times, once in the singular at Neh 12:38, and 4 times in the plural at 1 Chr 15:27, and Neh 12:31, 40, 42. But the underlying Hebrew word “towdah” basically meant “thanksgiving, praise, thanks, thank offerings, or confession”, and is translated as such 32 times in the KJV. This meaning is extended to “a choir of giver of thanks, praising God” in Neh 12. You can assume that most of the choir members or musicians were priests and therefore Levites, but does priests then equate to Christians now?

What should be the considerations? At one extreme, there are those who argue that worship is for believers only, and unbelievers cannot really worship, let alone serve in a worship service. It is true that unbelievers cannot truly worship a God they do not know and therefore serve, but what about those who attend worship services to seek God?
1 Co 14:23-24 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all.
Many Christians start out that way, as unbelievers invited by their Christian friends to attend worship or Sunday school, until they heard the gospel and commit their lives to Christ. So Paul already anticipated unbelievers in worship services, and preaching the gospel does belong in a worship service, contrary to some people’s opinion.

Furthermore, using Christians alone to serve is no guarantee that the job will be done well. Sad to say, some Christians do not take their ministry seriously and give it the time and effort it deserves. If God wanted to, He can use anyone to serve Him, including pagans, or even animals e.g. the Lord called Nebuchadnezzar “my servant” in Jer 25:9, 27:6, and 43:10, and He used a donkey to rebuke Balaam (Num 22:28, 2 Pet 2:16)! Who is to say God can’t use unbelievers to serve Him?

(To be continued)

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