Getting a Promise

Joe S., early member of the San Fernando Valley Assembly

Using Bible verses out context was rampant in the Assembly. I remember very clearly George saying in a lecture in the late seventies that the Lord would be returning very soon, and that those who were unmarried would most likely stay unmarried. I looked around and everyone was quite serious. A few looked like they were about to burst into tears. These were the unspiritual and weak, of course--the truly spiritual do not concern themselves with such things as wanting a wife or husband one day.

That evening in my room, I prayed, “Lord, will I ever get married?”  Naturally, I did not want the answer to be "no". As dedicated as I was to the Lord, I really had no desire to be a eunuch. I then picked up my King James Bible and flipped it open, sticking my finger under a random verse. It was Jeremiah 16:2, " Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place". (Yes, this actually did happen!)  I began to weep profusely, really believing that this "word" had come from God. I tried not to think badly of the Lord, but soon I started complaining inside about those who were already married, and why had they lucked out.

This "guidance" seemed very real to me at the time, even though I had used the Bible as a spiritual "8 Ball". I thought about marketing these once, with such answers as, "Nay, it shall not be so", "Thy chances are good", "Sources tell me", "Yea, it shall be so'", and, "Come thou back later". They might have sold well in the Assembly.

It's hilarious to me now. It's like grabbing a map of the USA and crying out, "Where am I Lord?" Imagine you're driving in California and see a sign that says, "Springfield, 21 miles." You ask God for guidance, close your eyes, and stick your finger on the USA map---on UTAH, and say, "Here I am!! Thanks Lord!!" Of course, my flipping open the Bible at random for confirmation is a far cry from looking up and quoting verses. But taking verses out of context is similar, in that the interpretation seems obvious, but taken out of context, is really way off base.

Many of us need to unlearn Assembly teaching on Biblical interpretation, both for guidance and for doctrine. Many Assembly teachings are full of error and lead to a misunderstanding of salvation itself, along with other important doctrines. Someone recently wrote to me, "You will not find better or clearer teaching than we received in the Assembly". One finds this completely untrue when you really study the Bible in context and see its actual meaning. The book How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth is an excellent place to begin learning good principles of interpretation.

Readers' Comments

Ed.:  Here is a quote from Dan Lafferty, one of the Mormon Fundamentalist brothers who brutally murdered their sister-in-law and niece because they believed God had told them to. Quoted from Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer, p. 318:

"I believe I'm a good person," Dan insists. "I've never done anything intentionally wrong. I never have. At times when I've started to wonder if maybe what I did was a terrible mistake, I've looked back and asked myself, "What would I have done differently? Did I feel God's hand guiding me on the twenty-fourth of July, 1984?" And I remember very clearly, "Yes, I was guided by the hand of God." So I know I did the right thing....I've had too many little glimpses through the thin fabric of this reality to believe otherwise."

Workers from the 1980's will remember the morning George came bounding into a Workers Meeting with the announcement, "Saints, we've been praying for a gathering place for months, and this morning God spoke to me!! O brethren, it's glorious! He assured me he is going to give us a place in Coyote Hills, right up there on that bluff, friends!" pointing up to the bluff behind his house. The Lord had used one of the Psalms that mentions hills to communicate this piece of information to him.

Whether George actually believed it, or was manipulating us to make donations to the project, it was a dramatic example of how we were to expect God to speak. Prof. Ben Witherington has a great blog post on three basic principles of interpretation that address this incorrect use of the Bible.

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