I had coffee with a friend of mine a few weeks ago and we began to discuss the Scriptures and our beliefs. I’ve only really gotten to know him over the last year or so. He is curious as to my beliefs and has approached me a few times to lovingly debate a few points of doctrine/theology. Although we disagree on many points, we have a mutual respect for each other’s faith and can speak frankly with one another without jeopardizing our relationship (a rarity). As we got into our discussion, however, I realized that he held to a position I haven’t been exposed to in a number of years. It goes something like this:
The Tanach (the Old Testament) represents a lot of stories of faith, and examples of how we should live our lives in obedience to God (in some vague way, as we will see by the next component). And the Gospels, Acts, Hebrews and Revelation are not written as a documents of instruction, therefore they are not “prescriptive” but only “descriptive” in their content, and therefore cannot have any theological bearing in the life of a believer. Wow… I was really dumfounded for a good while, as I mulled over this implications of how his theological perspective had essentially stripped out 90% of the authority of the Scriptures, relegating “prescriptive” or “authoritative” Scripture to the (misunderstood) writings of Paul and possibly the epistles of Peter, James, John & Jude (and even then I’m not sure if all of them hold equal weight with the Pauline epistles according to this theological premise).
This theological supposition seems to be heavily taught in missions-based organizations, because of opposition they have received over the years that their missionary methods were not practiced by the first believers. In other words, it’s not found in the book of Acts. I just did a quick search on the net for the phrase “book of Acts descriptive not prescriptive” and found a blog from a seminary student returning from a class on missions that said it point blank:
The book of Acts is not presented as a prescriptive book. That is, it is not presented as a manual on how a church should be run (you’ll find a lot of that in the epistles) or missions should be conducted. It describes what did happen, not what should/must/will happen in every time and culture.
I think this represents a snapshot of the theological pulse of our seminaries. It was this concept that was ingrained in my friend, and totally blocked our communication. If you’re interested, the passage of Acts in discussion was the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) in which the Apostles presented their ruling on the minimum requirements of non-Jews entering into the faith. The gist of my argument with my friend was that the minimum level of Torah observance was put forth by the Council in Acts 15, and that we should at least be keeping these four basic boundaries as a bare minimum, whether we agreed on the whole of Torah or not. He was in total disagreement, using the argument that since Acts was not “prescriptive” but “descriptive” the ruling of the Council had no bearing in the life of a modern day believer.
Here we have a contrast as to the authority of the Apostolic Council making a strong line in the sand for the entire Yeshua faith community verses the Pauline epistles, which were written for a specific purpose (almost always a response to a specific issue) to a specific group of people. Yet this theological position supplants the authority of James, the brother of our Master (and steward of his throne at that time) and the original Apostles of our Master. [editor’s note: I am not saying the Pauline epistles are not authoritative. I believe they are, and have a greater appreciation for them now than ever. I am only suggesting that “if” there was a priority, then the Apostolic Council would be first in line, rather than Paul’s addresses to specific situations and specific people which do not apply to us as directly as much as the Apostolic decree.]
Does anyone else see a problem with this? Has anyone else ran into this? Does anyone have any suggestions as to how to bridge this gap in our communication?