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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Reason and Learning through Questions

The Church Ethic: Introduction
Church Ethic Scripture References
Being Like the Pharisees
Reason and Learning through Questions

Proverbs 18:17 The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.

There is a curious method of teaching and learning found in the pages of the Bible that is drastically different from the model Churches follow today. In our modern Church, leaders dictate truth to their congregations and those congregations take notes so they can learn and recall what they have been taught. But there is no room for questioning.

Sure, someone might say, "We can ask the Pastor questions." Yes, but what kinds of questions and for what purpose? We can certainly ask a Pastor questions for clarification, but not to question his premise or conclusion. We cannot ask questions with the possibility of exposing flaws in his reasoning or teaching. And we certainly cannot ask questions on Sunday mornings during the sermon in front of the whole church. How disruptive that would be. No, we should wait till after the service and ask him in private, at which point he will clarify what we have misunderstood.

So, while we can ask questions, it is only with the presumption on the part of both the pastor and the congregation, that the pastor already knows what he's talking about. Even the best of pastors may openly admit that they are human and can make mistakes. But do they submit their doctrine and reasoning to the examination of the congregation? If you think so, why don't you try it with your pastor and see if he responds as if his teaching might have any holes in it. Just as a test, try implying (or even outright telling him) that he has a flaw in his doctrine and see what he says.

Even if you are sure your pastor would be open and accepting, would he regularly submit to such questions during the sermon? Realistically, there is serious doubt that any pastor would.

But the pattern of learning and teaching in the Bible is entirely different and we will demonstrate that in the scripture.

Philosophers understand something known as the dialectic. The dialectic is a way of teaching and evaluating truth claims by asking questions to test any truth claim.

In the Socratic dialectic, this model is applied equally to students as to those who claim to have knowledge already, including teachers. According to Plato's Apology, one of Socrates' particular purposes was to expose the flaws in what was commonly accepted to be true.

When we read passages like I Kings 10:1, II Chronicles 9:1-2, or Proverbs 18:17, we start to see evidence that such a dialectic was not foreign to the Biblical method of learning.

The New Testament is even clearer in this regard. It is perhaps clearest when we view the two following Gospel passages side by side. One of these passages is from the beginning of Jesus life here on earth. The other is from just before his crucifixion.

Luke 2:46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. 47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

John 16:30 Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.

We will soon see that this method of teaching and validating teaching was a pattern in Jesus life. Here we see it early on in Luke 2:46-47. When I used to read this passage, I used to be a little confused when I came to the end of verse 47. You see, in our modern way of learning both in the Church and in secular education institutions, we think that it is our answers that demonstrate our understanding. And while that is true, when taken together, verse 46 and 47 show that Jesus understanding was displayed as much by his questions as by his answers.

The really, really significant point for us today is who this young boy is questioning. He is questioning the "doctors," the learned theologians of his day. The word for doctors in Luke is didaskalos, and it is defined as follows.

1320 didaskalos {did-as'-kal-os}
from 1321; TDNT - 2:148,161; n m
AV - Master (Jesus) 40, teacher 10, master 7, doctor 1; 58
1) a teacher
2) in the NT one who teaches concerning the things of God, and the duties of man
1a) one who is fitted to teach, or thinks himself so
1b) the teachers of the Jewish religion
1c) of those who by their great power as teachers draw crowds around them i.e. John the Baptist, Jesus
1d) by preeminence used of Jesus by himself, as one who showed men the way of salvation
1e) of the apostles, and of Paul
1f) of those who in the religious assemblies of the Christians, undertook the work of teaching, with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit
1g) of false teachers among Christians

Here we see that his word doctor refers to the educated teachers and leaders of the people. Who would that equate to in the modern Church? Certainly it would include pastors, educators, and authors. And here we see a twelve-year old boy engaged with them in the dialectic. By asking them questions he is both teaching them and pointing out flaws in their answers.

As a footnote, this is the same word applied to Jesus as a title by his followers in the Gospels. The following passage is one example.

Mar 13:1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master [1320], see what manner of stones and what buildings!

And we see this mode of learning, validating, and teaching by questions throughout the Gospels.
Matthew 11:27-28 - Jesus is questioned about his authority
Matthew 11:29-33 - Jesus asks the Pharisees where John's baptism was from
Matthew 12:1-5 - Jesus asks about the David, the priests, and the shewbread
Matthew 12:24-27 - Jesus asks by whose power the Pharisees' disciples cast out demons
Matthew 17:24-27 - Jesus asks Peter about who is obligated to pay taxes
Matthew 19:3-9 - Jesus is questioned about divorce
Matthew 21:15-17 - Jesus is questioned about children praising him as David's Son
Matthew 21:28-32 - Jesus asks which of the two sons in his parable was obedient
Mark 7:5-23 - Jesus is questioned about the hand washing tradition of the elders
Mark 12:14-17 - Jesus is questioned about paying taxes to Caesar
Mark 12:18-27 - Jesus is questioned about marriage and the Resurrection
Mark 12:28-34 - Jesus is questioned about which is the greatest commandment
Luke 7:40-48 - Jesus asks which man in his parable is more thankful for debt forgiveness
Luke 10:25-28 - Jesus is asked and asks questions about how to receive eternal life
Luke 10:29-37 - Jesus is asked and asks questions about who is our neighbor
Luke 14:1-6 - Jesus asks what kinds of work were permissible on the Sabbath
John 8:3-11 - Jesus is questioned about the woman caught in adultery

In fact, Luke 11:53 tells us that it became the practice of the scribes and Pharisees to question Jesus publicly to try and catch him in error.

There is little doubt that this pattern of questioning to educate and examine truth claims was a part of the Jewish culture in that day. We see the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes using it against Jesus. We see Jesus using it against the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. We see Jesus using it to teach his apostles different things. And at times we even see members of the crowd asking Jesus questions, such as the rich young ruler.

As we have said, perhaps the strongest proof that this type of teaching method was in operation by Jesus and by the Jewish leaders of his day is found in John 16:30.

John 16:30 Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.

Notice what the apostles are saying. They are is declaring that Jesus is in no need of any one to ask him any questions because he already knows all things. The clear implication is that for those whose understanding is not complete, they are in need of someone to ask them questions and in that way to instruct them.

Based on our modern educational practices and particularly our Church services, we would expect this statement to be reversed. We would expect to read here that Jesus is in no need for someone to tell him something. But instead we find that he is in no need for someone to ask him anything. So, we see that the disciples understood quite well that the method of instructing was questioning, not simply telling.

The other really, really significant thing in this one small verse is the apostles' confession that we find here. Remembering that this book was written by the apostle John, what according to John was the basis of their belief that Jesus came from God? Astoundingly, according to John it was the completeness and flawlessness of his understanding, an understanding that needed no man to instruct him through questions.

And what is the value of questioning as opposed to just telling. Well, when you tell someone WHAT to think, you are giving information. But by asking questions, you are actually instructing them in HOW to think, how to analyze and how to problem solve throught critical thought. By asking questions you are provoking them to solve problems for themselves, to think farther on their own. This very process teaches critical thinking skills that simply telling information cannot do.

And the benefit is that your students no only become familiar with sound doctrine, but they become familiar with the thought processes involved in deriving sound doctrine.

Notice these instructions in the epistles and consider their place in this process.

1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

Titus 1:9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

These two verses are perhaps the strongest in the New Testament regarding the necessity for believers to become able apologists. What is an apologist? An apologist is one who is able to defend the Christian faith against the arguments of any opposition. Notice that according to Peter this process is likely to involve being able to give answers to opponents who ask us for answers. And Titus 1 instructs us that we must be familiar with orthodox doctrine (the word as it HAS BEEN taught), in order to be able to convince those who oppose it.

But what are the practical implications for the modern Church. Well, let's consider our main mode of teaching in today's church, the sermon.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a sermon itself, at least with sermons as we find them in the New Testament. As we have seen and will continue to see, sermons in the New Testament involved the opportunity for the audience to question the speaker about his doctrine and its implications. However, our point here is that sermons in the modern church differ sharply from sermons in the New Testament with regard to this particular trait - the opportunity to question the statements of the speaker.

A sermon in the modern church is nothing less than a one sided-monologue. No one is allowed to interrupt it particularly to question some of the statements and truth claims made by the speaker. Even if we have questions, we should save them until after the service since to interrupt and criticize the truth claims of the speaker would be to commit the cardinal sin in a church service.

Therefore, the main method and model of instruction in the modern church has taken great precautions to prevent the very mode of learning employed by people in the time of Christ and employed by Christ himself. But is there anything in the New Testament that would indicate our services SHOULD be structured in a way that accommodates a process of questioning those who claim to have understanding?

Fortunately there is. We find it in I Timothy 2 and I Corinthians 14. As we will see, these are, in fact, parallel instructions.

I Timothy 2:11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

I Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

These two verses tell us Paul's position on women's participation in the Church services. Paul did not permit them to speak, but if they wanted to learn they should do what? Ask their husbands questions at home. In other words, women were not allowed to ask questions during the gatherings of the whole church.

So, what does that have to do with the structure of Church services? Well, if women were not allowed to speak, who was? Don't we see that Paul is clearly making a distinction here between what was permitted for men and what was permitted for women. Women were not allowed to speak or ask questions but had to learn in silence. But would Paul have written this about women if it was the same for men? No, men were not required to learn in silence. It was the practice of their meetings for the men to be able to ask questions during the meeting, not after it. Asking questions after the meeting was what women were required to do.

This is a very sharp contrast to the way sermons and services are structured today. Today, all of the congregation, men as well as women are required to learn in silence and to save their questions for after the Church meeting. We have completely deviated from the Church structure in the first century and from the mode of teaching employed by Jesus.

And has the result of our deviation from the Biblical standard been beneficial? Of course, not. The congregations of today's Church are far less knowledgeable of the scripture, far less able as apologists, and far less able to use critical thinking to discern truth from error than those in the first century. And unfortunately it has not only effected the so-called "lay people," but the leadership of the Church has been just as effected. The multitude of denominations and doctrines are just one evidence of this.

Attempts to combat Biblical illiteracy in the Church will not be effective until and unless we incorporate the Biblical dialectic into our services and into our Bible studies and into our thought processes as a whole. We should remember God's word in Ephesians 4:13-14. God wants us all to grow into maturity and unity in not only the faith in the Son of God, but the knowledge of the Son of God as well.

By instructing just by telling people what to believe, we are invoking the process of indoctrination. Indoctrination requires no critical thinking, only the acceptance of what we are told by our leaders. Because of this, people can be indoctrinated into both correct and incorrect theology. But because it invokes critical thinking processes, simply asserting the ability and opportunity for people to ask questions during a teaching goes a long way toward counteracting mere indoctrination.

We end this article with a quote from Hebrews and II Timothy.

Hebrews 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Telling someone what to think and believe does not require them to exercise discernment. Only by using the Biblical practice of teaching and validating teaching through questions can we develop our skills in the word, to discern truth from error, and to rightly divide the word of God.