GCI Update

Interpreting the Bible rightly

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

In GCI, our high view of the Bible aligns with Jesus’ declaration concerning the Hebrew Scriptures: “These are the very Scriptures,” he said, speaking of what we refer to as the Old Testament, “that testify about me” (John 5:39). Believing that Jesus is God’s self-revelation to humanity, it is our commitment and practice to follow this important teaching from our Lord, reading the Bible through what we might refer to as the interpretive lens of Jesus Christ. Doing so means reading Scripture in a way that both prepares us for Jesus, then leads us to him as the Bible’s intended ultimate fulfillment. Unfortunately, not everyone follows this Christ-centered method of biblical interpretation, instead often falling into one of two ditches as I’ll now explain.

Holy Bible (creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons)

Ditch one: Viewing Scripture as outdated and thus irrelevant

The first ditch involves the erroneous belief that Scripture, being ancient, is not relevant in our modern era. With this perspective, Scripture is seen as “past truth,” “dusty truth” or a bunch of “old love letters.” People fall into this ditch when they fail to understand that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Bible in a way that makes it relevant in all times (including our own). They also fail to understand that the Spirit works in all times to illuminate the understanding of the believing and worshiping church so that it can discern the application of Scripture in its time. In GCI, we believe that the Bible, being timeless, has relevance for all people in all times. As God’s gift to humanity, it is authoritative, compassionate and reliable, providing wise instruction in good and right living (relationships). As we trust in that gift, and in the Spirit’s ongoing work of illuminating our minds to receive it, we will avoid the ditch of believing that the Bible is an irrelevant relic of the past—a false belief that leads to confusion, speculation and captivity to the prejudices of our current time.

Ditch two: Idolizing Scripture (bibliolatry)

The second ditch people fall into is called bibliolatry (or biblio-idolatry). This error turns the Bible into an idol by elevating it to a level not intended by God. It seems that Jesus had this error in mind in John 5:39-40: “You study the Scriptures diligently” he said, “because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Reading Scripture apart from the “interpretive lens” of Jesus’ person, life and work leads to multiple errors of interpretation including ones that justify blatantly un-Christian behavior. For example, some people neglect their God-given responsibilities toward society in a belief that Christ’s soon return will take care of the problems of society. Such errors arise when Scripture is interpreted using self-contrived methods that impose meanings on the Bible unrelated to what is conveyed by reading Scripture through the “lens” of Jesus. Those who fall into the ditch of idolizing Scripture transfer their trust in God’s gift of the Bible, and the working of the Holy Spirit in and through that gift, over to their own powers and methods of rational analysis. The result is an interpretation at odds with the character and purposes of God expressed to us in and through Jesus Christ.

Some will take my comments concerning bibliolatry as an attack on the idea of the primacy of Scripture (Sola Scriptura). But I am not demeaning the Bible, instead I am pointing out that it is a mistake to elevate the Bible (the written Word of God) to the point of seeing it as equal with Jesus, the Living Word of God. Here are three examples of that error:

  • Several years ago, I explained to an unmarried church member that he should not greet everyone at church with “a holy kiss.” In his desire to “live by every word of God” (including 2 Corinthians 13:12), he was failing to understand that Paul was not issuing a mandate on how Christians should greet one another, but advocating the Christian use of a common custom of Paul’s day. That practice is not a cultural norm in North America in our day (though it’s still followed in some parts of the world). Paul’s instruction on this custom was like writing your married son and saying “Give your wife and children hugs and kisses from Grandma every day.” These are not general instructions for everyone in the church in all ages.
  • Some use a verse or two of Scripture to claim we must always lift our hands when praying or singing in church. Though this practice can have deep personal meaning, that meaning is lost when the practice is mandated for all people—something Scripture does not do. The Bible gives multiple examples of positions in prayer including standing (1 Kings 8:22-23; Luke 18:10-14; Mark 11:25); sitting (Nehemiah 1:4); kneeling (Luke 22:41; Acts 9:40; 20:36; Daniel 6:10); bowing (Ezra 10:1; Psalm 95:6); lying prostrate (Numbers 16:22; 1 Chronicles 21:16-17; Matthew 26:39); lifting hands (1 Kings 8:54; 2 Chronicles 6:12-13; Ezra 9:5; Lamentations 2:19; Psalm 28:2; 141:2; 1 Timothy 2:8); looking upward (John 17:1); downcast eyes (Luke 18:13); and being adorned in sackcloth and ashes with fasting (Psalm 35:13-14; Daniel 9:3). When we look at all the biblical data, we find that there is no mandate for a particular position.
  • Some insist that the Hebrew language must be used when we speak or write the names of God (this is typically referred to as the “sacred names” teaching). There are various problems with this teaching. First, there are no manuscripts of the Bible in Hebrew that are older than Dead Sea Scrolls. Second, in the New Testament, which was originally written in Greek (with a few passages in Aramaic), God’s name in Hebrew (Yahweh) is translated into the Greek words Kyrios (Lord) or Theos (God). These Greek (non-Hebrew) names are then used in quoting Jesus speaking about God. Given these facts, and in the absence of any biblical verse telling us otherwise, it is clear that there is no justification for claiming we must use the Hebrew names for God.

A Christ-centered approach to biblical interpretation does not support bibliolatry in any way. It does not view the Bible in any sense as on par with (equal to) God. The Bible, which has a derivative authority, does not have more authority than Jesus—unlike Jesus, the Bible does not forgive our sins or raise us from the dead. Therefore we do not pray to the Bible or in any other way worship it. When we read Scripture through the lens of Jesus, we see that it has a limited (though very important) scope. It does not contain all of God’s eternal knowledge (as does Jesus). And while the Bible gives us principles that apply to all situations in life, it does not explicitly give us all the information on every subject we need for daily living. For example, it does not tell us to brush our teeth, eat a balanced diet, whether or not to drive a car, or what kind of clothing to wear.

Bibliolatry typically involves a strict, woodenly literalistic approach to interpreting Scripture—seeking to get it to speak authoritatively to every conceivable topic. This practice distorts what is essential and central to the purpose of God’s gift of Holy Scripture, namely to reveal to us who God is, and who we are in relationship to him. In that context, it also reveals ethical principles concerning how we are to relate to one another. These principles, like all that Scripture declares, are fulfilled in Jesus Christ who directs us to the shape of the life we are to live as members of his Body under the new covenant. In short, the purpose of Holy Scripture is to reveal to us the triune being (love) and doing (loving) of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, along with our proper responses involving loving God (with all we are and have), then passing on that love to others, our neighbors.

Bibliolatry fails to distinguish between the authoritative sign (witness) and its source (author). We see this distinction when John the Baptist (sign/witness) points away from himself to Jesus (Source). Jesus the eternal, incarnate Son of God, is the Living Word (Source) and the Bible is the written Word (sign/witness). The written Word is authored by and points to the Living Word. The Living Word authorizes the written Word. Our relationship with the Living Word will necessarily lead to following what is revealed in the written Word—indeed, that is its designed purpose.


Though the Bible is our authoritative and irreplaceable connection to God, we worship God, not the connection. This is what Jesus was attempting to teach the scribes and Pharisees. While they likely knew the Hebrew Scriptures well, in saying to them, “you don’t know me or my Father” (John 8:19), Jesus was making it clear that we must distinguish the written Word of God from the Living Word of God, but not in ways that would separate them (as some erroneously do). God has joined the sign/witness and the Source and instead of pulling them apart, we must keep them together in proper relationship.

Practices that spring from bibliolatry (like mandating a holy kiss, hands lifted in prayer, or use of Hebrew in speaking God’s name) do not make us more “spiritual.” Our focus must be on what the Bible was written for: to help us know and then abide in a relationship with the triune God. We are spiritually alive as we live in communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That communion involves a life in which God knows our thoughts, and we embrace his revelation to us of his nature, seen in the person of Jesus. This communion with God, through Christ, by the Spirit is both the source and the content of true spirituality. The Bible, then, is God’s gift to lead us to and within that communion.

Thankful for the Bible, rightly understood,
Joseph Tkach

PS: To learn more about this topic, check out these GCI resources:

  • For a You’re Included interview in which Mike Feazell interviews Jeff McSwain, click here.
  • For a review from Terry Akers of the book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, click here.

Jane Parsons

Here from The Big Sandy-Hawkins Journal newspaper is an article that tells about Jane Parsons, wife of retired GCI Pastor Sonny Parsons. Sonny and Jane live in Big Sandy, Texas where Sonny pastored GCI’s congregation for many years.

Jane was Miss Mississippi and a finalist for Miss USA in 1963. In Long Beach, CA, she competed with contestants from all 50 states and the nations of the world for the title of Miss International Beauty. Johnny Carson, host of “The Tonight Show,” selected Jane as the Mississippi representative from young ladies from all over the state. In 1962, Jane was selected as Miss Tammy Teenager from 48 contestants from Mississippi and represented the state in New Orleans for the premier showing of one of the top movies that year, “Tammy Tell Me True.” There she met with the stars. Tammy was played by teen heart throb Sandra Dee and her costar was John Gavin, who eventually became the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. In 1964, she would have been named Miss Mississippi in the Miss Universe contest, but when the judges found out she was engaged, she was named first alternate.

Jane was a licensed midwife in Mississippi for several years during the 60’s and 70’s. She assisted in more than 40 home birth deliveries. She was active in leadership with high school girls and served as President of the Future Nurses program. Jane has always enjoyed serving and helping people. While in Big Sandy she was in charge of the “Meals on Wheels” program for a couple of years.

Sonny and Jane

Jane has been married to her high school sweetheart, Sonny Parsons, for 52 years (they dated for five years before marrying). They had two children Todd and Amy. In their wedding, Jane had a song sung from the book of Ruth that says “…wherever thou goest, I will go.” That day, she didn’t realize just how far that promise would take her. Jane loves to travel and has visited from Oslo to Berlin, Paris to London, Ireland to New Zealand, Rome to Australia, Alaska to Jordon, Scotland to Spain, and many more countries as Sonny had speaking assignments at various conferences, often traveling for weeks at a time on trains and ships. Once, while crossing on a ferry between the north and south islands of New Zealand, they were caught in a storm with waves 30 feet high and winds over 80 mph. The trip usually took two hours, but this one lasted sixteen hours because of the storm that nearly overturned their ship. After arriving on the north shore, Jane was interviewed by newscasters. While driving from there to Auckland, NZ and listening to the car radio, the station interrupted the broadcast and said “We now have an interview with a survivor of the ship the Aratika. She is Jane Parsons from Big Sandy, Texas.” We broke out laughing.

While in Amman, Jordan at a conference where Sonny was speaking, Jane and Sonny were invited to a reception to meet with Queen Noor of Jordan, the wife of King Hussein. There they had the opportunity to speak with the queen, who was a U.S. citizen.

Jane was presented a “PHT” degree from Mississippi State University in 1965 by the University Vice President of Academic Affairs. “PHT” stands for “Putting Hubby Through.” She did this while working while Sonny was completing one of his five academic degrees.

Typhoon recovery

We reported two weeks ago on what GCI in the Philippines is doing to help people recover from the devastation caused by typhoon Nock-ten (called Niña locally). Here is an update from GCI-Philippines National Director Eugene Guzon. 

In the last 65 years, 6 typhoons struck the Philippines on Christmas Day. This was the seventh. Its sustained winds were as strong as 100 mph with gusts exceeding 160 mph. While this was not as strong as the super-typhoon Haiyan which hit the Philippines in November 2013, it sent about 180,000 people to various shelters.

When I landed at Legazpi Airport on December 28, 2016, there was little impact on the vegetation and homes in Legazpi City, though there was no electrical power. Thankfully our members there were spared physical harm. We had no casualty reported as of this time. The brunt of the damage was in the form of totally or partially damaged houses in at least five Church areas (Tabaco, Cotmon, Sta Teresita, Minalabac, Naga). We are still waiting for reports in other outlying areas, but as of now, these are the areas with urgent needs for relief.

In addition to our assessment visits and relief missions, we hosted a potluck in Cotmon on January 1. Though the church was barely usable, the members invited their neighbors for a thanksgiving New Year’s day service. About 120 attended. A medical mission also was conducted on January 2 for 42 families in Cotmon. A follow-up assessment and relief mission was conducted on January 8-10 for about 50 families, with the help of our  members in Metro Manila. Other members conducted relief missions, distributing about 300 relief packs (food, blankets, clothes, etc.) in several villages in Polangui Albay. We also brought two generators to provide standby power in remote areas. Local officials estimate that it will take about a month or two before electricity will be restored in the whole province.

Initial support was given for relief and partial purchase of needed materials for the members to have shelter and replacement of damaged household items. What is aggravating the situation is the continuous rains they are experiencing, which also affects Metro Manila.

We are grateful for the financial assistance that we have received from GCI’s Disaster Relief Fund that is administered from the United States.

If you would like to contribute to the Disaster Relief Fund to assist in disasters like this one, click here.

Snowblast event

GCI-USA congregations in the Upper Midwest recently held Snowblast 2017—their annual family-style event that has been going on for about 20 years in various locations in Minnesota. This year it was held at Inspiration Point on Spitzer Lake near Alexandria, MN. There were 64 people in attendance representing all age groups (see picture below—click it to enlarge).

Activities included ice fishing, tubing, show-shoeing, crocheting, ice skating and game room fun. Though temperatures ranged from -12 F the first night to about +24 by the end of the weekend, folks in these Northern climes know how to dress for cold weather.

The event included times of worship with wonderful music provided by the worship team and messages focused on the theme of “living in community with family, in church and in our neighborhoods.” Messages were given by Becky Deuel (Appleton, WI), Tom Kennebeck (Orr, MN), Troy Meisner (Rochester, MN) and Doug Johannsen (Minneapolis/St Paul, MN).

Mexico youth camp

GCI Mexico held its annual youth camp in December with 45 campers and 8 counselors. The camp was held at Club Primavera in the state of Morelos, just outside Cuernavacas, Mexico. Pastor Natanael Garcia was camp coordinator, assisted by a committee of emerging young leaders.


The camp began with an inspiring worship service at the Mexico City church were the youth gathered from different parts of the nation to depart to the campsite. The camp theme Activate rang out throughout the week as Pastor Cruz and others developed it on a daily basis: activate God’s love, activate your faith, activate my passion and service and activate God’s calling. Jorge Hernandez Arroyo, a young pastor in the Mexico City area was guest speaker and Alfredo Mercado (Mexico’s National Leader) also participated. Here is a video of the camp (on YouTube at http://youtu.be/J6mt7RvhYIE):

Participating in the camp provided the youth with an opportunity to bond as a GCI family while being challenged in their faith and spiritual growth. The Mexican youth are grateful to the Jon Whitney foundation and to GCI’s Southern California Spanish-speaking congregations for their financial support in making the camp a reality.

Thoughts about planning

While it’s helpful (even essential) for congregations to plan for the future, it’s important to understand that the church is a living, Spirit-led organism, not a business. This important point is addressed in a post on Karl Vaters’ blog titled “Why I Don’t Trust New Year’s Resolutions or 10-Year Plans.” Vaters notes that “innovation has more room to breathe when we’re operating within God’s seasons instead of on our schedules.” To read the article, click here.

Bertha Bryce

Prayers are requested for Bertha Bryce, wife of Bill Bryce who pastors GCI’s congregation in Salt Lake City, Utah. Bertha recently had surgery for a bowel blockage. She’s been moved from the hospital to a rehab center for physical and occupational therapy. Her legs are still quite weak and she doesn’t have much of an appetite, so prayers for these things in particular would be appreciated.

Cards may be sent to:

Bertha Bryce
552 E. Mingo View Avenue
Sandy, UT  84070-2403

Barrington Christie

Prayer is requested for Barrington Christie and his family. Barrington, pastor of GCI’s congregation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, was admitted to the hospital last week where x-rays identified an abnormality near his rib-cage and a blood count so low that blood transfusion was necessary. A CT scan is planned to see whether or not his brain was affected. In addition to Barrington’s situation, the mental condition of his 13 year old son Demetrius has worsened. Due to his erratic behavior, his son cannot be left alone. Barrington’s wife Michelle is, understandably, overwhelmed with the challenges facing the family.

Cards may be sent to:

Barrington and Michelle Christie
27 Frontier Heights
Port Maria PO
St. Mary

Pikeville pastoral team

GCI’s congregation in Pikeville, Kentucky, recently participated in commissioning Ron Tiller as a new member of its pastoral team. The team (left to right in the picture below left) now includes Debby Bailey, Ron and Mike Stewart. Debby and Mike have served on the team for nearly 15 years. John Nelson (at left in the picture below right), who has served on the team for the past five years, will continue serving the congregation as an elder emeritus.

Here is a picture of the congregation joining in a prayer of blessing for Ron.