Christianity as a whole, painting with a broad brush here, does a poor job of contextualizing scripture. We take verses out of context like it's going out of style. When we say that we must take scripture in context we essentially mean it must be viewed in light of other scripture, but most often it must be viewed in light of the immediate, surrounding scripture. For instance, we should not take Galatians 3:27 by itself and create doctrine. One of the most abused scriptures of our current time is "God is love." And if God is love then he wants us to be happy, meaning he should be okay with a life of debauchery so long as I like it. A verse of scripture taken by itself should always be considered in light of the verses immediately before and after it. There are several reasons why one would take scripture out of context.
What I am about to say only applies to kids raised in the church, clearly those not raised in church are ignorant but in a different way. This lack of contextualizing can be intentional but often times it is a product of poor scriptural training or upbringing. Think about the number one activity in Sunday school growing up in church as a child: scripture memory. Now let me say quickly that there is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, nothing wrong with teaching your kids to memorize scripture. In fact we are commanded to teach the Word to our children constantly (Deuteronomy 6). All through their elementary years our kids are taught single bytes of scripture to memorize and write on their hearts. However, where we go amiss, where the ship hits the rocks, is when our kids are shipped off to youth group.
Youth groups are not inherently evil, and there are a lot of church youth groups out there that are probably doing a wonderful job. However, there's a certain abdication on the part of most parents at this stage of the child's life. The child goes to youth and is learning about the bible on a deeper level than they were in elementary. The parent believes that the once a week Wednesday night study is more than adequate for their spiritual growth Realistically, they are just taught more bible stories on a more expansive level. Having attended a few different youth groups growing up I can say that I was so infatuated with "youth group" that when it came time to learn about the Bible I was less than thrilled. I just wanted to play Halo and 4-square. But even from what I remember about our learning portions, I cannot recall ever being taught how to study the scriptures. In fact it wasn't until I began reading and listening to the likes of Martyn Lloyd Jones, John Piper, John Macarthur, and reading old dead guys, that I began to see a completely new way of interpreting the Holy Writ.
(I did not intend to go off on a tangent about youth groups, but I do believe it is worth having in this article to spark some thought.)
Our youth should be surrounded by Godly men and women of the faith that teach them how to handle the scriptures properly. If your local youth group is doing this successfully, I commend you. However, parents should still be training their children to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6, Titus 2:3-5, Deut. 6). The parent should be sitting down with their child daily to show them the ways of the Word. We have witnessed a breakdown of the American family over the last several decades. This breakdown is caused by, and causes more of, two things: the abdication of the mother and father in training their child to love the Lord, and the unavoidable consequence of societal breakdown. Ignorance of how to handle the Word of God is one reason for one to not contextualize; they have simply never been taught. However, they do know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made!
13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
There is a lion in the streets!”
14 As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a sluggard on his bed.
15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
than seven men who can answer sensibly.
The book of Proverbs speaks a great deal to the sluggard, or the lazy man. Notice: "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly." The wise man answers sensibly because he is rooted in scripture (Psalm 1:1-4, Proverbs 2:6). The sluggard is a fool because he refuses to labor over the scriptures to reap all that God has sown in it. The sluggard says, "The Bible says thou shalt not judge." The wise man finishes through verse five and maybe tosses in John 7:24.
In an age where we are collectively over saturated with quick-bits and have an attention span that can only last as long as a single tweet, it is easy for the sluggard to read one verse and create a foundation. There is a reason certain denominations handle rattlesnakes (though this was occurring long before the digital age). Okay I admit the rattlesnake thing could also fall into the ignorance category... Our minds have been trained to operate on the fly, they are not trained to labor intensively over a single passage of scripture. This is a product of fast food society. We need the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of the men of our generation to understand that the scriptures are able to teach on any topic, and are able to make the man of God complete (2 Timothy 3:16). Something so powerful is certainly deserving of our undivided attention, right?
There are also situations in which scripture is taken out of context in an intentional and malicious manner. Take for example Psalm 91. We all know the gospel story of satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. How well does satan know the scriptures? Either not at all, or well enough to intentionally not continue quoting through the rest of Psalm 91:
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
Here the devil is quoting scripture out of context to get Jesus in the flesh to jump from the top of the temple. However, just two verses after the out of context quote of scripture we read something beautiful. We read how the Christ will trample the serpent underfoot. In other words, in an attempt to defeat Christ, satan quotes scripture that alludes to Christ's victory over satan. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth! Next time you are reading the Word of God, take a moment to look around... at the context!
Grace and peace.