Danger! Cultural Blind Spots Up Ahead!
Matthew Henry’s biblical commentary might be the most widely distributed commentary on the planet. Matthew Henry lived just around the turn of the 18th century and was an upstanding minister and preacher of the Word. His commentary reflects his deeply held piety and concern for the Word being made manifest in the entirety of the lives of the people of God.
Few ministers have thought more clearly in applying the truths of God’s word to their times. But even Matthew Henry had his blind spots. In most eighteenth century English speaking churches it was commonplace to have the wealthy in the congregation purchase pews at the front of the church. The pews would be fitted with nameplates and these became their place of residence on Sunday mornings.
Contrast this with the words of James 2 where James levels this critique of the first century church: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man.”
One couldn’t find or even create a passage that levels a clearer critique against the eighteenth century pew-purchasing system if one tried. But even the sensitive exegete Matthew Henry manages to explain it away. He says, “As places of worship cannot be built or maintained without expense, it may be proper that those who contribute thereto should be accommodated accordingly.” Accomodated accordingly??? How could one interpret James 2 to say that?
But I don’t bring this up to attack Matthew Henry. Quite the opposite. I bring this to say: “Woe is me!” If Matthew Henry was this blind to such an obvious cultural flaw, how blind must I be? In how many ways does my own reading of the Bible and appropriation of the faith betray my feeble faith? Brothers and sisters, let us come to the word humbled and stripped of our own foolish assumptions and be remade by our Redeemer’s truth. Let us not be fooled. We have blind spots. Allow the Spirit to attune you to your blind spots and allow the power of the Word of God to make you see where you once were blind.