First, we must recognize the four forms of Biblical truth by which God has
communicated to us:
We might parallel these four truth forms to four food groups – protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
If we are missing any from our spiritual diet, we will not be properly nourished. Our spiritual health is dependent upon our feeding regularly from each of these four truth forms. To omit any from our spiritual diet will promote malformed and diseased spiritual lives.
Principle is the first truth form and is defined as a general truth by which God has ordered His creation. Our responsibility, of course, is to discover and apply God’s principles because they are an expression of His very character.
Don’t let that last statement escape you: as an expression of the very character of God, His principles are by nature applicable to all cultures. It sounds like the Bible is very relevant after all!
A second truth form is precept, a direct command of God that is rooted in principle, such as “Pray without ceasing” (1Th 5:17). To uncover the underlying principle behind a command, simply ask the question “Why?” Why are you to pray without ceasing? Because you are in a dependent, loving relationship with God—that is the intrinsic principle. And unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, you should normally assume that a Biblical command is applicable to you and your culture.
The third truth form, practice, is a Biblically defined exercise of a principle. Many Christians wrongly assume that the practices in Scripture are generally “culturally bound,” yet Paul declares just the opposite when he explains, “[Timothy] shall bring you into remembrance of my ways [practices] which be in Christ [principles], as I teach every where in every church” (1Co 4:17; cf. Phi 3:17; 4:9). Old Testament scholar Dr. Richard Pratt, in his interpretational guide entitled He Gave Us Stories, puts it this way: “In many cases a sharp distinction between form [practice] and meaning [principle] cannot be justified.
The New Testament does not merely insist that believers affirm abstract theological principles; it also requires us to follow forms and structures in the church. In many cases, the forms and the principles are largely inseparable. We do not need to contextualize the Biblical teaching; we need to teach and explain the requirements of Scripture.”10 Thus, we should usually understand that a Biblical practice is relevant to all cultures unless there are sound reasons to the contrary
Prudence is the fourth truth form by which God has communicated to us in His Word. It is the wise personal application of a principle. Does this make prudence optional? No, Solomon tells us that to ignore prudence rashly is sin: “He that sinneth against me [Wisdom] wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death” (Pro 8:36). Once you have concluded that a particular path would be prudent, to do otherwise would be sinful since the motive could only be to please self rather than Christ.