Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Would We Believe a Scripture that Does Not Mean What It Says?

Coming up shortly is an epistle lesson from First Timothy.  You have your choice for the shorter or the longer version.  Many will choose the shorter but not only for constraints of time.  The longer version is offensive.  It would be easier to leave it out.

8Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

The sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, . . . well, how do you handle such an explicit reference to homosexuality?  According to the ELCA, Scripture does not mean what it says here.  Scripture did not know PALMS (personally accountable lifelong monogamous same sex relationships).  Scripture was speaking about those who were forced into homosexual relationships (rape).  The discussion goes on and on.  OR, you can say, as some in the ELCA have, that Scripture DID mean this but that the GOSPEL has trumped the law on this point and led the Church to a higher goal and good.  Which still means, you cannot trust what you read in Scripture.

Now, I am not speaking of hard passages in which there is uncertainty and disagreement about what the Scriptures mean.  I am speaking of those unmistakable passages in which something is stated clearly but which is also clearly offensive to our sensibilities.

While I am picking on this one passage (in part because I am looking forward in the lectionary and preparing the bulletins for the coming Sundays), there are many other passages and issues that could be named....  The point is this, what good is a Scripture whose words are not fully reliable?  Why would we believe a Scripture that does not mean what it says?

Scripture offends me all the time.  It calls me a sinner.  It insists that death is the result of sin (mine and my first parents).  It tells me that there is nothing I can do to fix what is wrong with me.  It teaches me that the desires of my heart may be natural to me but because of sin my nature has been corrupted and my desires flow from this corruption.  It asks me to accept full responsibility for my sins and for the original sin into which I was born (without my consent).  It compels me in love to swallow my pride and kneel before my Maker pleading the merits of a Savior who is not my choice but the Father's will.  It leads me to forgive as I have been forgiven and warns me against duplicity in this forgiveness or in the way I treat others, etc. Never mind the stuff about creation and the lurid history of a people clearly unworthy yet whom God calls His own... I could go on...

Scripture is offensive but it offends so that I might be saved from all these things.  Either I believe its Word is true and true for all time and all people... or I am left with a pick and choose truth that is not bigger than me and has no power greater than what I grant it.  In all of these things, I would be lost to choose the right path were it not for the Spirit who breaks through the barrier of my hardened heart that I might believe and trust in the Word written by God through the ages of the Word made flesh in time for me and my salvation.

Why bother believing at all if you believe only that which does not offend you or your sensibilities?  The Gospel is radical grace -- so radical that reason cannot serve it without the transformational power of the Spirit at work in our minds as well as in our hearts.

I am at a loss to understand which anyone would pick and choose the truths they will believe in Scripture.  Why believe in anything of Scripture if you cannot believe in it all?  What kind of faith are we left with if we cannot believe that Scripture means what it says and does what it promises?  Ultimately we are back at square one with a guilty conscience, an accusing law, a real death, and a fairy tale belief that somehow it all works out in the end... Jesus is not some Polly Anna who puts sweet frosting on a bitter cake to make it all right.  He speaks the truth in love to us and this is the truth we speak to others.  It is hard.  It is offensive.  But it is the only truth that has the power to save and redeem...


Dr.D said...

I don't have any problem with what the Bible says there. Popular opinion is wrong more often than it is correct. We have to be prepared to stand up for what is in the Bible, or we have nothing at all to say to the world. If we do not say what is there, then the Church becomes completely irrelevant to the world.

How we say it is also important, but we must not equivocate about the content of the message. The person who still thinks that their sin is acceptable cannot repent, and it is only when we repent that we can be saved. It is our mission in the Church, our only mission, to save sinners.

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

This was a very good post, and it reminded me of a question I have had for since I was 10 years old about believing in Scripture that doesn't mean what it says. If I might ask my question,in 1Corinthians 11:3~16 it says: " Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God." So shouldn't women keep their hair covered in church. I have noticed that some pratice this, but not alot. I also noticed that in artwork of found in the Concordia most of the women have their hair covered..so if Lutheran did it at one point in history why don't Lutherans do it anymore?