Thursday, February 21, 2013
Corruption of doctrine begins with Scripture. . .
Listen to the voice of Tertullian, Against the Heretics:
Heretics have tampered with the scriptures, and mutilated, and altered them. Catholics never change the scriptures, which always testify for them. Where diversity of doctrine is found, there, then, must the corruption both of the Scriptures and the expositions thereof be regarded as existing. On those whose purpose it was to teach differently, lay the necessity of differently arranging the instruments of doctrine. They could not possibly have effected their diversity of teaching in any other way than by having a difference in the means whereby they taught. As in their case, corruption in doctrine could not possibly have succeeded without a corruption also of its instruments, so to ourselves also integrity of doctrine could not have accrued, without integrity in those means by which doctrine is managed.
The blessed fruits of centuries of higher criticism which begins with human reason, certain presuppositions about what is true and what is not, and with a suspicion and even skepticism about the received text... well, what do you think is the result? Clarity? Confidence? Unanimity? Of course not! Our battle with Scripture has born the poisoned fruits of distorted doctrine over which is cast the veil of fear that wonders if any can know for sure what the Word of God really says or means.
Sadly, it did not have to be this way. Over the course of decades and even centuries, the text and meaning of Scripture has shifted from the confines of the Church where faith is confessed to the halls of academia where faith is in short quantity. The so-called giants of Biblical interpretation and textual criticism have pulled the Scriptures from the grasp of the faithful, from their creedal moorings, and from the pulpit. They have taken the Word and we gladly surrendered to them also the authority to discern and decide what Scripture is and what it says. In exchange they have returned to us the tattered rags of doubt, uncertainty, and suspicion that has left us with the distinct impression that God is mostly unknowable and the Scriptures are more pious posturing than revelation or fact.
So on Sunday morning the pulpit has become captive to the whims, doubts, and personal anecdotes of the preacher. It has been far too long since Christianity has been able to say "The Word of the Lord" about anything. And the people leaving are signs that the folks listening have heard and determined that if nothing is true or no true is objective or no objective truth is eternal, why bother? I am ashamed to say that my own generation (the Boomers) has done a fine job of extending the culture of doubt and the objectification of feeling into the place where once was heard "The Word of the Lord."
If we are to rescue doctrine from its diversity of doubt, if we are to renew our confidence in what we believe, confess, and teach, and if truth is to mean something to our children and grandchildren, it will begin by taking back the Scriptures from the scholarly halls of skepticism and reclaiming the Scriptures as the Church's book. I recall a teacher once saying to me that the Bible was the Church's book and the people's books were the catechism and the hymnal. He was certainly not implying that people should not be reading the Scriptures at home. What he was saying is that the Scriptures belong to no one individual but to the Church. Their meaning is not subject to the intellectual whims or biases of a person or even many people. The meaning of the Scriptures is given to the Church to confess in creed and preach from the pulpit. He is absolutely right. Even among conservative Christians, private Biblical interpretation rules the day. There is no gain in substituting one person's dominion over the Word of God for another's. The faith is catholic -- not the possession of one place or one time or one person or one movement. Until we get this right we will merely be jockeying for superior position in a see saw back and forth between doubt and confidence in what we think instead of what the Word of the Lord says.