Thursday, January 16, 2020

Sounds Bad. . .

There was once a day when fundamentalists ruled the day, at least in America.  It is hard to find one today.  Where fundamentalism once insisted upon truth, the Christian world seems more or less reconciled to truths according to the definition of reason or preference.  Where fundamentalism once insisted upon doctrine that did not change, the Christian world seems more or less reconciled to the idea that even doctrine cannot escape evolutionary change and adaptation.  Where fundamentalism once was anchored in an inerrant Scripture, the Christian world seems more or less reconciled to the idea that the Scriptures at least do not lie when it comes to matters of salvation but even then they are less the Word of God than they might contain some of it.  Where fundamentalism once insisted that the reliability of Scripture and its consistent witness in tradition were key to the maintenance of the faith, the Christian world seems more or less reconciled to the idea that the individual creates and defines the faith and Scripture and tradition can either help or hurt in this pursuit.

Inerrancy has become a bad word for the modern ear.  Nothing is without error in the modern mind.  Everything is adjustable and there is no place for a Scripture that is not flexible or fluid.  Even once stalwart defenders of inerrancy seldom talk about it and others have left it simply to the original monographs -- effectively leaving the term an antiquated idea for something that no longer exists.  But you might be surprised at those who, along the way have held out for the inerrancy of Scripture.  They are not all fundamentalists of more recent origin but the fathers of old and even the popes and councils of Rome.  Lutherans of the Missouri stripe should not be so fearful.   Maybe some others should awaken to their own history and confession.

Augustine, for example:
On my part I confess [concerning] those Books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honour and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these Books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.
Down to the original paragraph (but not adopted) at Vatican II:
Because divine Inspiration extends to everything, the absolute immunity of all Holy Scripture from error follows directly and necessarily. For we are taught by the ancient and constant faith of the Church that it is utterly forbidden to grant that the sacred author himself has erred, since divine inspiration of itself necessarily excludes and repels any error in any matter, religious or profane, as it is necessary to say that God, the supreme Truth, is never the author of any error whatever.
As we all know, modern minds cannot live with such absolutism -- at least one that deposits truth in an ancient and non-adjustable source.  So there were objections at Vatican II to this wording -- though the wording reflected magisterial teaching from the papacy.  In the end it was predictable where the counciliar document ended up:
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.
The issue remains that if Scripture (and tradition) contain errors, then there can be only one reliable and authoritative source or judgment.  In other words, “Modern Man” has ultimately become not only the norm but the very source of revelation. The individual decides what of Scripture and its living faith expressed in tradition what he or she is willing to accept and heed.  Reason and preference have become the only magisterial powers.  In the end the entire Deposit of Faith ends up being a joke and this is exactly how Modernism wants it.

Lutheranism may dispute how effectively Rome has lived out this affirmation of Scripture's truthfulness but it remains that Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, and Pius XII saw where the road of modernity was leading and how crucial inerrancy was and is to maintaining the Deposit of the Faith.  We came out of the 1960s and 1970s bruised and bloodied by our own Battle for the Bible and we thought that preserving the language of inerrancy would be enough.  In the end, we may have won that battle but we are right now losing the war to modernity.  We have not spoken of or treated Scripture as this infallible rule and norm and so our people have, to one degree or another, summarized or boiled down the faith to that which seems reasonable and defensible to them.  The language of inerrancy is still held in our documents but our minds find it hard to admit it.  And we are not alone.  Look around and you find most denominations that were once castigated as fundamentalist have done just about everything imaginable to avoid being so labeled.  It has become a pejorative term, offensive to the image of the modern man educated and sophisticated.

In the 1973 A Statement the LCMS declared: We therefore believe, teach, and confess that since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, they contain no errors or contradictions but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth. We hold that the opinion that Scripture contains errors is a violation of the sola scriptura, for it rests upon the acceptance of some norm or criterion of truth above the Scriptures. We recognize that there are apparent contradictions or discrepancies and problems which arise because of uncertainty over the original text.  The LCMS continues to hold to the theory though in practice it is often hard to hear much on this topic.  In 1978 Evangelicals put forth the Chicago Statement to define and confess “biblical inerrancy” among conservative Protestants and Evangelicals (though little has been said of late).  Could it be that we get it?  We see how passe this idea has become and how offensive to the modern mind with its penchant for redefining everything from truth to gender?  Are we silent because we no longer believe it or because we fear too much talk about the infallibility of Scripture will offend the folks in the pews (and even those in the pulpits) of our church body?

We do not find Scripture reliable and truthful.  This is not a judgment we render because we have found its facts to be proven trustworthy.  We do not make the Bible true anymore than we can make God's Word false.  This is a given.  It is the perspective of faith.  To deny the reliability of the Scriptures is to attack the basic foundation of belief and to reduce the Christian faith to mere morality.  Either the Scriptures are inerrant or they are contain errors that reason must sift through.  Rome has an out because they have a chair from which popes speak without error and they believe the Church is the guarantor of truth (through councils, popes, and her magisterium).  While no confessional Lutheran is ready and willing to structure the same kind of thing Rome has as its back up, neither are we willing to surrender the faith to the individual, to reason, or to a Scripture that may or may not be telling you the truth.  And there you have it.  We are either stuck with a term that grates upon the modern mind or we are left with a truth that has no real basis in fact or hedge against change.


Anonymous said...

This is probably the most profound article I have read on this site. The failure of the Church to teach this is a problem that I wrestle with daily. We must believe what we read in Scripture, or we have no Rock to hold onto in the storms of life. Thank you for this.

Fr. D+
Continuing Anglican Priest

Martin Richard Noland said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

Thanks for this excellent blog post! If people ask what Lutheran blogs are worth reading, yours is on my list of the top five!

I think you are right that we in the LCMS don't talk about inerrancy as much as we used to during the height of our "Battle for the Bible." But that is because the battle is past. You would find key terms like that being fought over during a theological crisis like that.

In my opinion and recent experience, the vast majority of our pastors, congregations, and leadership agree with the idea of inerrancy and uphold it.

Recent examples of that include the case of Dr. Matthew Becker--who would have probably been removed from the ordained ministry if he had not resigned/transferred; and the case of the Summer 2017 Concordia Journal, with some articles promoting theistic evolution, for which the Saint Louis faculty eventually apologized. I think that sensitivity over the idea of errors in the Bible were also behind much of the fuss over textual criticism ca. 2016, i.e., that some laymen and a few pastors thought that textual criticism was necessarily an attack on inerrancy.

At the same time, while we can point to positive examples like those three examples, we should be asking: "What is happening in the training of our church-workers?" If our colleges, church-worker programs, and seminaries do not inculcate an attitude of respect for the authority of Scripture, and all that entails, we might be raising a "Next Generation" that is not faithful in this way. That is why the resolutions of the 2019 LCMS convention under University Education are so important (Res. 7-01A, 7-02, 7-03, 7-04, and 7-08), and why constant monitoring of our seminaries is equally important.

Blessed Epiphany-tide to you and yours!

Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

Janis Williams said...

Deny the train coming at your car (sitting on the tracks) is true, and see what happens. Denying the Truth of Scripture has far greater consequences than being hit by a train...