Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Problems of a Prooftexted Faith...

A Lutheran once said boldly, "If it isn't in the Bible, I don't believe it."  It sounds pious but it is not Lutheran.  The Reformed might gravitate toward such a perspective.  Not Lutherans.  "If it's in the Bible, it's in. If it isn't, it isn't" sounds so good to ears tuned to Protestantism and fundamentalism.  Lutherans are in the camp of saying "If it CONTRADICTS the Bible, it's a no-no."  Now to be sure, this is not an easy path nor is it without its messes along the way but Lutherans have not raised up proof texting to be the preferred dogmatic methodology.

Show me where that is in the Bible?  Why, if that were the BIG or the ONLY question, we might end up worshiping on Saturday or refusing the use of instruments in worship or a host of other detours which have already been asked and answered along the way.  Living in the South, the Bible belt, I get a little touchy when we might be tempted to follow a "God said, I believe it, and that makes it so" approach to Scripture and the faith.  My agreement does not add to the truth of God's Word nor does my disagreement detract from it.  That is the character of the Word and I cannot bolster the Word or weaken it by my agreement or disagreement with it.

I am NOT saying our faith is not Scriptural or that we have raised up or used tradition in place of Scripture.  We have not.  We stand as heirs to the great tradition, to the creeds and councils, who, though not inerrant, have faithfully delivered to us the sacred deposit.  We have not judged the Church so corrupt that we must start her over again and disregard everything that happened from the book of Acts to whatever point in history you believe things went downhill.  As Lutherans we insist that where the Word is, God is at work building and making His Church fruitful for His glory.  Yet that is not the same as prooftexting your way to orthodoxy and reducing the Scriptures to a source book from which truth may be drawn..

In fact, some of the more egregious errors along the way have happened when tradition departed from Scripture and when Scripture was mined for texts that were in the Bible but no longer recognizably Biblical when glued and pasted together into something the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and evangelists would no longer recognize.

Some Lutherans might suggest that these are odd things to say from a church body that publishes a catechism filled with passages from Scripture in support of what that Catechism says.  Prooftexting, however, is not what those passages are there for.  The passages are there to show that the faith within that Catechism is the faith once delivered to the saints and that these Scriptures are not simply facts or truths but the revelation of the only true God and the living voice of this God speaking to His people.  And that is where prooftexting fails.  It treats the Word of God as if it were merely a book of facts or doctrines and not the living voice of God who speaks and works through that speaking.  This is something that both Rome and Geneva too often miss.  Rome forgets that the primary sacrament of the Church IS the Word and Geneva forgets that the Word does not speak to set forth propositions or even positions but so that from the hearing faith may result under the power of the Spirit.  That Word continues to speak to nurture the faith created and direct the believer to the baptismal water, the absolution, and the bread and wine of His Table where grace is received not in competition with that Word but in fulfillment of its own promise.

The other problem with prooftexting as a methodology is that it presumes that people can be argued into the Kingdom or taught to believe as if the purpose of the Word were to instruct the mind to reach the correct decision.  The faith is not a series of truth propositions that you must agree with and doctrine is not a checklist.  Perhaps I am being too simplistic for some or too narrow for others but I fear the idea that the Scriptures are raw material for outlines and that prooftexting is an adequate methodology for exegesis or confession.  In the end the fatal flaw of this method is that it places the prooftexter above the Word and gives him the power to decide what it says.  The catholic faith does not place the individual above the Word.  Luther's point is just the opposite.  To be captive to the Word of God is to know that Word as God's living voice through which He is doing His bidding.  Of course, neither Luther nor any individual is immune from error and not even Luther would claim that privilege.  But the Word, received by and lived out within the company of the faithful in accord with the saints who have gone before is not simply without error but, more importantly, is the means of grace and the power through which God works among us.

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I am not sure I get the full meaning of your thesis here, but I would add that, in my view, the Bible must be studied with discernment, using the soundest God given understanding we can muster. The word of God in the Bible can be interpreted incorrectly if we fail to see the context and to whom the verses apply, as well as the setting and timeline, We have so many denominations, and so many longstanding divisions in Christianity, some of these differences resulted in sectarian warfare and bloodshed. I have been in reformed denominations before, and since being a Lutheran for about 30 years, I finally felt at peace, feeling that our doctrines are good and biblical. Some churches think we are all wrong and others consider us Catholics without a Pope. That does not offend me. All Christians struggle to have an accurate and clear understanding of God's word. I think the Gospel of salvation message is clear enough, and simple enough, but we still make it difficult and argue about it. For me, the real issue is now and always has been the struggles in my mind to deal with sin, with worldly thoughts, with the flesh, and with continual spiritual warfare. Thank God for grace, otherwise we would all perish with just head knowledge about our faith, with little change in our character, with souls that are restless and conflicted. At 75 years old, I feel that sooner, rather than later, I shall pass into eternity. I have become less legalistic than in my earlier Christian life, but more humbled. After all is said and done, I will finally meet Jesus, who saved me from my sins, and all will be well with my soul.