how the power of scripture is diluted by literalism and narrow dogma


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9:00 worship on a cold, rainy Sunday morning

“I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
Psalm 40:8

This morning’s Bible Gateway verse-of-the-day dovetails nicely with yesterday’s conversation in my adult-education class at WFPC. Not only that but Rebekah’s message too, now I think about it. Psalm 40:8 would have worked well both as her text and the key scripture for my class.

Rebekah, in the second of her fall series of stewardship messages, focused on “being devoted to the apostles’ teaching” – like the early church as describe in Acts 2. She drew the connection between Bible study and our growth as followers of Jesus.

“We all understand that education provides the best path out of poverty,” she said. “In the same way, Bible study can be the best way forward out of spiritual poverty.” She talked about the many opportunities we have for people to engage the scriptures faithfully and intelligently.

The strength of our initiatives in mission and outreach is directly related to our commitment to exploring, and learning, and understanding the scriptures. “When God’s word is in our hearts,” today’s reading points out, “we delight to do God’s will.”

Or – and I love this translation – “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart!”

We must engage the scriptures with diligence and respect

IMG_6682 (2)_LI.1This is essentially what we were talking about in class. The topic was “How do we approach the Bible?” Are we literalists? Or do we give the text more respect than that?

I know people who work so hard at “proving” that the collection of ancient writings we know as “The Holy Bible” contains no errors in fact or ambiguities in translation that they miss much that God’s word has to offer:

  • The richness of cultural and historical context,
  • The beauty of the tapestry of interwoven stories and mythologies,
  • The obvious fact that God’s people got their wires crossed all the time and demonstrated little understanding of God’s character and will,
  • The fact that we still get our wires crossed, especially when we read passages from a cultural milieu we cannot understand,
  • The mystery that truth is a larger concept than mere fact,
  • The intellectual and spiritual challenge of wrestling with difficult passages,
  • The journey of peeling back the layers, and the rich nuances of how language is constantly evolving….

We disrespect scripture to the extent that we do not value engagement beyond the unthinking parroting of conclusions already drawn, and interpretations that have been given the authority of scripture itself.

140_Youre-Going-to-Hell-Sign-1024x680Think about it! Much of literalism and fundamentalism grants its own interpretations MORE authority than the Bible it purports to respect.

Even avowed literalists cherry-pick what passages they chose to take literally, or out of context, and those they would rather not tell people to obey today (like stoning disobedient children).

“Authority” means so much more than blind parroting!

In a very real sense it is serious scholarship, and prayer, and learning more about ancient cultures and languages, and more prayer, and reasoned debate, and respectful disagreement, and prayerful reinterpretation, and humility, and understanding where we were wrong, and still more prayer, and the whole thrust of a reformed approach that represents a real/authentic recognition of the authority of scripture!

I believe so much in the authority of the scriptures that I cannot blindly accept your interpretation just because you insist that you “believe in the Bible” more than I do!

  • I believe in the God the scriptures point me to;
  • I believe in Jesus, who is introduced to me in its pages and who fleshes out my understanding of God;
  • I believe in the Holy Spirit who animates the words that reveal the Word and who inspires (literally, breathes life) into my understanding and my experience.
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Rebekah preaching this past Sunday

I believe the Bible is full with truth and is a reliable witness to how God has been understood and experienced in the Jewish tradition, through the life of Jesus, and in the beginnings of The Church.

I respect the scriptures so much that I take them seriously, and I refuse to glibly assent to interpretations that grant more authority to sectarian ideology than to the heart of Jesus. Jesus taught that everything in the scriptures becomes clear when it is viewed through the lens of love.

The Bible is not the 4th person of the Trinity! We do not worship words, we worship The Living Word. The scriptures are words that point us to The Word. If I truly respect those words then I am going to search them and talk about them and study them and be continually engaged by them.

Back where we started!

IMG_6820_LI (2)So here we are, back where we started in Psalm 40: “I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart!”

This is what Sunday morning was all about at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church. The more we engage the scriptures, then the more joy we will experience as we seek to do the will of the Father.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

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