Having grown up in a church tradition that believed it had sole possession of the correct interpretation of all the most important passages of the Bible, I realize I was already starting in a pretty big hole.
I was humbly and politely trained by my church leaders to view all other religions, denominations, cults and independent religious groups with at least a skeptical eye…and some with complete disdain. Early on, I learned to identify the different faith groups in my community by certain distinctives that were simply wrong:
- The Methodists had women pastors.
- The Lutherans could smoke on their church patio.
- The Baptists made you get re-baptized to be a member of their church.
- The Presbyterians sprinkled babies and called it baptism.
- The Samoan Congregational Church across the street didn’t practice communion.
- The Episcopalians used real wine in their communion.
- The Catholics had nuns and their priests couldn’t get married.
- The Church of God in Christ by my house passed around rattlesnakes in their services.
- The Assembly of God folks spoke in tongues.
- The Seventh Day Adventists only met on Saturdays, not Sundays.
- The local AME Church said God wanted everybody to be wealthy.
- The Church of Christ didn’t use musical instruments.
- The Greek Orthodox had crazy looking pictures of old people everywhere.
- The Jesus People had long hair, torn jeans and were always barefoot.
But WE were the right ones. Seriously. My church (and others in our non-denominational club) held tightly to the inspiration and inerrancy and infallibility and the absolute authoritative truth of the Bible. And we based our beliefs…and assumed our doctrinal and ecclesiastical high horse…on the foundation of God’s Word. At least our understanding of it.
Looking back, the funny thing about this is every one of those faith groups believed (and still do believe) that THEY were right, also. And each one of the practices and beliefs that make them distinct are based on their understanding and interpretation of the same Bible we all use.
So here’s where I’ve landed after a lifetime of studying the book and following Jesus:
If I were God, I would have made the book a lot easier to understand. Good, godly, compassionate, gifted, educated Kingdomworkers have spent centuries studying it and arriving at different conclusions about what God is attempting to communicate. I don’t think this dilemma will be ending anytime soon.
I’ve grown to accept the “humanness” of the Bible. It was written by humans…from their perspective…reflecting their journeys…their emotions (see the Psalms)…their flaws…their unique positions in the flow of history and culture. I believe they wrote exactly what God intended for them to write, but I don’t believe they wrote robotically.
The Bible doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Humans read it, study it, interpret it, and apply it. And we don’t study it in a vacuum, either. We always bring our preconceptions, our biases, our cultural bents, and our personal stories to the study desk. We cannot avoid our humanity when we come face to face with scripture. And I think that’s exactly what God intended.
I still believe in absolute truth. But I don’t think that any of us can know all of it absolutely. If we could, I’m not sure faith, as we know it, would be necessary. Sight, experience, evidence and intellect would be all that was necessary.
I agree with my friend, Sean. You should read his comments in yesterday’s post. First, I believe my position perches me near a slippery slope. But I like it here. I no longer speak, think or act with an attitude of spiritual superiority that comes with believing my interpretation of the Bible is inerrant or infallible.
I am almost always willing to rethink what I have come to believe and entertain that I might be wrong, if posed with credible, humble and thoughtful opposition. I still believe there is a list of essentials one must affirm to be in right standing with God, but that list is waaaay smaller than it used to be. I believe this to be the way of grace.
Second, Sean said something really profound: “In my opinion, God brings us closer to him through study, not interpretation.”
Enough said. It’s time to study.