While recently doing a Google search on Salvation Army leadership, I unexpectedly landed on a blog site naming and shaming Christian leaders in Australia who have expressed a biblical point of view on the Marriage Act. The article was critical of the Church and pushed an equally biased position, reflecting the worldview of the author, as the position it was criticising. Despite the author's obvious agenda, the article presented a significant challenge to Christians who hold conflicting biblical worldviews, which exposes the problem with Scripture.
After publishing a long list of denominational leaders in Australia, the author writes the following:
"These, ladies and gentlemen, are the modern day equivalent of the racist bigots who quoted scripture to oppose civil rights and inter-race marriage during the 1950s and 60s. These are the 21st century equivalent of the clergy who opposed women’s rights and suffrage. These are the equivalents of the nineteenth century men of the cloth who spouted scripture in defense of slavery. Discrimination has always been easily defended by resorting to scripture and God knows the church has rarely taken the lead in attending to the marginalisation and suffering of minorities."
(Chrys Stevenson, "Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear" - Assorted Rants on Religion, Politics and Skeptical Issues, www.thatsmyphilosophy.wordpress.com)
The problem with Scripture is that the inspired Word of God is read through different lenses that reflect the cultural and denominational biases of the reader. Combine these biases with the gap between the historical context and present reality, the intent of the author/s and interpretation of the readers, the purposes of God and the plans of humankind, it is no wonder people who equally believe in the authority of the Bible can come to such different conclusions about its message.
This is a problem painfully asserted in the above quote. Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have passionately defended various forms of injustice by interpreting and applying key verses of Scripture that seem to align with their particular worldview. Using Scripture to proof text a theological point of view can not only cause conflict among those who read Scripture, but confusion about the character of the God who is revealed by Scripture.
So, what is the solution to this problem? Do we simply disregard the authority of Scripture and rely on our own authority to figure out life, faith and God? We tried that, 'everyone doing what is right in their own eyes,' and look where that has got us (if in doubt, turn on the news!). Do we legalistically enforce our own version of Scripture that best supports a particular worldview? That too has been done with devastating results! Do we defend or deny any personal biases? It is naive to think that we can strip away all of our cultural and denominational biases and arrogant to assume one way is the right way, as we are all culturally conditioned creatures who have fallen from the Creator's original design for His creation. How then do we read and interpret Scripture?
There are literally dozens of theological courses that provide a systematic framework for biblical interpretation, and while in many ways helpful, they too can be a part of the problem. Again, we are still left without a solution!
At the risk of oversimplifying a solution, Jesus said, "when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). Any interpretation of truth as revealed by Jesus, who is "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6), through the Holy Spirit in Scripture that is consistent with the character of Christ, produces the fruit of the Spirit and restores right relationship with God, is a solution that transcends cultural and denominational biases. Jesus personified grace and truth (John 1:14), Holy Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), and the Father is a righteous and just God (Psalm 33:5) and requires his children to "act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). The problem of Scripture is resolved when we read and apply Scripture through such a set of lenses.
For it is impossible for a correct interpretation and application of Scripture to...
...produce hatred, because God is love!
...produce injustice, because God is just!
...produce legalism, because Jesus is full of grace!
...produce licentiousness, because Jesus is full of truth!
...produce division, because where the Spirit is there is oneness of heart and mind!
...produce bondage, because where the Spirit is there is freedom!
I believe passionately that the "Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice" (Doctrine 1 - The Salvation Army) and that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16). I believe the Scriptures are a spiritual weapon to fight against the forces of darkness, not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). And I believe the Scriptures are a light that shines a way in the darkness (Psalm 119:105) and are good news proclaiming the year of the Lord's favour (Luke 4:18-19).
If we are to truly be faithful in our interpretation and application of the Word of God then may the Scripture be fulfilled in our lives as we declare in solidarity with Jesus, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 4:18-19).