[Note, this one also is for my Presbyterian sisters and brothers]
This past week, I wrote an article for this blog that focused on churches that are choosing to separate themselves from the PC(USA). I am pleased that it scored more hits than any other blog post I have written (currently over 250 hits in half a week) and most comments were very positive. I always seek discussion from these blogs, even if they are objections because I love to see people considering an issue together. The most common objection I read was from those who object to being in communion with others with a differing view on biblical authority.
[Please note that I use a pretty broad brush when I refer to “conservatives”, “moderates”, and “liberals,” and I acknowledge in advance that the reader might identify with one of these tags and feel my characterizations don’t completely fit them. This may encourage another later discussion, but I write from personal experience, and from what I have read, and feel these tags fit with most.]
Conservatives, moderates, and liberals approach the Bible in different ways. The conservatives feel that many moderates and liberals simply ignore the parts of the Bible that condemn homosexuality and argue their case from their personal experience.
I have heard debates in which a conservative has asked something like, “How can you ignore the passages in Leviticus and Romans on homosexuality?” The response is, “But how can you deny that Joe (or Sue) is an honest and faithful Christian and is as gifted to serve as we are?” The conservatives probably walk away thinking, “These folks only follow the Bible when it is convenient to them (if at all).” We can’t simply ignore passages that run counter to what we think is right.
I had the honor of being in (the former president of Austin Seminary) Jack Stott’s Christian ethics class. He opened the class by saying, “The Bible is the charter document of the Church.” I always believed that this best describes what the Bible is for us.
So, does that mean that we need to use every passage in the Bible as our 21st century Church’s literal rule book? I don’t think so. The Bible is a library of books, written by many writers, over centuries in many different situations. Presbyterians believe that these writers (and editors, compliers, and translators, for that matter) were and are inspired by God. It’s what makes the Bible the book like no other. But we also believe that the Bible is like a mountain range with different passages more clearly reflecting God’s word and will to us than others. Some directions are eternal and some are temporal. We all believe this. I doubt anyone would find the descriptions and measurements of the objects in the temple as inspiring as the Sermon on the Mount. We certainly don’t build modern churches on ancient specifications.
To get back to the matter at hand, liberals and some moderates believe that homosexuals should be equally able to serve in the Church with heterosexuals. They often fail to point to back to the Bible in their arguments. They could contend that they believe that the words of Christ (and Paul) urging us to be graceful to one another and not to judge one another take precedence over both Moses’ and Paul’s particular instructions on homosexuals.
Most Christians do disagree with Moses and Paul on other issues. Even the most conservative among us do not follow Moses’ prescriptions on the wearing of clothes (banning polyester) or the eating of shellfish (especially not here in New Orleans). And most Christians do not follow Paul’s prescriptions on how women were to dress or conduct themselves in a sanctuary.
Does this mean these men were wrong? No, not in their time. For Moses, it was important for the Hebrew people to have many children and for them to live to adulthood (not as much an issue today) in order for them to be fruitful and multiply. Paul was dealing with churches in which some women were causing problems by speaking up. There are also plenty stories in the Bible about female leaders in the early church, Paul mentions Pheobe, for one (Rom. 16). It is very possible that Moses and Paul were speaking God’s Word on some issues for their time, but it was never intended to be God’s instruction to God’s people for all time.
I don’t know how to answer the question, “Did God intended for those directions to be followed in the 21st century?” How can we know the answer? We need to be in continued discussion and prayer and not simply walk away from one another because we haven’t been able to reach consensus in recent years. And we have to treat all parties with grace and speak the truth in love.
Christians who think that homosexuals should be treated with grace are not necessarily discounting biblical authority. Indeed, even when they aren’t saying it, they might be using the Bible as the very source for their argument.
As I wrote in the previous blog, this is not an issue that should cause us to divorce from one another. The honest truth is that even within the Reformed Tradition, there has been a disagreement over the interpretation of Scripture that has gone back since its inception. Nevertheless, we are stronger together, in dialogue, in work, in prayer, in mission, and in worship than we are apart.
It does not weaken us to have different congregations with different understandings of biblical authority. Let’s continue to rally around our charter document, discuss and debate how God is guiding us through it in the 21st century, and follow Christ’s command to love one another (which never meant being duplicates of one another). And let us share Christian hope in our world which needs the Good News of Jesus Christ as never before.
What do you think?
Until next time,