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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Hermeneutics of "All Truth."

Sometimes the evangelical doctrine of “inerrancy” (there are no errors in the Bible and all ideas presented reflect the thinking of God) snares the church in some sticky wickets. For example, the Christian church, the Body of Christ, the light on a hilltop, the salt of the earth, the purveyor of the love of God, finds that to be true to inerrant Scripture it must suppress women. Why? Because Adam was born first and Eve sinned first. That puts women beneath men forever, until the Second Coming. They must also bash gay people as sinners worse than any on earth . . . worse than the philandering minister, the heterosexual predator teaching Sunday School, and the lukewarm Church of Laodicea. It is not the lackadaisical believers that will bring a curse on the U.S., it is the gays getting married.

For many years Christians felt they had to burn blaspheming heretics at the stake. They all did it, Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed Protestants, the Puritans… If they couldn’t hang or drown or burn you, they would shun you.

They also had to mercilessly persecute scientists who believed that the earth went around the sun. After all Psalm 19:4-6 says that

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.

The sun is compared to a happy, virile ancient Middle Eastern bridegroom who leaves his tent after his wedding night, going forth in vigor and strength, joyfully circling the earth (or at least moving across it from horizon to horizon). The fact that this was poetry with quaint metaphors didn’t matter. It was holy writ. Today it’s the Evolutionists vs. the Creationists. Some of my good friends are stunned, shocked, dismayed, and even offended that I could believe that the earth was not created in 6 literal 24 hour days. I have been warned that I’m falling away from Jesus.

Some Christians used to believe that black skin was the “mark of Cain,” a sign of God’s curse. Some used the Bible to show that slavery was biblical or that plural marriage is God’s will. As long as the ethics of the world at large were mired in the same ethical swamps, the Christian church could follow horrific practices, behaving in ignorant and uncompassionate ways, and get away with it. The problem is that the concept of inalienable human rights arose to muck things up, and science leaped from the pages of myth to technological scientific experiments.

Some churches will not use musical instruments because there are none mentioned in the New Testament. A truly pious disciple will not make Eve’s dastardly mistake of adding to the Word of God. And here is the worst: to be a good evangelical Christian today, one must believe everything that comes from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

OK, just kidding. However, as the church looks more and more “Left Behind,” uncompassionate, and irrelevant to the world at large, the leaders close ranks, refusing to compromise their principals. They say we must agree with Jesus. And I agree. The question is, what exactly did Jesus say? As a Christian, I certainly want to agree with Jesus. For instance, I figure that Christ was extant from the beginning of time. He was there when “all the sons of God shouted with joy,” so he knows how old the earth is. And therefore he knows that it isn’t just 6,000 years old. So I am confident that I AM agreeing with Jesus on that issue.

A more serious point is this. Jesus promised that when he left, he would send a “paraclete” to walk beside us. That is what the word means in Greek. He actually said in John 16 that we would be better off for it. It was necessary for Jesus to leave us so that the “Advocate” could come (and for what purpose? To finish the work of forming us into proper representatives of the Father). The Holy Spirit of God, for Whom Christ had so much reverence, will comfort us, reprove the world of sin, and reveal future truth. John 16:12-15,

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Jesus perfectly represents the Father and the Holy Spirit perfectly represents the Son.

The word for Satan in Hebrew means “Adversary,” one who has no problem wrecking your home, destroying your health, and killing your children, as poor Job found out. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, goes throughout the world bringing comfort, teaching, guidance, and defense against the accusation of the enemy. The Holy Spirit also comes with gifts of power for the edification of the Church and its members.

But this presents the Church with a terrifying conundrum. Could it be possible that when the last verse of the New Testament was written there was still some truth, some power out there that had not yet been revealed? New truths, new powers, new experiences are frightening because they are untested. We who so lack wisdom, can we actually discern whether something new is taking us closer to the heart of God or luring us away? It’s a legitimate question and a real fear. It lays a huge responsibility on our shoulders.

And yet, if “all truth” actually does suggest that there were truths yet to come, which the early New Testament church was not yet prepared to understand, how can we be sure that it is the Spirit leading us? Could it have something to do with releasing women from the curse of Patriarchy? Could it cause us to get along with each other instead of burying the heretic alive? Would Luther and Zwingli have to shake hands today and agree to disagree? Could it mean that the evangelicals should show more respect to scientists today?

It might mean all or none of those things. However, we cannot abandon the challenge to listen to the Spirit today. But we must ask ourselves, what is more precious to us, the doctrine of inerrancy and literalism or being the loving vessel that Jesus Christ challenged us to be? Is it really our main task to convict the world of sin or should we rather point to our Heavenly Father as inviting the sinner to wholeness? How can the Christian church beg God to help us to be all that we can be if we disallow women to be what God has called and equipped them to be?

There are no easy answers or solutions to the possibility that the “things to come” were truths rather than merely events to be survived. But if the Lord has challenged us in that way, he will not abandon us to our inherent propensity to be stupid. He will walk us through it. Perhaps we will dance-walk through it, perhaps we will crawl. But we will get through it.

We have two great sign posts to help us on our way. One is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The other is the Golden Rule. I’m not saying that the Holy Spirit is an old sweetie who does not acknowledge sin. Far from it. But if we want to represent God, the conviction of sin must begin in the house of God, and it must be balanced with compassion.