The Bible and authority

In the first post of this series I claimed that the authority in the church is never a matter of a clear or simple line of expression and application. There are various crossing and conflicting lines that we must navigate in how we understand and express authority. A place where many of these lines cross is within and around the Bible. In the Confession we state, “We acknowledge the Scripture as the authoritative source and standard for preaching and teaching about faith and life, for distinguishing truth from error, for discerning between good and evil, and for guiding prayer and worship.” Here again, while the Confession does acknowledge the role of the church, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus in discerning the will of God there remains a commitment to, in some way, running these all through the Bible in order for them to validated. In a sense I agree with that. However, I am guessing my understanding of the Bible and its role as authority differs from many I encounter in the church.

The Bible emerged over time and the Bible we have today does not look the same or have all the same books depending on Christian denomination. The Bible owes its existence to experiences and decisions that occurred outside the Bible. So some form of torah was given and practiced by the Israelite people and then along came a prophet and said I hope you know that just following the commands is not really what God intended. This of course was only later intensified with the coming of Jesus and dramatic split it created among those who considered his life, death, and resurrection the revelation of God and those who did not. And then came the decision around which letters and texts should be read and kept among the churches. The Bible exists because people encountered something that did not fit the prescribed authorities of the time. Sometimes these expressions were accepted like supplements but other times they were accepted only after dispute and fracturing.

But you don’t need to study the history of the Bible’s formation to see how this at work within the Bible. There are the daughters of Zelophehad who stand up for the integrity of their cause and force the religious leaders to rethink their position (Numbers 27). There are the prophets who I already mentioned. There is Job who refused to accept the orthodoxy of his friends and would not rest until he was given a hearing with God. With Jesus there are instances where he uses scripture as a source of authority but when approached by John’s disciples about him being the messiah he says simply go and tell John what you see. When facing other religious leaders Jesus puts it more pointedly, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:48). In Acts Peter must decide if experience of the Holy Spirit’s movement is sufficient for him to move away from his biblical position on Gentiles. Paul asks the church to live with ‘the mind of Christ’ allowing him to theologically discern that the biblical precedent of circumcision is not decisive for faithfulness.[1]

In all this I began to see that to take the Bible seriously meant to understand how its formation and its content asks us again and again to be willing to put the Bible down and look into the world to see how the Spirit might be moving; to take responsibility and stand up for and alongside those expressions and individuals once rejected by church doctrine and practice. The Bible and our traditions of authority have never been settled they have always reflected a certain intensity of what was, what is, and what is to come. I hope to look at this image of authority as intensity in my next post.

[1] In fairness to the Being a Faithful Church documents (which I have often been critical of) these shifts occurring in the Bible are noted as part of the process of discernment. One of my concerns with the BFC has been the way later documents have limited or muted the implications of these observations for how we understand authority (hence this series).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s