With everything going on these days with the gay marriage thing in the US, and now UK Anglican church trying to figure out how they are going to handle this issue and how this might affect the Anglican church in Africa, it seems like some wheels are trying to shake themselves loose.
After an earlier blog post about gay marriage, an old friend of mine helped me by kicking around some ideas with me. This was really helpful for me, because without someone to push back against I feel like I’m just typing to the wind. Something she said stuck with me, and I can see echoes of it all across the press.
To paraphrase; the bible was written millennia ago so how can it give guidance today? Taking this thought further – how do we decide which bits of it are still relevant, and which bits aren’t? Should we somehow update the bible?
It’s a good question. I mean there are a bunch of rules that are seemingly ignored these days. Don’t make clothes from two types of thread (wool and cotton). Don’t eat shellfish. Give 10% of your income to the church (ouch!). Stone adulterers to death. Don’t take communion if you and your friend haven’t resolved an argument. Those are just the ones that spring to mind now. I think in total there are 613 of them plus the ten commandments.
So .. what to leave out? The one about shellfish could probably go. The mixed weave? Yeah. Can’t honestly see the point in that one. Death sentence for adultery? The death sentence in the UK was abolished in the 60s for good reason so mute point in many countries. Giving 10% percent of your income to the church – that can stay. I’ve got friends with dog-collars so I know how important this one is.
Should anything be added? .. make you own list.
When I read back what I’ve written, it makes sense to me. It seems sensible, yet in Proverbs I found these words:
There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
I was chewing all this over as I was getting the fishing things ready for a trip. Fishing -> Wisdom. It all hangs together ;-). The thing is, we’ve done this before. This figuring-things-out-ourselves thing. We’ve done it before long ago and we made a mess of it then too!
In those days, things were simple. In Eden, everything was perfect. The main challenge for the day was probably trying to remember the animal names that Adam had just pulled out thin air. Nothing was really out of bounds or off limits. Adam and Eve were having the honeymoon to top all honeymoons and presumably mosquitoes didn’t bite. The only rule; don’t eat any apples.
For humankind to show real love, there had to free will. To be free will, I guess there had to be at least one rule. So, God gave just one rule. No apples.
According to the book of Genesis, apples grew on the Tree of Knowledge. There was another tree called the Tree of Life. Eat fruit from the Tree of Life; yes. Eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge; no. Easy. According to the account, the Devil then appeared and twisted something that God had said. He tricked Eve, and subsequently Adam into eating an apple. They gained knowledge and starting making decisions based on that knowledge, where as before this, they had made decisions based on what God himself had told them.
God had already laid out what would happen if they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. They would die. They would die spiritually and start to die physically. Since they had now started an irreversible journey, God had no choice but to evict them from the Garden. Separation from the Father.
So, I’ve just got this feeling, that even today, we still need to take the bible at face value. As the word of God. If we start to decide which bits to leave out, and heaven forbid add our own stuff, I can’t see it going well for anybody. There would be terrible infighting within the church over choosing which stays and what goes. We would be using our own knowledge and judgement, slowly drifting further and further from God. In Revelation 22 there is a strong warning against doing just this.
Whilst I don’t see how we can chop bits out, I wonder if there bits which could have more bearing than others. Back in the day, a Torah teacher asked Jesus which were the most important laws. Jesus replied with the now (fairly) famous phrase:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
So, I think (pastors, please check me here!), there seems to be a case that loving God with everything I am is more important that not wearing clothes made from wool and cotton. Some parts of the bible could be more important than other, BUT …
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
What I’ve come to realise, through everything, is that I really need to get my head into the bible and get the bible into my heart. The bible might have been written a couple of thousand years ago, and it’s words are indeed fixed to a culture and people long dead, but I believe the God it tells us about is still very much alive.
Even though many of the issues that I am thinking about might not be explicitly mentioned in the bible, we can pray and talk to God about them. Myself and others have had the uncanny experience of an obscure part of the bible coming to mind which somehow unlocks the solution to problem we are chewing over. God’s Holy Spirit somehow illuminates parts of the bible in such a way that they become completely relevant. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know. It just happens sometimes.
What I take away from this, is that the bible and the Holy Spirit work in partnership with each other. For this to happen, we need both of them in us. If we have only the bible in our mind, but no Holy Spirit in our hearts, we have only the knowledge of a 2000 year old culture. If have only the Holy Spirit in our hearts but no knowledge of the bible then we have to be able to hear God 100% right all the time. At least for me, this just isn’t possible. There is too much of ‘me’ in the way.
When we have both the bible and the Holy Spirit, we have the best of both worlds. When what we sense in our heart is in agreement with God’s word in bible, we can’t be far from understanding God’s heart on an issue. For this to be true we need be regularly reading the bible, all of it.