Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Statement of Faith: Scripture

I’m going to write here a couple of posts of commentary on a typical evangelical church “Statement of Faith.” I find these documents fascinating as windows into the thinking and thus practice of many churches. The instinct to codify the foundational teachings is a noble and necessary endeavor that is as old as the church itself(1 Cor 13, Apostle’s Creed).

The sometimes dubious texts used to support the doctrines presented here and in other statements prove that Christians must be vigilant in the pursuit of sound exegesis. The pull to read into the text is strong and ever present. So here ya go.

The Scriptures or Bible
We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the verbally inspired word of God, the final authority for faith and life, inerrant in the original writings, infallible, and God-breathed. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; Matthew 5:8; John 16:12-13)

This church understandably begins with its views on the scriptures. This arrangement is certainly common but remains outside of orthodoxy. The Bible cannot be the starting point for Christians because the scriptures were unequivocally not the starting point for the first Christians.

Christians, uniquely among religions, believe a person is the truth, not a book. John the Evangelist tells us this in his epilogue. Paul also calls Jesus “the image of God,” something he never uses for his scriptures. The NT writers were adamant that Jesus of Nazareth is the truth about God and the truth about everything. Nothing and no one else will do. This Jewish peasant carrying his execution stake up the Hill of Calvary is the full and total revelation of who God is and who God has always been. For this reason the center of the Christian faith has always been the historical person and work of Jesus and should remain so. But why did the sacred authors of the NT claim such a thing about this man? The answer lies in a single historical event they claimed forever changed their perception of reality.

Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, that this particular event affected each of the twelve disciples three days after the crucifixion of their rabbi. The belief of the twelve that Jesus was raised from the dead by God is the sole reason the church began and the sole reason we have the NT writings. Resurrection proved for the disciples that God was faithful to his servant, their Lord. Paul declares this clearly in 1 Corinthians 13, and also says that in raising him up from the dead, God appointed Jesus as son, proving him righteous and true (Romans 1). So without the resurrection, Jesus is nothing but a peasant crushed by Rome. He is not Messiah, Son of Man, nor Savior.

The fidelity of the NT documents also hangs upon whether or not Jesus got up after the crucifixion. If what these authors experienced of Jesus is true, then their message, preserved for us, is also true. The Evangelists, Paul and the rest of the NT authors eagerly, sincerely and reliably point to this single historical event which vindicated the words and deeds of Jesus. For the earliest Christians, the resurrection of Jesus meant that the story of his life really matters; it meant he matters more than the Jewish scriptures, more than any revelation of God ever given. Nothing is outside of the supremacy of Jesus for the Christian.

Which leads us into the Old Testament. It is important to appreciate that as Jesus travelled from village to village, he met with fierce opposition from those who read the Jewish scriptures the most, not the least. While he was alive, those who knew the scriptures saw little that was special about Jesus. The Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees certainly did not believe the scriptures testified to him! But this is the very point the Gospels strive to make. Jesus didn’t make sense to most Torah observant Jews. Those who saw him alive after crucifixion had no choice but to read the OT in light of him.  If God raised Jesus from the dead, then Jesus is the truth that all other truths are subject to.

All of this goes to say that there is no Christian way to read the as the “verbally inspired word of God, the final authority for faith and life, inerrant in the original writings, infallible, and God-breathed” without first understanding the absolute centrality of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.

The kind of descriptors being used for the Bible here is also concerning. All of them seem good and true, but they set the reader up for failure. There is no acknowledgement that the Bible is a library of books by many different human authors, some of whom did not agree. A plain reading of the texts as if they are a whole does not produce the singular voice that this statement suggests. If what binds all the books of scripture together is their attestation to Christ, as Jesus claims on the road to Emmaus, we need to do a better job expressing the limitations and purposes of the Bible. If we enter into the whole of the scriptures with the expectation of absolute, plain truth about anything and everything, we will undoubtedly find a God that looks little like Jesus.

At best this church’s initial statement of faith simply ignores the historical and contextual issues related to reading the Bible. At worst, it condones the belief that the Bible is the Truth which only Jesus can truly provide. 

No comments:

Post a Comment