The Bible Said So

My interpretation of Scripture is not the same as the interpretation of Scripture. Sometimes it is (I certainly hope). Sometime it isn’t (and no, I don’t know where – if I did, I’d change).

Recently, Irving Bible Church made what was for them a monumental decision. After eighteen months of prayer, theological discussions and consultations with three theologians from various perspectives on the issues of a woman’s service in the church, the church elders invited a woman to preach on a Sunday to the entire congregation. This was a pretty big deal, given their historic alignment with a movement that has long held rigid lines on such issues.

Personally, I applaud their decision. However, that is not why I write. Really, it isn’t. I mention this story because it touched on one of my growing concerns about the way the game gets played in many of these theological squabbles. Rather than making a commitment to thinking clearly with or acting charitably toward those differing from us, we often make rash judgments and illogical leaps. We do not really listen. We do not trust that the truth can stand on its own two feet, with no need for our knee-jerk and emotive rhetoric or our appeal to fear (particularly of the “slippery slope” kind). And when we come with that unhealthy posture, when we think we must defend our position at all costs, we say things that simply don’t hold water.

One example was the response of a well-known pastor in an interview with the Dallas Morning News: “If the Bible is not true and authoritative on the roles of men and women, then maybe the Bible will not be finally true on premarital sex, the homosexual issue, adultery or any other moral issue.”

Did you catch that? If the Bible is not true and authoritative… The accusation (and assumption) here is that this church has gone into the heretical territory of distrust in the Bible’s authority. Why? On what basis? Reading the offending church’s story, the elders’ never asked whether or not the Bible was “true and authoritative.” Rather, driven by their conviction in Scripture’s authority, they felt compelled to ask whether or not they had gotten Scripture right. However, the ideologue among us simply can not conceive of such a possibility: if you go against my interpretation (what I clearly understand the Bible to say), then obviously you are going against the Bible.

Such a posture is untrue, spurious and unchristian. We ought know better.

I know the church the pastor who made this accusation leads. There are many places where they have interpreted various passages to mean something other than what their most literal reading would suggest. This church does not demand women to wear head coverings in worship, even though the plainest reading of Paul suggests it is necessary. The church does not believe the communion bread and wine literally is Jesus’ body and blood (even though Jesus said, “This is my body. This is my blood.”) However, when another church wrestles with the text and interprets some of the restrictions on women to be related to context (like head coverings) or in need of wider Scriptural reflection (like the eucharist elements), then suddenly they do not believe in the authority of the Bible. Nonsense.

Again, my point is not about this particular issue of women’s service in the church. One can piece together strong textual arguments for both sides. I simply hope that in our disagreements we can remember at least these two things:

[1] the Bible and my interpretation of the Bible are not inherently the same thing

[2] we should listen well and live charitably with our brothers and sisters – that might actually stun our neighbors who have grown accustomed to Christian dogfights being played out around every theological battleground

We can debate and disagree and even get irritated when things get a little fiery. We can have strong convictions (and should on those things we deeply care about). But the truth resides best in those who don’t feel the need to defend it by means unworthy of the Jesus who is the truth.

9 Replies to “The Bible Said So”

  1. Hey Winn:

    Nice articulation of the problem and your point. We’re actually faced with this very problem right now–not the problem of whether we or someone else is right about the role of women in worship and fellowship, but how we ought to conduct ourselves in the midst of differing opinions. Thanks for your help.

  2. Ann and I recently preached together at our church. I think that was the first time a woman was one of the main speakers on Sunday. Many women felt, validated, affirmed, empowered…whatever the right term may be. She shined.
    Thanks for your good words on the topic.

  3. Winn,

    I love the way you humbly approach scripture — how you’re open to your fault while deeply passionate about understanding God more fully. I do wonder what would happen if we would truly meditate and do the hard work of thought and prayer to come to decisions. As you pointed out, to not blow off other ideas and defend our own, often misguided, ideologies to the death. What if we applied that to all areas of life: politics, friendships, diplomacy…

    Thank you for not having to be right.


  4. Winn, I linked to this post from the latest on my blog. It’s not the same, but it is, sorta, kinda.

    Anyway, thanks for your words. They’re needed.

  5. God help us to be humble and teachable…to put ourselves under the Word rather than lording over it. Help us to lay down our right to be right…it is hard. Amen.

  6. Well said, brother. How do we find *the* interpretation if we do not listen to each other as we read and interpret?

  7. I found this blog through a friend’s posting on her own blog. One total stranger to another, may I just say THANK YOU for writing down something I have always felt and often lacked the composure to say. I simply cannot stand the “in-fighting” over which church/pastor/denomination etc. is right about whatever issues they disagree on; more of us need to be willing to trust in God’s ability to protect the truth and willing to listen to others just in case we’ve gotten it wrong. Thanks again.

  8. Wow… great commentary. I too have felt that this is a major issue in churches today but nobody seems to have what it takes to express it in words. Eloquently done my friend!

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