Thursday, July 07, 2011

Contrary to Scripture?

John Richardson left a comment on my Jeffrey John post arguing that JJ "teaches a position contrary to Scripture". I don't believe this to be true - or, rather, I believe that this way of characterising the debate begs the question at issue.

Take the eating of shellfish, which is described as an abomination in Leviticus 11. This prohibition is overturned in the New Testament, most especially through Peter's vision and the subsequent discussion in Jerusalem (Acts 11).

Does this change represent a change of detail or a change of method? That is, is this simply a case of amending a law code, leaving everything else as it stands - and, therefore, the 'structure of righteousness' as it stands? Or is this a demonstration of a new kind of authority, ie accepting 'it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us' as of higher authority than the written law? So the gathered church has the authority to determine what is acceptable to God and what is not?

To say that JJ's teaching is 'contrary to Scripture' is to assume the first to be the case. That is, at the very least, a debatable point - but what I want to emphasise here is that arguing in the way that JJ does is NOT 'contrary to Scripture', it is to interpret Scripture in a different way, one which is at least as grounded in the long Christian tradition as the post-Reformation emphases. Does anyone else find it odd that the Christian tradition that has most emphasised 'sola gratia' is the one that is most insistent on a legalistic understanding of Scripture in this debate?

3 comments:

  1. ...Or the Sabbath. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, desecrating the Sabbath by working is a death penalty offence. (Ex. 31:13-15, Ex. 35:2, etc.) It is one of the Ten Commandments. Breaking it by working is so serious that it warranted God's direct intervention in ordering the death of a Sabbath breaker:

    While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.

    ---Numbers 15:32-36

    (BTW, this is the one and only time God Himself directly intervenes and orders death for breaking Mosaic law. Sabbath desecration is a far greater sin than male to male anal sex.)

    But Jesus disciples gather grain on the Sabbath (Matt 12, etc.), doing an act that is very similar to the man above gathering wood. Yet when the Pharisees, no doubt with the Numbers passage in mind, speak out, Christ declares that it was made for us, not us for it. At the same time he says that we are to keep His Commandments and that not one of them will be removed. Yet when the early church began, the day of worship was moved to Sunday, and in modern life the command to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest has been forgotten altogether, even by those who consider themselves "Bible believing" Christians.

    The problem many people have with comments like "JJ is teaching something contrary to Scripture" is that everyone teaches something that is contrary to Scripture. With all the passages disparaging wealth and accumulation of possessions in the NT, including direct warnings that "the rich will be sent empty away" and "it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle" and "don't store treasures on earth, store them in heaven", how often does the church preach against wealth or consumerism. I certainly never heard much about that when I was a conservative. In fact, too often the church helps enable materialism by siding with the power elite and establishment.

    People aren't leaving the church (Anglican, Catholic or Protestant) because the church demands too much of them, they are leaving the church because the church is found wanting in its message. Too many Christian pick and choose bits of scripture to use as weapons against others whilst claiming that they are the "real" Bible believing Christians while ignoring what may apply to them. Both the churched and the unchurched can smell hypocrisy a mile away.

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  2. The Reformation was no revolution. Those who sought power over the laity just came up with a different way of controlling them. The other irony is that the protestant insistence on a literalistic understanding of scripture is about as far removed from the early church's understanding of scripture as you could possibly get. Ostensibly the reformers claimed to be getting back to original Christianity but in reality they invented a new religion.

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  3. One part of scripture often reverses another part. Paul relativises the purity laws - which is what we're talking about here - in 1 Corinthians 10. Idol meat - far more significant in Jewish culture and history than sex with a person of the same gender - is OK as long as you're not told that it's been sacrificed (10:23-30).

    It's not hard to see his motive; the purity laws were made for Israel, not for the Gentiles. The Jews have never claimed that Mosaic Law applied to Gentiles. Paul is working in a multi-ethnic situation, and obviously you can't have a single community if one group can't eat at the others' tables.

    We should take the hint; picking out snippets of the law which suit your agenda and applying them rigidly to everyone in sight will get the church nowhere fast!

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