The foundation of Orthodoxy is gone from the PCUSA part 2
This is the 2nd half of my comments on the PCUSA position on the Bible as presented on their web site in lay person terms.
My comments are once again in blue. If you read both parts you will find included the entire text of the article.
To handle the Word of God responsibly, Presbyterians have always stressed the importance of scholarship. All the way back to John Calvin it has been crucial that our decisions as a church do not rest on the understanding of Biblical novices whose knowledge of Scripture is only surface deep, but on the most thorough and scholarly search for truth of which we are capable. In seeking to address any issue from a Biblical perspective, under the guidance of the Spirit, Presbyterians have found it incumbent upon them to ask penetrating questions of the kind the early apostles asked. To whom was a Scriptural injunction directed? Who wrote it, and why? What is the context? For what time period is it applicable? Are there Scripturally justifiable exceptions to the rule? How was the statement understood in its own time?
What our Constitution is saying to us is that isolating certain statements of Scripture and using them to prove a particular viewpoint is not kosher. While my right to private judgment is inalienable, so that I must listen to my conscience when it comes to determining the revealed will of God, conscience also requires me to listen to “the whole counsel of God.” In other words, if I am really to hear the Word of God for me today (I am not asked to hear it for someone else), I cannot be individualistic in my reading of Scripture. I need to remain in dialogue with the whole church.
We Presbyterians therefore believe in the importance of listening to each other when it comes to interpreting the Bible. No matter how alien a viewpoint may be to us on first exposure to it, we have a responsibility to hear it fully and not reject it out-of-hand. This entails adopting the role of a student toward my sisters and brothers in the church. It means I must exhibit a willingness to try to see an issue through their eyes, rather than treating them with hostility because what they are saying contradicts my present understanding. As the Constitution expresses it, being Presbyterian means we exercise forbearance toward each other.
The author expresses some fine sentiments here and makes some very good points. Understanding the context of a scriptural text is vital. Good solid exegesis methods are very important to understanding authorial intent. It is also very important to hear the interpretations of people who come from very different cultures and backgrounds to our own. They very often help us see nuances of meaning that we are less likely to discover for ourselves. Mutual forbearance is truly a virtue, as well as being patient and kind to one another in the midst of our disagreements. But when we do solid exegesis and hear from all sides of an issue, there are still essentials of the faith that the Bible makes clear and unequivocal. No matter how finely we parse the verbs, or how cleverly and creatively we manipulate the text, we still discover that both the Old and New Testaments of the Holy inerrant Bible condemn homosexual acts as sin. It is true that Jesus does not address the issue directly in the canonical gospels, but he certainly refers to marriage as being between one man and one woman. There are many other sins that Jesus does not speak to directly, for example pedophilia, but no clear thinking Christian would defend that as an alternative lifestyle. Ultimately it is the Word of God – The Bible that is to have final authority. If after listening to one another we find that we have held a view that is clearly indefensible in Scripture then we must change our view.
As a minister I am often asked what I believe in. The fact is, what I believe in has changed drastically in my 48 years. Some positions I once took a stand against, I now embrace; others I at one time accepted, I now reject. As they have shown themselves willing to listen to each other on issues such as the ordination of women, a great many Presbyterians have changed their understanding quite drastically over the course of their spiritual journey.
I hope this means that the Holy Spirit breathed Word of God convinced him to change his views. So often though, it is emotional pleas that are completely unscriptural that change people’s views. This is unacceptable for any truth Christian. It is only God’s Word that is to have the final authority. The Reformation call to always be reforming is always to better align ourselves to the Word of God written.
The more grounded I become in the Protestant watchwords grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, the more I question the validity of a question concerning what I believe. I find significance in the order of those good Protestant words: grace first, then faith, then Scripture.
What this means, I can only guess, based upon the context and the consistent muddled thinking of the author. What he seems to be saying is that there is some significance to the order of grace, faith, Scripture. What I can only deduce from the context is that when Scripture seems to be “ungraceful” in certain respects…e.g. sexual immorality, then grace trumps Scripture. The author is here committing intellectual suicide. It is from the pages of Scripture that we discover that we are saved by grace alone (God’s unmerited favor), through faith alone (not through our works). It is therefore illogical to assume that grace and faith can trump Scripture, because it is only through the inerrant Scriptures that we discover the truth of God’s unmerited favor.
My faith is the result of God’s gracious activity in my life, and not the other way around. What I believe in has become less important to me over the years than belief. More appropriate, it seems to me, is the question of in whom I believe.
Of all the foolish things this author has had to say in explaining the PCUSA view on Scripture, this is the most inane. This nonsensical saying is utterly astounding. What does belief mean if it does include a proposition to believe in. For instance, the Apostles Creed makes certain propositional statements, such as Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. While we as Christians clearly believe and trust in the resurrected Jesus, this would be nonsense if we did not believe certain propositional truths about Jesus as well. To simply trust some person named Jesus, without any propositional information about that person is not to trust in the historical Jesus at all, and thereby be lost. These statements seem to be more at home within Neoorthodoxy than historical Orthodox Reformed Christianity. The illogic is also more at home there. There should be absolutely no room for this muddled form of theology within the leadership of any Christian denomination.
My faith is not something I have to defend, as if it were a set of doctrines to which I must cling for dear life. It isn’t because I believe certain things that I belong to God; rather, I belong to God, and that leads to belief. I wouldn’t be giving up anything significant if most of the ideas that seem important to me and that I say I believe in right now eventually prove either in error or inadequate, and I have to modify them.
What part of “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” does this author not understand? I find these statements to be utterly ingenuous and foolish. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul clearly lays out the foundational necessity of the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus and subsequently of true believers to Christianity. He tells us that if the bodily resurrection of Jesus were not a historically verifiable act, then the Christian faith is worthless and we are lost, and to be pitied. Is this one of those “ideas that seem important” to the author, that could be given up or proven wrong with no problem? These sorts of statements that at a gut level sound pious and humble, are nothing more than intellectual suicide. What is the Christian faith if it does not hold to certain doctrinal points?
My spirituality would be unaffected because I don’t have to hold on to my beliefs; rather, the one in whom I place my faith has got ahold of me! That is the glorious message of grace.
This is an interesting statement in several ways. If beliefs do not affect one’s “spirituality” than what does? How does Rev. Ord know that there is someone who is “ahold” of him? Does he not believe that? What if he were to stop “believing” that someone (supposedly the triune God of the Bible, which requires belief) had “ahold” of him? This statement is completely illogical, as is much of this article. I am also troubled by his minimal assessment of the “glorious message of grace.” I believe that the biblical message of grace has to do with undeserved merit, and the grace of God in Jesus Christ is only available to me a sinner and an enemy of God, because Jesus died for me. This is the message of saving grace. Yet Rev. Ord gives no indication that he believes people are lost sinners and bound for hell if they do not repent and turn by faith, receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior by Grace. And if he does not believe that, I suppose it will not affect his “spirituality”.
Because I am secure in my confidence in God, I can now turn to Scripture with an
open mind that is ready to be challenged, eager to question, keen to investigate. My faith is not staked on a particular interpretation of a passage of Scripture–it rests on God’s grace. So there is nothing to be afraid of anymore.
How exactly does he know this, if not by some form of interpretation of God’s Word? Is not God’s grace based on an interpretation of Scripture? Once again the massive inconsistencies and illogic shine forth from a postmodern, post-logic, thinker.
We Presbyterians believe in ongoing dialogue concerning the Bible because, to people of faith, no idea should be so shocking that it cannot be given a hearing. If our faith is genuine, we have nothing to fear from any quarter. We do not feel threatened if an opinion we presently hold as Scriptural turns out to be a misunderstanding of the Bible. That is why we welcome what archaeologists, historians and linguists have to tell us about the Bible. We are willing to hear all sides of an issue, studying it closely from every possible angle. I like being Presbyterian because it is a great relief not to have to be “right”!
What if he is wrong about this point? How does he know that being a Presbyterian means not having to be right? This is simply another in a long line of self-refuting statements.
A reading of our confessions these past 2,000 years shows that even the greatest minds had only limited understanding–even got it wrong at times–and had to be
updated. That means I can entertain the possibility that, as obvious as something appears to me, I might be wrong. It’s OK to be wrong. In fact, if growing in grace and truth means anything substantive, I ought to delight in finding out that some concept I have held to be true is flawed and requires modification.
The Christian confessions of the last 2000 years are actually quite remarkably consistent in the essentials of the Christian faith, with certain aspects being emphasized over others.
Indeed, it is when we feel most sure of our viewpoint that–if we take the examples and warnings of Scripture seriously–we are most in peril.
The author seems incredibly sure of his viewpoint on this. Once again a self-refuting statement.
To return to the issue of circumcision, when Peter ate with and baptized uncircumcised Gentiles (Acts 10-11), everyone at the headquarters church back in Jerusalem knew he was wrong! They had not only the weight of a thousand years of
tradition behind them to show that Peter had gone astray, but also direct, clear, incontrovertible statements of Scripture. But they had not counted on the Holy Spirit–that wind that blows where it wills, without asking our permission–which had an entirely different interpretation to put on those ancient Biblical texts.
The “interpretation” that the Holy Spirit showed them was what it meant that Jesus had fulfilled the scriptures that looked forward to his coming. They did not yet have the New Testament, which the Holy Spirit moving on the apostles and those close to the apostles, was at work writing. We today have the New Testament.
What do Presbyterians believe about the Bible? We believe that through it God speaks to us–that it is inspired. For some, that means the Bible is inerrant. For others, it means that even though the Bible is culturally conditioned and not necessarily factual or even always true, it breathes with the life of God. In their limited ways, the ancients grasped something of the infinite that we need to hear and dialogue with today. Above all, the Bible points us to the living Word, the Christ who is present in each of us in Spirit, inviting each of us to become the Word enfleshed in the steps of Jesus–what Paul calls in his first letter to the Corinthians “living letters from God.”
How precisely is Christ present in each of us in Spirit? That can be interpreted many different ways. Is Christ present in everyone (both non-believer and believer)? Are there people damned to hell and in which the Spirit of Christ is not present? Does the author hold a sort-of pantheistic view of “in Spirit” or does he mean the incarnate, resurrected, second “person” of the Trinity dwelling among us in the person of the Holy Spirit empowering us to holy living and to follow in the steps of the historical, incarnate, resurrected person Jesus Christ? Clearly the author has more of a pantheistic god in mind. This heresy masked in Christian language is all too common among mainline denominational leaders.
David Robert Ord is co-author, with Robert B. Coote, of Is the Bible True? (Orbis Press). Born and raised in Yorkshire, Northern England, he is pastor of Oak Park Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, La.
I believe that this article is a good representation of the how the PCUSA and other mainline denominations have lost their moorings and are set adrift in the ocean of post-modern neoliberalism. They give lip-service to the belief in the authority of Scripture, but in reality they view the Bible as a human creation –a certain groping in the dark—that is somewhat “inspiring” at times. This horrendous, muddled-thinking article represents the position of the PCUSA (and many other mainline denominations) on scripture. Yet, this is not even a Christian way of thinking about God’s Holy Spirit breathed Word. When the foundation is gone, they will believe anything and nothing. This is not Reformed. It is not even Christian.
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