Article VII-The Scriptures-Authority

bible-06Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶108 The Scriptures-Authority

The Bible is God’s written Word, uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit. It bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ, the living Word. As attested by the early church and subsequent councils, it is the trustworthy record of God’s revelation, completely truthful in all it affirms. It has been faithfully preserved and proves itself true in human experience.

The Scriptures have come to us through human authors who wrote, as God moved them, in the languages and literary forms of their times. God continues, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to speak through this Word to each generation and culture.

The Bible has authority over all human life. It teaches the truth about God, His creation, His people, His one and only Son and the destiny of humankind. It also teaches the way of salvation and the life of faith. Whatever is not found in the Bible nor can be proved by it is not to be required as an article of belief or as necessary to salvation.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Deuteronomy 4:2, 28:9; Psalm 19:7-11; John 14:26; 17:17; Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:21.

The Bible is a central aspect of the Christian faith. It does not matter what Church or denomination (or non-denomination) one attends, the books that comprise the Bible will be at the core of that group. In some instances that centrality of Scripture will look like quotations and allusions throughout the liturgy. In other instances that centrality will look like multiple readings of Scripture within the context of the worship service. In still others it will look like extended commentary on a single passage. Whichever format, the Bible will be referenced. This is because, as we say in Free Methodism, the Bible “bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ.” As Christianity is ultimately about a relationship with Jesus, that which points us to Christ and helps make Christ known to us must be central.

We believe that we can trust what the Bible has recorded because it is the Holy Spirit who has been involved in the composition process, the transmission process, and the reception process of Scripture throughout history. By saying this, though, we have to make a logical leap. It is extremely obvious when I followed the format for this blog that I have for the previous Articles of Religion. In Free Methodism, we do not create our theology out of thin air. We base our beliefs on the biblical record. In this instance, then, we are basing our belief of the authority of Scripture on the very Bible itself. Logically, that is like using a word to define itself. That would be like saying glotification is the state of having been glotted. It is something we are taught not to do, yet we say the authority of Scripture is revealed in the Bible.

This is why many people will reject Christianity as inherently illogical and problematic. But that is because belief is not logical. We cannot logically explain a lot of things we believe. For example, why does a lever work? There are many, many good explanations of how a lever works, but no one can explain why a lever works. We know from experience it does work. We even know the mathematical formula for how it works, where to place the fulcrum, and the amount of force needed to exert based upon the length of the lever and placement of the fulcrum to achieve the desired output. Yet we cannot explain why it all works the way it does. So too with Scripture. We know, based upon personal experience over two thousand to four thousand years, the truths attested to in Scripture. And based upon that experience, we can conclude that Scripture is true, and therefore has authority over our belief systems.

Does this mean that we take everything absolutely literally in the Bible? Can one be a Free Methodist and believe that creation was either six days or billions of years? What I tell my students is that I want them to read the Bible literally. When it literally uses metaphor and symbolic language, I want them to literally understand those passages metaphorically and symbolically. What determines which passages are to be read metaphorically and symbolically? For this, I point people to the grand history of biblical interpretation that spans 2000 years. How have people down through the ages understood and interpreted particular passages? Then I include those opinions in my deliberations on Scripture.

I like to appeal to what is called the Vincentian Canon, named after St. Vincent of Lerins. He essentially stated that which has been believed in the most places, over the most time, by the most people is true. And in cases of monumental error, appeal to antiquity. This means that the Holy Spirit guides the Church with the same voice over time. What I believe today ought not to be radically different from what was believed by Christians 100 years ago, 500 years ago, 1000 years ago. And if there is an error in our belief today that is in lots of places, we look to what the early Church believed and taught for our corrective on the matter. This approach to the Bible helps us avoid the biases of our own time and culture. It helps us understand that biblical truth can be a corrector and teacher for the present.

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Texas Planned Parenthood Decision and a Christian Response

Before I begin this post in response to the indictment decision of the grand jury in Texas against the anti-abortion activists instead of Planned Parenthood I would like to make two points very clear.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

  1. I am against abortion. I was adopted at birth in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade, and have a personal stake in the decision not to abort unplanned pregnancies. I am also a father of four and cannot even conceptualize having ended any of their lives before they had a chance to live.
  2. This is one response, not the only response, a Christian can have to this news. Obviously I believe I am correct, otherwise I would not be posting this piece. Yet I am not narrow-minded enough to think that my opinion is the only one that matters in the world.

So, now that I have made those two points, here is my take on what Christians ought to do in response to this issue.

STOP trying to have the government regulate everyone in the country to follow a Christian outlook on life! Abortion is morally reprehensible. That is a given. Any society that would willingly kill its own children is a weak and selfish society. It is a barbaric practice that we sterilize by performing it in a medical setting and calling it a procedure. It is infanticide, plain and simple.

Yet we Christians would not have to bring legal action if we would spend more time discipling the people we have to live by a higher standard than what is legal in our country. We would not have to bring legal action if Christians took seriously Thou shalt not kill and Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me. And We would not have to bring legal action if we not only lived this way, but encouraged others to convert and live this way with us. Planned Parenthood would disappear if there was no market for their services because there was no demand by potential patients and customers. It would not matter that abortion is technically legal in the US if our society did not avail themselves of the procedure.

We need to quit trying to have the government, at whatever level, try to force us by law to live a certain way. If something is morally wrong and sinful, convert others and train ourselves to live to the higher standard God calls us to live. This is how the Church functioned in the first 300 years of its existence. We did not petition the Roman government to change laws. We simply lived according to God’s vision of life. And at that time we were persecuted, had our property confiscated, our rights revoked, imprisoned, and killed. Yet we never led a legal drive to change the laws of the Empire. We simply lived as Christ taught us. That was what converted the Empire, not law suits.

Just a thought.

Revelation 2:20 and Tolerating Heresy

It always amazes me how many Christians will tolerate heresy within their churches and denominations. Sure, there can be differences of opinions on many different aspects of the faith which are not heretical, but there are denominations that have people in leadership who deny the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and other central aspects of God.

The letter to Thyatira, contained within Revelation 2, deals with this issue. Jesus dictates seven letters to seven different churches, and this one has issues like this. Jesus praises the church in Thyatira, and then he follows it up with this:

20 But I have this against you: you put up with that woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. You allow her to teach and to mislead my servants into committing sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.

Jesus counts it as a sin for righteous and faithful people to tolerate heresy being taught within the Church.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the Incarnation of the Living God, we would do well to remember that differences of opinion are one thing, heresy is something completely different. A good starting point to tell the difference would be a few questions:

  • Does this opinion contradict who the Church proclaims God is? Does it deny the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit? Does it try to blend the identity of our God with other gods through teachings, rituals, or other corporate events?
  • Does this opinion lead people to behavior or condone behavior that the Church has taught is immoral?

If any of these questions can be answered yes, then you may want to take Jesus’ warning to Thyatira seriously for yourself.

Jolly old St. Nicholas did not tolerate heresy. He is famous today for giving gifts to children, but he was also famous during his lifetime in the 300s for punching Arius at the Council in Nicaea in 325 when he heard Arius’ position that Jesus was not God but was created.

Nicholas-Icon-Meme-2

Philemon and Public Honor in the Church

philemon1Jesus said his followers ought to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.  I always thought that was five parts serpent to one part dove.  The letter of Philemon is perfect proof of this concept.  Paul’s subject in this letter is a runaway slave named Onesimus.  He converted to the faith while in prison with Paul, and now has an opportunity to return to his owner, Philemon.  Philemon happens to be a Christian, converted under Paul’s ministry as well.

Paul writes this letter to try and convince Philemon to free Onesimus and treat him as a brother in Christ rather than as a slave.

Here is where the wise as serpents is applied to this letter.  The letter is not sent directly to Philemon.  Look at to whom this letter is addressed:

 From Paul, who is a prisoner for the cause of Christ Jesus, and our brother Timothy. To Philemon our dearly loved coworker,  Apphia our sister, Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church that meets in your house.  May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

This letter was sent to specific people and the entire congregation that meets in their house, of which Philemon was a member.  Paul takes this issue of a runaway slave, something that was personal property, and throws it out into the public realm of congregational life.

Now, instead of this being an issue that Philemon can decide in the privacy of his own home, this becomes a an issue of Philemon’s public honor.  Will he claim his rights under Roman Law as a dishonored owner of a slave, or will he show his honor as a Christian to the congregation?  Everyone now knows this is the choice Philemon now has.

We surmise that Philemon did free Onesimus because his name shows up in two other places.  Colossians 4:9 has Onesimus as one of the deliverers of the letter.  And in Ignatius’ letter to the Church in Ephesus in around 108 AD Onesimus is identified as the bishop of that congregation.

Paul was wise in having this become an issue for the entire congregation, not just one person.  After all, Christian behavior and ethics are not personal.  When we are Christians, we are all a part of the same body.  When one of us suffers, we all suffer.  When one of us has suffering relieved, we all rejoice.

We would do well to remember this as we look at the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 and Paul’s Opinion of Women

no-girls-allowed1Paul’s opinion of women is a difficult topic for people in the Church who do not take the time to dig into it fully. So many people get an idea or opinion on their own and then go to the Bible and find texts to support their opinion, or they read the Bible in such a way that they get passages in short snippets and out of context, which can say something completely different.

Take the passage in Romans 7, for example. There are people who read this and think that a defeated struggle against sin is what Paul experienced in his life, doing what he did not want to do. Yet that thought runs absolutely counter to everything Paul preached and taught throughout the rest of that letter, as well as everything else he taught. When we remember that Romans is a letter that was meant to be read all at once, we can see that Paul, in Romans 7, is using this language to describe someone who knows s/he needs a savior, but is not yet in Christ. The life for those who are in Christ is described both before and after this chapter. In context, Romans 7 says something completely different than what many claim it means.

The same is true for the status or allowed roles for women in the Church in 1 Timothy 2:

11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

This seems fairly straightforward, yet it is completely contrary to Paul’s injunctions to women in 1 Corinthians that when they pray or prophesy in Church their heads should be covered. It also ignores the women deacons and apostles commended by Paul in Romans 16. Not to mention the fact that this flies completely in the face of the spiritual truth Paul loudly proclaimed in Galatians that in Christ there is neither male nor female.

This passage is a part of a particular letter written to a particular person in response to a particular issue. It needs to be read as a letter–all at once. When that happens, one can see this passage is linked to a larger issue throughout the letter:

(1:3-5) When I left for Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching. They shouldn’t pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Their teaching only causes useless guessing games instead of faithfulness to God’s way of doing things. The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

 

(2:11-12) 11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

 

(4:6-7) If you point these things out to the believers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus who has been trained by the words of faith and the good teaching that you’ve carefully followed. But stay away from the godless myths that are passed down from the older women.

 

(6:20-21) 20 Timothy, protect what has been given to you in trust. Avoid godless and pointless discussions and the contradictory claims of so-called “knowledge.” 21 When some people adopted this false knowledge, they missed the goal of faith.

Certain women in Ephesus were teaching myths that were contrary to the faith. They were teaching these things in the Church and Paul left Timothy to put an end to it. It is these women that are forbidden to teach in the Church and are told to learn from their husbands, because they themselves do not know enough yet to be teachers. Otherwise they would not have gotten tangled up in these godless myths.

When we find a passage in Scripture that does not seem to make sense with the rest of the tone of the Bible, we must try to read it in context and see if it says what it seems to say. Many times, by reading the passage in the full context in which it was written, we will find that it agrees with everything else we read in the Bible. Paul’s opinion of women is case in point.

2 Corinthians 11:2-3 and Seduction of Eve

ringsThere are plenty of references in the New Testament of Jesus being a second Adam or a new man, and the Church being the bride of Christ.  One of the most interesting comes from this reading:

I’m deeply concerned about you with the same concern that God has. As your father, I promised you in marriage to one husband. I promised to present you as an innocent virgin to Christ himself.  But I’m afraid that your minds might be seduced in the same way as the snake deceived Eve with his devious tricks. You might be unable to focus completely on a genuine and innocent commitment to Christ.

Paul here is in the middle of his diatribe against the false teachings of the “super apostles” that came to Corinth after he had left.  Here he compares them to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who led astray Eve.  The connection is clear: false teaching can twist the truth of the Gospel message and we would end up turning away from Jesus.

What is not so clear in today’s context is how we can tell whether something is a false teaching or not.  There are so many different denominations and non-denominational churches in the world, how do we determine whether or not something is false?  There are even some who would say that no one can make the claim that someone else’s belief is false if they hold that belief sincerely.

As for the last statement, that is blatantly false.  The entire New Testament shows that there is a correct understanding of Jesus–Messiah and God in the Flesh–and there is a wrong understanding of Jesus–prophet who was killed and stayed dead.  This is seen in the Gospels books.  It is seen over and over again in the Church’s work in Acts, where some would not accept the truth and others would.  It is seen in the letters, correcting false understandings.  And it is seen in Revelation, where the main message is to hold on to the faith and not let anyone or anything turn you away.

As for how to determine whether the different denominations have truth or falsehood in them, the first thing to remember is that no denomination or faith fellowship will be perfect.  This is not an excuse to put up with something you know in your gut is not right or true (see here).  Having said that, one of the best ways to get at some obvious errors is to look at how the Church has understood a particular issue over the last 2000 years.  With that much time on our side, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit to help us, chances are if something is a relatively new belief (250 years old or less), there is a good chance it is false.  This is not a blanket statement, but a good guideline.

Beyond this, the only thing that will help in making this kind of decision is prayer and study.  Find someone who is knowledgeable, has a strong faith, and is someone you trust, and talk to her or him about this issue.  Together you will probably find the answer you need, because after all, Jesus promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in his Name.

1 Corinthians 14:32-36 and Women Speaking in Church

Probably one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament is the one in 1 Corinthians about women speaking in Church. This is difficult for one main reason–Paul had already spoken in the same letter about how women should be when they pray or prophecy in Church. Not only that, but at the end of Romans, Paul lists several women who are leaders in the Church (deacon, apostle, and others).

So, here is the passage that seems different:

32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?

This comes at the end of a long passage concerning orderliness in worship, with only one prophet speaking at one time, and only one speaker of tongues speaking at one time (and even then only if someone could interpret the tongue for the rest of the congregation). Then there is this passage. Some segments of the Church have used this passage as one of their essential texts for preventing women from doing anything in a worship service. Never mind the fact that women are obviously prophesying and praying in the Church. This passage forbids it, they say.

Or does it?

Ancient biblical text that has no lower case letters, punctuation, or spaces

Ancient biblical text that has no lower case letters, punctuation, or spaces

Interesting thing about our English Bibles, they are all translations based upon what the translators believed the text to mean. All of the modern translations go back to the original Greek and translate it fresh, so the anti-Christian criticism that “the Bible has been translated so many times there is no way to know what the original said” is completely ridiculous and false. Nevertheless, each translation team has to make certain judgments about the text when they translate. Case in point is this passage.

When Paul wrote his letters, there were no upper case and lower case letters; there were only upper case letters. Likewise, there was no punctuation. Nor were there any spaces between words. The text flows on and on in a long string of capital letters across the page. This means we have to make a judgment call on how to break up the text to translate it into English. Look at this example:

GODISNOWHERE

Does that say God is now here or God is no where? We have to make a decision. It is the same with the above passage. The phrase as in all churches of the saints is a dependent clause. It can be attached to an independent clause and make a complex sentence. It can be attached to any independent clause. These translators have chosen to attache it to verse 34 so it reads As in all churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. Yet it could equally be attached to verse 33 so it reads for God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. If the punctuation was there, then it adds emphasis to the argument Paul was making that worship ought to be orderly in the churches in Corinth because it is orderly in all the other churches of the saints.

If it is placed there, then the following injunction to women becomes a very specific and targeted statement to a specific group of women in Corinth, not a universal declaration across all time and churches. There was one group of women disrupting the worship service by simply talking or asking questions. This would obviously not include the women who were praying or prophesying in church, nor would it include female deacons or apostles (see the link at the top of this post). This was a specific instruction for a specific group of women in a specific city at a specific time.

Given the fact that elsewhere Paul also declares that there is, in Christ, no male or female, I would also venture to say that this injunction would also apply to men who would disrupt the worship service by needless chatter or questions. This passage is not a blanket condemnation of women speaking in Church. Rather, it is an injunction for certain women to pay attention during the worship service.