I’ve been reading a great book called “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea” by Alister McGrath. Really, every Christian should read it. The book is an account of the Christian Reformation from the 16th century until now. Although I have not yet finished the book, I do want to write about something that has struck me odd.
There is no doubt that the Christian faith is full of conflict today. Every denomination has a different set of beliefs about the Bible. While most don’t see these differences as major salvational issues, some most certainly do, and depending on how the masses perceive the belief (such as someone’s view of Hell), it can be labeled as heresy or not.
There’s a problem here, because there are some sects of the Christian faith that really believe that they have the Bible interpreted correctly and that anyone who disagrees with them is completely wrong and not in the Christian faith. I’m learning however, that protestantism started out as a divided movement, and all through the century’s has been a divided movement. Here’s some examples.
Interpretation of the Bible has been a heavy heavy issue in the protestant movement. Why? Because unlike the Catholic church which has an ultimate authority on the interpretation of Scripture, protestantism has no such authority. In fact the one of the main points of the movement as Luther said, was that every layman should be able to read and understand the scriptures for himself. There is no ultimate way in protestantism to interpret the scriptures and because of that it sets the movement off on a divided start. People since the 16th century have debated the trinity (especially since technically the word is found no where in scriptures), what it actually means to be saved, and what that actually looks like.
The Bible although inspired by God, is just not always that black and white. I’ve heard so many statements like “if it’s in the Bible then I believe it” or “Everything the Bible says is to be taken completely literally” etc etc. the problem is that those statements make the person saying them usually hypocritical. Let me give you an example.
1. Christ says “This is my body, take and eat, this is my blood, take and drink” (tim whitaker paraphrase). No protestant Christian (at least that I know of) believes that this is to be taken literally, instead they believe it is to be taken metaphorically. This completely contradicts any person’s belief that they take the whole Bible “literally”. Clearly such as in this case (and others), we do not.
2. I once was discussing this issue (taking the BIble literally) with a gentlemen. He said “look the Bible says do not kill, therefore we shouldn’t kill. It’s that simple”. I then replied “well most Christians support the death penalty.” My point wasn’t that Christians shouldn’t be against the death penalty (I personally am). My point, was that it’s not always THAT simple. Blanket statements like that are not completely true, they are circumstantially true. And it is important to see the difference.
The danger (as I’m seeing) with the protestant movement is that everyone was to read the BIble and see for themselves what the Scriptures said, and although the main point is pretty black and white (Jesus), other issues are still highly contested, and were contested in the past. People fought wars over if works are part of the saving process, or if they are a result of salvation (P.S both sides can prove their point with Scriptures), the trinity and the deity of Christ, Hell and what it is, and how to interpret the scriptures.
The scary part? Everyone in the 16-19th century thought that they had the only interpretation of scripture, because of that they fought to the death (literally and figuratively) over issues that we don’t even consider to be major issues today, and some issues (such as homosexuality) were not nearly as debated as they are today. While this does not change the truth that the act of homosexuality has never been seen as a widely help acceptable act, it does show that sometimes protestantism picks certain battles to fight over due to the cultural relevance of that time.
What’s my point? Well we need to remember the past to prepare for the future. The Bible and its interpretation is not as simple in protestantism as we always make it out to be. It is not black and white because humans are not black and white. The Bible, while all inclusive for salvation, knowledge and relationship with God, is not easily universally interpreted. We need to remember this when we approach the scriptures. Especially us that claim to be part of a movement that started out for the common folk being able to read and interpret scriptures for themselves. This is why it is SO important for us as Christians to understand the Bible, understand the point of views out there, and then do our own digging in to seeing what God is revealing to us.
Am I saying that the Bible is completely subjective? Nope absolutely not. What I am saying is that we need to realize that we are following a long line of people that have interpreted Scripture sometimes much differently then we have. This notion that one denomination has the Bible down is a notion that is not true. No one denomination (no matter how conservative or liberal) has it all right and we need to acknowledge this. The Bible, although basic in its message, is complex, deep, and full of context and culture. Everyone comes to the table with their own bias. Everyone picks which verses they want to claim “cultural context” and which verses they want to claim “still relevant to today” (see the woman in leadership issue for a classic example).
I recently was told by someone that I should repent for my pride and arrogance and that my teachings and beliefs of God and the Bible were completely wrong. I was told this for simply pointing out that the Bible mentions things like pride, idolatry, and lying more often then it mentions the act of homosexuality being sinful. My point was to say that there are more “important” (if you will) things to address in culture than homosexuality. The scary part was that my statement (regarding how many times the Bible pointed these issues out) was completely true. But because of the bias of someone, it blinded them from simply acknowledging that there are other things to point out in culture. But then of course, isn’t this the point? When Luther said that he believes in the priesthood of all believers and they should be able to read the Bible, is this not the unwanted side effect? That now there are hundreds of millions of people interpreting it for themselves all (myself included) with their own bias. Welcome to protestantism.