What really has changed?
Some people would say that everything has changed.
Questions of Biblical authority are now being discussed in many different settings and some of those conversations are convincing people that the ELCIC has departed from Section 3 of the ELCIC Constitution – “This church confesses the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God, through which God still speaks, and as the only source of the church’s doctrine and the authoritative standard for the faith and life of the church.” In passing motions that opened ordination to those of all sexual orientations and allowing rostered ministers to preside at same gender marriages, some would say that the ELCIC is in a state of apostasy. If the ELCIC has strayed from its “only source” and “authoritative standard” is it still viable or just in a confessional conundrum?
For me it is not a question of Scriptural authority – it is a question of Scriptural idolatry. Can God only speak through the words of the Old and New Testaments? Are our hands tied in reaching out because we are told what is clean and what is unclean? Maybe what Scripture says has more to do with how we approach it and what we want it to say? Maybe our understanding is too small, too incomplete?
How would your life today be different if when you were in your early years, maybe 8 or 9, you collected the letters you had written, the pictures you had drawn, the stories you had written about your life on summer vacation and put them together in a scrapbook and for the rest of your life used it to condition the way you thought about the world you live in?
Maybe we should, just for a moment, look at Scripture that way. How has our life and faith been diminished because early in the life of the Church a scrapbook was compiled from the letters and stories that were shared in the community and then “scripturalized” so that nothing could be removed and nothing could be added? It was then used to silence new faith stories, to destroy new letters of life and faith, to control those who tried to walk further. How much greater could the church be if throughout history the canon was opened to include the Confessions of St Augustine, the Life of St Francis of Assisi, The Gospel according to Luther or Calvin, The new Psalms of the Wesleys, Letters from prison by Bonhoeffer, etc. We read and are moved by many of these stories of faith, and perhaps even give them authority in our lives. Are they perhaps also “Scripture”?
Maybe it is time to move beyond seeing the Bible as a hammer and chisel, pounding and shaping us, and to begin seeing it as a walking stick that supports and assists us along this journey of faith. It doesn’t tell us which mountain to climb or what river to cross, but it is there as we see a new horizon and as we feel the water surrounding us.
Blind Martin Luther, he got so needlessly hung up on the notion of the Word Alone that he let himself get kicked out of the Western church. Unless he was onto something important.
But even Luther saw that what was considered “Word” is shaped by how we approach Scripture. As it is a ‘living’ Word it is able to move and grow and not just be pruned and tied as we wish it to be. But we must let the Word, and ourselves, grow into what God would have us be. If we set the Word into a concrete form it becomes a fossil whose only worth is to show us that there once was life.
Interesting but dangerous idea there–let’s add new scriptures! The real issue is that those closest to the Christ event declared some writings to be part of the canon, while others, such as my favorite, the Didache, didn’t make the cut. It’s true that there have been a lot of fascinating witnesses to the power of the scripture’s vision, down to our own day (and I would include Dr Martin Luther King’s speeches here), but don’t we still judge their impact on the basis of the Hebrew and Greek writings we call the Bible? I fear your walking stick metaphor, however well-intentioned misses out on what “the canon” means–namely, a measuring rod.