Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tuning into the Spirit and Sorting out the Truth: About the Authority of Scripture

The Spirit is urging me to patience and forbearance and led me to refresh myself with the promises I made at my Deacon Ordination and Installation. As I read the Scripture this phrase - "Let deacons be married only once" - caught my attention. I had not noticed this restriction before. I am aware that many fundamental churches will not ordain women, even as deacons, nor will they allow divorcées to teach the Bible. Does this mean that churches which ordain those who've been married more than once as deacons don't respect the authority of Scripture? (That is, they interpret the Bible as it suits them.)



I quote the verses so you can also read it in context: Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. I Timothy 3: 8 - 13

Hmm. What, I began to wonder, do we really mean when we say the authority of the Scripture.

For me, it means God speaking to me through his Word and changing my heart and my mind, transforming me to His way of looking at people and situations and His will for me. But, is my view scriptural? I have strange ideas of "authority" and when I see the model of Jesus, I know that his "authority" is different from the way in which the world traditionallly defines and views "authority." So I started to do a bit of library research and here's what I found.

According to Wright the "authority of the Bible" is shorthand for the "authority of God at work." In How Can the Bible be Authoritative?  he explains how the phrase is often misused. See especially his section towards the end on Biblical Authority and Church Life. He lists some practical ways in which we allow the Bible to be authoritative include: using lectionaries in public worship, different ways of reading the Bible in private life (whole texts, instead of passages, etc.).

Quoting Wright, "the authority of the Bible at work: God’s own authority, exercised not to give true information about wholeness but to give wholeness itself, by judging and remaking the thoughts and intentions, the imaginations and rememberings, of men, women and children. There are worlds to be discovered here of which a good deal of the church remains sadly ignorant. The Bible is the book of personal renewal, the book of tears and laughter, the book through which God resonates with our pain and joy, and enables us to resonate with his pain and joy. This is the really powerful authority of the Bible, to be distinguished from the merely manipulative or the crassly confrontational ‘use’ of scripture."

Wright concludes thus, "So what am I saying?  I am saying that we mustn’t belittle scripture by bringing the world’s models of authority into it.  We must let scripture be itself, and that is a hard task.  Scripture contains many things that I don’t know, and that you don’t know; many things we are waiting to discover; passages which are lying dormant waiting for us to dig them out.  Awaken them.  We must then make sure that the church, armed in this way, is challenging the world’s view of authority.  So that, we must determine—corporately as well as individually—to become in a true sense, people of the book.  Not people of the book in the Islamic sense, where this book just drops down and crushes people and you say it’s the will of Allah, and I don’t understand it, and I can’t do anything about it.  But, people of the book in the Christian sense; people who are being remade, judged and remolded by the Spirit through scripture.  It seems to me that evangelical tradition has often become in bondage to a sort of lip-service scripture principle even while debating in fact how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  (Not literally, but there are equivalents in our tradition.)  Instead, I suggest that our task is to seize this privilege with both hands, and use it to the glory of God and the redemption of the world."

References: 

Wright, N.T. How Can the Bible be Authoritative. http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm

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