Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Final Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage: my thoughts


After reading through “The Final Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage,” several times, I do have some thoughts.1 My thoughts are focused around faithfulness to historical research and the proper use of the Bible for Christian discipleship.

My beginning thoughts have to do with a paradox. The report in its material seems to suggest that marriage norms, even Christian ones, have changed over the centuries. The theme of change runs subtly through most of the report and might be helpful to those people who advocate for same sex marriage, but the paradox here is that in all of those marriage scenarios there is absolutely no record of same sex marriage. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman.

But here is another paradox, the Committee, which is a Christian Committee, looked at the Bible’s historical accounts of marriage. But in doing so rather than using the Bible as the word of God they simply used at as any other kind of historical document. That is they used it as a primary source that you would read to understand how a certain group or groups understood laws and customs in their time. To understand how this works as opposed to using the Bible as the word of God the reader can look at one particular statement.

Under the passage which lists four benefits of marriage, the fourth benefit is:

“A political tool to form alliances between nations and advanced political ambitions (1 Sam. 18:17-27; 19:11-17; 25:44; 2 Sam. 3:13-15; 6:16-23; and 1 Kings 11:1-4).”

Now it is true that people in ancient times, and really through all times have used marriage as a political tool. The Biblical writers tell the truth, they record how people actually lived. But does God’s word insist that this is a proper way to understand the benefits of marriage?

The truth is that Solomon in his attempt to gain many political alliances with other nations married numerous wives and lost his heart to their gods. In Deuteronomy God’s word to Israel about future kings includes, “He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away …” (17:17)

In at least this case in Scripture there is a prohibition about marriage alliances but there is never approval. We are not hearing “thus says the Lord” in this study.

Some help is offered in the latter part of the Old Testament section. There the Committee looks at how marriage is used as analogy concerning Israel’s faithfulness to God and at least allows the reader to see what unfaithfulness means in marriage. But even here one does not hear straight forward words from the Committee about sexual faithfulness in marriage between a woman and a man. The text is still used as simply a primary source.

Looking to the New Testament the Committee uses the text in a slightly better way as they study the words of Jesus, Paul and others. But even here the text is seen more as a primary source concerning what people thought about marriage rather than the Church’s guide about marriage.

And the idea that marriage, even among Christians, is always in flux, is supposedly reinforced by suggesting that ideas about marriage changed somewhat when the Church realized that Jesus’ return would not be imminent. (Although it could be argued that the Church has never let go of their understanding of the imminent return of Christ that is for a different posting.)


One has to laugh somewhat about the first thought given after suggesting that “several trends emerged” as the “church prepared itself to be a continuing institution.” The authors write, “Qualifications for church leaders (ministers) included being married, but only to one wife (3:2).” 1Timothy 3:2 is used and it seems the thought is that now that we know Jesus isn’t coming back so soon instead of telling disciples not to marry we should tell them they must marry.

But that isn’t the emphasis of the text. It is instead about monogamy; if you are married, you can’t be married to more than one woman. As Greek scholar, Dr. William D. Mounce, in his Word Biblical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles translates the verse, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he is desiring a good work. Therefore, it is necessary for an overseer to be above reproach: a ‘one-woman man’, clear-minded, self-controlled, dignified, hospitable, skilled in teaching, not a drunkard, not violent but gracious, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, managing his own household well, having submissive children with all dignity ….”

These were attributes contrary to the cultural norms in this particular place and the church was struggling against that culture. This is not a command for overseers to be married.

Another area in which one perceives attempts to push the idea of marriage norms in flux is the history of the Church. The Reformation era at one place in particular bothered me. The authors write, “Some radical reformers extended the principle ‘Scripture alone’ to justify polygamy using the example of the Patriarchs and Old Testament laws. Others understood Christ’s redemptive act as freeing true believers from sin, so that nothing done in Christian love was sinful.”

The Committee goes on to explain that “Reformed church leaders distanced themselves from such unorthodox beliefs and unruly behaviors.” That part is good but the information about the ‘radical’ reformers is so twisted that one can make all kinds of misconstrued suggestions from it.

For example one might think that many, many radical reformers saw marriage differently. That wouldn’t be true, and was a lie that plagued the radical reformers for years causing them exceeding grief and persecution. One might think from the statement that God’s law approves of multiple marriages. But it does not. One might think that ‘Scripture alone’ was what the radical reformers used to justify their actions of both polygamy and freedom in sexual issues. But that would also not be true.

There were three kinds of radical reformers. The Anabaptist, the Inspirationists and the Rationalists, were all considered radical reformers. Only the Anabaptist appealed to Scripture. The Inspirationists appealed to the spirit, the Rationalist to reason. Almost all the extreme radicalism of that period can be attributed to what those involved considered personal revelations of the Spirit. (see: The Anabaptist Story by William R. Estep)

All through the historical part there are problems such as the above. I am disappointed that the Committee didn’t spend time explaining and even using the Scriptures that uphold Christian marriage. If they were going to apply Scripture to the problems it should have been used as God’s word. If they were going to apply history to the problem it should have been done in a more careful and complete manner.

I am praying for those who are preparing a minority report.

1. Read the report and recommendations in their entirety. (from the OGA)





64 comments:

Doug Hagler said...

My faith and my view of scripture is rooted in scripture as both the word of God and a historical document (and as you know this isn't just my idiosyncrasy but has long historical precedent). I wonder if there is any room in your view for anything similar, or if "word of God" necessarily rules out "historical document"?

Viola Larson said...

Doug,
I wasn't ruling out Scripture as historical, and perhaps I wasn't clear on that. What I meant was that the Committee treats the Bible as only a primary source to give understanding to what ancient laws, etc. were. They did not use it as the word of God which it also is. They did not deal with the confessional understanding that the word also has authority.

Viola Larson
Sacramento, Ca

Doug Hagler said...

Ah, I understand better now I think.

So, I wonder how you balance the aspects of scripture - historical document and authority? For example, for myself, I try to always keep both in mind.

Historical documents: That the Bible was written during particular times by particular people and was limited by what those people knew and understood, by their human capacities as well as their context, just as any human endeavor is limited

Authority: That I had committed myself to use these historical documents as authoritative guidance in my life and in my ministry; that they continue to be alive to me as sources of my identity and my understanding of who God is

Viola Larson said...

Doug,
This, "was limited by what those people knew and understood, by their human capacities as well as their context, just as any human endeavor is limited," works out differently in my view of scriptures as historical.

God is capable of using human limitations to provide absolute truth. I like the view of Ander Nygren, the author of the old classic Agape and Eros He wrote a small booklet which I can’t find at the moment that likens the word to the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper. That is, both the real bread and wine are there but also there is the living word of God. In addition they can’t be separated. They are the words of God. So while one may understand the customs of ancient times one cannot say that what God says is untrue.

And in saying the above more clarification needs to be said. As I pointed out in my posting nowhere in Scripture do we find God saying that it is a benefit to marriage to use it as an alliance making scheme. To see how humanity acted at that time is not to understand that that is God’s command. But where God gives command we need to hear it as God’s command.

God’s authority is so bound to all of his word that we must do proper exegete.

Viola Larson said...

I got the impression that at least some of the committee were looking for an evolving view of Christian marriage. I don't think that is possible.

Kattie W. Coon said...

Viola,

In your article you stated:

“But in doing so rather than using the Bible as the word of God they simply used at as any other kind of historical document.”

I doubt you can really back up that claim, considering the fact that you were not present as any kind of witness, and no one I know of who was present has tried to make such a claim. If it appears in the report that only historical aspects are presented, then it could be that these were the only aspects in which there was consensus. The Word of God aspects may have been discussed at length without reaching consensus. Given that possibility, I would rather have seen you make your statement be about the report itself rather than about its authors.

You said to Doug:
"They are the words of God."

I would rather you had said that you believe they are the words of God rather than try to make it a statement of fact. I say that in light of the Confession of '67 which clearly states in BOC 9.29: "The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written." I think I'm fairly safe in stating that you are taking a minority view here considering that C67 was ratified by more than 90% of the Presbyteries.

Kattie
Huntsville, Al

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
I am writing about the report not the conversation. Even my title lets you know that. I happen to know that some people did want to refer to the Biblical text as God’s word but it isn’t in the report.
They are the words of God. And I freely stated that the words are also the words of men, but they are also the words of God. I explained that to Doug. To add to this conversation perhaps you could explain what you see as the word of God.

Kattie W. Coon said...

"I am writing about the report not the conversation. Even my title lets you know that."

I guess you are assuming that you were entirely successful. The report is an "it", so why were you referring to a "they" in the sentence I quoted earlier? It appears fairly clear to me, by plain meaning, that you were referring to the Authors' process not their product. Maybe you just failed to write out what you intended to convey. If that's the case, that's fine with me.

Dave Moody said...

The problem with the C-67 portion that Katie Coon quotes is the word, 'nevertheless.' This would indicate, it seems, that the human aspect of scripture trumps/limits/moderates divine revelation. Lifting up the neo-orthodox hermeneutic illustrated by the words 'listen for the word of God' vs the more classical 'listen to the word of God.'

I don't know about consubstantiation, my prof. likened scripture more to chalcedonian christology-- fully human, fully divine. No 'nevertheless.'

grace & peace
dm

Viola Larson said...

I thought of Chalcedonian Christology too Dave. I think that is a good analogy.

I know there is disagreement over C 67, and it is be used by progressives to understand the Bible to only contain the Word of God. I don't think it has to be read that way. If that is the only way it can be read then it should not be in our Book of Confessions.

However this is its qualifying words of "...through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the Word of God written."

It certainly could be a lot more clear however.

Anonymous said...

I think that people are stretching the words of C-67 to mean more than the intent of those who ratified it.

It reads: "The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written."

In other words, the Bible is:

1) NOT written in some holy, otherworldly language, apart from real life and not subject to normal understanding. Scripture CAN be read for understanding. It IS in human language, intended to communicate to us as we receive other written communications.

2) NOT immaculately conceived without the use of real persons and personalities in the writing process. God DID use people, with their idiolects, intelligence, writing styles, experiences, and all. God worked through each of the writers to produce EXACTLY what God intended, much like how God works now through our various personalities and abilities to build the Kingdom of God. Scripture bears the marks of human discourse, and God has perfectly directed even THAT to God's perfect and divine ends.

3) NOT ahistorical. God DOES place the Bible texts within actual history. So we have parables about sheep and stories of threshing floors, not about cyberspace and jet travel. God wrote within particular cultures, but God gave the writings universal application, timeless truth, and enduring authority. I often hear the Bible written off today as being "ancient texts," as if current thought and writing must alone bear any importance. We who don't worship the moment's culture but instead revere God actually value what God has said once and for all time with absolute authority.

C-67 was seeking to say that Scriptures--which were uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit--bear the marks of God working through actual people, their vocabulary, their literary devices. C-67 does NOT say that the Bible is merely human invention, human thoughts, human fallibility.

I don't think C-67 is especially helpful in this passage, but it certainly is not intended to downgrade the Word of God written into mere mortal advice, now of little use, other than historical anecdotes: "Oh, look! How cute. People once believed this."

Not at all.

Jim Berkley
Seattle, WA

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Jim,
That is very clear and helpful.

Dave Moody said...

Jim,
You are undoubtedly right as far as the intention of C-67's authors, nevertheless (;-)) the effect seems to have been to legitimize a downgrading of God's word into a record of ancient people's experiences with Him.

I would have preferred a more equitable conjunction- something other than 'nevertheless'- but I wasn't talking much in '67, no one asked me.
grace & peace,
dm

Kattie W. Coon said...

"I think that people are stretching the words of C-67 to mean more than the intent of those who ratified it."

Just for the record Jim, is it your belief that I stretch the words in that manner? If so, what do you imagine my motive to be?

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
You always do this on my blog. I asked you something and you did not respond. But it would add so much to the conversation if you would respond. I suggested "perhaps you could explain what you see as the word of God."

Kattie W. Coon said...

You always do this on your blog. I ask you something and you do not respond. I'm certainly not the first one to point that out.

That knife cuts both ways.

My question to Jim stands.

Pastor Bob said...

Kattie

I heard Jim (although I don't speak for him) making a more general statement than a statement about you. Jim can of course contradict me.

I hear him saying about this what I like to say about people who say "the Church reformed and always reforming" (particularly the folks that say it in Latin) but leave out "according to the Word of God." How else would the Church reform itself other than by the Word of God (meaning both Jesus and Scripture at this point although I will allow that Scripture points to Jesus).

If we hear C-67 in full Scripture is indeed written by humans in particular times and places but nevertheless it still has authority for the Church.

I didn't think you meant to say anything different. Did you?

Kattie W. Coon said...

"I heard Jim (although I don't speak for him) making a more general statement than a statement about you."

Me too, but my question still stands.

"I didn't think you meant to say anything different. Did you?"

I would like to hear Jim's response first, but thank you for not assuming my opinion differed from yours off the bat.

Now, my argument with Viola has been centered on her use of the phrase "words of God", which, to me, means something totally different than C-67's "Word of God" and "words of men".

Doug Hagler said...

So, in my reading of scripture, in English translation and in parts using original languages in Seminary and after, I just don't find any significant evidence that the scriptures are "perfectly" anything. They look like a collection of very human documents which have as their subject God and God's relationship with people.

I have also never seen a need to affirm the Bible as the result of God's intent perfectly executed. In fact, that claim would make faith untenable for me, since the Bible comes off, in my reading, as so clearly human.

Do I take the Bible to be nonetheless authoritative? Yes; I will in fact swear an oath to that effect.

But are it's words the result of a shining light from the heavens, or God taking the authors' hands word for word? I just can't convince myself that is the case.

It just seems to me, from the outside (that is, outside the group of people who believe in infallibility or literal truth of scripture) that infallibility is answering a question I don't ask of any document - "Are you the perfect exposition of immutable, eternal truth, magically transforming the ineffable such that it can be fully understood in English, by me?"

Of course not! What a weird question. That doesn't seem at all necessary to call something the Word of God written.

So, after all that, my next question is: what need does the literal/infallible nature of the Bible respond to, in you (Viola I suppose by default, but whomever) that a Bible written by very faithful human beings who had unique experiences would not? (Given that the human document is attested to by 3000 years of human experience as reliably teaching human beings about God and themselves, and not just picked at random from the library)

Viola Larson said...

Doug,
you left me somewhat confused. How is the Bible the authoritative Word of God to you? Why and how is it the word of God? It seems like you are saying that human experience makes it the Word of God. Am I wrong in thinking that is what you were saying? How is the Bible the Word of God and say the Koran or the Vedas not?

It isn't a question of what is meeting my need but what the word is.

Doug Hagler said...

Hmm. That isn't my question, but maybe I won't have my question answered because you think we're talking about objective ontology and I think we're talking about individual interpretation. I'll try to translate for myself, and hope you have some success doing the same :)

The word of God is authoritative for me because I identify it as such. I make commitments to the God that scripture describes and believe I have a relationship with that God at this very moment. I take as reliable the thousands of years of witness of other believers who have come before me who found it to be a reliable place to find out about God and themselves and to make meaning of their lives. My experience is such that I believe I have found the things in scripture that my forebears did - better understanding of myself, of God, and greater meaning for my life and my relationships, to name a few things.

If that were not my experience, the word of God would not be authoritative for me, because I would have no reason to find it authoritative. It would be what the Quran is to me, for example (or any number of thousands of other religious texts) - a fascinating historical document that *other* people find authoritative.

Viola Larson said...

Doug,
I think you and I are still struggling over the same question you asked at the beginning. Is there any room in my view for a historical document? And my answer was yes. I simply clarified that I believe the historical document is also God’s word-all of it.

Your last question is somewhat the same. “what need does the literal/infallible nature of the Bible respond to, in you … that a Bible written by very faithful human beings who had unique experiences would not? I do not rule out at all that the Bible was written by very faithful human beings who had unique experiences. I don’t understand why I need to rule them out simply because I also see that in their writing they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

And as far as my need, well as you can see, I can’t answer that question because I believe both things about the Bible. What I am not understanding is how you are seeing the Bible as God’s word but not a faithful, infallible account of God’s word?

Pastor Bob said...

A general comment:

The Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage was a waste of time and money from the beginning. No matter what they said it wasn't going to change anyone's minds.

I would say that the Scripture is the Word of God in the words of humans. I don't believe in any dictation theory (and neither did the Presbyterian inerrantists). My believe that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God for faith and practice does not make it so. It is the authoritative Word whether I experience it as such or not. Of course I would not say that unless I experience it as such, or maybe I should say that the Holy Spirit spoke to me and thus I know the Scripture is the Word of God.

I think the comparison to Chalcedon is the best example. Dutch theologians of the 19th and early 20th Century said that Christ, fully God and fully human is an appropriate analogy for Scripture. God speaks, humans speak.

My favorite analogy comes from Calvin, that God in the Scripture lisps to us as a nursemaid lisps to an infant. In other words God doesn't worry about providing all kinds of information we don't need (like dinosaurs in Genesis) because that isn't the purpose of Scripture. God tells us what we need to know.

So Scripture is history (although read through and edited to meet the needs of God's people) but it also the Word of God that tells us how to believe and live.

BUT Scripture is historical in the sense that God acts in history. If the Exodus didn't happen then a vital part of the story is lost. If Jesus didn't die on the cross then a vital part of the history is lost. I would say the same for the resurrection but I don't think that can be proven one way or the other historically.

Anonymous said...

Kattie,

Sleep easy tonight. It is NOT all about you.

Your quoting of C-67 and Doug Hagler's mushy doctrine of the Word reminded me of how often I have seen C-67 misused on this count in a variety of places.

My view of your motives? What does that have to do with anything? You would be the best one to talk about YOUR motives. I don't care to speculate.

Jim Berkley
Seattle, WA

Doug Hagler said...

Ah Jim, I always enjoy your characterization of me.

Viola: for me, the problem comes form the word "infallible". I have never seen any human being, or any creation of human beings, that is infallible. If the Bible is infallible, then faith, trust, have no meaning at all, because you're just reaing a clear instructional guide, right? It can have no mistakes in it, so just follow along? That isn't my experience of life or of reading the Bible and trying to apply it. It also is not my experience of many intelligent, well-meaning people who disagree. How could that be possible when there is this 'infallible' document right there to refer to?

Jim Berkeley, all due respect, is a great example of this. For Jim, it is impossible for intelligent, well-meaning people to disagree with him. So when people like me disagree, we must be "mushy" (unintelligent) or ill-meaning, perhaps. Perhaps we are captive to demonic powers of culture, or whatever he comes up with to explain it.

For me, it's much simpler - intelligent, well-meaning people disagree about the word of God, how to put it to use, and what it means. Period. End of story.

What's left for us is to find some way forward even though we are limited, fallible beings.

All of us but Jim Berkeley, of course (tongue in cheek there, Jim - I just can't find a second cheek to turn today it seems).

Viola Larson said...

First off Doug, the b. definition in the Merriam Webster’s definition of mushy is “lacking in definition or precision.” (a. has to do with emotional sentimentality, I am sure that is not what Jim meant.)

That b. one isn’t an insult but a description of your definition. And I have to admit although I would not use the word I am still not understanding how something can be God’s word, authoritative and yet not be altogether true. And you haven’t explained that yet.

I find it far easier to understand the humanity of the Scriptures and yet understand them to be the infallible word of God because God is the ultimate author then to see them as God’s words yet untruthful.

Kattie W. Coon said...

"Sleep easy tonight. It is NOT all about you."

Thanks for your response Jim, but I thought I made it clear in my reply to Bob that I thought it wasn't all about me, so I guess I did get some limited information about what goes on inside your head concerning me. Your view of my motives is, in my opinion, of some importance, as it goes to whether or not it might be at all meaningful or fruitful to even have a conversation with you. I'm not sure the term speculation is necessarily the operative word here, there’s also the possibility of a conditioned reflex reaction. As you know, we two do have a history in place.

Now, I must admit that I do get a little touchy with regard to C-67, and any implication (real or imagined) that I might be interpreting it badly. My knowledge of C-67 was influenced to a great extent by someone (a fine conservative Calvinist) who had the honor and responsibility to serve on the team of 15 who were commissioned to revise it prior to the final submission to GA.

Based on my personal reading of C-67 and also what I was taught about it, I find nothing in Doug’s “Word of God” description (Feb 6, 12:34 PM) objectionable or the least bit “mushy”.

Kattie
Huntsville, Al

Doug Hagler said...

Well, I guess it was interesting to try, though no understanding seems to have occurred. I honestly have no idea how to be more clear, and haven't read any reason for infallibility except the assertion that it is so, rather than a human document. I.e. "it is infallible because I believe it is infallible," or must be so, etc. It all seem simply assumed de facto going in, and I guess I see no reason to make the same assumption (and numerous reasons not to) Anyway, it was worthwhile to try...hopefully. Maybe in a while I'll give it another shot and see if we can communicate somehow.

Doug Hagler said...

Re mushiness - maybe. My mush was sufficiently clear for two degrees, passing ords, becoming a candidate (with a unanimous vote), serving as a chaplain, being certified ready to receive a call and now receiving a call.

I repeat that the problem is more likely difficulty communicating - nothing new in bloggyland.

Kattie W. Coon said...

I take it your becoming a candidate didn't take place in Sacramento Presbytery.

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
This is way off of the subject, but we have a wide range of views on the Scripture in our Presbytery.

Doug Hagler said...

Viola: glad to hear it!

Kattie W. Coon said...

Viola,

That wasn't the point. He stated the vote was unanimous. Given what I have detected between you and Doug's friend Aric, I surmised that you would not have voted in Doug's favor (assuming of course that you were given the opportunity).

Pastor Bob said...

Ya know folks we sure didn't spend a lot of time report.

Having said that I would suggest that we might (or might not) agree that Scripture is infallible in what God purposes to do with it AND that such infallibility is not externally verifiable.

Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession says it best, I think when it says that there are all kinds of wonderful things about Scripture but that you can't get the message (that is a message that inculcates belief) without the action of the Holy Spirit.

This doesn't mean that the reader will not understand the meaning of the text (except for more problematic ones). It rather means that the understanding does not produce belief. Thus belief seeks understanding. Understanding might seek belief but cannot find belief with the Holy Spirit.

HA! A Calvinist interpretation of Calvinist confessions!

Viola Larson said...

Interesting Bob,
I was just reading that first chapter. and after those good things in and about Scripture,the wording is:

"yet, not withstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the imward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.(6.003)
The veres given in the note are also very good.

Debbie said...

Doug, you are tending to personalize issues when you should be thinking about the ideas, not the people. Here are some examples relating to Jim:

"Ah Jim, I always enjoy your characterization of me." Jim didn't characterize you; he said something about your doctrine.

"For Jim, it is impossible for intelligent, well-meaning people to disagree with him. So when people like me disagree, we must be "mushy" (unintelligent) or ill-meaning, perhaps. Perhaps we are captive to demonic powers of culture, or whatever he comes up with to explain it." Here because you disagree with Jim, you have assigned reasoning to Jim that is actually completely untrue. It is because he knows that intelligent and well-meaning people disagree with him that he argues with them. What would be the point if the people weren't intelligent and capable of understanding argumentation? Similarly, if they weren't well-meaning, there would be no point in arguing, because the opponents would be rigidly stuck to their position in order to accomplish their nefarious purposes, whatever they might be. So you can stop making those uncharitable assumptions about those (including Jim) who disagree with you, and start considering people like Jim and Viola to also be intelligent and well-meaning, just as you are.

Jim characterized your doctine as mushy because to him it appears mushy, not because it's impossible for him to think of you as intelligent, and therefore by default your argument must be mushy. Heed your own words. Give your opponent (and not just Jim) some credit. The debates in the church will make much more progress if everyone does this.

As a personal note, you left a comment on one of my blogs, and my initial response wasn't thoughtful enough, but I read it to Jim, and he said, "Doug may be right there."

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Doug Hagler said...

Sorry Debbie, you're right, I was doing the thing I was accusing Jim of. That was out of line. I was in fact bringing in other baggage from previous engagements with Jim on his blog - the reason(s) I don't comment there anymore or really get into anything with him.

I do assume that Jim and Viola are intelligent and well-meaning - Viola particularly (which is why I attempted this epic-failed conversation on her blog). In all honesty, I think Jim and I get into it because we have the same bad habits when commenting on blog threads. Really non-engagement is probably the best course, and I'll work on continuing in it.

I did think Pastor Bob brought something up that I agree with and which bothers me - that scripture's infallibility is not externally verifiable. That's a big problem for me with the infallibility issue I suppose. For me 'not externally verifiable' seems a lot like 'not verifiable', since I have not experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit which would convince me otherwise as of yet.

Debbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie said...

(In rereading my comment I realized I had written unclearly, so here it is again more clearly.)

Thanks, Doug, I appreciate your comments. And I can guarantee you that Jim has never written you (or most progressives) off, although he may have used wording that would be more hyperbolic (or "colorful" as he puts it) than I might use, and could tend to make people feel angry with him. He and I have often talked about the good intentions that those on the other side must have, even though they and we have very different viewpoints.

As for the infallibility of Scripture, you know that we don't mean inerrancy when we say that, but rather infallibility on matters about faith and practice. But it's true that it's something we take on faith. But there is one thing that troubles me, and take this as a rhetorical question: if you don't believe in the infallibility of Scripture, what do you use for your ultimate authority for judgment of which parts are true and which aren't?

Ultimately the answer to this question must be yourself. And I'd rather trust Scripture than myself. My multitudes of times of reading it all the way through, over and over, unscholarly (Biblically) though I am, have left me with the impression that it hangs together very well, and is also good and fair, and in the small parts where it seems troubling, I am content to leave that to God to know best about what it really means.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Doug Hagler said...

...I don't really understand what it is to trust scripture rather than yourself. I mean, you are the one reading scripture, using your mind the entire time, bringing your assumptions and context to the reading, your imagination, etc. Every reader will have a different experience of scripture, in my view and experience.

If by "trust scripture" you mean return to it again and again for meaning, correction, insight, challenge and so on, then I trust scripture. If by "trust scripture" you mean...I'm not sure, that scripture acts upon me without me being involved or making decisions about interpretation...? Then I'd have to say I don't.

My observation is that everyone who reads scripture preferences some parts over others, and my guess is that bias comes from what a person brings to scripture and the interpretive decisions they make while reading it. I'm no different - in fact, I'm my own most available source of data on this.

So when we disagree, I assume that it is just us disagreeing (maybe for good reasons, maybe not), and not one of us receiving a transmission of objective truth and the other missing out...

If that is the case, I'm just tuned into the wrong channel or something.

Debbie said...

I mean that I trust that what it says about faith and practice (including morals) is true. So if I'm inclined to want to think something different, nevertheless I follow what Scripture says. That would be true, for example, in areas related to sex. Or money. Or truthfulness.

It would be easier and more pleasant in the short term to do what I want or what culture says is right in all of the above areas (e.g. go with the flow of cultural sexual mores and not bug people about sexual relationships, and therefore have a much easier time of it, or keep all my money instead of giving away 10% to the church and then more to other stuff, or go ahead and tell little white lies to make myself look better), but Scripture says otherwise, so I act according to what Scripture says.

Of course I mess up in all these areas, but that's what confession, repentance, forgiveness, and regeneration are for.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Doug Hagler said...

I still imagine it must be a critical, selective process. Do you speak in worship or uncover your hair? I am quite certain you would never put someone to death for lying with a man as with a woman. Do you assume that slavery is always wrong? Do you think God would ever command genocide/infanticide, or would you call those evil by definition?

There are probably dozens of examples where you differ with something scripture days about faith, practice and morality (otherwise it would be very hard to function in most
modern societies) Probably, like me, you can justify these departures by citing other parts of same.

If I tried to take everything scripture says about faith, practice and morality as literally true and directed at me - I can't make sense of how I'd even begin.

What I'm left with is the necessity to compare, consider, make choices and look at what results. The culture or scripture dichotomy you set up doesn't encompass my main challenges.

Doug Hagler said...

By challenges I mean in my everyday life and practice.

Viola Larson said...

Doug,
I am finding The Westminster Confession of Faith so helpful and in those particular places you are writing about. Right after the place where the Confession insists that it must finally be the Holy Spirit which witnesses to us that the Scriptures are true (6.005) there is a whole section that speaks to the problems you are writing about.

The confession speaks of how some things are so clear but others are not and in that case one uses scripture to interpret scripture.
"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one)it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly." (6.009)

I found this was helpful in areas in which some try to make the food laws of the Hebrew Bible the same as laws about sexuality. But if you read the section in Acts where God gives Peter a vision of unclean animals and tells him to kill and eat, the explanation about the food code is so clear. These word’s, “What God has cleansed no longer consider unholy,” answers the question about food laws, as does Colossians 2:8-23. And it was by Jesus’ death on the cross that such laws are no longer applicable to our faith. While on the other hand the sexual sins and all others committed by our old nature are also under his blood so to speak but we are meant to walk in a new life and repent of such sin. We are called to die to such sin.

And of course there are hard places that no one can quite grasp. I think we understand the wrath and judgment of God but it is hard to fathom how God could use sinful humanity in such matters as in Joshua. I won’t argue with you about hard to understand that seems, but I will still argue with you that it is still God’s word.

Kattie W. Coon said...

Ok, so God rescinded the food laws through His words in Acts and Colossians, I'll agree with you there. I would submit that if we are to follow Westminster Ch 1 and your chronological ordering argument, we should follow the clearest statements and hold on to them unless they are later rescinded by God’s words. So, where are God's words rescinding His words in 1 Cor 14:34-35, or failing that, what parts of scripture speak more clearly than those verses about that specific topic?

Pastor Bob said...

Frankly what concerns me it that there are parts of the Scripture that are very clear but we just kind of push them aside. Example "Forgive your enemies, pray for those who curse you." Simple and clear, yes? But is is one of the most difficult of commands.

I recommend that GA paper on the authority and interpretation of Scripture (83 or 84?) as a guide. The clearer interprets the less clear but there are other parts to interpretation including the principles of love and faith.

I wonder if our confidence in the Holy Spirit has been pushed aside in our scholarly pursuits and our attending to the principle of love has been pushed aside in our certainly that we are right.

And on top of that the interpretation of Scripture, while often a solitary pursuit is best examined through the work of others. The Church, after all, is not a group of individuals but the Bride of Christ, one first and then individuals.

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
I was using the text as an example- of how Westminster Confession of Faith insists we do biblical theology or the exegete of the Word. I am not going to now start on a different debate about women in ministry. But the question has been addressed in several books by Evangelicals, several in fact, in the nineteenth century. I think they actually do a better job than many liberals. Are you aware that the Salvation Army and the Assembly’s of God have always had women teachers and preachers?

Viola Larson said...

And yes, the text must be reconciled with the text. And it can be.

Kattie W. Coon said...

"And yes, the text must be reconciled with the text. And it can be."

With as much clarity as 1 Cor 14:34-35? I don't think so. I don't think our brothers in the PCA and other denominations who consider themselves Orthodox and hold to the Westminster Confession would agree with you there either.

In my opinion, by your own apparent rules, you would misuse Scripture and the Confessions in a similar manner as those whom you criticize.

"I wonder if our confidence in the Holy Spirit has been pushed aside in our scholarly pursuits and our attending to the principle of love has been pushed aside in our certainly that we are right."

Me to Bob. I keep thinking of Micah 6 and Matthew 23.

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
Just for anyone's information that might be listening to this conversation, Stanley J Grenz has a book, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry that addresses that passage. I once audited a class by him on human sexuality. Very good.
Another book that addresses 1 Tim. 2:11-15, by Richard & Catherine Clark Kroeger I Suffer Not a Women: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in light of Ancient Evidence , and also by Richard Bauckham Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels

Doug Hagler said...

Debbie: I have never endeavored to argue that scripture is not God's word, only what precisely "God's word" means in practice.

I also recall the principle of using scripture to interpret scripture, and that is also an example of the complex endeavor that interpreting scripture becomes. In some cases, a given question can become clear, and in others it is never seemingly clear. Again, the infallibility is not 'externally verifiable'. By which I mean, looking at scripture, apart from the intervention of the HS, it does not appear to be infallible.

As we go on, I'm increasingly suspicious that we're saying similar things but privileging different principles because of who we are and our experiences.

For example, in grouping the laws against sex with same-gender temple prostitutes in Leviticus (and even Paul's anti-effeminism in some of his epistles) with the food purity laws, many scholars have also used scripture to interpret scripture, using the same principle the Westminster Confession (and the Reformers) presents. The claim that they are simply succumbing to cultural pressures does not take their arguments seriously. That is, there is an argument there between more intelligent, well-meaning people.

So, to me, it seems that fallibility is present somewhere. It is clearly the human element which is fallible, and I can see how putting it aside would require a miraculous intervention of the HS. The problem is then two: 1. what is the proof that the HS is present in one interpretation and not in another? and 2. what about those, like me, who don't feel this intervention and are left dealing with human fallibility in everything, including scripture interpretation?

Kattie W. Coon said...

So it's your contention that the scriptural references in those books speak more clearly than 1 Cor 14:34-35? I find that very difficult to believe. If those truly were God's own words, why should we not believe the plain meaning of them? What could be clearer? If there are other words in Scripture (i.e. also belonging to God) that negate those in 1 Cor 14:34-35 (as opposed to 1 Tim 2:11-15 which support them), what does that really say about God and God's words?

Pastor Bob said...

Again, we have come a long way from marriage.

Kattie, do you believe women should not be ordained? And if not on what basis do you argue scripturally? I have my own grounds that go back to Genesis 2 and runs through Deborah, Jesus' female disciples (some of whom fit the basic translation of an apostle who who is sent with a message), Priscilla, Junia in Romans, Ephesians 5, etc. One of the things I learned early on was that the argument that direct teaching (favoring Paul's letters) is not a good way to use Scripture. It leads Calvinists to interesting statements that God chose Deborah because there weren't any men available. When does a God who calls the unlikely ever had a problem finding a man when necessary? Should God have chosen a woman instead of Jonah?

In other words narrative should not be overruled by Paul as some from the fundamentalist camp have argued.

Doug, a brief observation. I don't think that Leviticus talks about homosexual temple prostitutes. Deuteronomy yes. I suggest Rosemary Ruether as an example of a scholar who agrees with me. Both the text and the context rule against the suggestion that Leviticus talks about male temple prostitutes.

Pastor Bob said...

Oh and Kattie

Paul talks in 1 Cor 11 about women prophesying and praying in public worship. They just have to wear something on their heads! How does that teaching square with chapter 14? It makes me ask what was the context in Corinth for both instructions.

Kattie W. Coon said...

Bob,

I'm not saying that I am personally against the ordination of women. I am all for it. I'm just pointing out that Viola's assertion that the Bible is "the words of God" (as opposed to God's Word) in conjunction with the Westminster Confession Chapter 1 will ultimately lead her in directions she herself is unwilling to go.

As for getting off topic; I don't think I did. It was Viola who asserted that the committee didn't use the Bible as the "word of God". I was responding to that and pointing out that they may not have come to a consensus as to what the "word of God" is in their particular context. Apparently Viola thinks that it should have been abundantly clear to them, and also agrees with her reading.

---------------

My reading of 1 Cor 11 and 1 Cor 14 places them in different contexts. There is nothing wrong in Paul’s eyes with a woman praying or prophesying as long as she has her head covered, and as long as she is silent inside the church. She is also never to be placed in a position of authority over a man. Now if these scriptures are truly the “words of God”, as Viola put it, then we should obey them. It is my contention that they are not the “words of God”, but rather the words of a man (Paul) consistent with what was pointed out in C-67.

Debbie said...

I'm not theologically educated, and so I can't bring in a lot of the references that the rest of you can, so I'm just answering from decades of faith, and a little bit of knowledge that I've gained from being a pastor's wife, and from over 30 years of reading the entire Bible cover to cover, bit by bit each day. And it's true that you don't need to be educated in order to understand the Bible, otherwise why would God give it to us?

Anyway, I have two observations to make:

1. Where the Bible has a consistent statement to make, such as that homosexual sex is wrong, or that lying is wrong, I follow that.

2. Where the Bible says different things in different places, such as regarding women in leadership (and Bob has pointed out some of these differing passages), I allow room for interpretation. So I don't blame, e.g., the PCA for not allowing women ministers, but I don't blame, e.g., the PCUSA for having them. This is one of the things that I leave it to God to understand why there is some apparent confusion in the Bible.

That's from a strong believer, but an amateur theologian.

In the long run, it's my utter confidence in God that determines everything else.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Pastor Bob said...

Kattie

The context in I Cor 11 suggests that the women praying and prophesying do so out loud. That suggests to me that Paul either contradicts himself in the same letter or that he was referring to something happening in Corinth that is not clear to the modern reader because we don't know what was happening in Corinth. One presumes that the Corinthian Christians would have gotten the message because it was happening in their congregation(s).

One of the things I say regularly in response to questions in Bible classes is "I'm sorry but the text doesn't say." And often our questions have nothing to do with the intention of the author.

Kattie W. Coon said...

I would think that prophesying silently would be a little silly, so yes it would be out loud, with head covered, and not inside the church.

Viola Larson said...

"Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortion and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies ,edifies the church." (1 Cor 14:1-4)

Pastor Bob said...

Kattie

The context suggests worship. There is a lot of speculation about why women in Corinth had to wear something on their heads (and not just in worship) although Paul's reasoning is interesting here (and follows a path other Pharisees follow). But since angels are mentioned on might reasonably think that the context is worship.

If this then contradicts Chpt. 14 then we are back to the question(s) what were the specific reasons given for Paul's statements. Here Paul makes a theological argument. In 14 he just basically says that wives should shut up and ask their husbands at home. So what was going on in worship in 14 as compared to 11? 11 suggests that women prayed (presumably out loud as otherwise who would have known?) and prophesied must have something on their heads (and that short hair is the natural state of men? Curious, huh). 14 says that women shouldn't talk during worship but should ask their questions of their husbands at home. Can we draw any conclusions from all of this or just say:

1. We don't have a clue;
2. Paul's theories on why men come first (then women then men) are curious and we don't see how they connect to women wearing head coverings in worship;
3. Why are women allowed to talk in worship in 11 but not in 14?

A final note: women wore head coverings of some sort (often hats) when I was growing up back in the 1950s. This ended sometime in the early 1960's before Women's Liberation. I don't know why.

Kattie W. Coon said...

"The context suggests worship."

Worship of God is not confined to the walls of the church. Otherwise, why would Paul tell us to "pray without ceasing" and "In everything give thanks" (1 Thes 5).

I see no reason to be compelled into concluding that 1 Cor 11 is talking specifically about prayer and prophesy inside the church. That conclusion seems to lead to a contradiction with 1 Cor 14. As I see it, the clarity of 1 Cor 14 should be used to clarify the context of 1 Cor 11. After all 1 Cor 11 is somewhat vague in its context, and 1 Cor 14 is not. It seems to me Westminster Ch 1 would lead us to use chapter 14 to better understand chapter 11.

Pastor Bob said...

Kattie

Interesting. Goes against most if not all interpretation since 1975 but then again one could see that interpretation as "Women should be leaders in the Church so the passages must mean . . ." Except in those denominations that refuse to ordain women.

Funny story: back in the 1860s a pastor decided that a man (himself) should be present to pray at the Women's Prayer Circle (or whatever they called it then). Upon attending his first meeting he discovered that the women were better prayers than most of the men he knew and decided in the future to leave them to their own prayers.

Viola Larson said...

What a great story Bob.

Doug Hagler said...

As a final note, I'm fine with men and women being equal the same way I'm ok with genocide being wrong. I think we've long since resolved that question as a society and I see no value in approving of any religious organization pretending women are second-class citizens. I don't think the PCA has any leg to stand on, and that denying ordination to women is completely absurd.