Recently, I watched a video by Monica Dennington where she took renown pastor, John Piper, to task for comments he made regarding women’s place in missionary work. To her point, he quoted the Bible very little, and nearly tripped over his own words in saying that women can do evangelical work in the missionary field, but need to do it in a way that does not usurp authority over men.
I do not write this article for the purpose of exploring that particular subject. My view on the matter echoes her own. (For convenience, I have made a link to the ten minute video below for your convenience). Instead, I wish for us to focus on a much larger subject, how we interpret God’s Word.
I once heard a comment made that if one wanted, one could interpret God’s word to support slavery. Indeed. in doing a wee bit of research on wikipedia, I found the following information under “Southern Baptists,” currently one of the largest denominations.
Slavery in the 19th century became the most critical moral issue dividing Baptists in the United States. Struggling to gain a foothold in the South, after the American Revolution, the next generation of Baptist preachers accommodated themselves to the leadership of southern society. Rather than challenging the gentry on slavery and urging manumission (as did the Quakers and Methodists), they began to interpret the Bible as supporting the practice of slavery and encouraged good paternalistic practices by slaveholders. They preached to slaves to accept their places and obey their masters.
Many of the divisions found in churches result from taking segments of the Old Testament and Epistles, and turning them into various rules and regulations. At the same time, they completely ignore other parts at their convenience. One church preaches tithing, as seen in the book of Micah, but ignores Paul’s admonishment to allow multiple people to talk during church gatherings. Another church says women cannot teach, quoting Paul, but admit that he also says, elsewhere, that women can share prophesy with the group.
If you discuss these clear issues with your pastor, he may mention hermeneutics, the branch of study dealing with interpretation of the Biblical text. He may have some very good reasons for choosing and emphasizing certain scriptures over others. However, as I have looked into such approaches, I have become concerned that most use an awful lot of biased intellect in determining which passages to enforce as church bi-laws, and which to ignore.
Having read the Bible several times, and spoken with a dozen different denominations, I struggled with the issue myself. The Bible, after all, says that we should look to God’s work for instruction, direction and guidance. Yet, what do I make of these passages which seem to contradict each other? Then, a thought occurred to me. What if those passages explaining the importance of God’s Word only referred to those passages where Jesus/God spoke directly or where others spoke about God directly?
Think about it. Most accept that the psalms, while somehow inspired, reveal the longings, passions and thoughts of an imperfect man, David. While we consider those words directed by the Holy Spirit, we do not take them as literal direction. Ecclesiastes, with the message about the meaningless of life, is never preached as a literal truth from any pulpit. Yet, many church take Proverbs 31 (the chapter about the virtuous woman), and try to interpret it into a set of strong suggestions, or even rules, on how women should live their lives.
In the old testament, the Bible pulls no punches in showing us the lives of men and women who lead imperfect lives. While we admire the faith they have, we clearly should not learn from their selfishness, greed and drunkenness. We have numerous Old Testament laws which, for the most part, we do not teach today. Yet, in regards to certain subjects, I hear the same passage quoted time and again from those books.
Later, in the New Testament, Paul and Peter write to address problems within the churches of that time. Many of our leaders take bits and pieces of their direction, and apply it to churches today. They ‘cherry pick’ those passages that justify subjects such as hierarchy in the church, tithing, and, yes, limiting women’s roles. Yet, they ignore or minimize other passages which would challenge the status quo.
Jesus laid down few rules and regulations, yet those He did challenge us to the core. What if the Epistles, rather than existing to give our current church a hidden list of additional regulations, simply showed us Paul and Peter’s attempts to take the truth and love of Christ and apply it to the challenge of the culture of their time? In other words, what if they show us application of the principles Jesus set forth?
Suddenly, the Bible reads much differently. The core message of the fallen state of man, the need for salvation, and God’s love, remain the same. The ambiguous list of rules, regulation, hierarchy, and confusion caused by it all, slowly evaporates. This is just the tip of a much larger iceberg, but I must leave, for now. Think about it, and let me know your thoughts.