Friday, October 23, 2009

When Interpretations Differ - To What Authority Do We Appeal?

Christians often disagree in how they interpret Scripture. Sometimes these disagreements are minor and fail to rise to any level of concern. They can safely "agree to disagree" without compromising the integrity of their faith. On other occasions the disagreements set two interpretations against one another with the claim that those with whom they disagree are teaching "contrary to the Word of God." At this level it is impossible to "agree to disagree," for the integrity of the witness is at stake.

Yet how do Lutherans resolve such differences? With our historic teaching that "scripture interprets scripture" does this not place us in a 'no win' position of having in the end to embrace both views? Roman Catholics can appeal to the magisterium of their bishops to resolve the differences as they in turn appeal to the ancient cannons of their teachings. But Lutherans do not appeal to anything 'above' the clear Word of God. God's Word is the final authority.

The Lutheran Study Bible has a helpful note on dealing with this subject in the introductory articles at the beginning of the Bible. Under "How to Read and Study the Holy Bible" on pages xxvi-xxx, the general editor outlines some very instructive points, such as the Scripture focuses on Jesus Christ, the Scripture agrees with itself, the scripture is understood through context, etc. However, even when these principles are used, how does one deal with the potential problem of the 'renegade interpreter' who pits himself against the generally accepted teaching of the church? Under the section entitle "The Holy Spirit Leads Us to Confession of Faith with the Church," the editor writes:

Never imagine that believers exist without the Church...When the Holy Spirit calls someone to faith, He likewise calls that person to serve in the congregation of the faithful (2 Tim 3:16-17). A Christian should not set out to interpret Scripture by himself, in isolation from other believers. God's people meditate on Scripture together (1 Tm 4:13) and interpret Scripture in view of Scripture.

Life together in the Church requires unity, because people cannot dwell together long without agreement (1 Cor 1:9-10).....[The editor outlines the various 'confessions' the church has developed over the centuries to guide the Church and address abuses, then share the following.] ....The need for these "rules of faith" should call us to humility, to acknowledge that our own reason, experiences, interests, and opinions are distorted by the effects of sin. Just a surely as a child needs the faithful guidance of parents and teachers to learn how to read new believers also need the community of faith to learn how to read the Holy Scriptures. Even Jesus - the Word of God in the flesh - humbly listened to the teachers at the temple in Jerusalem (Lk 2:46). the creeds and confessions are a written record of how God's people faithfully interpret Scripture."

No comments: