Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is Some of the Bible No Longer 'Applicable'?

Some comments by Dr. Becker have continued to trouble me and I would like to work with it here for a moment.  He has stated: "The prophetic and apostolic gospel frees us from many Scriptural texts that are no longer binding or applicable for Gentile Christians."  In particular he is referring to such texts as circumcision and OT sacrifices and such. However, he also believes that parts of scripture are "culturally conditioned," and we therefore need to balance the "historic meaning with the contemporary understanding."  Many times he has stated that such an approach to scripture has backing from past sources in the Synod's history, and yet every time I hear him speak this way it sounds strangely foreign to my ears.  I can't help but wonder where all this must lead.  He appears to embrace the essential message of the gospel, as far as I can tell. That is, he hasn't denied salvation through Christ, etc.  He gives the impression that teachings such as women's ordination and evolution do not impact directly on this central gospel message.  He also goes to great lengths to try to prove that the inerrancy of scripture is not something that the reformers embraced and is a latecomer to the theological scene.  We should be free, he seems to say, to change our views on certain parts of scripture as culture dictates, all in the spirit of Christian freedom.

But I ask again, where does all this eventually lead?  Where do we stop?  What is holding us back from questioning key doctrines of Christ and the Trinity or other essential doctrines of the Faith?  If one has followed the modern history of the large, liberal mainline denominations, we already know that such denials are not only possible, but have occurred.  The very doctrine of God has not only been denied, other models have been substituted even in the context of worship.  As I noted in an earlier post regarding the doctrine of creation and the literal understanding of Genesis 1 & 2, the very doctrine of sin itself is at issue if evolution is embraced.  Does death follow the entry of sin into the world?  "In the day you eat of it you shall surely die," they were told.  But if we embrace the evolutionary model we must put death well before this revelation.  And if we believe modern man is an evolutionary development from a lower form, at one point is man held accountable?  And if Adam and Eve are only 'representative' of the firm "hominoids,"  why does Jesus refer to them as real persons?  Was the Son of God also subject to the limitations of cultural understanding?  And is this is so, what of his teachings can we take at face value?  Are the form, redaction, literary and other 'critics' right that what we possess is only the upper layer below which exists the real truth, if we can even know it?  

I recognize that certain texts may not be immediately applicable to me today, at least not in a practical sense.  Becker notes circumcision, for one, and I acknowledge that I am no longer required to be circumcised as a sign of my covenant inclusion.  That said, do we merely set this aside now as outdated and irrelevant?  When Becker sees circumcision he seems to see a custom no longer applicable to the modern situation.  When I see circumcision my mind goes to the reason for its original requirement, and then its final fulfillment in the circumcision of our Lord Jesus.  Since my life is "hid with Christ in God," his circumcision impacts my life and faith.  I stand with all who were circumcised, all God's people stretching back to Abraham, the first to be circumcised.  

So too with the many  Old Testament sacrifices.   Am I required to sacrifice various animals on a stone altar as was done right up to the time of our Lord?  Of course not.  Why?  They are all fulfilled in Christ.  Yet because they are fulfilled, do we essentially 'move on' from them as no loner relevant to the topics at hand now?  For me they are relevant as I look back at the various purposes for these sacrifices and note how they 'flesh out' the fulness of what our Lord did in his own sacrificial death.  To disregard the older testament as something we are 'freed from' tempts us to see it as unnecessary to our full understanding of the newer testament.  Any study of the Apocalypse requires a prior knowledge of such books as Ezekiel and Daniel, to name just a couple.  John was immersed in the Old Testament and its imagery.  So much of the Old Testament helps to inform the New.  

Which takes us to the issue of women in the church.  Paul appeals to the Old Testament for support as he commands that women be liturgically silent in the worshiping community.  He goes all the way back to Genesis, in fact.  If this part of the Bible is "culturally conditioned," then someone forgot to clue in Paul.  He takes it at face value.   It underscores his point.  The Law still informs.  And not once does he seem to think that appealing to it compromises our freedom in the Gospel.  

Whether one chooses to use terms such as infallible and inerrant, the premise behind what they imply is critical.  For once they are abandoned, we are left to choose what seems applicable and relevant to us today and ultimately no doctrine is safe from revision.  I have never figured out how to preach under such a compromised situation.  When I enter the pulpit I take God's Word 'cover to cover' as the full truthful witness of the Almighty in all its parts.  I do not take modern science with me there to critique what the Bible says.  The Word of God stands on its own.  That is what makes it a divine revelation.   

Try as I might, I cannot embrace Dr. Becker's views.  Thank you for indulging this brief exercise in 'thinking out loud.'  

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