Over the last few months I have heard, at many times and in various places, a statement along the lines of, 'Everything would be a lot easier if we just did what the Bible said.' Please stop saying that. All of you. It wouldn't. We'd all be a bunch of one-eyed, amputees. And then we'd have to get the women to shut up. Get a slave. Destroy our mixed fibre clothing. Put people to death for adultery. Dispose of all our riches. Unless. Unless. Unless...
Unless we do some work with the text rather than simply doing what it says, taking evidence from the range of biblical material to see if some scriptures deserve primacy over others or need to be weighed against each other in an 'it all depends' sort of way.
This from Neil Bennetts at The Baby and the Bathwater, 'Quite frankly I get sick in the stomach watching pictures of little jean genie strutting his not very funky, and seriously un-hot stuff around the place, trying to convince us that actually the bible is wrong on standards of sexual behaviour required of leaders in the church. What a total waste of time.'
One of the Bible's key standards for a church leader, the first Paul mentions in 1 Timothy 3:2 after the general instruction that a leader must be 'above reproach,' is that he should, '...be the husband of only one wife.' No polygamy for me then.
Forgetting the rather graceless way Bishop Jean is treated here (we can tell you don't fancy him Neil, don't worry, it's probably mutual) we immediately realise that we have to so do some work with a text which appears to condone multiple wives for all but church leaders. We have to decide, for ourselves, if the biblical principle is commitment to the exclusion of all others and a single partner for life, or if the principle is one man one woman in serial monogamy, or if the principle is love and nothing more, or if the principle is no sex without commitment, or if the principle is some combination of the above. It is more, not less, than simply 'doing what the Bible says.'
A few months back, after a long discussion in our church council about the various texts in the Bible on divorce and how they were hard to reconcile, one person placed his Bible on the table in front of him and said 'It's simple. Do what it says here.' I felt a messianic moment coming on. 'Have you been with me so long and yet still you do not see?' I resisted. We had been talking about the Bible's apparent equivocalness for an hour and someone said 'It's simple.' It isn't.
We need to be very careful that we don't allow the Bible to only assist us with our prejudices. Some sexual practices may disgust some people but we need to put that feeling aside. I feel it a privilege to know Christians in civil partnerships, divorced and remarried Christians and Christians whose every step in the direction of one-to-one relationships ends in disaster. All read their Bible and take it seriously.
The great Bible scholar Dick Lucas reminds all at his preaching conferences that if you want to understand Corinthians you've got to go to Corinth. Metaphorically of course. You can't just say that the Bible said this to them then so it says it to us now.
I offer my condolences to Dick on being used illustratively in the argument of the advancing tide of liberal evangelicalism. But I think it's what I'm surfing on. Doing what the Bible says is not an easy or obvious thing. I believe the joy and job of the preacher is to study hard to make that which is not obvious, obvious. Another Lucasism that. And it seems obvious to me that relationships, biblical and contemporary, are and always have been complicated. (Last night Peter Tatchell was trying to explain to Ulster Protestants that William of Orange was gay.)
'It's complicated.' It's even an option for your Facebook status these days.
Let the mayhem commence.