Tuesday, July 29, 2008

FAQ

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.

14 comments:

Mr Gnome said...

Super post, St.

Very thoughtful and worthwhile.

Life with God - so simple, and so jolly confusing.

Oh, by the way-ette, it's Bishop Gene - as in 'Kelly' and 'Pool'

Not Jean as in 'Alexander' (aka the ineffable Hilda Ogden) and 'Harlow' and 'Luc Picard'....

Andy said...

Love it. Found myself saying Amen (in my head - I'm at work -- what kind of weirdo do you think I am?) several times whilst reading it!

Good work St!

fotofill said...

I am happy that you have spoken regarding this as I have been waiting for your thoughts for some time. I apologise if you have written, spoken or said these things before this blog.

Christians are now to see education (or liberalism as its thrown into all the same pot) as being unproductive (according to umpteen newspaper articles) and unhelpful. Christians are being asked to move towards a Majorite “Back to Basics” approach which turned out to be a disaster.

Thank you for lighting a little safety match of faith in Church lost along time ago.

Chris said...

Yeah, great points. Not much chance of following Jesus without finding out what he actually did/said I wouldn't have thought.

Caroline Too said...

I had to smile at the thought of what Dick Lucas whould have to say about your use of his name in your argument! :-)

I'm in the process of reading the Bible through from cover to cover...

I've done it before but I confess that it's hurting me more this time..

the passages towards the end of Judges "Just do what the bible says" Really?

Some of David's actions and attitudes towards his enemies "just do what the bible says" Really?

Actions of kings, generals and even prophets...

There are passages that I've have grown to hate and what causes me grief is the 'mining' work I have to do to take the passages I like out of the context of the nasty passages...

...and in the middle of all this is Jesus - uncompromising - and his followers - unpromising- and I guess that I reckon that I fit into those unpromising followers, and I see my life as fractured and as inconsistent as David's and I fear that some of the actions of today's church will look equally offensive to readers in a thousand years' time...

yes it's uncomfortable and not at all simple.

Paul Martin said...

Brilliant post!

St said...

Rory. Thanks for the spelling tip. Noted.

Mr Gnome said...

No worries!

What with worrying about what we keep in our genes and what we keep in our jeans, it's amazing there's time for anything else.


Thanks, St, for your gently corrective words to the Bathwater gentleman.

Oo-er. A few issues there, methinks!

Marcella said...

I heard someone, somewhere, recently suggest that Paul 'created' Christianity rather than Jesus. What do you reckon?

St said...

Jesus was a Jew. He pointed people to a new and intimate relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Christianity couldn't begin util he died and rose. So Jesus caused it but the early church started it.

Andy M said...

I found this post so full of common sense it was really encouraging.I find this approach so much more helpful in sorting out my doubts than our usual sermon renderings. Many thanks ST.

St said...

Folks, although I did cut and paste the quote from Neil Bennetts blog he has now taken it down (I can no longer find it anyway) and all the comments following.

Matt Wilson said...

Hey st (I was just about to call you tilley then but thought that a bit offensive)

Just wondering what your take has been on the whole GAFCON thing and its recent meeting in London and the situation in the Anglican Communion at the moment causing all this up roar

St said...

Call me what you like Matt. I'm big enough to cope. Haven't posted on that specifically but I'm a loud and proud member of the C of E with all its faults and foibles. I see no reason to leave. I'm happy with women's headship and believe people's sexuality is their business with God not mine.