Dusty Bibles?

June 6, 2012 | Editorial | Number 12
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

Dusting off our Bibles for assembly?

If indeed they are dusty, something has gone wrong for the people of the Book.

No, writes Deb Froese for Mennonite Church Canada, in explaining this theme, we don’t mean to imply people aren’t reading their Bibles. Rather, we want them to “look at Scriptures with new eyes, learning to see beyond the familiar, so that we can apply biblical teachings to life in today’s world.”

Indeed. This is an important clarification because I am getting mixed messages from some readers of Canadian Mennonite. On the one hand, there are those who think our content is not “spiritual” enough and that we are no longer “scripturally based.” Disturbed about our focus on the Occupy Movement on the front cover and an inside story, and our discussion on sexuality late last year, a Calgary reader wrote that we are becoming so issue-oriented that we have forgotten our primary calling: to “promote the gospel.”

On the other hand, one of our columnists this year, raising questions about our view of the Bible in going through the process of Being a Faithful Church, wrote: “The Bible as we have it is not self-evidently authoritative,” and warned that, even though we “ultimately claim [it] as the final authority,” it may become an “authoritative object, or idol,” rather than life’s guidebook.

Difficult words, these. One seems to be forcing a dichotomy between life’s “issues” and the gospel; the other on how we use the Bible as we wend our way through the conversation around current “issues” facing MC Canada congregations, indeed on such thorny topics as sexuality and what it means to be a “peace” church.

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My response to both is yes!

First, Canadian Mennonite is not a denominational Guideposts or Daily Bread, which focus on devotional material. We are primarily a news journal that opens with a “thought” feature and other opinion pieces by columnists. All of our editorial content is published within a framework of “spirituality” and “Scripture,” based on assumptions in our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. No, we don’t sprinkle our stories and articles with Scripture verses, although they are often referenced when discussing an “issue.”

As Anabaptist Christians, we live in a world of real struggle and mystery. We do not live in convents or communes. Divorce, mental health or “ill health,” class warfare, roles of men and women, violence, injustice, sexuality, degradation of the environment, creeping militarism in our government, are all parts of our daily lives and are issues to which the good news of Jesus brings “healing and hope,” to use a few of the buzzwords we employ as a context for our faithfulness.

The good news (or gospel) is operative in all of these “issues.” To divide them is to revert back to an outdated and sometimes deceptive division between “sacred” and “secular.” To somehow christen our stories and opinion with Scripture would be a fabrication and once again reinforce the false premise that we are one kind of person in the pew on Sunday morning and another at the workplace on Monday morning.

Rather, we consider Scripture (or the Word) to be Logos—God becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14). It is far more inspiring to look for the God ethos in all of these issues, rather than to dampen them down with Scripture verses that have a dated King James ring to them. God is alive and living within us as agents of his grace and power, not locked up in an ancient text recited as a kind of creed.

When I married my wife, I promised “to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer,” but I don’t begin my morning routine reciting that vow to make it valid in our lives together. Rather, my daily words, actions and attitude towards her are concrete evidence that I have integrated that promise into my living and being.

Likewise, in our Christian walk. With the Bible as our guide, not as a rulebook or icon, or, God forbid, not as a weapon with which to force others into our interpretation of its words, we walk carefully and humbly with our sisters and brothers in discerning the “way” in all of our “issues.”

If we consider our Bibles only as a code of conduct, then maybe it’s time to dust them off and see them with a “new set of eyes.”

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Comments

Thank you, Dick. As one who lives in a community in Eastern Ontario that has traditionally been a stronghold for mainline Protestant denominations it isn't hard to see what the divisive discussion about faith/works has done. Many of the United Churches in this community, for example, have closed, become amalgamated with other congregations, or have simply been sold off and turned into art galleries and restaurants. True, there is a number of reasons for this, but not least of which is that denominations like the United Church long ago began drawing a line between social justice and the authority of scripture. Another way to think of this debate is in how one views Jesus: Is he Man or God?

My question is this: why should we have to choose? The mystery and power of the Gospel is located in how Christ is BOTH human and Divine at the same time. Our good works as Jesus followers naturally flow from his identity as Yahweh in human flesh.

Let us not go down the same road as other denominations. May it be that we never force one another to choose between social justice and the Bible. Let us preach, live, and strive for justice precisely because Jesus is simultaneously the Son of Man, and the Son of God.

Even more pointedly: Our social justice programs only make sense when we recognize Jesus seated upon the throne of God, just as our evangelistic efforts only become effective when we see the need to bring justice to those being oppressed.

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