There are a significant portion, perhaps as much at 15%, of the world’s Christians who believe in the concept of Sola Scriptura. That is that the Bible alone is all they need to understand and relate to God and that it is literally and absolutely totally true in every aspect. Although he personally did not believe in biblical inerrancy the ones who currently follow the teaching of Martin Luther are the most prominent in this group. They believe that God put everything he ever wanted us to know in the assembly of documents that were put together under the leadership of the Roman emperor Constantine about 1700 years ago. For them there is absolutely nothing else that can be added to God’s message either personally or globally by themselves or even seemingly by God himself.
It may seem like I am getting off track here but please bear with me. Many years ago when I was a fairly young engineer I had a terrific boss and mentor. He seemed to know absolutely everything about the products we were designing! Even before I signed up for this particular assignment I was given a basic job description of what my responsibilities would be. But of course they were not specific enough to cover any of the particular circumstance I often found myself in. But that was not problem because my boss/mentor was just a couple of doors away and his door was always open. So when I was confused about something I could “pop in” with a quick question. Not long after I had been there he decided to take a rather long vacation with his family. Before he left he wrote memos to each of us telling us what he expected us to accomplish while he was gone. In the 1970’s when this occurred the concept of a 24 hour job was fortunately not even conceived. There were no cell phones during that time and even trying to contact someone on vacation was almost never done. So, while he was gone I did my best but was certainly relieved the day he returned and I soon found myself in his office with many novice questions. He patiently answered them. I enjoyed this boss/mentor relationship for about four years and then moved on to a different organization. But I always looked back at that special relationship I had with my first boss.
Now getting back to the topic at hand, while I certainly respect others right to believe in Sola Scriptura and total and literal biblical inerrancy it does bring to my mind that, to them, God must be on vacation and has only left us a memo (the Bible) on how to do our jobs while he is gone. He doesn’t carry a cell phone so just read the memo.
Instead of just reading the memo I want a relationship with God that is on a more personal level. To know that he can give me personal advice through the Holy Spirit whenever I come across something that I don’t know quite how to handle is certainly a relieving thing. I enjoy my personal relationship with God and know that he can communicate directly to me, even outside the Bible (memo), when I need it. To me communication with God is a two way street; it is not “I talk to him” and he tells me “read the memo”. I feel sorry for those who think they have to always find the answers to life’s questions in the memo. While the memo contains a lot of valuable information and insight it just doesn’t cover every circumstance and even those that it seems to cover it is often quite difficult to discern the message as many possible answers seem to exist within its pages depending on where you look.
5 thoughts on “It’s in the memo…”
1. Please show definitive proof that Luther did not subscribe to biblical inerrancy. Do you remember what he said at the Diet of Worms? “I can’t recant, for the Word of God constrains me.” So he risked death for a book that had errors?
2. Have you read “The Canon of Scripture” by F. F. Bruce, as I suggested? If you had, you would have found that the Scriptures were already being assembled long before Constantine. St. Peter regarded St. Paul’s epistles on a par with “other Scripture.” By the early 100s, the church was already grouping together the four Gospels and Paul’s epistles into what they regarded as God’s Word, because of such heretics as Marcion. Do you think God cannot control how His Word is assembled, even if it was done, as you claim, by one man?
3. How do you discern which voice in your head is from God? If you’re like me, there are many voices, some of which are really good at pretending to be “the still small voice of God.” With what do you compare it to in deciding if it really is God or Satan (who can disguise himself as an “angel of light”) or your own imagination or just a chemical reaction? Without a standard by which to “test the spirits”, you are left with what this real-world scenerio:
Some Quaker Meetings have issued statements in full support of gay marriage; others have issued statements in complete opposition to it. Both claim that the “inner light” told them. Which one of them is right? And since they do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, they cannot consult it. As you have claimed, the Bible has errors, mistakes, and on this blog, you have claimed that not all of the words of Jesus that the disciples recorded in the Gospels were really from Jesus, which is basically accusing the disciples of lying, either deliberately or ignorantly. And since you yourself cannot determine with any kind of certainty just exactly where they lied, you can’t use the Bible as a source of truth. The only recourse you have left is what? To trust that what you think is God’s voice really is? What if you’re wrong? What if you heard wrong? What if the neurotransmitters in your brain misfired?
Pastor, I must admit that I made the previous response as I was going out the door. So, now I want to add a few things in response to your comments. The additional comments are mainly around your comments below:
since they do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, they cannot consult it.
I know this black/white rationale is somewhat typical of inerrant views. But it doesn’t align with any common sense realities. If I were to use the same logic then if I can’t say that someone is not 100% trustworthy then I must assume that everything they say or do is lies. With that logic I could trust NO one or anything in this world. I know that none of our current elected leaders are perfect. I’m sure some of the things they say are just to help them get elected. Even with that knowledge I take faith that they will do what is good for the country.
As you have claimed, the Bible has errors, mistakes, and on this blog, you have claimed that not all of the words of Jesus that the disciples recorded in the Gospels were really from Jesus, which is basically accusing the disciples of lying, either deliberately or ignorantly.
I don’t think they I have ever claimed that the bible is full of errors. I have only said some of it is stories illustrating points, some may be embellishments as it was passed down verbally for many generations and that I would not be surprised if some of it were just not factually true in every respect. To say, therefore, I am calling the disciples liars is a gross overstatement. I often pick on the Gospel of Luke since he is the only Gospel author who does not have a clear eyewitness source to Jesus’ words for what he is reporting to Theolopius. But even then I would not call Luke a liar if he simply reported something that proved to be not totally accurate. To say that someone is calling all the authors of the biblical text liars is not a productive way to encourage heartfelt conversation between people of differing views. I personally try not to do that.
since you yourself cannot determine with any kind of certainty just exactly where they lied, you can’t use the Bible as a source of truth
Of course this goes back to the previous two examples. No I can’t be certain just where misinformation or misinterpretation (which is a big difference from outright lying) is. By the same token I can’t know for sure where less than factual information is in anything that I read but I’m sure it does crop up from time to time and maybe even very often. Does that mean that I must therefore stick my head in a hole and ignore ALL information coming to me as it is all lies. To me, and I believe many others, the world is just not black and white but instead shades of grey. I can’t see how anyone could cope with present day realities if it has to be an all or nothing world to them.
Pastor, I certainly respect your right to believe in biblical inerrancy and total literal meaning. But, I hope that when others disagree with you that you also respect their right to believe as they do.
Pastor, welcome back. I assume except for the first item you are referring to my posts on Quakers and not this one. To answer your first question I refer to the fact that Luther claimed that the Epistle of James “was an epistle of straw” and did not belong in the bible. So, not only did he doubt a few words he was ready to throw out an entire book because it did not align with his beliefs. I am not a Luther scholar so maybe he recanted this belief in later years but he certainly didn’t recant his beliefs behind those words.
On the second comment, I don’t necessarily have to read the reference you provided to know that many of the books included in the Bible were considered by many to be inspired by God long before they were included in Constantine’s bible. I don’t think I inferred that and many of my previous posts acknowledge the early inspiration of many of the documents included. But there were also several books that were not included in the Bible that many believed were equally inspired. From the writings about the formation of the Bible it was obvious that Constantine was constantly looking over the shoulders of those compiling this valuable book.
Let me take up the third item about whether the personal revelation received by Quakers is from God. I guess I could say the same thing about the personal revelations that are reported in the biblical text. How can you be sure that what the writers believed were words from God were not actually from some other source? For the same thing that you imply could actually be also applied to them. Quakers and many others, including the scripture writers, believe that God has the power to speak directly to them. They believe that they, like St Paul and others can discern the difference. If you question one source of personal revelation you must question all.
Please read my entire set of posting about Quakers to get a complete understanding of my beliefs about them. Yes, I do lament the wide variety of beliefs among current Quakers. I do believe that some meetings have grossly strayed from the teahings of early Quaker writings. But this is not an unusual thing among Christian denominations today. Since Luther was brought up in your comments let’s take them as an example. ELCA Lutherans believe that Jesus was simply a bastard son of a Roman soldier. They also condone homosexual relationships. Am I to conclude therefore that all Lutherans believe this? Certainly they do not. But, all Lutherans claim Sola Scriptura so the ELCA source for the above beliefs must be the Bible.
To close out this reply, I want to again say that Quaker founders often said that we must all check our personal revelation to see how they align with the Bible. If there is a significant difference then they should, as you say, question their validity. But that is not to say that all revelation must be accounted in the Bible.
I think looking at the context of Luther’s claim of “sola scriptura” would be instructive here. Luther was reacting against the teaching of the Catholic church (all the church there was in Western Europe at the time), that the Holy See could make pronouncements about articles of faith on their own “apostolic” authority. Luther claimed–quite rightly IMO–that unless a doctrine could be found in the scriptures, it must not be taken as dogma. This standard can be true, and be practiced faithfully, without resorting to the modern doctrine of inerrancy. Questions of biblical inspiration in all its various forms, are separate from the question of whether there are authorities BESIDES scripture that can substantiate dogma.
In fact, I would argue that an awful lot of Evangelicals put far too much weight on the pronouncements and creeds of the ecumenical councils of the fourth century, and thereby violate Sola Scriptura themselves. Doctrines such as the Trinity (to name one example) are credal constructs, not Scripturally-derived ones. The gospels make clear claims for the divinity of Jesus, but they are nothing like the doctrine of “one being, three hypostases” that came out of Nicea three hundred years later (see here for more).
Bringing it full circle, I would suggest that the issue is not “just stick to the memo,” but rather, “is what I feel, or what the community is saying, consistent with the guidelines of the memo?” If not, even without verbal-plenary inspiration, you have grounds to challenge it.
Thanks Dan for your usual wise comments. Concentrating on your last paragraph I certainly agree that if what I feel is from the Holy Spirit is not consistent with the Bible there are gounds to challenge it. In reference to my recent posts on Quakers, Fox and most of the other early writer also agreed with this statement.