Hello, I must be going, 6

What is the Gospel?The more determined men become to despise the teaching of Christ, the more zealous should godly ministers be to assert it and the more strenuous their efforts to preserve entire. And more than that, by their diligence to ward off Satan’s attack.

John Calvin

My study of same-sex and heterosexual attraction kept asserting that the two hermeneutics at work were not compatible. As I realized the depth of the incompatibility, I was faced with a stark choice to accept one over the other. I therefore went to the larger question of authority: “By what authority lets you define the fall of humanity in such extreme terms? By what authority do you set the limits of sexual expression to marriage between a man and a woman? By what authority to you place same-sex attraction as being buried with Christ in his death?” Answer: “The Scriptures.”  But such an answer is not enough. Both hermeneutics use the Scriptures. So the question is: if each of us comes to the text of Scripture with several assumptions already in place, which set of assumptions are the most valid? I then examined the evidence for making one claim as more valid than the other in how Jesus Christ himself used the Scriptures. All Christians claim to be followers of Jesus, so how Jesus used and understood the Bible must settle the matter.

If you are not a student of the Bible you can so easily miss how Jesus himself used the Scriptures. A good example is Jesus’ saying on the greatest commandment and its twin, love God – love your neighbor. Here it is in Mark 12:

Jesus answered,”The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus was asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” In his answer Jesus is quoting Dueteronomy 6 for the first and Leviticus 19 for the second. They are not original to Jesus as most people suggest when they quote him. And when you begin to establish the context of Jesus’ quotation you must also check the context of the Old Testament passage, like Leviticus 19.18. You will find there that to love your neighbor will mean you will admonish them quietly and privately when they depart from the Law of God. A very different understanding from the modern day view of Jesus’ words as being some form of “live and let live.”

So I had to ask the question, what about Jesus’ teaching on the Scripture? How did he himself use it? I found that his teaching conforms to the same pattern in the OT [Old Testament] and in the Epistles. The Scriptures are clear, they are authoritative, and they are the word of God. There is a consistency and coherence to which you can appeal.

The four Gospels are full of quotations of and allusions to passages from the OT and the vast majority of these are found on the lips of Jesus himself. The quotations serve a range of purposes. Some point to promises or pictures in the OT that Jesus claims have now been fulfilled in his person and activity (Matthew 10.35-36; Luke 4.18-19; John 13.18; 15.25). Others are offered as evidence that what he is teaching is true (Matthew 21.42-44; Mark 10.4-9; John 10.34-35). Still others are employed in the midst of controversy with the Jewish establishment, unmasking its failure to conform itself to what all recognize to be the authoritative word of God (Matthew 21.13; Mark 7.6-7, 10). What is common to all of these is that he has a confidence that an appeal to the text of the OT is decisive: it settles the matter. Jesus’ ministry is validated, not only by the miracles he has performed but by the testimony to him embedded in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (Luke 24.44). Equally, Jesus makes such an appeal not only with the expectation that this testimony will be accepted by faithful Jewish men and women, but that it will be accessible and intelligible to them.

What is the point of quoting texts that have been so compromised that their original meaning is lost and no-one would be able to understand? There is not one example of Jesus making qualifications for the text of the OT because it is edited, politicized, interpreted many times over and is a compromised adaptation thereof (John 17.17).

The Scriptures can only operate the way they do in Jesus’ teaching ministry because they are assumed to make sense as they stand. This assumption enables him to hold accountable those who claim to know the Scriptures but fail to respond to him with repentance and faith (John 5.36-47). I discovered in a close study of the four gospels that for Jesus the Scriptures were God’s word, the final authority and were assumed by him to be clearly understood. Therefore, as faithful followers of Jesus Christ, we must understand the Scriptures in the same way.

How can anyone claim to be a faithful to the example of Jesus and to follow him when they qualify the authority of the very Scriptures he himself sees as final, clear and testifying to him? Yet that is exactly what people did. Why did they do this? Either wittingly or unwittingly they had accepted the naturalism of liberal theology’s hermeneutic. What is liberal theology? According to The Making of American Liberal Theology by Garry Dorrien liberal theology is both a tradition, coming out of the late 18th century Protestant attempt to reconfigure traditional Christian teaching in the light of modern knowledge and values born in Enlightenment Deism, and it is a diverse, but recognizable approach to theology.

At its root is a response to Enlightenment Deism in the idea that a genuine Christianity is not based on external authority outside of our human experience. Liberal theology seeks to reinterpret the symbols of Christianity in a way that creates a progressive religious alternative to atheistic rationalism and to theologies based on external authority. It is experiential rather than doctrinal in its authority.[1]

Specifically, liberal theology has these five characteristics:

  • Its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially the natural and social sciences.
  • Its commitment to individual reason and experience as the final authority.
  • Its conception of Christianity as solely an ethical way of life.
  • And logically following from #3, its favoring of moral concepts of the atonement of Christ’s death on the cross.
  • Its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people (The goal of modern relevance is why liberal theology is also called “modernist”).

I discovered biblically orthodox theologians who had been students in Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries and who asserted at that early date that liberal theology was not Christian at all. They demonstrated in their writings that there were two radically different assumptions at work: the naturalistic assumption of the liberal v. the supernaturalistic assumption of the Christian.

J. Gresham Machen explains: “But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.”  [Christianity and Liberalism p. 2. Italics mine]. Machen asserted still further: “…it may appear that what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.” (Ibid. pp. 6-7. Italics mine).

I realized with a sinking feeling that liberal theology is not, cannot be Christianity as defined by Scripture, the catholic creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer.

I also realized that most Episcopalians in the pew embrace liberal theology naively without embracing the term because of what they thought is Christianity is in fact liberal theology, having been taught by generations of liberal clergy that occupy Episcopalian pulpits. When liberal clergy use a Christian term or symbol, it has been radically reinterpreted to mean something completely different from what biblically orthodox Christianity asserts as it meaning.

It was like a game of chess played by 2 different sets of rules. White had their set of rules, black had theirs. It is impossible to play together. The result is chaos.

So what did I do then? I kept hanging on. For many years I held to the hope that as long as the standards remained in place like the catholic creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the biblical 1662 Book of Common Prayer theology that remained in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, there was hope for the Episcopal Church. I do truly believe that God is sovereign and can even raise the lifeless body of his Son from the grave, there is surely a case to be made that he could take any denomination, no matter how apostate as the Episcopal Church has become, and make it faithful once more.

But I just had two further questions: Was I holding to the ‘ecclesiastical root’ fallacy? and What does my oath to uphold the Scriptures mean now?

[1] Reformed and Lutheran orthodoxy teaches the Reformation principle that Scripture is the sole and infallibly sufficient rule of faith, teaching that scripture is also strictly inerrant in all that it asserts. The Reformation’s sola scriptura (Article VI of the 39 Articles) is an external authority totally rejected by liberal theology.

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