After this piece, at least two of the three of you who read here will be mad at me...but, I have to write what I feel compelled to write, so please bear with me even as I delve into potentially controversial subjects. My goal since I began to write here on this blog has been to cause people to think and never, ever just accept. That's why I like to tackle sacred cows, and ask provocative questions, questions which often I haven't even settled upon my own answers to.
To begin, my position: My faith is in Jesus Christ as my Messiah, risen Lord, and reconciliation to my Heavenly Father. My faith in the biblical canon is limited. As I've said recently, many of my views on non-essentials have changed dramatically over the last three years or so. I've been an Imbibler. Five years ago I'd look at this very article I'm writing almost as heresy. I can look back even to the beginnings of this blog last year and see changes. I'm perfectly ok with that. I'm willing to put everything, short of a foundation of Christ, in play and on the table in the pursuit of what's real, lasting, and true. I LOVE the bible as we know it. I'd hope no one questions that. At the same time, if I have fear of critically examining words printed on paper and how they came to be, I've built an idol.
I recently wrote about how I find it disturbing that many Christians worship what I call the "Holy Quartet": Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Holy Canonized Bible. This is disturbing to me because, from my perspective, maybe the greatest downfall of the Pharisees was that they began to love and worship the Law itself (the "biblical canon", in a sense, of their day) more than the God that gave it and the Christ it pointed toward - and all humanity touched by their religious authority was made less by the encounter. In their defense, there was no question among those of the Jewish faith that the scriptures they held as Holy were in fact inspired by God as He moved men and prophets to speak with His Spirit. That didn't interfere, however, with their misuse of those scriptures to the detriment of the people.
I can only imagine the level of spiritual abuse the Jewish people would've experienced if "the Bible" had been in existence.
I think most Christian people, if completely honest, would have to admit that they consider the Bible to be holy, in its current canonized form, because they've accepted the long held traditions of the Christian faith - and usually without question, i.e, "it is so because it's always been so." Now, whether they're right or they're wrong is immaterial to the point I'm making. I'm questioning the health of merely accepting it as so. Consider the fact that a "Christian bible" didn't even begin to take shape until centuries AFTER the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This means, for its first several centuries, the Christian church had no "Bible". (*gasp* How could they possibly be Christians?!!!!!!!!!!!! How could they possibly be Christians?????!!!!!!!!!!!!! *faints with back of hand administered to forehead*)
Consider that many (maybe most) of the writings held dear by the early church, the writings which aided and encouraged them in their faith, if those writings still existed in full form, the modern church would consider you a heretic for reading or teaching from them. The "Gospel of the Hebrews", for instance, is considered by many to have been perhaps the MOST revered of the early church writings (many think it's the actual forerunner to the Gospel of Matthew), yet most of you reading this have probably never heard of it. Newer readers here may not realize that a sizable portion of the book of Jude is a direct quotation from the "Book of the Secrets of Enoch", or that there are Old Testament references to the Book of Jasher as a solid source. The early church, for instance, considered the books of our Old Testament canon (plus a few others of Old Testament nature) and the oral traditions of the sayings and teachings of Christ authoritative. And...that's the extent of what they considered "holy". The various letters written by the apostles (the epistles) were considered, well...letters. The epistles were used for encouragement, even teaching, but they weren't considered "holy scripture" until centuries later when various councils began convening and hashing out non-essential doctrine.
Personally, I can't simply consider something "holy" because some man (or some group of men), somewhere, at some point in time, decided as much for me. I've been to too many "1st Wednesday night business meetings" to trust most groups of Christian men to reasonably settle on a color for new carpet in the sanctuary, and I've also seen the national SBC proceedings, as well as a couple of state SBC proceedings. So, blindly trust groups of men from centuries ago, who may or may not have had the same sincerity of faith, who may or may not have had heavy Hellenistic/Greek mythology or Roman influences, and who often/usually had agendas, determine FOR me what is holy scripture and what isn't? No thanks. Many of the men (bishops/pastors/presbyters) who've had a say in the formation of the biblical canon as we know it (and much of what we consider Christian orthodoxy) forbade their congregations from reading certain "heretical" writings among the books excluded from the canon. Today, ANY reasonable Christian would consider this authoritarian, controlling, lording, and...spiritual abuse.
Many Christians seem to view the bible in the same manner they'd view a Stephen King novel - ONE book written by ONE author. You might say "But it DOES have only one author: God!" Well, SOME of it definitively has only one source (God), but as I said earlier, the early church would differ with the modern church about much of the New Testament being "holy writ". I think it's unhealthy to look at the scripture as one entity. The bible as we know it is a collection of 66 different books written by many different men. The authorship of some books (such as Job and Hebrews) is completely unknown. Proverbs doesn't speak for Philippians, Acts doesn't speak for Habakkuk, and so forth. When Christians today speak of things like "doctrine", the "noble Bereans", and private interpretations of scripture, they're tragically misusing the scriptures according to man-made interpretations of what is and isn't "holy", turning "the Bible" into a single, human contrived organism. I touched on some of these things in "Jesus and... ____"...
Concerning doctrine, I wrote the following...
In the various discussions of this around the interwebs, the word "doctrine" is used liberally - false doctrine, sound doctrine, orthodox doctrine, essential doctrine, non-essential doctrine, and just plain ole doctrine. I've nothing against the word, but I think we need to have a solid grasp on what doctrine meant for the Christian church in the bible. While the Greek and Hebrew words translated as doctrine generally mean "teaching(s)", we've given the word considerably more widespread weight than, let's say, Paul did. When Paul referred to doctrine, he was speaking of ONE thing - salvation through Christ crucified (1st Corinthians 1:17, 21-24, Galatians 1:6-9). Everything else was ancillary and, quite often, simply a matter of opinion, culture, circumstance, what have you. Paul became distressed when people would change his simple gospel of Jesus into "Jesus and..._____."
Concerning the Bereans...
We often hear people speak of the "noble Bereans" (Acts 17:10-11). They were indeed noble. However, to use less than noble language, it bugs the crap out of me to see the account of the Bereans SOOOO terribly twisted and misused. The Bereans weren't searching the scriptures to find out if women should have a covering, remain silent in the church, men should provide umbrellas, tithes should be taken, et cetera. Not a single drop of the NT canon even existed at the time. They were searching the OT passages that dealt with the promised Messiah to see if Paul's simple message of Jesus Christ was true. No more. No less. But, strange things happen when people Imbible and their Godhead becomes a quartet - Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Holy canonized Bible.
Concerning 2nd Peter 1:19-21, which says, "19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."...
Another verse that I see misused, abused, and used to abuse, 2nd Peter 1:20. It's talking about OT prophecy, people! Not scripture in general! If someone uses this verse to tell you that you can't have a personal or private interpretation of a particular passage, something in one of the NT epistles, or even of 2nd Chester 4:55, they're misusing the scripture - period.
Some may say, "You need more faith!" I don't see it that way, and I see that as a spiritually unhealthy mindset. I recently came across the following at Kristen's Guide under "Cult Methods of Control"...
A cult often teaches to not ask too many questions; just accept their teachings as truth, "Have faith," even if there is no evidence to support their teachings.
A cult teaches that something bad will happen to you if you do not have faith in their teachings.
Ouch. No thanks. My faith in Christ doesn't require the surrendering of my mind. I'd hope it expands it.
I was asked recently, "If you don't consider the bible infallible, inerrant, and the absolute arbiter of truth, how do you even know who Jesus is?" My answer: The same way Simon Peter did.
I'll be writing some more on this.