Scripture alone?

06 Jan
Nicolaus Copernicus rocked the church with his heliocentric view of the Solar System.

Nicolaus Copernicus rocked the church with his heliocentric view of the Solar System.

Theologians, both supporting and opposing women’s ordination, have claimed ‘Scripture alone’ as a basis for their arguments.  We Lutherans pay particular attention to such arguments as we hold Scripture as central, but the conflicting arguments for and against any issue, both adhering to ‘scripture alone’, make the term less convincing.

‘Scripture alone’ is well and good if you are arguing for something embracing, tolerant and uplifting – however, to do this, you need to strategically ignore many Old Testament terrifying passages. (Consider this theologian’s reflection on his 20year old understanding of his faith.) However, a simple understanding of ‘scripture alone’ has disturbing implications when used to uphold power structures and difference, for they are the foundations of misogyny, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

‘Scripture alone’ implies that Scripture has all that is necessary for us to decide on matters of contemporary life.  We suggest, on the contrary, that Scripture needs interrogating to find the core truths and to find the cultural unnecessary baggage.  Such interrogation is assisted with the tools of hermeneutics.

‘Scripture alone’ was not enough when it came to deciding on:

Now, it’s probably harsh of us if we condemn the church of old for its theology and action when knowledge was not what it is today, but you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t use ‘Scripture alone’ and yet rely on the benefits of the modern world (including science, research, medicine, democracy). Either you have it completely correct by just using Scripture, in the tradition of the Amish, or you rely on society, culture and science to help you in your quest to understand God in Scripture. Which is it?

The reality is that our knowledge of the world and the structure of the universe is changing.  We are intimately entwined with the world’s understandings, its social structures and its interpretations of justice.  When we are shielded from society we are blinkered, dangerous in our certainty and even sect-like.  Revelation is progressive and also comes through our secular citizens – not so shocking if we accept that God loves and works through us all, even if we are unaware of God’s grace.

While we can accept the principled theological intentions of the term, ultimately Scripture is not the only word on matters of contemporary importance, including the position of women in the LCA.

We thank God for academics, researchers, philosophers, scientists, educators, doctors, social scientists, astronomers…  That’s what makes society so rich.  Without embracing the growing wisdom from these disciplines and professions we are a reduced people.






Posted by on January 6, 2015 in theology


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11 responses to “Scripture alone?

  1. John Miller

    January 6, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    If you’re a member of the Lutheran Church of Australia this is what you’ve signed up for:

    ‘1. The Church accepts without reservation the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,
    as a whole and in all their parts, as the divinely inspired, written and inerrant Word of God,
    and as the only infallible source and norm for all matters of faith, doctrine and life.’

    It’s cut and dried. It ain’t going to change, irregardless (sic) of what members think. It can’t change. The LCA is locked into a 3,000 year old time warp. God does not change. The LCA does not change. QED

    So what are you going to do?

    First up, understand that you can’t change the statement. The LCA forefathers put the excremental sandwich into the Constitution, preventing Article1 from be changed or expunged.

    If you agree with it, stay put. Don’t try to rock the boat. This boat is not for rocking. Worry about something else that’s more important like democracy, the rule of law, liberty, freedom of speech, equality …

    If you don’t believe what’s in Article 1 (and you can’t change it) and you believe that any organisation of which you’re a member should be built on the four pillars of democracy, freedom of speech, equality, and reason, then resign.

    Second, put on a pair of 21st Century goggles and read your Bible, closely, from cover to cover.

    Having done that, if you’re still convinced that all the stories in it, all the letters and rantings of Saul of Tarsus are definitely the divinely inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God, stop complaining. Accept the LCA as it is.

    On the other hand, if you come to the conclusion that the Bible is based on the history of schizophrenics, psychopaths, criminals, the weird and superstitious, paedophiles, sex maniacs, murderers, terrorists, slave owners, liars and misogynists – and their belief in a god who shared their values – then just leave.

    Either way, what you believe to be the truth will set you free.

    As for what the great Jehovah thinks about the ordination of women, give him until next Sunday to speak to you or send you an email clarifying his position. Then it will be all cut and dried. It’s been done before: Genesis 12:1-9, Exodus 6:42, 1 Samuel 3.

    Report back and let me know how you go.

    In the meantime stay tuned, highly tuned and remember, faith without reason is dead.

    Regards and best wishes

    John Miller

    • Christoph Donges

      January 6, 2015 at 11:09 pm

      Well said Mr Miller

    • Katie and Martin

      January 7, 2015 at 8:34 pm

      Leaving an institution is not a solution to the brokenness found within the LCA. We choose to remain within this human institution and work towards bringing about change. There are also many treasured people who hold us there.

    • Barney (Christian P.J. Bahnerth PhD)

      May 2, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      Faith does NOT need reason, faith relies on believing the Word of God. Hebrews 1:2 KJV

      • John Miller

        October 4, 2015 at 8:27 am

        Barney, Thanks for your note.

        On the contrary, Faith without REASON is dead. If Luther had said that we would have had the reformation we needed to have. We are now ready for just that reformation.

        The Jewish Book of Misogyny is not a good guide to how we should organise our corporate and voluntary institutions. If you believed everything in the Bible as inerrant and inspired you’d still be believing in a flat earth.

        Just as science based on faith and selective evidence is dead, a philosophy based on faith not reason is also dead.

        As a general rule we no longer believe in things we can’t prove – or we continually seek proof for the things we believe in.

        When it comes to its organizations, the Christian religion is stuck in the past and the longer it stays stuck in the past (ie, going back to quotes from Paul of Tarsus) the more irrelevant it will become.

        The people in the LCA who are driving change need to be supported not constrained by Paul of Tarsus.

        There are ways to unlock and escape the past, but they are not available to those whose sole source of evidence is from ancient books. Anyone who attempts justify gender equality by quoting what Paul of Tarsus said on the matter is making a laughing stock of themselves.

        Blind faith in the belief that what Paul wrote was the divine, inspired, inerrant and only opinion of Jehovah (in any matter), stifles the inquiring mind and locks us into the tyranny of the past. For most people, that past was a brutal existence. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the bulk of people living in Western society were able to free themselves of the shackles of the tyranny of thought imposed by the church.

        It took the State to remove blasphemy laws, to abolish slavery, to give women the vote, to decriminalize homosexuality and allow people to buy a bottle of wine after six o’clock. The Church fought tooth and nail against these reforms. The LCA is still fighting gender equality.. It’s still waging a war against homosexual equality. Put in the starkest of terms, the LCA is still siding with ‘poofter bashers’. That’s neither an expression of love – nor a good look..

        In the LCA, the pace at which the democratic process is moving is directly inverse to the pace at which people are leaving.

        Most of us are past blind faith Barney. We’ve moved on from theocrats like Moses and Paul. The theocrats in the Lutheran Church of Australia haven’t. And if blind faith is not dead, then the LCA is.

        Where I live, theocracy doesn’t cut it these days, unless you’re at the top of the theocratic chain and even there it’s pretty lonely.

        In Australia the worst of the excesses of theocracy are being exposed in the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse.

        Barney, if you’re going to quote Paul as your witness on matters of how we should live our lives, are you also going to rely on Paul’s judgement on how our society should be organised? The ancient world was the world of autocrats.

        As reported by Paul, Jehovah had little to say on the corporate values we now hold dear, other wise the Apostles Creed would read: “I believe in the rule of law. the separation of powers, the freedom of speech, the abolition of slavery, the equality of opportunity, the respect of diversity, the universality of education and the life here and now, amen.”

        That’s the important ‘stuff’. Paul was more concerned with trivia and his own inflated view of himself.

        When Paul writes about love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, the love doesn’t extend to giving women the vote or allowing them entry to positions of high office and responsibility. The love doesn’t extend to homosexuals, slaves or negroes in 19th century America.

        But the fact that these things were foreign to Paul doesn’t is no good reason why we should not support them ourselves. If love is kind it’s also fair, decent and respectful.

        Paul is not a reliable witness – a criminal, a schizophrenic or a liar, a misogynist and a megalomaniac.

        As Thomas Szasz said, “If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.” Thomas Szasz is not a mug. Look him up.

        Barney, history is not on the side of Paul. You’re not swimming, you’re floundering against he tide. The hierarchy of the LCA is floundering with you.

        Give heart to the people who wish to propel it into the 21st century.

        • Katie and Martin

          October 5, 2015 at 3:09 pm

          John, you raise interesting points about the rules for an association. We are wondering whether religious institutions have been exempted from those rules.
          Your views on Paul are unwarranted if you look at his theology from a broader perspective. You can’t expect every person in history to embrace all reform that developed over the following millennia.

  2. Anne-Marie Modra

    October 5, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    To the author of ‘Scripture Alone?’:
    I am really tempted to dump ”scripture alone” as the source and inspiration of my faith especially because of your clinching argument about the discovery of the sun no longer being the centre of the universe. Hang on a minute! How do YOU know that our solar system is not at the centre of the universe? Do you know the perimeters of the universe so that you can judge whether our beautiful blue planet is at its centre? Mortal being, I think not. It scientifically speaking could be at the centre. An important thing to realise about science is that scientific knowledge is not static, but continually shifting, adding modifying and substantiating its conclusions.

    I recoil from what you say in your second para: “”However a simple understanding of scripture alone has disturbing implications.”” What?When the Saviour said you should love your neighbour as yourself you associate scripture with misogyny sex abuse and domestic violence? Read your Bible. Right at the outset in Genesis in the OT no less, women are given the highest status with men in being made equally in the image of God. Compare Islaam, Buddhism animism – where is such a statement? And in the NT have you forgotten? Men are to love their wives like their own body.What did Jesus say was the most important commandment but to love God and to love others as you love yourself. The offenses you mention are down to sin.

    Paragraph five: misleading dichotomy: people who believe in Scripture alone do not have to choose between their faith and science. Christians can be comfortable with science because they are discovering God’s works after Him. Have you ever wondered why science has developed in the west and not in the non West? The Christian view of nature is that God created it and said it was Good. Compare animism: nature is scary and needs to be placated. Compare Buddhism we as humans do not stand above nature but under it – so we can’t do science either it is God – cf the Greens movement of today. Hinduism can be classed with Buddhism – with its holy cows and rats – not doing science there! Islaam because it shares the OT there would be more of a chance of science but its ideology is NOT the gospel of love. It is from love that flows compassion to the sick and encourages the development of medicine. Whereas the fatalism of Buddhism/Hinduism leaves the beggar to his karma.

    So to sum up about science. The development of science is based on the foundation of the GENESIS view of nature that it is good, created, designed by an omniscient almighty and loving God. One is then free to explore it without fear and for the benefit of mankind – that’s love.

    • Katie and Martin

      October 5, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      We agree that Science and Scripture can live alongside each other, however, if you hold to Scripture’s absolute, literal truth then it falls apart. If you insist on one verse being literally true then you have to grapple with the huge number of verses that make no sense in this world.
      That is why we need all the tools of Scriptural interpretation that are available to us.

    • Katie and Martin

      October 5, 2015 at 2:49 pm

      Struggling with your last paragraph. Science is not based on any view of God, but uses the scientific method to determine what is right. While scientists may or may not have a view about God, their work requires them to prove their hypothesis by evidence alone.

      • Anne-Marie Modra

        October 5, 2015 at 4:37 pm

        Put it this way: our Western view of nature is taken from Genesis. Our view of nature is Judeo Christian. It has been for about 2000 years. Contrast it with how nature is represented in other worldviews. The Christian faith is NOT animistic – where nature is viewed with FEAR, can be vindictive, arbitrary and needs to be placated and where animals may have created nature as in Aboriginal animism. If you were born in Papua New Guinea that is what YOU would think until you fully accepted the Christian faith (and we know about the strength of the old ideas). With Hinduism and Buddhism, human beings do NOT stand above creation as in Genesis where we are given responsible stewardship of God’s good gift. We are instructed to use it. We are told numerous times that it is GOOD. Nature is proclaimed GOOD in Genesis. In Hinduism/Buddhism with its pantheism; human beings are IN nature, NOT above it and God is in nature, even cows and rats; can be divine and we are God. If you genuflect to nature it is sacred.

        With the Green movement we can see people going back to a preChristian view of nature and the earth; in the Geiea ideology the earth is personalised being hurt by what humans do to it. This is not the judeo Christian view although they are happy to accept the fruits of Western science. Their beliefs are really a return to animism. Nature is not sacred in Judeo Christian belief; if it were it makes it untouchable.Nature is not to be feared in Judeo Christian thought: if it were this would prohibit engagement with it. Science was born out of the view of nature we have in Genesis. Nature for Christians is not to be feared or worshipped. I thank God for the beauty His creation and that He has given us royal status above it to use and enjoy it so that as in many psalms we can praise Him for his marvellous handiwork.


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