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:
- ecological issues. “Subdue all the Earth” (Gen 1:28) was never going to be enough when it came to 20th Century environmental excesses.
- creation and evolution. Today the LCA accepts differing views about creation and evolution.
- the Copernican heliocentric model of the Solar System, where the Earth is no longer the centre of the Universe. In 1616 the Inquisition declared heliocentrism to be formally heretical. Galileo was sentenced to house arrest where he died nine years later. It took some time for the church to decide that theology and science were no longer mutually exclusive.
- slavery. “Slavery in various forms has been a part of the social environment for much of Christianity’s history, spanning well over eighteen centuries.” Ref: Wikipedia. Surprisingly, there are still some Lutherans who claim that slavery was not as bad as it is made out to be.
- women’s ordination. This Wikipedia page lists the myriad steps towards women’s equality in the Christian Church as well as other traditions. It’s worth a browse, but it’s too much to absorb in one reading.
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.