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Two Sides of the same Fundamental Coin?

October 30, 2010

Decorated Bible

Part of the trouble with the current debate within the Anglican Communion is that the operating principle of both extremes is very similar and I would suggest ultimately wrong. Whether you are an arch-liberal pushing forward the same sex agenda or the arch-conservative fighting to stop it, it seems to me, that the two ways of thinking are actually closer than you might think. ‘The Bible is there’ both say ‘for me to read and as I read it I interpret it and what I interpret is the truth’. Whilst both sides will use different language to describe the Bible, and each will say they value the Bible in different ways the important similarity is that both value their interpretation higher than anything else. One will say reason is the hermeneutical principle, that we understand the correct meaning of scripture by applying our intellect and reason to the texts whereas Ultra-conservatives seem to suggest that they can engage in a “pure” reading of the text, which is merely a mask for interepting themselves. What we get in either case is merely the individual opinion of the person reading the Scriptures.

So the arch-conservative will say that the arch-liberals are wrong because they are going against Scripture, when what they actually mean is that they are going against the arch-conservative interpretation of Scripture. The arch-liberals will say that they are merely reading the scriptures in a way more consist with the times of reason and reasonable men when in fact this is merely a smoke screen, albeit one which they themselves have fallen for, hiding the fact that the only reasonable man is the one who agrees with the arch-liberals interpretation.

We should not be surprised at this after all. They are people of their time, living in a post-modern world where ‘I’ holds sway over ‘our’ and where the world tells us that ‘truth’ is for the individual and that we need to be ‘true’ to ourselves. What we get then on the extremes of the church is groups of individuals who happen to believe the same thing at any one moment and whilst it looks like two united communities, two united ‘churches’ if you like, they are in fact far from the unity which Christ talked about; a unity based upon their saving relationship in Him, because in the end it is each individual who will make their own decision about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or ‘truth’ and ‘error’. This is the Protestant dilemma left over from the Reformation when the authority of the Pope was replaced by the authority of the individual.

If this is the problem, what then is the solution? Is it a return to the Pope, infallibility and all or, is there another way forward which avoids either of these extremes and the errors which come with them? The answer I think is one which the Anglican church has constantly hinted at but never quite full articulated. One which is consistent with Article VI which puts Scripture at the heart of the church. It is one which at our best we have followed but at our worst we have abandoned completely. It is taking Scripture, and over time seeking to find the answers together, and as a church listening to one another as we reflect upon God’s Word and how its been understood down through the years. This will require us to park our labels and prejudices as Anglo-Catholic, charismatic, evangelical and liberal and sit side by side all listening and learning from one another and seeking God’s way forward rather than our own. This is not the abandonment of Scripture as the ultimate reference, as the Articles make clear, but is a recognition that the interpretation of those Scriptures can’t be simply left to each individual to decide.

After all, God has not given us a rule book and left us as individuals but has given us stories and letters to read and understand as a community spread around the world and over 2000 years!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2011 8:27 pm

    I don’t understand enough to comment, except the last sentence. 🙂 That I understand and agree with.

  2. July 23, 2011 12:34 pm

    A great article! I like your point that when we interpret scriptures we are doing it from our own views, which might not reflect God’s view necessarily. I think we are all biased in a sense for we have all been brought up with a certain “view” which we hold as the “norm” but it is only the norm because that is the only way of thinking that we have been brought into and have been accustomed to. Our norms sometimes contradict other Christian’s sense of their norms. I like your idea of reading the Bible less as individuals but more as a community. God all over Scripture enforces the idea of unity, which you brought up. He didn’t want factions bickering with one another, but believers to be in union so the Body could function properly. As of now, it seems that much of the Church functions as a disjointed body…we need more union and I think that will be acheived when we all agree that we accept the basic tenants and doctrine of the Bible: Jesus dies for our sins, was raised in three days, God is omnipotent and omniscient, etc. and that Jesus came to serve and so should we, to magnify and bring glory to God and reconciliation to the world. When we accept to not let the more gray areas get in the way, we will be more effective and a less broken, but more whole Church.
    Hope that makes sense!

  3. July 23, 2011 10:01 pm

    I had to read what Anglicanism and Reformation is all about before making a comment. Then I have to simplify my reflections (i’m not infallible like the Pope :P)…

    This is how I was led by the Spirit MIke: I am glad you mentioned just one not all the other religions/sects that somehow disturb the minds of people by what they teach and preach.

    You wrote,”What we get then on the extremes of the church is groups of individuals who happen to believe the same thing at any one moment and whilst it looks like two united communities.” I believe that the Spirit unites more than divide. I agree with what you wrote. This baffles me, we have the same set of teachings and yet defend different beliefs. I believe strongly in the Pope. He’s the rock God assigned to guide us. I believe in the Bible as God’s Words. There is something much more in God’s Words than mere rumination. It is alive and powerful and therefore, is capable of putting people into action.

    As much as we study theology and God’s Words everything always boil into one and this makes us unique—love. Everything revolves around it. It is just as simple as that. And the more we think of that fact, the less judgmental we become of others. We become more inclusive than “exclusive”. “We” is transformed to “US”. There is space for dialogue than debates as to who is better…

    There is a need to look at what binds us rather than separates us from one another.

    I like the title you gave this post. There is always two sides at the way we see things but we belong to the same Source.

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