“If it’s true, then it has to appear in the Holy Text, and not just in life.”
“I just want my actions to match the bible.”
Countless hours I have spent trying to study and practice what it means to be “biblical” in the 21st century. As a married man, as a student, as a staff minister and as a speaker. This idea haunts me, because if you come from where I come from, if the activity doesn’t line up with the text, it is sin! Usually what is defined as “activity” is a wrong way of speaking of things related to Jesus, not necessarily actions taken. If this were what we usually mean, many of us would fall incredibly short of living the supernatural life of Jesus. The way we have typically interpreted scripture is through a “flat reading” of scripture, rather than a three-dimensional, incarnational approach to interpretation.
Reading the scripture as flat truth reduces every truth in scripture to equal authority, which is actually scary. Have you ever read Leviticus?! On the one hand we may say a certain activity is sin and quote with authority Leviticus, then we forget that the next verse may require death for that activity. Are we calling for the death of sinners? No, of course not! A flat reading of scripture is not possible anymore, but what is possible is a fresh understanding of the progressive revelation of God to man thought the centuries to bring man to where he is today and where man needs to be tomorrow. Not all truth is created equal, and while all scripture is equal in inspiration, it is not equal in authority. Law is subservient to grace. Judgment is subservient to mercy (James 2:13) and the list could go on and on. The power of transformation is found in the embracing of higher truth, not at the expense of lower truth, but for the pulling up from the depths those who have long since lived at the bottom of guilt, shame and condemnation.
If someone told me that God had told them to kill their first born son, I would call the cops and have a restraining order put on the parent. My concern for this person, as a christian man, is a testimony to the truth that Abraham was obedient to God by faith. This is because Abraham didn’t question God when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, and this is because his culture was familiar with appeasing the gods by the ultimate sacrifice of the first born (sound familiar now?). Where did appeasement come from? Cain.
In Genesis 4, Cain can not deal with his own feelings of rejection from God and his brother’s sacrifice which has been accepted by God. God confronts Cain by trying to help him calm down and just see what is right and do it. Anger still overwhelms Cain and he transfers that frustration onto his brother and creates a solution to his problem: kill Abel. This of course doesn’t work, as God shows up and is nearly surprised Himself at the actions of Cain by giving him a talk on what it means to spill blood and the curse of futility. Cain goes on to build the first civilization, which is founded on violence, and this appeasement through murder becomes deified into divine character with the formation of new ideas of gods which require sacrifice for the settlement of issues.
In Luke 9 the disciples and Jesus have just felt rejection from a samaritan village. It is a rough feeling, to be rejected by anyone. Especially when the people doing the rejecting are rejecting a clear offer of new life and healing! How dare they! Sweet John and his brother end up asking Jesus if they can just cast down fire on the village, thus killing everyone talking smack. Jesus turns to them, and utters the most profound critique of sacred violence for the Jesus-follower:
But He (Jesus) turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] And they went on to another village. -Luke 9:55-56 (NASB)
What “spirit” were they channeling? Elijah! The prophet Elijah had performed an amazing confrontation of the prophets of baal earlier in jewish history (1 Kings 18), and had seen God cast down fire upon his sacrifice and Elijah killed all of the prophets immediately following. And yet, here Jesus tells his disciples that this type of thinking is not truly of God. Then what “spirit” was Elijah operating with? These were mere shadows of what was to come, whereas in Elijah the partial (fire on the sacrifice) reigned, with a bit of mixture (Elijah killed all the false prophets of baal), God would send Jesus to be the clearest picture of God to the whole world. Jesus’ testimony was and is weightier than John the baptists, and John was considered the highest of all the prophets. Whatever activity the past held with attaching Yahweh to retributive justice, Jesus shows us that while that was in the midst of what God really wanted to do for a time, now is the time where everything begins to change and restoration comes to the whole earth. God is the ultimate missionary, and always meets people where they are at, and calls them higher in a gradual and sustaining way. Israel was being raised up to be the light to the nations (gentiles), but Israel had failed. God in his infinite wisdom, knew this was going to happen, so he sent Jesus to be the suffering Servant that would restore the servant to its former glory and out of its slavery (this is the story of Isaiah). God did this on the cross but He didn’t do it the way the old covenant scriptures seemed to display deliverance, so Israel had Jesus, the Servant, crucified. God was murdered. God still knew this would happen so he vindicated the Servant by raising Him from the dead, and all of this so that Israel would see that the very Servant sent by Yahweh was murdered by them, and they would repent and become the light to the nations they were always created to be.
What “Spirit” was Jesus under? The Holy Spirit. The spirit that turns the other cheek, loves its enemies, speaks good even when spoken evil of–the spirit that meets hatred with love, despises indifference and refuses to see taking offense (in light of injustice) as virtuous.
The bible does not easily fit anyone’s agenda, passion or conflict. As a collection of writings the protestant reformers needed a new “pope” to replace the heretical one that had enslaved the people through higher interpretation of the text, so they chose the bible as the new authority. Sola scriptura. I love the bible but it is not the highest authority of the church. Jesus is the highest authority of the church, and all scripture and ideas must be run through Him. The word of God must submit to the Word of God. This requires we have a hearing relationship with Jesus, as it is the only possible way to follow Him purely (John 10). When you go back to read your bible today, do so with the knowledge that God is constantly pulling humanity forward into thinking Kingdom thoughts and doing Kingdom works that Jesus did. For He is the logos of God, which means “logic” of God, and logic can be defined as the “model of reality.” Jesus is the model of reality for all time and all places. Amen.