There are many facts which are up for debate. But one thing is absolutely certain.
Often the way my mind works is a little off…
Now that we all agree to this obvious point, let me explain why I bring that up.
I work in a restaurant. It is a corporate chain restaurant which will remain nameless. I stand in front of the grill all night. Recently the fine folks in the corporate headquarters have begun trying to keep a better handle on the workings of the restaurant. For example, we aren’t allowed to have drinks on the cook line. Instead we get 5 oz portions in little sno-cone cups, then wash our hands and return to the line.
Anyway, another of these rules is that they have decided to post “entrance” and “exit” on the appropriate side of the double doors leading from the front-of-house to the back-of-house. You know…because no one knows that foot traffic moves like car traffic, and you keep to the right side of your path so you don’t slam into anyone…especially when going through double doors carrying large trays of food.
Okay. So, far we are at the level of mildly insulting and annoying.
But here’s where my mental issues come into play. When you start toying around with the idea of perception and preconceived notions, even with the clearly labeled doors, this “entrance” and “exit” conundrum gets a lot weirder. Say for a minute that you’ve never driven a car. Say you hire two people who come from a foreign country that has no protocol for which side of the pathway to walk on. We’ll say one of them is hired to work in the kitchen, and one is hired to work on the waitstaff.
Imagine for a minute you are the person hired to work on the waitstaff. When you approach double doors that go between the kitchen and the dining room – one saying “entrance” and one saying “exit” – how does your job affect your perception? Are you exiting the kitchen into the dining room? Or do you go through the door that says “entrance” because in your mind the dining room is the main part of the restaurant…therefore you are entering the dining room? And the same with the kitchen staff. If you walk from the dining room into the kitchen, do you go through the “entrance” door because you are entering the kitchen? Or do you walk through the “exit” door, because you are leaving the dining room?
If we strip away the cultural context, we are still left with our own personal perception of what is most important, where the priority lies, and into what place we personally find ourselves fitting.
The same thing happens when we go to interpret scripture.
Often we hear people say that the Bible constantly contradicts itself. They insist that the Bible simply cannot be trusted because of these obvious contradictions. See Isaac Azimov’s guide to the Bible for a million examples.
Others insist that any contradictions in the Bible are merely apparent. In other words, if we read one part of the Bible that seems to contradict another part, then we must be misinterpreting the contradictory passage.
But there’s a problem…
The “all contradictions are merely apparent” faction tends to explain the contradictions with a somewhat misleading phrase. They say, “scripture interprets scripture.” To my odd little mind this seems a bit like saying that you can use the entrance door to interpret how you interact with the exit door. In other words; it works, but only as long as everyone agrees to the same set of rules ahead of time.
And this is where the factions of the Church come into play.
We each come to the scriptures with our own agenda, preconceptions, biases, and preferences. So, one group favors the Biblical concept of Grace over works. They favor the idea of Christ as substitute for each of us on the cross. They favor the idea of the depravity and utter helplessness of humanity against our own broken nature. Each of these concepts has a very strong Biblical basis. But then we see another group which favors the Biblical concept that “faith without works is dead.” They understand the Bible to be a revolutionary book calling for social justice, non-violence, and equality for every living being. They understand Christ’s death and resurrection as the ultimate victory over sin and death. Each of these concepts also has a strong Biblical basis.
But then we treat them as mutually exclusive.
So, what if we are finding a group of like minded people who are reading the text in the same way as us? What if we are having conversations with them to determine the best way to explain away the passages of scripture that contradict our agreed upon conclusions? Of course we would never say as much. But it seems to me like this might be exactly what is happening.
But I would argue that this is counter productive. The humble, Christian way of looking at this would be to open a space for conversation. Paul teaches that we can come to a place where we choose a teacher and exhort them above the material they are teaching. In the context, he tells the Corinthian church not to distinguish between the theology of himself versus a man named Apollos. He says it is God who makes the faith grow. And this applies to the debates between Calvin and Armenius, the Pope and Luther, Bell and Driscoll, Piper and McLaren. What if the question really comes down to whether we are “front of house” or “back of house”?
What if the entire point is for us to wrestle through these questions together?
And what if the sacrifice of Christ…whether is be substitutionary atonement or victory over death and hell…what if that is what actually binds us together?
I argue passionately that it is this very sacrifice…it is this very Love…that binds us all together on this journey of faith. And it is to our own peril that we lose the conversation in favor of the debate. It is our own throats that we cut with our swords of truth.
It is my prayer that we can enter into a conversation. It is my prayer that we can walk together in this journey. And let those who favor Calvin, and those who favor Armenius, and those who favor Ekhart, and those who favor Schaeffer…let us all take our place in the Body of Christ. A pinky toe and an ear lobe are equally important, but it is rarely necessary for them to walk side-by side. But neither the pinky toe nor the ear lobe will ever get more than a few feet if they don’t agree to be in different places, and then move ahead together.
This is my prayer for the Church Universal. I pray that we walk this path together whenever possible. And I pray that we separate while maintaining unity. Let the Love of God be the sinew that binds the bones in the Body of Christ.