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To the Point . . .

The Eclipse of Biblical Authority

The publication recently of a Welcoming Open Letter on Homosexuality signed by 650 members of congregations in the merging MC and GC denominations is clear evidence of a change in approach to the interpretation of the Bible. This change shows the growing impact of modernism and postmodernism upon the life of the church. The argument put forward in the Welcoming Open Letter to justify the sanctioning and blessing of same-sex unions in the church rests on three basic suppositions of modernist and postmodernist thinking.

The first of these is the necessity to reduce the essence of Christianity to fit in with the utopian idealism of the Enlightenment. Christianity is not to be thought of in terms of people finding reconciliation with a just and holy God through faith in Christ's atoning work, but rather in terms of the establishment of a new social order characterized by love, tolerance, liberty, equality, and faith in the perfectability of human beings. The focus is placed primarily on the human sphere of existence and the mandate is social justice defined as the freedom of the individual to develop his full potential without any artificial constraint. Thus the appeal in the Welcoming Open Letter is to "central scriptural truths of morality, justice, and compassion as taught by Jesus," but not to specific statements of Jesus as to what is right or wrong, holy or sinful (such as Mark 7:20-23). The Jesus who calls sinners to repentance is recast as a social prophet who touts love and tolerance. The specifics of the biblical revelation concerning what God considers to be just and right are obscured by the appeal to the principles of morality and justice as defined by modern thought and values.

The second basic supposition drawn from Enlightenment thinking that underlies the letter, is the superiority of truth gained by scientific enquiry over truth passed on by tradition. The Bible is seen as a priceless heirloom from the past--a great treasure of literature and reflection by man on the actions and promptings of God--but as it is a product of bygone generations, it must bow to the superior knowledge of today. The truths discovered by science are deemed objective and verifiable, whereas the ideas expressed in the Bible are conditioned by the culture of the writers and by the constraints of their day. Science has proved the Bible wrong about the origin of the universe, the beginnings of man, and supposed historical events such as the Noahic Flood, thus scientific truth trumps biblical truth. Science, it is argued, has shown that sexual orientation is determined "by a complex mix of biological and environmental factors" beyond an individual's control and hence, since God has superintended this complex mix, we should accept this as his doing and affirm homosexual, as well as heterosexual, marriage. No account is taken of the fallen state of the world in which we live, nor the sinful nature with which we all have to reckon. Without an objective revelation from God, nature becomes our god and our source of revelation.

Finally, postmodernist ideas of the subjective nature of truth appear to have influenced the framers of the Welcoming Open Letter. Postmodernism is a reaction to the failure of optimistic humanism to produce the objective truth that was promised through intellectual enquiry alone. Great minds of the Enlightenment, and thereafter, came up with different convictions as to what was absolute truth. Postmodernism thus rejected the possibility of discovering objective truth and instead insists that there is no objective truth. All truth is relative and merely the preference and desires of an individual, religious group, or culture. What is then left in this new climate of thought is just individual preferences and the radical autonomy of the individual to follow his or her own subjective perception of what is right or wrong, good or bad. Who then are we to forbid the person of faith who perceives an attraction to someone of the same sex to act on such a desire? When all truth is relative, no one can claim to know better than another person what is good and right. Such a belief system eventually takes us to a place of moral anarchy and social chaos.

The authority of the Bible is in eclipse in the contemporary western world and also, sadly, in the western church. Our only hope is to return to the example of our Lord Jesus Christ who lived and died by the teachings and prophecies of a book already centuries old in his day. Christ held to the specifics of the O.T. revelation, as well as to its overriding themes and principles, allowing the specific stipulations to inform the principles and vice versa. For Christ, God was at the center of the universe, not the subjective perceptions of self, and it was the will of his Father that defined his actions and directions, not his own. Only by following the example of Christ in his reverence for the Scriptures can we hope to find our way through the darkness of this age into the glorious light of the kingdom of God.

Philip Barr -- Belleville, PA

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