Wednesday, October 07, 2009

How I Changed My Mind, Part 2

I wrote this some time ago and never quite completed it, but there are a few posts coming up that will be related to here it is.

When I last wrote about inerrancy, I outlined how a belief in it could only be supported by two ideas, one of which consisted of believing that everything that happens, happens because of God's will, thereby making the case that the Scriptures we have were preserved perfectly throughout history because God so willed it to be. They exist as they are because God willed them to exist just as they are.

I dealt with that.

Now, I want to move on to an idea which has gained strength in me for some time; questioning the infallibility of Biblical authors.

As a Protestant, I have always been taught--in almost every church/denomination--that Scripture takes precedence over any particular person or church. If someone preaches something that is "non-biblical" then a good Protestant is supposed to defer to Scripture and ignore that particular pastor, teacher, or church. There is no allegiance extended to any person or organization that isn't contingent upon a "right" understanding of the Scriptures.

Protestants--the original "show me" people.

I am not opposed to such a bent in people. I think that anyone and anything should be up for questioning if people are uncertain about what something means. However, this very trait which is so intrinsic to Protestantism is at the root of the problem I began to have with inerrancy.

The typical narrative for Protestants goes something like this--Once upon a time there was this really great church that was following Jesus in exactly the way they were supposed to. Eventually the church grew in number and political leaders became Christians and began to use their authority to influence the government to be favorable to Christianity. When enough Christians were in power, they began to meddle in church life, causing all kinds of political and worldly entanglements, corrupting the purity of the church. Eventually, the church itself became powerful and proscribed all sorts of unbiblical and false doctrines. It also became overly wealthy and involved in politics. All of that changed when Martin Luther pounded his 95 theses on the door at Wittenburg. Sola Scriptura brought Christianity back to its roots, back to its "true" form. We no longer needed to fear "The Church" or its leaders. WE could each know what God had said through the Scriptures. When tradition was not found to be based on the Bible....we could comfortably toss it away.

In concept, this was an equalizing, democratic, revolutionary idea. Really, all it boils down to is trust no one.

The problem with trusting no one, is that there is an infinite regress of ones not to trust. We eventually wind up all the way back with the Church fathers whose faith and beliefs are very different from those of modern Protestants, even those Protestants who fervently believe in inerrancy.

As an example, belief in transubstantiation--the idea that the communion elements become the actual, literal Body and Blood of Jesus--was developed very early in the church. By the 2nd century, it was being taught as the accepted doctrine of communion.

This becomes a problem for Protestants, most of whom see communion as simply a remembrance meal, some who see it as intrinsically holy and spiritual, and others who are slightly closer to transubstantiation but don't believe that the actual elements are transformed. In general, Protestants don't fret over the fact that they reject a doctrine which has been in force since the very early church fathers. We are comfortable in assuming that in our modern context, we can assert that even though the church fathers believe that's what happened to the bread and wine, they were mistaken in how far they extended the doctrine and belief.

This intersects with inerrancy only in the method by which Protestants believe things. Protestants may say that they don't believe in transubstantiation because it isn't "biblical". They find no evidence for such a detailed doctrine in the Scriptures. They concede that there is to be communion, by the Lord's own institution of it, but they disagree about its purpose.

At first, it may seem reasonable for Protestants to rely scientifically on the Scriptures for their doctrine, rejecting what seems out of place to them. However, the implications of such an approach are far-reaching. When we reject the conclusions of early Christian leaders who were much closer to the original events and people recorded in Scripture, we are removing the foundations of the religion which we think we are defending. It's like standing in the top of a very tall tree while commanding someone on the ground to chop it down. Once the cut severs the trunk, it will take a while for the highest tip of the tree to fall to the ground, but there can be no doubt that gravity will eventually pull it from its lofty height.

In order for Christianity to sustain itself, there must be a quantifiable level of trust in its beginnings and in its early teachers.

A confidence in inerrancy undermines trust in the church fathers insomuch as simply taking their word about things. Protestants tend to be willing to revise any and all held beliefs until we get to the original apostles, the gospel writers and Paul; we place them and their writings in a special case, declaring them to be inspired and holy.

This creates a dilemma....if we are willing to discard doctrines developed by the early church fathers, going all the way back until we reach the apostles, what's to keep us from going that last step and questioning the doctrines and writings developed by them? There is nothing to logically stop us from doing that. Protestants don't go that far because they recognize that the destruction of the Christian faith would soon follow in the wake of that last step. So, it is not that their particular brand of reasoning and argumentation changes, but that they purposely and consciously suspend it upon arriving at the end point of the apostles.

Catholics are not quite in the same predicament. While they have a high view of Scripture, the ultimate authority of what Scripture means, or what doctrines are in force, comes from their confidence in the infallibility of their popes in all spiritual matters. Catholic Christianity is much more malleable over time. Believing that whatever the current spiritual leader "binds or loosens" has God's stamp of approval, removes some of the issues created by changing doctrines and teachings.

So what's a Protestant to do? The choices seem to be a) convert to Catholicism, or perhaps Orthodoxy, b) believe in inerrancy as a way to sweep away beliefs we currently find uncomfortable or false, c) begin to question the very starting points of Christianity.

None of those choices are remotely appealing to me.

1. I have too many fundamentally anti-Catholic beliefs to sweep aside. Whatever I am, it remains thoroughly Protestant.

2. I can't believe in inerrancy as a way to make myself feel more confident, ignoring the things I've learned in order to ease the struggle of my soul.

3. If I begin to question the very beginnings of Christianity, what will I be left with?

I have chopped down the tree I scaled so eagerly in my life. I have watched it tumble to the ground.

Will I be able to make something useful of the lumber?


Anonymous said...

Maybe the simple explanation is that people made it up as they went along, based on the knowledge and beliefs of the time and their needs, in reaction to the society around them. That is why God seems so different and Jesus is so different depending on who is telling the story and when.


Anonymous said...

oh, and I have questioned the beginnings of Christianity, and the problem is that once you get to the facts and not the story line you refer to that you are taught but is not true there isn't much left. Do you believe contrary to the facts and logic or do you still hold to simple faith when your brain is telling you that it is not likely true


Randy Olds said...

Very thought provoking post. I hadn't stopped by your blog in several weeks and almost missed this one. No way that I can address what you have written here in a sentence or ten, so I wrote about it on my blog. Stop by.

MInTheGap said...

While I understand what you're saying, and I appreciate the thought you've put into it, isn't there a problem with one of you're "givens".

What I mean is this, you seem to assume that there were not competing views even at the time of the Apostles. In reality, even in Paul's time there were many that were teaching different doctrines-- the one that really comes to mind is the Judiazers.

In fact, it was Paul himself that went back to Jerusalem and to Peter to ask specifically about that doctrine-- in paraphrase, "What can we expect the Gentiles to do in regards to the law? These people over here expect them to convert to Judiasm."

Paul goes further than that council (which just advise them to stay away from fornication and things offered to idols) and basically says in Romans 14 that Christian Liberty extends to people's own conscience before the Lord.

So, the problem was around much before the "Christian Fathers" made decisions. And there were people that were Christians, leading people to Christ, that disagreed.

What then?

It seems to me that one can only base what they believe should be done on the Scriptures. Otherwise they will be caught up in following one group or the other.

However, I believe that Paul would (as he did in the Scripture) be excited for any "sect" that brought people to Christ, as long as they did not teach a false Gospel.

Secondly, I'm not sure about your reasoning about Protestants (of which I'm not one-- I'm Baptist, and we never protested anything) being able to logically question the Apostles. There's a big difference between people that constructed doctrines upon the Gospels, etc. and those that wrote them.

Nowhere do we see God calling Augustine, etc., but we do see him calling Paul, Peter, and the rest. They are a special class.

Does that make any sense?

terri said...

Hey Min!

I don't have time to respond to your comment here and on my other posts right now....heading out of town for a while.

But...when I get back I'll try to remmeber to come back to this post and comment