Here in Canada, as in the United States, one of the biggest issues dividing the church is homosexuality.
Churches are leaving Mennonite Church Canada over it. In British Columbia, I was told that as many as a third of the province’s 31 congregations could depart.
People who leave the denomination usually cite being true to the Bible as the reason. And they can point to verses that condemn homosexuality.
Proponents of LGBTQ affirmation also argue from the Bible, citing the larger meaning of Christ’s teachings about love for all.
The result? We’re stuck. Both sides use the same book but arrive at different conclusions.
But what if, instead of being able to provide a solution to our dilemma, relying on biblical interpretation alone is the problem?
That’s the view of Dave Schmelzer, director of Blue Ocean Faith, a network of 11 evangelical congregations in the United States.
Schmelzer, who lives in California, was once a self-described atheist before becoming a Christian, getting a seminary degree and planting a church in Cambridge, Mass.
For him, the current challenge can be traced back to Martin Luther and his Reformation emphasis on Sola Scriptura — relying on the Bible alone when deciding matters of faith.
“The problem he was trying to solve was who had the authority to say what God’s will was,” Schmelzer says.
By making the Bible the ultimate authority, not the pope, Luther solved one problem but created another. Now anyone could interpret the text and declare what the Bible clearly said.
But one person’s clear meaning wasn’t so clear to another. This led to division and discord — and to more than 9,000 Protestant denominations today.
Over the centuries, it also led to heated battles in some churches over issues like slavery, divorce, interracial marriage, dancing, head coverings and whether women can be leaders — among others.
In all these cases, people could easily find verses that supported their views. But also in each case, many Christians found verses that changed how they viewed the issue.
Take enslavement, for example. “The Bible clearly supported slavery, until it didn’t,” Schmelzer observes.
But if differing biblical interpretation is the problem, what is the solution? For Schmelzer it is another of the Reformation’s great Solas: Solus Christus, or Christ alone.
Or, to put it in the more common vernacular: What would Jesus do?
When it comes to homosexuality, the answer is clear for Schmelzer: Excluding LGBTQ people is not something Jesus would do.
Schmelzer doesn’t want to throw out the Bible. It’s essential. But for him it’s just one of the ways God speaks, not the only way.
Reading the Bible, he says, should be combined “with hearing from Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit, and with the rich transparent relationships with other people following Jesus.”
Has the end of Sola Scriptura come? Is it time for Solus Christus? Would that help us through our current challenges? Schmelzer says yes. What do you think?
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.