This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

The Bible’s place

In letters to the editor, I notice that no matter which side of an issue one takes, there seems to be an agreement that the final arbiter is the Bible. We think that if we would simply read the Bible correctly, our differences would fade away.

This conflict among Christians has been going on for at least 500 years. “Scripture alone” was the Protestant battle cry. Obviously, that hasn’t worked. Even the Reformation leaders who agreed that differences could be settled by Scripture could not agree on some basic things. Martin Luther and John Calvin could not agree on the nature of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Thousands of schisms later, is it not time to admit the Bible is not a unifying document?

There is irony in the Reformers proclaiming “Scripture alone.” The established church chose the books of Scripture. It took centuries to do that. Why did they think the church got the 27 books of the New Testament right while eliminating the Apocrypha? Luther was openly critical of some of the books of the New Testament.

The Bible is a testimony to a lack of unity among the people of God. We have the Bible because of disagreement in the church and among the Jewish people. The Apostle Paul wrote, “beware of the dogs” (Phil. 3:2), but didn’t suggest schism. He acknowledged some good might result.

Perhaps the Bible was given to us for a different reason than to arbitrate our differences. Perhaps it was given to us to enhance dialogue. The Jewish people have devoted much time and effort to argument and discussion. To disagree may not be a bad thing. I know it is difficult to claim as brothers or sisters those in our congregations who think the Bible says different things. It is especially difficult if the brother or sister is our pastor. Maybe over time we may see things their way, or they ours. Or together we may arrive at a new understanding. We may even find that we need each other.

Bible readers — scholars and laypeople alike — disagree. So it shall ever be. Yet, “we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Eph. 2:10). It will be a lot easier to fulfill our purpose if we stop trying to prove each other wrong by insisting our interpretation is the correct one.

Gary Schrag
Overland Park, Kan.

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