It is astonishing to me how Christianity has seemingly been turned on its ear over this past few weeks. Pope Francis questions the value of free enterprise and calls for a renewed effort to curb climate change, the U.S. Supreme Court makes same gender marriage the law of the land. Surveys indicate there is a decline in Christian Church membership. Christians question how they can live out their beliefs in the context of cultural shifts that embrace religious pluralism. The list goes on. We act as if Christianity has been a monolithic institution until now. But anyone who has actually read the Bible (and believe me I've heard from many who claim they have read it) would agree to the following:
The Bible contradicts itself. The proof? Just listen to the arguments for and against any of our current issues. Both sides use the Bible to support their positions.
The Bible was written by many people over a period of 1000 years. A lot can happen over a 1000 years. Views can change. Knowledge can lead to new understandings.
A lot has happened in the world since the Bible became the Bible. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria named the books of the Bible in 367 c.e. The world is a much different place today in many ways. Slavery is unacceptable. Women have rights equal to men (in some societies anyway). Polygamy is unacceptable as well as having concubines. The Earth is no longer considered the center of the universe.
And from the beginning there has been one Jesus, but many Christs. Yes, you heard me correctly. Let me explain. It is generally agreed that Jesus died around the year 30 c.e. The first writings about him were letters Paul wrote to churches he had started. 1 Thessalonians is considered the first of those letters. The first Gospel, Mark, was probably written in the 60's c.e. Matthew and Luke were written in the 70's and 80's and John written close to 100 c.e.
These Gospels each paint a different picture of Jesus. Why? Probably because they were written to different audiences, but also because the acknowledgement of the divinity of Jesus grew as time passed. Beyond the New Testament period there was considerable debate over who Jesus was. Super human? God inhabiting a human body? Eventually these controversies were settled at the Council of Nicea in 324-5 c.e. But scripture tells us there was an earlier Council, the Council of Jerusalem, recorded in the 15th chapter of Acts. It met to settle controversies at that time. So, what does this mean? For me it means Christianity is no more being turned on its ear now than it was from the very beginning. And, how might we make a thoughtful response in light of this truth?
We could begin by laying aside our hubris and take seriously the power Jesus gave us through the Holy Spirit. What I mean is we are better serving Christ and his church if we take seriously our role in giving authority to scripture. Jesus gave us authority even over scripture when he said whatever we bind or loose on Earth would be ever so in Heaven.
The power of binding and loosing is an awesome power, not to be taken lightly. It should be done prayerfully and carefully, and, most importantly in the context of an informed community. It should be tested by scripture, measured against tradition, articulated with reason and recognized by one's personal experience of God. We may think we're informed, but the kinds of vitriol, lack of compassion, judgmentalism and exclusivity present in our current so-called conversation betrays a thirst for power and place that is neither Christian nor right.
Anyone who knows the Bible knows that.