Points to Ponder: The Continuing Saga of "It's All in How You Interpret It" Pt2
Points to Ponder
The Continuing Saga of "It's All in How You Interpret It" Pt2
This is part 2 of a series. See part 1
Several years ago I attended a seminar at the United Methodist Church Conference Center. It was hosted by the ICJS (Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies). I forgot the theme but I recall some of the discussion.
There were about 35 clergy seated around a circle of connected tables. The head of the discussion consisted of the Presbyterian moderator, a Catholic laywoman and theologian, and a Jewish man (a theologian or rabbi, I do not recall his official status). In the midst of discussion on Jewish-Christian relations, I was intrigued by how many of my colleagues went out of their way to emphasize the "arrogance" of Christian doctrine. Such things as Christ as our Messiah, Him being the only way to salvation, and the alleged anti-semitic language in the New Testament (particularly John's gospel) was divisive and just not right, they said. I felt like they were falling all over themselves to deny the deity of Jesus Christ for the sake of our Jewish guest. Of all of us, I think he had the most integrity. He knew what he believed, and though he was on "Christian turf," in the offices of a major denomination's headquarters, surrounded by Christian clergy, he wasn't apologizing for anything. As for he's concerned, Jesus is not the Messiah, nor the Son of God, nor deserving of the worship He receives from Christians; but he could respect us. A lot of us apparently could not respect ourselves or the Lord we claim to represent.
I formally had to ask my burning question. How do we interpret John 14:6? Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
The Catholic theologian replied, "Well, it depends on how you interpret it". I said, "What's to interpret?" The language in the verse is clear and quite emphatic. I quoted other verses and concluded by saying that either the Bible is true or it is not. Jesus is who He says He is or not. Again, the replies (now, with a more condescending tone toward me) were along the lines of "it is all in how you interpret it."
I have been hearing that sort of talk more and more, especially in mainline churches. In order to keep these ever-declining institutions together, this approach makes sense.
Recently a task force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) decided that the ELCA should not remove its law against the ordination of practicing homosexuals; however, if a local church feels led to call as its pastor a practicing homosexual, the law will not be enforced against that church. After all, it is all in how you interpret it. This allows a church to sound biblical on paper and in pronouncement, but ignore it in practice. It permits a house divided to stay together as both sides define righteousness and holiness according to their own interpretation and go on ignoring the blatant contradiction between them as they have always done. It does help create a more balanced level of hypocrisy on all sides. The basic definition of "hypocrite" is "actor".
In the United Methodist Church we like to act as if we have a connectional big tent called the United Methodist Church. We say it is all in how you interpret it.
Can you imagine your mail carrier delivering a letter to you from the I.R.S., in which you are told you owe $1,000. The mailman tells you that taxation is unjust and wrong. The I.R.S. is just trying to use legalistic scare tactics to extract your hard -earned money to fund oppression around the world. He tells you to just ignore it. What is wrong with this picture?
The mail carrier's job is to deliver the mail, not interpret it. The post office aids in delivery of your mail and helps you to properly respond to it. Preachers of the word have a similar role. But if we take God's word and edit out the parts that convict us or that we dislike, then the interpretation becomes the message. When our private interpretations and editing of scripture become the message we obey, then it is not the "word of the Lord"; it is the word of me. No longer is scripture and the God of scripture the primary authority in life, the interpreter is; it's ALL in how you interpret it.
This is a tempting way to go. Following Christ becomes somewhat easier. Being a "righteous" person is more self-fulfilling. Plus, it allows the practice of our faith to better conform to our environment. But, is that what Jesus calls us to do? He defined holiness in Matthew 5:48 as being "perfect (or holy) just as your Father in heaven is perfect". And how did He tell us to do that? Notice the first step and the end result, if it is not taken.
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." (NKJV Mark 8:34b-38)
But I guess it is all in how you interpret it.
Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Laurel.