Currently, I am reading a book book by Graham Cooke titled, “A Divine Confrontation.” I’m currently in a section where Graham is talking about worship. He makes some pretty poignant comments that bear further consideration. For example, he writes, “Most Sunday services are boringly familiar.” He also wrote, “Stereotypical services produce stereotypical believers. God is endlessly creative. His nature is a challenge to any one-dimensional state. The God who makes every snowflake different, who created millions of varieties of species, who controls climatic atmospheres and huge bodies in space, cannot be expressed through a stereotype.” Earlier he writes, “As humans, we like structure, organization, form, and substance.” This is quite different to how God operates.
The combination of all this got me to thinking about something else. That common stereotypical approach to worship with that desire to have structure, organization, form, and substance also lends to a desire for uniformity, for things to fit in a nice and neat package, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
This can also be the common approach toward Scripture, especially those who strenuously advocate that there must be absolute harmony in it, meaning that there can be no contradiction present. And many of those who hold to this approach and view of Scripture go to great lengths to explain away those places where contradictions are present. For example, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul instructs Timothy that he wants the women in the church at Ephesus to learn in silence while he instructs the women in the church in Corinth how to properly pray and prophesy. Those who want no contradiction present (for they believe that to have contradictions present makes it impossible for Scripture to be God-breathed) start going into qualifiers of the passages to explain away any contradictions and once again achieve seamless harmony and full agreement.
What about the decree of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) where it was decreed that it was necessary for Gentile believers (“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater BURDEN (read “requirement”) than these NECESSARY things: to abstain from things that have been sacrificed to idols and to blood and things strangled and fornification.”) and later Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian believers about when it was permissible to actually eat meat sacrificed to idols, an instruction that came after the Jerusalem council decree, and in direct contradiction to that decree?
For a long time, I have struggled with how to describe my approach to Scripture until I came across what Graham wrote. I do not fear contradiction in Scripture. I do not fear tension in Scripture. I do not fear one set of instructions for believers in one location and an opposite set of instructions given to believers in another location. I don’t believe that the presence of contradictions in this way or tension disqualifies Scripture from being God-breathed. I actually believe their presence speaks to the creative nature of God, creative in how He addresses similar issues but in different locations and situations.
I have often wondered if the common and typical approach to what it means for Scripture to be God-breathed and inerrant has created a cookie-cutter approach to what if means to be a follower of Christ and a person of faith (making the Bible out to be a policy book full of rules, regulations, and guidelines) and has actually elevated the written word to the status of an idol, being worshiped in some way, similar to the religious teachers and leaders of Jesus’ day. I often hear people say, “The Bible says…” in response to some situation, often as justification for some action. What I don’t hear much is “I wonder what God wants in this situation?” in response. What that says to me is that the Bible has been elevated to divine status, maybe as the 4th member of the Godhead.
And I won’t go there.