Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

a storybook understanding

6/20/12

 

Hebrews Chapter 6 alludes to a progressive understanding of the Bible, a moving beyond certain doctrinal issues and seeking perfection or completion. Where did the author of Hebrews anticipate that the readers would be in their understanding when they experienced perfection?

 

I have noted before that the traditional church treats the Bible primarily as a book of stories about historical events. That view of the Bible is reflected in the church's insistence on a "literal" interpretation of scripture and biblical inerrancy and infallibility. To those of this way of thinking, the stories must be historically true; and the content must be scientifically accurate and completely consistent. In keeping with these concepts of the Bible, the orthodox church has devised what it calls the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: things like the Trinity and the virgin birth for instance. In almost any church's statement of faith or creed you will see tenets like these listed. In proclaiming the Bible to the world, the church places great emphasis on knowing and accepting these stories. Its members hear them endlessly, beginning as children and continuing for a lifetime.

 

This emphasis on the Bible as a story book of great historical significance has greatly impacted Christian doctrine. It is noteworthy that the various tenets of orthodox Christian doctrine almost exclusively mirror the "facts" presented in some bible story of a historical event or, in some cases, the prediction of a future historical event.   

 

There is little if anything in the typical statement of faith which points to the Bible as a moral or ethical discourse and which enjoins a new mindset and associated modes of behavior. Instead, as I have noted, the doctrinal points emphasize the acceptance of stories as historical and less frequently of the prediction of the future.

 

One might rightfully question why the basic tenets of Christianity, as reflected in the many creeds and statements of faith, rarely, if ever, mention the astounding ethical standards taught by Jesus. Where is the Sermon on the Mount reflected in these Christian basics? Where are the fruits of the spirit described by Paul? Why has the indentifying marks of Christianity been reduced to an acceptance of historical accounts as opposed to embracing the lessons reflected in the associated stories. To be sure the church likes to draw its own conclusions about those lessons and share those with the audience in countless sermons. Unfortunately those lessons are dramatically skewed toward Old Testament ethics and dismissive of the new ethics of Jesus. After all, isn't Christianity based on Christ and not Moses?

 

In effect, Christian doctrine merely pays lip service to Jesus by insisting on His historicity while largely ignoring what He taught about attitude and our behavior toward one another. A large part of the problem, in my mind, is the inability to see that the story of OT Israel was a demonstration of a failed ethics. In order to reverse that failed system, Jesus had to bring a new ethical standard, dramatically different from that of the OT.

 

Unless Christianity re-defines its fundamental beliefs, relinquishing its focus on historical happenings and stressing the counter intuitive thinking and behavior taught by Jesus, the religion which supposedly sprang from Christ will remain stuck at the elementary school level. The stories of the Bible are important, not in their historical validity, but rather in their potential moral impact and effect on fulfilled living.

 

As an example of what I perceive has governed the development of Christian doctrine, I call attention to a well known story of moral significance, that of Pinocchio, the little boy made famous by Walt Disney. What do we deem essential to the importance of this story. Is it the "fact" that the father's name was Geppetto or the illustration of the power inherent in his love for his son. Is it the "fact" that a boy could survive being swallowed by a whale or the example of the consequences of avoiding the truth.

 

If a religious creed were to be devised based on the story of Pinocchio, would it logically demand that the only proper name for a father is Geppeto? Would it insist that all small boys be carved from wood? Not logically, it wouldn't, because the true significance of the tale lies in its moral and ethical teachings.. The other details are only incidental to the moral lessons.

 

I don't believe we should logically do to the Bible accounts what we do not do to other stories of a moral and ethical nature. If what God desires is for us to embrace the lessons of the Bible, then we need to focus on what those lessons are. To the extent we get hung up on the stories' myriad details and subjugate the underlying lessons to those details, we make the Bible very much like any other book of secular history instead of a unique treatise of world changing importance.

 

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