Friday, February 23, 2007

Christian Ethics and Biblical Literalism

Dan Trabue has a relative who was nominated by his church to become a deacon (as a congregational polity defines the term). He drank a few alcoholic drinks a year, though his denomination frowns on drinking entirely, and so encountered resistance:

Being aware that the Bible nowhere condemns the drinking of alcohol (and, in fact, encourages it in small amounts for one’s health), he figured that wasn’t a problem, but he brought it up to his pastor ahead of time to ask if it were a problem.

He said he’d even be willing to forgo drinking alcohol while a deacon, if it were a stumbling block for anyone. But, being a member of a church where biblical literality was essential and since alcohol isn’t condemned biblically, he figured he was okay.

Well, Baptists being what they are, he wasn’t okay. His nomination was rejected out of hand until such time as he’s “been off” alcohol for a few years to prove that he’s not a drinker.

My relation was stung by the “Literalists.”

Although still quite conservative, he was a bit put off by the incident. He didn’t realize that what he needed to believe literally was not the Bible but the traditions of that particular church (and denomination, for the most part).

We agreed that no one takes the Bible literally literally, page-for-page, word-for-word. Anyone who values biblical teaching has to weigh what the Bible says in each part against the whole and against our God-given reason.

And while it’s obvious that no one takes the Bible word-for-word literally (kill disrespectful children, don’t go to banks, don’t invest, free prisoners every seven years, return land to the original owners every 50 years, pluck out our eyes, love our enemies, overcome evil with good, etc, etc, etc), many prefer to think that the beliefs of their church ARE the literal teachings of the Bible – even the ones that contradict biblical teachings.

How very true. That's why it's critical that all Christians -- lay and clergy -- engage in thoughtful ethical reflection. And read the whole Bible routinely. Because what we think the Bible says often isn't.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

And while it’s obvious that no one takes the Bible word-for-word literally (kill disrespectful children, don’t go to banks, don’t invest, free prisoners every seven years, return land to the original owners every 50 years, pluck out our eyes, love our enemies, overcome evil with good, etc, etc, etc),

Hahaha! That's ingenius!

tim said...

Well, all but three on Trabue's list aren't questions of "literal" interpretation but of how far the Mosaic law applies to gentiles.

"Pluck out your eyes" is the only metaphorical passage listed which would be a problem if taken literally.

The last two are literally true (using the proper type of "love" referred to) and are part of Christian teaching, if not always practice.

That being said, I agree that his relative's position should be acceptable to his church. I like that the Methodist church by-and-large frowns on drinking, but I do realize that drinking, per se, is not prohibited by the Bible. And I wouldn't prohibit someone from being a pastor if he drank in moderation and not in a way to cause problems for himself or the congregation.

Perhaps these people are being mischaracterized as "literalists" when it isn't the proper term in this case?

tim said...

I'll add another thing: this could be another case that falls under Jesus' admonition against putting your traditions above scripture.

So even though I like churches to discourage drinking, I've got to keep that firmly in my mind...

freedomauthority said...

Is Jesus a lamb? Are Christians made of salt? Are marijuana and poison ivy good to eat? Do all who condemn homosexuals, engage in homosexual behavior themselves? Did God only start using parables when he became Jesus?

It is “obvious that no one takes the Bible word-for-word literally.” And the Bible has nothing to say about where we should take its words literally or figuratively.

Satan demonstrated that we can prove all manner of foolishness by quoting the Bible. It is not about literal vs. figurative, pre-Messianic vs. post-Messianic, or even divinely inspired vs. the work of men. It is about reading with integrity, honestly seeking God, prepared to cast away false beliefs whatever their source.

If we seek God, we will find Him.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. We know God hates divorce, but when it happens, are the divorcees still married forever in Gods eyes? Would another marriage go unrecognized,be adultery, and condemn a couple to a life of adulterous sin even they are very much in love, attend church and pray regularly?