Christ Is Our Authority [Not The Bible]

“When [LGBTQ-affirming Christians] tell me that I am wrong for saying that [homosexuality] is a sin, in the simplicity of my faith in the Holy Scriptures, I point him to this sacred record [the Bible], and tell him, in all candor, as my text does, that his teaching blasphemes the name of God and His doctrine.

“The tree of [affirming homosexuality and transgenderism] is evil and only evil…[it] is nourished by an utter rejection of the Scriptures.” – Rev. Henry Van Dyke

Many Christians today would agree wholeheartedly with Pastor Van Dyke’s statements here. But keep in mind that what he was actually defending here was slavery and his opponents were Abolitionists. Still, his position in favor of slave-holding was very strongly supported by the Holy Scriptures. One cannot deny that he was right about the fact that the Bible did not condemn slaveholding outright.

But we cannot miss the point that it is more than possible for someone to be Biblically-correct about something and still be very, very wrong at the same time.

The struggle for many of us is that we have been told for so long that we need to be “Biblically-minded” that we have forgotten that this same Bible teaches us to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and affirms that we have the mind of Christ.

Furthermore, the same Bible also teaches us to love extravagantly – as Christ has loved us – which was unconditionally and before we did anything to change our minds about Him, or how we live.

Here are Van Dyke’s actual comments about Abolitionists made in 1860:

“The tree of Abolition is evil and only evil…[it] is nourished by an utter rejection of the Scriptures….When the Abolitionist tells me that slaveholding is sin, in the simplicity of my faith in the Holy Scriptures, I point him to this sacred record, and tell him, in all candor, as my text does, that his teaching blasphemes the name of God and His doctrine.”-– Rev. Henry Van Dyke (1860), “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism” (sermon), p.11.

Now, listen to what pro-slavery Christians said in the 1800’s about Abolitionists and substitute the topic of homosexuality and you’ll see that the arguments used today are exactly the same:

“[Opponents of slavery] decide a priori [in advance] what the Bible ought to speak, and then turn it over in order to see how they can make it speak what they wish…When Moses speaks the words of the God of the Hebrews, it is for us to listen, not to call into question.” – Bernard Whitman (1831), Two Letters to the Rev. Moses Stuart: On the Subject of Religious Liberty”, p. 30-42.

“If the present course of the abolitionists is right, then the course of Christ and the apostles were wrong.” – Charles Hodge (1860), “Bible Argument on Slavery” in E.N. Elliott’s “Cotton Is King”, p. 849.

“The tree of Abolition is evil and only evil…[it] is nourished by an utter rejection of the Scriptures.” – Rev. Henry Van Dyke (1860), “The Character and Influence of Abolitionism” (sermon), p.11.

“Those who oppose slavery are engaged in willful or conscious opposition to the truth…Who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God, and…invent for ourselves a ‘higher law’ that those holy Scriptures which are given to us as ‘a light to our feet and a lamp to our paths’ must answer?”–  Episcopal Bishop John Henry Hopkins (1864), “Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical View of Slavery.”, p.16

Those who opposed slavery [the Abolitionists] had very little scriptural support for their position, but they were on the side of Christ all the same.

Why is it so hard for us today to see that there are times when we need to listen to the mind of Christ and the voice of the Good Shepherd in order to fulfill the law of love?

As Henry Brinton said recently:

“An answer based only on Biblical quotations may put us on the side of Southern theologians who supported slavery and lost their way.” [Quoted from CNN, Oct. 15, 2014] [John Blake, “How the Bible Was Used To Justify Slavery, Abolitionism.”]

Sometimes, to obey Jesus we might have to admit that the Bible falls short. In those cases, we must cling tightly to the Good Shepherd and remember His command:

“Love one another as I have loved you.” – Jesus

Today, almost no Christian would argue in favor of slavery, in spite of the fact that it is quite “Biblical.”

So, the question of “authority” immediately comes to mind. Some argue for the inerrant and infallible authority of Scripture as the rule for a Christian’s life. But others, like me, suggest instead that our authority is Christ and that it is still the Holy Spirit who cries out to the Body of Christ today.

Sadly, many of us will not, or cannot, listen because we are convinced that our Bibles – and only our Bibles – have authority over us.

Are we willing to submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit? Are we courageous enough to allow Jesus to be our guide?

Keep in mind that the Bible never holds itself up as our final authority. Instead, the Bible points us to Jesus and reminds us that He is the Head of the Church.

In the words of our Abba Father who thundered from heaven, “This is my Son. Listen to Him!”

**

Keith Giles is the author of several books, including the forthcoming “Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God”, available July 4th, 2018.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.

Please, join me at one of these upcoming events:

*The Nonviolent Love of Christ: How Loving Our Enemies Saves The World, with Joshua Lawson and Keith Giles on Saturday, June 16 in Portsmouth Ohio. Register here>

*Crucifying Our Politics with Keith Giles on June 24 in Cleveland, OH. Register here>

BONUS: Unlock exclusive content including blog articles, short stories, music, podcasts, videos and more on my Patreon page.

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  • Michael The Disciple

    “Today, almost no Christian would argue in favor of slavery, in spite of the fact that it is quite “Biblical.”…..

    Exactly. And bondage or capitulation to sexual identity IS slavery. Christ came to set the captives free.

  • Michael, one of the bondages Jesus came to set us free from was bondage to a legalistic, weaponized use of the Law of Moses. He hung out with those deemed undesirable by religious folks, especially religious leaders who used the Law as a means of excluding people. In opposition to the Laws of Moses he healed on the Sabbath, touched lepers, worked on the Sabbath, shared God’s love with a Samaritan woman, healed a Roman officer’s young manslave, “pais,” probably meant in the common context of male lover, included eunuchs in the kingdom of God (sexually other) that were excluded from temple. His sermon on the mount, and “you have heard it said, but I say unto you,” shows a midrash style of reinterpretation at odds with the Saducees and Pharisees.

    So here’s the problem I see, and the recent flack over Andy Stanley’s series on the OT is a good example, when Christians try to make Christianity about following rules, you don’t end up with more loving Christians, just legalistic ones. Take male headship for example. Instead of seeing the Pauline example to be taken from Christ’s self-sacrificing servant attitude, men only see “rulership” over women. One can read that into the narrative, but only by ignoring Christ’s example. The SBC and Paige Patterson is what you get.

    Neofundamentalists tend to get lost in the weeds, rather than seeing the overarching trajectory of scripture as pointing to Jesus and his twofold commandment, they heap on as many laws as possible, not trusting the work of the Holy Spirit. It becomes more about excluding others than letting others in. Christians become defined by who they are not, rather than who they should be emulating. It reduces Christianity to a scorecard.

    The American Bible Society’s recent issue of a doctrinal statement employees must sign is a sign of the growing frustration among evangelicals as they see influence and power in society slipping away. There is a tightening of ranks, a more desperate attempt to reach a consensus on doctrinal purity. It just drives more people away from the church. Like Paul in Romans chapter 2, they see the hypocrisy.

  • David Miller

    While I sympathize with the spirit of the article, I must point out that in order for a religious person to be humane they have to reject the very scriptures that give origin to their faith. In other words, you are humane not because of your scriptures, but despite of them. Notice that biblically both homophobia & slavery are not only allowed, but encouraged. And even in the new testament St. Paul commands the runaway slave Onesimus to return to his master. Saying that Jesus transcends the scriptures does not solve a thing. Look at the world around you – 2,000 years of faith in Jesus hasn’t eliminated homophobia any more than it did away with slavery. If anything, it made matters worse, for everywhere the faith took hold, so did intolerance (as we ourselves experience here in the US with religionites saddling us with Trumpy for example). Again advances for humanity were bloodily carved against the bitter opposition of religionites. Let’s face it, liberal & moderate people of faith will never gain control over the religious fanatics. There’s no controlling fanatics because by nature they’re inherently uncontrollable. And their shared faith inhibits liberals & moderates from engaging in the type of cultural warfare it would be necessary to engage in order to eclipse the fanatics. The best thing to do is cast away the blinders of faith, toss away those cursed scriptures that are but the scribblings of long-dead priestly scribes embelishing the folklore of Bronze Age nomadic goat herdsmen. When you do, you will discover a weight to be taken off your souls & your eyes shall clearly see reality as you never did. And without false doctrines deadening your consciences, you shall feel for the downcast & despise injustices as you never could have before. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1b283dbfa6daefcaa891c199e13b0a4ea6f5db9f22594d1fa68fad235f2cb621.png

  • David, your suggestion that throwing away the scriptures, ignores the more complex nature of a pluralistic society and is just as dangerous as the binary world view of fundamentalism. What would you suggest? Ban the Bible, declare religion illegal? How exactly do we “control religious fanatics?” This is exactly what was attempted in Russia and China. Is that what we want? While I understand your enthusiasm for “throwing off the blinders of faith,” I am not seeing much in the way of a constructive solution.

    In addition, the Bible was written by men (not God), reflecting their cultural milieu. It is hardly fair nor accurate to portray Paul as in favor of slavery, or hold him to a 21st century worldview. He was not in favor of slavery. Read the passages again. Receive Onesimus “that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave, as a beloved brother.” Paul did not wish to rewrite the slavery laws of Rome, but to radically readjust Christian attitudes toward the institution. A truth lost on Southern Baptists.

    “Saying that Jesus transcends scripture does not solve a thing.” Ok, you are missing the point of the article. Very early on, at least since Augustine and the solidification of Catholicism (and further strengthened by the Reformers with sola scriptura), the Bible has replaced Christ as the church’s “authority.” This is clearly problematic. Keith is merely attesting to the fact that if Jesus again becomes the church’s authority a great deal of problems will be solved.

    Intolerance is not a result of following Christ, but of legalism. Violence is not a result of following Christ, but of legalism. And moderates and liberals may share the same scriptures as fundamentalists, but that doesn’t seem to dissuade them from “engaging in the type of cultural warfare necessary” effectively.

  • David Miller

    Cultural paradigms can & do change. Remember how impossible it was said to have people stop smoking indoors in public places? Yet in less than a decade nary a smoker to be seen indoors in public space. What became of the ubiquitous ashtrays? Same can happen with religion. Enough people ditch it & PRESTO! Society moves on. Hard to believe after millennia of conditioning, but religion is like the fabled naked emperor – everybody rants & raves about marvelous garments that just do not exist except in self-deluding mindsets. The mechanism for getting people to ditch are myriad, but it is beside the point. No need for coercion. It happens on its own.

    How do faithful moderates/liberals control religious fanatics? You don’t. History shows that when religious moderates/liberals are yoked together with fanatics, the fanatics soon take over the organization, wherehence they purge their opposition. Its human nature, happening in churche$ (ex. Southern Baptist Convention) & political parties (ex. GOP). History is replete with examples of this, which happens even easier in religious organizations since their doctrines give umbrage to this sort of thing (“fulfilling the lord’s will, god wants this, the bible teaches . . .,” etc.). The only way moderates/liberal faithful can fight the fanatics is by engaging in same sort of fight as the fanatics do, but this they do without the gleeful enthusiasm the fanatic does, thus they ever lose. And that if they even try. WHERE are the faithful moderates criticizing the fanatics? I hardly ever hear from them coming from a islamic point of view. This certainly make sense with islam as the fanatics routinely torch, behead & stone to death any critics. But where are the christian moderates criticizing the fanatics? The pope seems to be about the only catholic that lukewarmly sort of criticizes Trumpy. But nary a word about the malignant evangelicals. And where is the rest of the catholic church? They left the pope alone withering on a vine under the barrage assault of religious fanatics supporting Trumpy. Where are his fellow cardinals, archbishops, bishops, etc.? Why none defend the pope? Same can be said about the anglicans/episcopalians. A few priests or a lonely bishop might criticize the fanatics, but no one defends them from the vitriolic fanatic response.
    And just how do you control the religious fanatics if you could? In the past the churche$ used to kill them (only if they threatened the established order within the church,
    otherwise they were used as the churchly shock troops to spread the faith). I do not advocate such a brutal inhumane thing (that, however, would be what the religious fanatics would do to their “enemies” if only they could get away with it). But I’m in favour of marginalizing them socially & remove them from any levels of power. Once this is done, time shall wither them into irrelevancy. Society moves on. . As for “Keith is merely attesting to the fact that if Jesus again becomes the church’s authority a great deal of problems will be solved”, we have waited for 2,000 years for this to take effect but it won’t happen for the sociohistorical reasons I have explained above. I agree the scriptural legalism has led to the rabid fanatical miasma of the times. But that is part & parcel of religion. Remove that glue that holds the religion & it falls apart. Faith in Jesus never was enough. The rotten edifice might have to come down before people awaken to our shared humanity. Some already can see this, transcending religion. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c68d91b344008a09f74fa546b8e71c7f458de6ac5ad522f4d5eddda9accb006f.jpg

  • David I received a reply from you in my mailbox but it doesn’t show on Patheos. This is my second attempt to reply without getting blocked as spam. I agree with you that society has a way of changing on its own. In fact it is always changing. One of the problems with fundamentalism, Christian or otherwise, is its resistance to that change. Its nostalgia for a largely mythical past. Which is why fundamentalism is largely out of touch and irrelevant. And I am going to agree that religion, in particular Western Christianity, has been historically, a failure. This is not an admission evangelicals will admit to, as their view of church history is extremely biased. While I disagree that religion needs to be relegated to the ash heap of history, I think deconstruction is not only healthy but necessary. Will fundamentalists do so? Not likely.
    Will cooler heads prevail and fundamentalist Christianity die? Well maybe not completely, but if postChristendom Europe is any example, it will become largely irrelevant.
    “How do faithful moderates/liberals control religious fanatics? You don’t. History shows that when religious moderates/liberals are yoked together with fanatics, the fanatics soon take over the organization, wherehence they purge their opposition. Its human nature, happening in churches (ex. Southern Baptist Convention) & political parties (ex. GOP).”
    This actually is a serious problem. The largely liberal American Methodist denomination is slowly reverting to a fundamentalist stance by its more conservative brethren outside the US. They may eventually split. But Southern Baptists didn’t take over the Baptist denomination, they split and departed. The Republican Party at times was more progressive than the Democratic Party. Teddy Roosevelt is a good example of a progressive Republican, while George Wallace an example of a Jim Crow Democrat. The slide of the Republican Party to the far right can in part be attributed to Southern, religious Democrats resisting Lyndon B. Johnson’s Civil Rights acts, egged on by Southern pulpits. The bad apples in the Democratic Party simply swung over to the Republican side, further infecting it.
    I understand your frustration with progressive and moderate Christians trying to rescue fundamentalists from toxic religion. It does seem rather hopeless. Try to see it less as a religious gesture and a more humanitarian one. We would simply like to see evangelicals be nicer people. It is something everyone should agree on. The struggle is similar in the Catholic Church. This Pope is pushing for more inclusivity and is receiving a lot of criticism for it. In some ways I envy the Catholic Church. It is more like a rocky marriage where divorce is not an option and they are forced to sit down and work it out. Protestants, on the other hand will split over the least provocation. They can’t seem to agree on anything.
    Well I’ve been going on long enough. Take care.

  • PS. The spam filters are working overtime at Patheos. Your post was more than likely blocked as was my above response. Sometimes you can get through by changing a few details of the post then trying again if blocked. It’s frustrating.

  • David Miller

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5bc64a260b188f1207edb48f2d22f08505237ac5da166c9296b2c9b43a1ca49b.jpg The powers that be seemingly don’t care to see my responses, which are respectful, yet of argument so solid it cannot be easily dismissed. So its deleted instead. Cowardly tactic.

  • David Miller

    Cultural paradigms can & do change. Remember how impossible it was said to have people stop smoking indoors in public places? Yet in less than a decade nary a smoker to be seen indoors in public space. What became of the ubiquitous ashtrays? Same can happen with religion. Enough people ditch it & PRESTO! Society moves on. Hard to believe after millennia of conditioning, but religion is like the fabled naked emperor – everybody rants & raves about marvelous garments that just do not exist except in self-deluding mindsets. The mechanism for getting people to ditch are myriad, but it is beside the point. No need for coercion. It happens on its own.

    How do faithful moderates/liberals control religious fanatics? You don’t. History shows that when religious moderates/liberals are yoked together with fanatics, the fanatics soon take over the organization, wherehence they purge their opposition. Its human nature, happening in churche$ (ex. Southern Baptist Convention) & political parties (ex. GOP). History is replete with examples of this, which happens even easier in religious organizations since their doctrines give umbrage to this sort of thing (“fulfilling the lord’s will, god wants this, the bible teaches . . .,” etc.). The only way moderates/liberal faithful can fight the fanatics is by engaging in same sort of fight as the fanatics do, but this they do without the gleeful enthusiasm the fanatic does, thus they ever lose. And that if they even try. WHERE are the faithful moderates criticizing the fanatics? I hardly ever hear from them coming from a islamic point of view. This certainly make sense with islam as the fanatics routinely torch, behead & stone to death any critics. But where are the christian moderates criticizing the fanatics? The pope seems to be about the only catholic that lukewarmly sort of criticizes Trumpy. But nary a word about the malignant evangelicals. And where is the rest of the catholic church? They left the pope alone withering on a vine under the barrage assault of religious fanatics supporting Trumpy. Where are his fellow cardinals, archbishops, bishops, etc.? Why none defend the pope? Same can be said about the anglicans/episcopalians. A few priests or a lonely bishop might criticize the fanatics, but no one defends them from the vitriolic fanatic response.
    And just how do you control the religious fanatics if you could? In the past the churche$ used to kill them (only if they threatened the established order within the church,
    otherwise they were used as the churchly shock troops to spread the faith). I do not advocate such a brutal inhumane thing (that, however, would be what the religious fanatics would do to their “enemies” if only they could get away with it). But I’m in favour of marginalizing them socially & remove them from any levels of power. Once this is done, time shall wither them into irrelevancy. Society moves on. . As for “Keith is merely attesting to the fact that if Jesus again becomes the church’s authority a great deal of problems will be solved”, we have waited for 2,000 years for this to take effect but it won’t happen for the sociohistorical reasons I have explained above. I agree the scriptural legalism has led to the rabid fanatical miasma of the times. But that is part & parcel of religion. Remove that glue that holds the religion & it falls apart. Faith in Jesus never was enough. The rotten edifice might have to come down before people awaken to our shared humanity. Some already can see this, transcending religion. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c68d91b344008a09f74fa546b8e71c7f458de6ac5ad522f4d5eddda9accb006f.jpg

  • David Miller
  • Ron

    I would like to have someone explain something to me. Quoting from the text: “So, the question of “authority” immediately comes to mind. Some argue for the inerrant and infallible authority of Scripture as the rule for a Christian’s life. But others, like me, suggest instead that our authority is Christ and that it is still the Holy Spirit who cries out to the Body of Christ today.” If the bible is not infallible, contains some error, by what enlightenment do we base what Christ’s authority defines. We can refer to the bible to justify accepting it as an authority; however, if the the bible is not infallible and inerrant, what convinces us to submit to commit to the authority of Jesus?

    One other point. While the bible speaks of slavery very similar to the U.S.form and even worse in some examples; however, the slavery defined in the Mosaic Law is quite different than the form of slavery of the U.S. south.

  • David Miller

    Again reposted & again “POOF” gone! How frustrating. So I’ll just make a small observation: The author looks to the emotion he feels about Jesus to guide him & rejects the very scriptures upon which the faith is based. Think about it – If the scriptures are odious, then what the heck are you worshiping??? Without scriptures there is no rationale for Jesus either! Let’s face it, the whole religionite thingy is utter bull. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3d30b43fd6fa274f55511bf8d3ccc1dded25a630194c5279ab53ab8cdc7a54c7.jpg