Thursday, March 03, 2005

More questions than answers...(read the previous post first)

Kurt wrote,

Ben,Where then do we have the right to break with tradition? What made it ok for Luther to break from tradition? What makes it ok for the Wesleyan Church to ordain women? How close do we have to stick to Tradition? When is tradition wrong and how do we determine it's error if we must go with consensus? We surely run the risk of duplicating our mistakes like a photocopy of a photocopy.

The reality is that there is no simple answer to these questions. I would love it if God and Scripture fit into a neat little system, but they do not (another reason Calvinism is highly suspect to me). There is perhaps not a purely systematic method of interpreting Scripture. What do we do when we encounter an issue or belief which appears to be in conflict with Tradition? Initially the question should be, "Is it in conflict with Scripture?" If it does not appear so the following question could be, "Why has the Church never acknowledged such an interpretation? Why is this outside of the big 'T' Tradition?" There is usually a very good reason. I think our best bet is to only leave the Tradition of the Church when it is clearly at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit developed Tradition in the first place and most certainly has the right to revise if need be. This is of course quite subjective and perhaps even somewhat precarious. One should not presume, conversely, that the Spirit would lead the Church in "new and improved" dogma. Dogma cannot be compromised. Any leading that appears contrary to what the Spirit has already established as dogmatic Truth is definitely not the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Ordination of women, wearing jewelry, men having long hair, women keeping silent in church, are not dogmatic matters and it is possible that the Spirit may refine Tradition for the benefit of His people.

To me, Martin Luther did not necessarily break from Tradition. The reality is that the Roman Catholic Church of the Reformation era was corrupt. It truly was to the core. That is undeniable (remember, though, this can in no way be a reason for denouncing the RCC of today). The Catholic Church of that era was far outside the bounds of Tradition basing its beliefs upon tradition. The difference is extremely important. I see Luther, rather than break from Tradition, as returning to Tradition. Luther does take some things too far. He swings the grace hammer so far the the other way that he does dabble slightly in unorthodoxy and also finds predestination (as understood by Augustine) to be attractive. Luther, after all, hated the homoousios. That must raise red flags all over the place. Luther was an amazing theologian and reformer, yet not the absolute authority on all matters of faith. Generally, Luther was a return to Tradition rather than a break from it.

The Wesleyan Church certainly does things outside of the Tradition of the Church. Ordination of women is indeed one of these areas. It is not unreasonable to critically evaluate Tradition. The practice of excluding women from ordination is the remains of a patriarchal culture. We will most often find strong arguments for certain practices when they are relative to culture. Jesus claims that divorce was premitted in the Old Testament due to the hardness of the Israelites hearts. Both culturally and spiritually they were not prepared for the ultimate which God desired for them. Yet Jesus makes clear that divorce is not pleasing to God. The Early Church was not primarily concerned with social upheaval. The Church was primarily concerned with spreading the gospel concerning Jesus Christ as Lord. In Paul's epistles he never directly attacks the institution of slavery or the subordination of women. However, if we are careful we may notice that he does make claims which seem to imply that he supports neither. When Paul writes to Philemon concerning Onesimus he exhorts Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother. Paul reminds Philemon that he is indebted to Paul for the message of salvation and also is a slave himself of Jesus our master.

Ironically, in 1 Corinthians 14:35 Paul says, "If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." Yet in the final greeting of the epistle Paul says, "The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house." Priscilla is a woman and her name is often found to come before the name of her husband Aquila. It has been suggested that she has a more prominent role than Aquila did in the Church. Whatever the case, Priscilla was a leader in the Church. Culturally this is surprising, and it should be of no surprise that the Patriarchal pattern has survived to this very day despite the leading of the Spirit otherwise. Some of the things Paul says in regards to women are simply because the culture required them. There would have been chaos had Paul not put his foot down. The questions we must ask are, "Would the exercise of this produce the same result today?" "What is the totality of what this author says (although it appears Paul is somewhat against women in leadership he also says something quite contrary to this in Galatians 3:28)?" "What does Scripture as a whole say?" "Where was God pointing with what He inspired?"

How close do we stick to Tradition? Well, unless we have a good reason not to I see no reason to stray from it, pending that Tradition truly has proven to be Orthodox. There will always be exceptions and the Church will have to be willing to submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it is possible that if Tradition is in err we will simply photocopy error after error. Yet what other device do we have to interpret Scripture with? The Holy Spirit certainly can inspire readers but the Holy Spirit also developed Tradition. The Trinity is not explicitly stated in Scripture. Our understanding of the Trinity has largely developed as a result of the Holy Spirit forming this belief in the Early Church. Much debate has ensued but Scripture and Tradition certainly testify to its validity; Scripture implicitly, Tradition rather forcefully. If we fail to appeal to Tradition for, at the very least, direction then the chances of an erroneous interpretation being photocopied is much higher. If the transmission of error will occur it will most often do so outside of the walls of Tradition.

As I said at the beginning, there are no simple answers. I certainly do not have all the answers and still have a lot of territory to wander through. The territory may be daunting but worth the effort. Ultimately we all have to determine what we allow to influence our interpretation of Scripture. How do you interpret Scripture?

1 comment:

Kurt A Beard said...

Ben,
Thanks for the answer. I think you did a really good job in a short space of dealing with some issues. There are still alot more but we can save those for another time. Keep up the good orthodoxy.
-Kurt