Over the centuries, Christians have taken the bible and elevated it to the status of God Himself. Instead of using it as pieces of evidence—as pieces of the puzzle that help us see key parts of the infinite picture of God and the finite but incredibly complex picture of we humans, they frequently use it as an authoritative rule book to coerce others into following their dogma.
The problem with worshiping the bible is that it is incomplete and flawed. While many Christians consider this to be heresy, it is the only honest way to view the bible. Did God inspire the writing of at least the vast majority of its books? I believe He did. But using flawed humans to accomplish His purpose as He has done from the beginning results in an imperfect and incomplete picture. Perhaps He uses us to accomplish His purposes to spur our development. Whatever the reason, He seems to be ok with the fact that we are struggling through our imperfections.
When Christians treat the bible as if it is equal to God, they are actually harming the community of believers and presenting a severely distorted picture of God to non-believers. The Bible-as-God’s-Word view is the root cause of most of the misinterpretation of the bible and is, I believe, the primary cause of disunity among Christians.
The need for a divinely authored sacred book as a foundation for one’s beliefs is an artificial obligation required by religion. Those who truly seek God must move past the recorded thoughts of the ancients and seek Him in the now. Is the Bible useful? Absolutely! It is a critical source of information and is most importantly, a credible record of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and teaching. It is a record of fallible humans who sought God and a record of God’s outreach to mankind. It forms a beautiful mosaic that reveals a portion of God’s plan of redemption and reconciliation.
Jesus frequently quoted the old testament. But with respect to sola scriptura adherents, even Jesus (who was the clearest message God ever sent to us) didn’t view the scriptures as being sufficient for our faith and practice. He sent God’s Holy Spirit to us to work through us—to continue the work of reconciliation and healing that Jesus began. The Holy Spirit works in unpredictable ways through believers that are willing to let God use them. Jesus desired that we would be unified in fellowship and purpose. That means the catholics and the baptists and the reformed and the mennonites and the pentecostals and the non-denominationalists. In keeping with the methods God used from the beginning, He intends all believers (not just one denomination and not just a handful of ordained clergy) to play a critical part in the development of the body and the healing of the nations.
In this video entitled “The Lectern” over at The Work of the People, Malcolm Guite shares his thoughts on how to read and interpret the bible. The nine-minute video is well worth watching. For me, one of the most important messages that Christians today need to hear was summed up in this quote:
If I have an interpretation [of the bible] that prevents the love of God or the love of neighbor, then I’ve got the wrong interpretation. I don’t care how literal it is… if you’ve read it in a way that diminishes those two things that Jesus says are the meaning of the bible, then you’ve got it wrong.
Paraphrasing Martin Luther, he gives the following illustration:
The old and the new testaments are like the swaddling clothes that Mary used to wrap the baby Jesus in…. These cloths are infinitely precious because and only because they contain the living Word of God… Jesus Himself. As they hold and bring me to Jesus… they are infinitely precious. But if I take the baby out of them, if I have no living Word of God in there… you just have rags.
Very wise and sorely needed advice.