Few subjects have elicited so much controversy. The ongoing debates over abortion, stem cell research, and cloning have all been sidelined while we talk about homosexuals in society. Are people born homosexual? Can they change? Should the state allow for marriages of lesbians and homosexuals? Should the Church? If so, how would that change our understanding of society and the Church?
For the Church, the issue is foundational. It has to do with the created universe and the Creator. It directly involves what we believe to be God’s will for our lives. If that is the case, it has everything to do with how we read the Bible, for it is in the pages of those scriptures that Christians have found the measuring stick by which to judge all teachings and teachers and in those pages has sought to discern God’s purposes.
The Lutheran Church has long held a reverence for God’s Word in scripture as evidenced by its confessional writings:
“1. We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone,...” “3. …Holy Scripture alone remains the only judge, rule, and guiding principle, according to which, as the only touchstone, all teachings should and must be recognized and judged, whether they are good or evil, correct or incorrect.” (Formula of Concord Epitome, paragraphs 1 and 3. Book of Concord, ed. by Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000. Pp. 486-7)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has incorporated this reverence in the following confession of faith contained in the ELCA constitution: “This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.” (ELCA Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions, Chapter 2, Confession of Faith, section 2.03)
The Bible is not just one book among many others. It is not merely a quaint ancient collection of historically conditioned books by various authors in various times and places for various reasons and audiences. Were that the case, we could simply pick and choose what we like at any given time and discard the rest, as we please. There is, I believe, a qualitative difference between St. Matthew’s Gospel on the one hand, and The Republic of Plato on the other.
Scripture is God’s Word, and though it exhibits the imperfection of its human mediators, it is endowed with a divinity that has transformed the lives of billions down through the ages. It is a living scripture, not a dead word.
For this reason and because the topic we are discussing may very well prove to be the defining social issue of this decade, we in the Church must therefore be careful to adopt a position of humility and grace when we approach scripture. We cannot place ourselves over it, for then we raise ourselves to the level of judges over God’s Word insisting that our knowledge, our science, our sensibilities determine God’s will. Though we must be careful to worship the one to whom scripture testifies, and not the testimony itself, we must never lose sight of the fact that we have all been created by that Word wrapped in scripture, we have all been born again by that Word, we have all been redeemed by that powerful gospel in those flimsy pages.
As Edmund Schlink said so well when commenting on Church teachings or dogmatics in his book, Theology of the Lutheran Confessions:
All dogmatic statements must be derived from God’s revelation in his Word. It will, therefore, not do to base dogmatic sentences, wholly or even in part, on the impressions of nature or of history round about us, or on ideas of reason or intimations of the emotions. On the contrary, all of this manifold material must be subjected to the Word of Scripture. Nor can the witness of God in the works of his creation serve as a source of knowledge for dogmatics, but only the revelation of God in his Word. Hence the task of dogmatics consists in ever anew distinguishing between God’s revelation and human religion, God’s Word and man’s own words. (Translated by Paul F. Koehneke and Herbert J. A. Bouman. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961, p. 27)
Let us then approach scripture not as its lords but as its students seeking to find what direction we need to live lives worthy of the calling to which we have been called lest we be found opposing God’s Word.