george hancockstefanSince Martin Luther concluded that the Bible should be translated in the language of the people because they were able to read and interpret the Scripture, there have been thousands of arguments between clergy and parishioners and among the parishioners themselves.   In fact, within the 16th century, it was pretty evident that interpretations varied since the Reformation gave birth to the Magisterial Reformation (Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterian, and Zwinglians) and Radical Reformers (Mennonites, Amish, Baptists, and others).  However, one cannot blame Martin Luther, because in the Book of Acts Peter and Paul often argue over the interpretation of a particular text.  One of most important verses in the Bible over the interpretation of the text is found in Acts 17:11, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scripture every day to see if what Paul said was true”.  When I read this passage a while ago, I concluded that the great apostle of the Gentiles was being quizzed by the newbies.  However, the newbies knew their Scriptures and wanted to make sure that they were in agreement.

In my ministry, I encountered and welcomed many debates from the simple to the complicated. Debates have ranged from the miracles of Jesus, His ascension to the right hand of God the Father, the creation story, and homosexual relations.

I started with the miracles of Jesus because many years ago, a person in this community came to Central Baptist Church and the first question that she asked me was if I believed that the Lord Jesus Christ fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:38).  She came to our church because she was in a worship service in a different church and the pastor said there was no miracle performed by Jesus, but because Jesus Christ borrowed the five loaves and the two fish from a nearby boy, he shamed all of them to open their bags and share what they had.  In the discussions that followed, we discussed many aspects of the miraculous in the Bible and concluded that if one does not accept the miraculous in the four gospels, one is left with very little of the work of Jesus.  In fact, the feeding of the 5,000 can be considered one of the easiest miracles of the Lord compared to healing the blind, walking on water, and raising dead people.  I did not change the mind of the neighboring preacher, but one of his parishioners disagreed over his interpretation and walked out.

In the Christian calendar, the Feast of Ascension never receives its proper due. Thus, many are not very familiar with the importance of this event in the life of Jesus.  One of my church members argued that the spirit of Jesus Christ went to heaven.  He could not believe that Jesus Christ, fully God and fully Man ascended into heaven.  We came to it from all sorts of angles – the heretical Gnostics who had a low view of the human body, the importance of the Incarnation, the issue of the resurrection of the Lord’s body, the promise given by the angels that the same Jesus will come, and the promise given to us that in the future there will be a resurrection of the just.  I do not think I convinced the brother and he promised that he will ponder some more on these new angles.

When discussing creation, I find that we land in two different categories.  There are people who believe that any educated person who believes in creationism has missed some hard thinking classes. I have been in meetings in which people have spoken very eloquently that no intellectual can be a creationist.  At the same time, I have been in some circles in which the 7 day/24 hour days creation has been presented dogmatically.  If one does not believe in the 7 day creation story, one does not believe the Bible. In this debate I always land in the middle. Intellectually, I can see that neither 7 day creationism nor evolution satisfies cerebral inquisitiveness.  At the same time, I do not believe that our salvation through Jesus Christ depends on our interpretation of Genesis.

None of the issues are as hotly debated as the issue of homosexuality.  I have been involved in every aspect of the debate. Some of my friends and colleagues have landed in dogmatic positions of each side.  In one of the earliest discussions, one presenter said that all of these debates could be easier if those few verses in the Bible that condemn homosexual behavior were removed or we could say that in these specific issues pertaining to the 21st century, the Bible is simply wrong.  Since no church body has that authority, we have to work with the Bible as the given, in spite of the overwhelming contemporary disagreement.  My disagreement in interpretation does not give me the right to treat any human being as having less of a creation image of God in them, or the fact that they like the rest of the sinners can be saved, or the fact that I can be a pastor to anyone who seeks to follow the Lord.

What I can always hold is that we as pastors and we as members of any church or denomination are under the authority of the Scripture.  The privilege of reading the Scripture has given us the responsibility of interpreting the Scripture to the best our ability recognizing that we could be right or wrong. May we be as gentle with one another as Paul was with the Berean church.