A young man recently shared how his parents took him to many churches while growing up. As a result, he distrusts the Church because of all the interpretations of Scripture he heard.
Is this a cop out, or are his frustrations well founded. In his mind, well founded, so we spent some time talking about ways he might interpret God's Word to avoid his distrust of Jesus and His church.
I could empathize with his comment that he was told God gives each person their own special meanings to the Scriptures which he found confusing because everyone seemed to come up with a different version. So we talked about what's known as 'enthusiasm' which began with Adam and Eve. Briefly, enthusiasm is characterized by Eve who changed the meaning of God's Word according to the desire of her heart. This reminded me of what St. Augustine said about it, "Biblical interpretation is not based on what I say, he says, or they say, but solely on "Thus sayeth the Lord". So, I was glad when the young man considered how his personal enthusiasm might bring confusion into the church as Augustine noted; "I have great fear of my subconscious desires which [God's] eyes know but mine do not."
So what can we do? Ask what makes the most sense in seeking out Biblical truth.
Consequently, he talked about another form of interpretation he ran into called historical — criticism which he learned started about two hundred years ago. He found it frustrating because it criticizes God's Word, claiming it's not timeless, and teaching that each generation is free to reinterpret God's Word according to their current culture. Here's an example he found disconcerting from St. Paul's words to Timothy, "This is a true saying, if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work." (1Timothy 3:1 KJV) Here he wondered how women and homosexuals could be placed into the pastoral office in some churches and not others when Christ specifically commends men to this office when He uses the adjective 'male' and the noun 'he'. He wondered how the Historical — critic's could argue that because equality is culturally prized today, St. Paul's words, even though inspired by Christ, are culturally biased and thus, irrelevant. So he asked if this was an example of interpreting God's Word from the heart that St. Augustine warns against because it denies the authority of God's Word. He also speculated that historical — criticism might be feeding into the cultural shift that homosexuality is no longer a sin or that abortion is legitimate under any circumstance.
At this point, I suggested we look at a form of biblical interpretation having ancient roots in the church called the historical — grammatical. It too accounts for culture, but has lost favor within Christianity. Why he asked, because it does not criticize God's Word, but seeks to retain its objective truths.
We talked then about the authority of God's Word and how His Law and Gospel are to remain consistent for Christians and unbelievers who need to hear the Word to be saved. We also discussed why using the historical laws of grammar are to be favored in searching out the objective truth over the other two. It then dawned on me that his comments on Timothy revealed he had already begun to do this.
So we spoke of our English teachers who tried to teach us grammar to help us communicate our language. Verbs, nouns, adjectives and the subject of whom or what is being discussed. He saw the point; the Holy Spirit does not author confusion, but gave us words that we might study to arrive at the objective truths we need to stand by that transcend time and culture.
He then concluded Christ's love for us invites us to set aside our enthusiasm, our fear of not being culturally and politically correct to receive the truth of His unchanging Word. Christ invites us to keep His Word that reveals our sinful nature as well as opens our hearts to receive Him as our loving Savior. This he confessed was hard, but his Christian responsibility, as we both agreed with what St. Paul says; "For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God's laws, and it never will". (Rom. 8:7 NLT)