We have seen that Jesus interpreted Scripture in the rabbinic spirit of faithful questioning motivated by love. We have noted that Jesus’ interpretation of Scripture was in direct contrast to that of the Pharisees and other religious leaders of his time, who read the Scriptures in a spirit of unquestioning obedience and were motivated by an obsession with correct doctrine. The Pharisees were concerned about who was “right” and who was “wrong,” and were determined to enforce their “right” understanding, even if such an effort required violence.
We have said that over the centuries the Church has tended not to follow the pattern of Jesus, but rather to follow the pattern of the Pharisees, striving to maintain orthodoxy and labeling those who disagree as heretics. The result has been a long history of various manifestations of the church enforcing their authority through violence or the threat of violence—all in God’s name.
The struggle to know what is “right” has replaced Grace as the foundation of faith. In far too many cases our trust is more in the correctness of our doctrine than in the Grace of God. Such an application of religious faith establishes an “us vs. them” mentality, which always leans toward an exclusionary witness and far too often is forcefully inflicted.
While the exclusionary witness establishes categories for judging who is acceptable and who is not, Jesus’ witness was to go out among the outcasts and the fringe people—to eat with them, to touch them and through loving inclusion to restore their lives to wholeness. Too often our approach has been to demand that those on the outside become “like us” before they can gain admission and acceptance. Our doctrine becomes "the way, the truth and the life."
We all read Scripture selectively, and justification can indeed be found for both approaches. They stand in direct contradiction within the Holy writ, and we choose one way or the other:
1. The way the Pharisees chose: unquestioning obedience to what they had determined to be the “right” doctrine (Law), and enforcing that doctrine as the prerequisite of faithfulness—excluding (and sometimes punishing with violence or threat of violence) all who do not conform (including Jesus).
2. The way Jesus chose: faithful questioning the violence in Scripture and bearing witness to unconditional love (Grace), including all humanity in a divine embrace of reconciliation and restoration. All humanity. And "All" means "All."
Our celebrated First Amendment rights which grant freedom of speech and religion actually came about in direct response to the church’s legacy of persecution and rampant bloodshed committed in the sincere (but sincerely wrong) effort to maintain purity of doctrine. As a result of those Constitutional rights, there are no more burnings at the stake today.
So, what is the greater wrong: not getting the formulation of the Trinity quite right, or slaughtering those who do get it wrong? What is the greater sin: questioning a doctrine or working to destroy people’s careers and livelihoods because they question it?
Equally important as what we profess is how we profess it and how we live what we profess. When we act in any way to harm others in the name of Scripture or faith or morality we demonstrate that we are neither scriptural, moral nor faithful. Jesus said the whole law and the prophetic writings were predicated upon love of God, love of neighbor and love of self (Matthew 22:36-40). And Paul wrote, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10) When we do not act in love, nothing we do is right, and nothing is faithful, not even according to the law.
The simple formula of the New Testament witness is “Grace Trumps Law.” It’s simple; but it’s not easy. It requires that we “let go” of our efforts to justify ourselves through adherence to “right” doctrine, and that we instead “take hold” of the Grace God offers and surrender to the power of that Grace to mold us into the likeness of Jesus. That whole process of “letting go” and “taking hold” is called “Trust.” Trust is the opposite of certainty, and certainty is a first cousin of control.
And we are a culture of control addicts. Maybe we need a 12-Step program to facilitate recovery. “Hello. My name is Jim; and I’m a controlaholic.”
That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,