On Sunday we reflected as a group on Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:1-13). We noted that the devil / enemy quotes Scripture at Jesus, and so we focused on on two questions:
- Can you think of a time Scripture has been used to misdirect, oppress or trap you or somebody else? Or of a time you yourself have felt dishonest in your use of Scripture?
- How then do you test whether Scripture is being truthfully (lovingly, appropriately) applied?
We came up with this:
- Context is important, both the context of the original text and the context in which it is being applied.
- The entirety of God’s Word is important. We can’t read a verse (and certainly not a half-verse!) in isolation, but always within a paragraph, then a chapter, then a gospel or letter or prophetic work or other book, then the overall thrust of the Bible towards liberation, love of neighbour, love of God, reconciliation, peace, communion …
- We are tasked to choose life! In Deuteronomy 30, Moses sets out the way to life and prosperity, death and destruction’ and urges the people, ‘I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life!’ (Of course, this raises the question of what ‘life’ is.)
- Our own motivation is important: Are we using Scripture to build someone up, or justify ourselves, or tear someone down? Self-reflection is important here.
- People are more important than doctrine. The text is not the object of our worship; instead, the text should lead us to worship, even ‘dive in’ to the God we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as terrifying as that invitation might seem.
- How we understand Scripture is shaped by how we understand God’s character. Is God an angry and vicious judge, or an empowering, liberating life-force? Our primary lens into God is Jesus: the Word made flesh: and Jesus proclaims himself as coming not to condemn but to save; to bring good news to the vulnerable; to love not just the neighbour but the enemy; to proclaim liberation; to breathe peace; to bring about unity, communion. Our reading of the Scripture must align with this.
- The fruit of the Spirit is a test. If our reading of Scripture leads to enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy and so on, then it is not a godly reading. But if our reading leads to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, then we can be confident it is a reading guided by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5).
- We need to know our own Bibles well. Just as Jesus could quote the Bible back at the enemy / devil, we too need to be able to know who God is, which God we are worshipping, and how any particular Scripture fits into the wider context.
- Different people are powerfully affected by different parts of Scripture. We learn when we listen to others, because they glean insights we cannot.
- Our culture tends to emphasise individual and scholarly insights; however, we have found that it is the wider body of faith which truly illumines Scripture: and we have maximum illumination when this wider body is diverse and includes those not trained by the academy. (Alison noted here that, even when she is preaching, she is reading Scripture prayerfully aware of the conversations she is having with the congregation and others; and she tries to bring a variety of voices, both scholarly and otherwise, into her reading and study so that her sermons are, in some ways, reflecting a dialogue with the wider body: the backstory behind what looks like a sole voice.)
So that’s our congregation’s take on how we test Scripture.
We finished with a story about a meeting between Tim Costello, chair of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, and the former Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett. It was at the height of their very public stoush over the State of Victoria’s shift to legalise gambling, particularly pokies, and its new reliance on gambling revenues. As Tim tells it, Jeff invited him to a meeting at the top of the Rialto Tower. They stood at the floor-to-ceiling glass window, with all of the great city of Melbourne spread out before them. ‘Look,’ said Jeff, ‘All this is mine to govern. And it could be yours … if you just back off the anti-gambling protests!’